Thursday, October 30, 2014

Thursday's Reflection: Halloween Thoughts

Tomorrow night is Halloween, and I can finally open the big bag of candy I hid from myself in the pantry cupboard. I am actually quite proud of myself for not sneaking "just one." We will be at our daughter's house for their neighborhood chili supper and therefore, we will leave a big bowl of treats on our front step with a note to please, take one, and be considerate of other goblins. We have been told about a couple blocks in our neighborhood that go all out with decorations, and I hope the weather is warm enough for an investigative walk. I am not one, however, to go to Haunted Houses. I don't like being scared. 

This may seem like a big jump, but stay with me. Lately, I have been thinking about winter, and how this year I am not looking forward to it. I have always loved winter and not minded the snow and the cold. In fact, winter usually doesn't last long enough for me. In the past, winter has been a creative and deeply spiritual time for me, and the beauty of the bareness and white has inspired me.

I know where my lack of enthusiasm, even anxiety, comes from this year. The ghost of Christmas past is stalking me, and I am concerned about falling again. I broke my ankle at the end of March and it has been a long recovery, and, in fact, the bones have not yet fully healed. The orthopedist tells me at each visit that there has been more healing, but that complete mending takes a year. That means winter will be in full swing before my anniversary date. 

I know I am anxious, for I have mentioned how I almost dread the arrival of winter this year to several people. When I do that, I know it is time to sit with what is weighing on me. 

When I have admitted to my concern about winter this year the first response from others is to tell me to buy good boots. I appreciate that and will, for sure, make sure I have the right boots for our challenging conditions. After my fall a number of people quizzed me about how it happened in a way that made me feel I had done something wrong, had been negligent or reckless in some way and could have prevented the fall. Who knows, but I was wearing boots when I encountered the smoothest, slickest ice under the skim of snow,  and accidents do happen. 

I will take precautions this winter and be as smart as I can about what is the safest thing to do. I won't walk to my Monday evening class, which is several blocks away, on snowy and icy nights, but I don't want to fall prey to the kind of anxiety that will prevent me from driving to class, unless there are blizzard conditions present. That's the difference between being cautious and smart and being paralyzed. 

Here's what Harriet Lerner says in 
her book Fear and Other Uninvited Guests, Tackling the Anxiety, Fear, and Shame That Keep Us from Optimal Living and Loving:

          Usually, anxiety is a mean trickster. It signals you to
          pay attention, but it also turns your brain to oatmeal,
          narrows and rigidifies your focus, and obscures the
          real issues from view. Anxiety tricks you out of the
          "now" as you obsessively replay and regret the past
          and worry about the future. It tricks you into losing
          sight of your competence and your capacity for love,
          creativity, and joy. It tricks you into believing that
          you are lesser and smaller than you really are. Anxiety
          interferes with self-regard and self-respect, the 
          foundation on which all else rests. p. 54

Last winter was tough--it was unbearably cold and we had a ton of snow, which kept on falling, storm after storm, and winter seemed to drag on forever. The Farmer's Almanac says it is going to be another winter like last year's. Bummer! Last winter was challenging in other ways as well. I was living here and my husband was commuting between here and Madison on weekends. We sold our Madison house in January and had to manage that move. We, also started getting my Dad's house ready to sell, and all this was on top of lots of change and challenge the previous year as well. When I broke my ankle, I truly wonder what else could happen. My mind races back to all of that, and I feel anxiety move right in. 

I know that anxiety can be a signal to pay attention and can be protective and life-preserving, fear, also, can be debilitating. Lerner says, 
          The more you try to make fear go away (an impossible
          dream), rather than learning to function with it, the worse
          you will feel about yourself. You will mistakenly see
          yourself as a weak and impaired individual, rather than 
          as a strong, competent person… p. 55

How does this all relate to Halloween? Halloween is a chance to confront some of the fears lurking in our imagination. We have a chance to be brave, to go out in the dark where goblins and ghosts are around the corner. In our costumes, we can be in disguise and set aside our real world for a brief moment. Halloween isn't about who we have been or who we will be, but about answering the doorbell and seeing who is on the other side. "Trick or Treat."

Winter is inevitable. It will arrive as it always does, and I can't do anything about its length or the amount of snow or how low the temperatures plunge, but I can move forward bravely, remembering the love I have for winter's stillness and for the ways winter beckons me. This will be its own time, and my task is to open the door and respond to what is on the other side. 

An Invitation
What fears and anxieties do you have and how do you cope with them? I would love to know. 

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