Sunday, March 20, 2016

Finding Peace in the Midst of Chaos

A few weeks ago, I had an epic meltdown. Let me back up a moment. I’m not one given to drama. I don’t do Diva. I don’t do personal meltdowns. I handle life as it comes. I weather through. Usually quietly. Often confidently. Pushing ahead and never looking back, I take one day at a time as it comes and plow through the tasks ahead of me. Yet, there, on a quiet Saturday afternoon and into evening, I found myself in the middle of the perfect storm of gargantuan meltdowndom. Ugly cry, sobbing meltdown. To be fair, I was at the point of exhaustion. I had a big test coming up in two days and felt ill-prepared. I hadn’t finished judging all my RITA books. I had a to-do list that stretched across my desk--the biggest of which was to pull together my tax information in order to do taxes. Heck, that would stress anyone out, right? This was so unlike me. I had no clue what was going on. But as I sat there doing the ugly hiccup sob, I finally came to the realization that I felt totally alone in the world. I was lonely. While I had a million things to do and I was alone in my house, a meltdown held me captive because I was ALONE.

What? Yeah, the realization slapped me up alongside the head, too. For years, all I’ve wanted was to be alone. To find one moment to myself. Away from the chaos of being a working mother and a wife and a writer. And now that I find myself with time to call my own, I’m struggling with the idea of a lonely road stretching out ahead of me. The path is not an easy one for me to contemplate.

As I’ve talked in previous posts, I’m in transition. My nest is emptying. The second of my three sons leaves for college in August. So my house has gotten quieter and quieter. My sons need me less. Or less in the way that they’ve always needed me. They’re more self-sufficient. They make their own meals. Get themselves to practice and school. Do their own laundry. Have their own social lives. I know, I’ve raised good, self-sufficient modern men, right? Yes. Perfect. Good job, mom. So why does this leave me feeling empty? It could be because I also find myself alone a lot more than I’ve ever been. And when you’ve been used to chaos and busyness for the past twenty years, it’s hard to downshift to a slower pace of home life and not feel it in your gut like a sucker punch.

And, really, it’s not like the pace of my work life has slowed down at all. I basically work three jobs besides my job as mother. I am busy. Yet, my axis has shifted. My world no longer revolves primarily around my kids and their well-being and activities. While they are still a huge part of my life, and thus in the same orbit, they’re no longer the big focal point. Everything does not revolve around them. So what do you do with that, when suddenly your time is your own and you find yourself alone? Not only alone, but lonely?

In that moment, that night, all I could do was cry. When I’d cried all I could, I took a hot bath, had a stiff drink, then crawled into bed and flipped on the television. One of my favorite new shows, Lucifer, was airing. So while I lay in bed, trying to catch my breath and breathe, I also crawled out of my own head--stopped navel-gazing--and submersed myself in someone else’s story. It didn’t take long for me to fall asleep. Yes, by shortly after nine o’clock on a Saturday night, I was fast asleep. By one-thirty in the morning I woke up and felt so much better. Like myself.

I took four important lessons away from my meltdown. This may not be a roadmap to peace for everyone, but it was a roadmap to my peace that night, and you might be able to use it as well.

One, during my meltdown, my girlfriends texted me. Kismet? Serendipity? God? Call it what you will. But in the middle of one of my darkest moments to-date, my friends who were getting together without me that night, reached out to me. They tried to cajole me to come join them, but I couldn’t. I was a puddle. A hot mess. Unfit for company. But what I did gain from that interaction was assurance that I was loved. Truly loved. I have great friends. Friends who often tell me they care for me and love me and who back it up with actions. So while my emotions told me I was physically all alone at that moment, I was reassured that while miles and miles away, my friends loved me, were thinking of me, and were connecting with me.

Two, you need to take care of yourself. Part of that self-care came in the form of soaking in a hot, lavender-scented bath while sipping bourbon. For some it might be eating ice cream. When we crave comfort, we need to find something that comforts us. Not something that works for someone else. But in a tiny way feed a need to be taken care of and treated to something special that we enjoy. Two of my favorite things are hot baths and bourbon. So, voila. Instant comfort.

Three, when you’re exhausted emotionally, spiritually, and physically, sometimes, the best thing you can do is go to sleep. Take a nap or go to bed early. Crawling into bed that early on a Saturday night is unheard of for me--I’m a night owl--however, it was the most helpful thing I could do for myself at that moment. Proven by the fact that after four solid hours of sleep, I felt like a brand new me. Yeah, can we say exhaustion takes an emotional toll?

Four, sometimes you just need to get out of your own head. Escape all the swirling thoughts. Read a good book. Watch a favorite movie or television show. Pull out your manuscript and work on your work-in-progress. Submerge your brain in someone else’s problems, in someone else’s story. When you come back to your reality, eventually, you’ll have given your brain a much-needed rest so that it can problem solve and find solutions for all those pesky, persistent issues that still nag at you.

