Let Your Mess be a Message

Just like that…my kiddos are off to school. How do I have a second and fourth grader? Where are my babies?? Where did the time go??? It flies, I tell ya.

Side note: I realise that it is now November, and school started almost 3 months ago. So as you can tell, I’m a bit slow. My bad. Ok, carry on…

We had a celebratory back-to-school mama breakfast at one of our favorite restaurants the other morning (wait, we don’t have to make or clean up the breakfast?! Our little people aren’t hanging on our legs or calling out mommy every two to three minutes or suddenly have an emergency the exact moment we try to go to the bathroom???I’d say that’s reason to celebrate!!!) and we were all talking about our summer trips. I mentioned how amazing it was driving across the wide-open spaces of Wyoming as I skimmed over the highlights of our two-and-a-half week western jaunt.

“Wait…you did that by yourself?!” a friend looked over at me, wide-eyed from the other end of the table.

I smiled on the outside but even bigger on the inside. Truthfully, I hadn’t really taken the time to sit and recognize my accomplishments. My friend calling me out had reminded me, in hindsight, that my summer trip was a big deal. As little as three years ago, I would have never thought a trip like this would have been possible for me. Yet here I was, on the other side of it, beaming with pride.

Let me sum it up for you…after our trip to California with my husband and sitter, I flew by myself with the kids from LA to Denver, where I rented a car, drove to meet my mom in Cheyenne, Wyoming (after a quick reunion with my dad for the first time in 20 years!) then followed her in her RV for a week across the entire state of Wyoming (stopping at multiple hotels and RV sites along the way) before flying out of Salt Lake City and back to Atlanta. Which sounds like no big deal. Unless you didn’t drive on the interstate without having panic attacks as recently as 3 years ago.

I often don’t give myself enough credit for my accomplishments, or I just keep them to myself. In my own perfectionist, striving way, if I do accomplish something, I tend to focus on how I still could’ve done better. I’ll look back on one thing I’ve done right and 10 things I’ve done wrong. The I’m not good enough lie tries to emerge victoriously time and time again.

As for not wanting to share, it’s like sometimes you feel silly getting excited about things no one understands or you feel like no one is interested in. But then there’s that one person you inspire, and you realize that no matter how uncomfortable or burdensome you feel, someone will benefit from your willingness to share. Which is the why of starting this blog years ago.

Anyway, let me go back to tooting my own horn for a minute…I did it!!! I managed to pull off a trip I used to only dream of doing on my own, and I intend to celebrate it. Way to go me!!! Chest bump, butt slap, high-five to myself!

Trail ride in Dubois, Wyoming
Sunset from 3 Spear Ranch

Grand Teton National Park
Top of mountain in Jackson Hole

To put my accomplishments into perspective (and because I’m a super-slow processor!) I looked back to the first blog I ever published, over 3 years ago. I was struggling beyond belief. I was a prisoner of my own mind, and I’d had enough. I was done feeling isolated and alone in my struggle. I knew there was a message that needed to come out of my mess, and I was ready to let that truth set me free. I knew my message would help not only myself but others, if I could only push through the fear. I remember the anticipation of putting everything out there after typing late into the night, the difficulty of sharing my struggle with anxiety and taking off the mask I had hid behind for so long. I was literally sick to my stomach about it.

What would people think about me?

Would I still be accepted and loved?

How the heck do I hit publish?!!!

And then just like that…I did it. It was all out there. The words poured out from the deepest spots in my heart, free to fall wherever they needed to land. Honestly, just knowing that I was putting everything out there, that I was shedding my mask, probably would’ve been enough. But when people started responding in such a positive way, thanking me for sharing and helping them in a way they never knew they needed, I knew there was a bigger purpose. My mess was the message they needed to hear.

When I wrote that entry years ago, I was knee-deep in paralyzing fear. I hadn’t driven on the interstate in over 6 years for more than an exit or two. I remember thinking, after years of being on various antidepressants and still not being able to jump over this debilitating hurdle, I needed to try my hand at exposure therapy; putting myself in actual real-time panic inducing situations while practicing the management tools I’d learned. Which meant point blank: I had to do the things I was most afraid of. Which for this stubborn girl, realising this meant some eye-rolling and a few temper-tantrums. But if I was ever going to overcome this, I had to put my big girl panties on and just do it. The more I practiced driving and realizing that my brain was actually lying to me, that I wasn’t going to die simply by driving on the interstate (well, hopefully!!), the more comfortable I was doing it.

So that’s exactly what I did. Armed with my new anxiety management tools I’d learned, I spent intentional time just driving. One day my goal would be to make it past an exit without having to get off. The next day it would be two exits. Of course some days I would regress, and I wouldn’t be able to stay on the road for long; rainy weather, traffic, driving at night, those were tough practice days. I had to celebrate my small victories, and realize that they would build upon each other, but it was tough in the moment. Failure threatened to thwart my efforts. But the more small goals I accomplished, the more I started to notice my confidence increase. I was chipping away at the wall separating me from my freedom, ever so slowly.

Soon enough, I was driving longer stretches. I even started driving on the interstate with my kids in tow, which was at the very top of my hierarchy of fears list. Eventually, I even drove myself to the beach, and drove the entire way home from the beach with the kids. I was doing it. Each accomplishment was beyond liberating.

One of my first “practice” drives

Which is why this recent trip was such a big deal. Although I have been driving on the interstate for the past few years, trekking across remote Wyoming and Utah by myself with the kids took things up a notch. I mean there were times on our drive when we wouldn’t pass a building or another car for almost a whole hour. Looking back, I really should’ve had some emergency supplies and a road atlas (duh) but we managed through our travels unscathed. I even flew with the kids by myself, another first for this mama that does not consider an aircraft her happy place.

But I did it!!!

Typical highway scenery in Wyoming

Driving into Grand Teton

My drive from Jackson to Salt Lake City looked like this ALOT

When you lose your GPS signal and have no road atlas, you end up taking the LONG way (the one in red!!!)

I DID IT.

Even though I was scared. Even though I worried about it for months. Even though my husband even worried about it and he’s not a worrier. Even though I had to pull over sometimes just to take a deep breath. Even though one day the winds on the interstate gusted close to 70 mph (at least I wasn’t in the RV like my poor mom!). Even though I got altitude sickness. Even though I lost my gps signal and ended up adding hours to one of my routes. Even though the kids wanted to listen to the same pop songs 800 times. Even though my kids used the bathroom on the side of the road more than once, and poor Allie soaked through a pair of tennis shoes while trying to pop a squat in the pouring rain somewhere in the middle of Utah. Ok, well, you get it.

I DID IT!!!!!! And, it was awesome.

My life will never be as worry-free as it used to be. I’m working on accepting that, as much as I mourn for those carefree days. But I’m doing life the best I can. I still have phobias and fears that rear their ugly heads and occasionally put me in the corner with shame and despair, but I’m also learning to be okay with having some limitations and boundaries when it comes to my triggers. I mean, if I don’t want to ride a subway ever again or go spelunking in a cave anytime soon, my life can still be pretty awesome right? I am learning that being up for everything in life is actually pretty unrealistic anyway.

So today, I will celebrate what I can do. I can travel freely and show my children the world little by little. I can award them the fresh perspective of new places and experiences. I can teach them that even though driving is not one of mommy’s favorite things, I found a way to do it, because we can do hard things if we try. Even if it takes awhile, it’s ok. We just have to try our best.

And that just maybe, if you take off the mask and share your story of how you practiced and worked and overcame the hard, scary things, it might help someone deal with the scary things in their life too. Because we are all struggling with something. We all need a kind word and a listening ear and a cheering section. We need to celebrate our accomplishments every day, no matter how small. We need to be living, breathing, affirmation givers.

Let your mess be a message. You never know who needs to hear it.


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