I have no doubt that my days of meltdown are not totally behind me. I’ve got a long way to go in this transition phase as I face the emptying nest with milestones over the next five months and into the next two years. I’m working hard to keep myself healthy and strong, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. However, some days the perfect storm will hit. When it does next time, I believe I have a contingency plan. A way to find level ground and see my way free. I can’t promise I won’t go through it again, but, I can be confident that I’ll see my way though the chaos to a place of peace again because I’ve done it at least once before. Serenity hovers in my future, even if I am flailing in chaos because I've found my way through the chaos in the past and peace did return.

So tell me how you find peace in the midst of chaos when your life feels like it’s swirling out of control? I’d love to hear from you.


  1. Sending you love today, Mackenzie! I noticed your radio silence and thought, "Yay! She's busy with good things!" I'm sorry I didn't say, "Hey, honey?"

    After a meltdown moment, I also like to tune out, with a funny film or a book in a different genre. That way, my brain gets a break, too. And what about a walk through Walmart? Why not? A change of scene can work wonders for me, and sometimes, the more mundane the better. When the trip is unimportant and there are no major decisions hanging in the balance, I find I end up feeling more like myself.

    So, yes, I hope you'll keep taking those breaks. And I'm not worried about your journey. If anyone's going to reach her destination right "on time," I know it's going to be you!

  2. Mackenzie, I am totally blown away by this post, and I am bookmarking it so I can re-read it the next time I find myself in the midst of an epic meltdown of my own.

    I haven't given it much thought before, but it seems that when I find myself in the midst of chaos, my patterns do run along similar lines to what you described: I reach out for something to pull me a little bit out of myself. That could be touching base with a friend, or allowing myself some creature comfort (mine usually have to do with chocolate and caffeine, lol). I also ask myself, like you did, whether I need some sleep, and/or something nourishing to eat (in addition to the chocolate and caffeine, of course!). And I also take refuge in a TV show or a good book. My favorite "chill out" shows are How I Met Your Mother and Veronica Mars. (I've also been watching Lucifer, btw: Tom Ellis is the perfect personification of devilishly sexy!)

    Thanks so much for your post. You are endlessly amazing.

  3. Powerful post, my friend.

    Like you, my meltdowns tend to build into epic episodes that leave me both flat-lined and feeling like a newborn foal on shaky legs. I won't ever face an emptying nest like you, but I do face periodic bouts of loneliness and yeah, sometimes that feeling comes crashing down like the proverbial ton of bricks.

    At those times (after the tears), I count my blessings (my friends are THE BEST is usually the first on the list too, lol) and then I remind myself that feelings are important, but they aren't facts. Something about that statement is very comforting to me. Then, yeah, I usually end up stuffing myself with food. Eep! Not the healthiest option. I like your bath and TV approach much better!

    I'm sorry for the change pain you're going through, but so glad you've named it and have a few options for returning to an even keel when it strikes. Go you!

  4. Sleep is good. Exercise is good--that's how I keep myself on a somewhat even keel. I keep planning to add yoga and meditation to the mix. Haven't quite managed that.

    If it helps. I've found that the empty nest is actually a revolving door nest. They go--they come back. Eventually, they might produce some grandchildren to entertain you.

    Live is an adventure, eh? Enjoy! (And 4th son is in a "back home" phase. His bathroom is the one with the tub, so no soaking for me.)

  5. My heart goes out to you, Mackenzie! I know what that feels like and having coping strategies are so vitally important. I've had to use them all, sadly.
    But the best is knowing you have friends. We're there for you!

  6. Nichole ~ Yes, a change of scenery always helps. Whether it's outdoors or retail therapy. ;0) Wise advice.

  7. Misha ~ Looks like we're on similar paths to peace. ;0) And, yes, Tom Ellis is perfection when it comes to sinfully delicious.

  8. Keely ~ Great points. Counting our blessings and cultivating gratitude is an essential life coping skill. And so true that feelings aren't facts. ;0) Thanks for the kind words.

  9. Sally ~ Wise words. Great to know that the nest has a revolving door. ;0) And even in the bird kingdom, I guess those babies do come back to the same area to build their own nests at times. Good to remember. Yes, exercise has been key to keeping me strong both mentally and physically. Nothing better to even out those feelings than a good rush of hard-working endorphins. ;0)

  10. Merry ~ Thanks for your kind words. I know you've been there. And knowing that others have gone before (and survived) does go a long way in helping. ;0)

  11. I don't think you EVER get over the empty nest. LOL my daughter is THIRTY, with her own house. I *still* want her home again! Hang in there, girl.

  12. Thanks, Meg. I am sure you are right. ;0)