The Lord has an interesting way of moving and manipulating the universe in order to speak to us sometimes. In my case, today it was through Glennon Doyle Melton. Have you heard of Glennon? I hadn’t, really. I mean, I knew of her blog, Momastery, and had read a few posts as they turned up in other people’s feeds, but I wasn’t a devoted follower. I am now.
I’d been agonizing over what to post on here this week. So many people were kind enough to share with me their own private struggles with anxiety after I wrote about my trip to the ER last week, and everything I put together in the days following felt petty and unimportant by comparison.
The thing is, I shouldn’t have even been there today. Just 48 hours ago I had no plans to be in that auditorium, in that audience, in that seat or at that frighteningly relevant talk. A friend/co-worker mentioned that Glennon was coming yesterday morning and said it was that afternoon at 2pm, and I should join her. I, unfortunately, had a meeting at that time and wouldn’t be able to tag along. But, as fate would demand it, leap day had her thrown for a loop and the lecture was actually March 1. I was available, there were tickets left, and I just had that feeling. You know that feeling you get when stars align and your heart pushes your head aside and you just kind of go with it because the whole thing feels bigger than you and very destiny-driven? Like your second date with the man you married … or the time you picked up a cyclist with a flat tire and it turned out to be Dave Matthews or …. This was that on a smaller scale, but still, it was whispering to me.
So, today, on the first day of a brand-new month, there I sat; 15 rows back from Glennon Doyle Melton giving a casual chat about, what else, anxiety, depression and the mentally different. She, it turns out, is a recovering addict, who has battled bulimia, anxiety and the lowest of the lows. She has emerged on the other side, an accomplished author, speaker and advocate. I will never be able to appropriately convey her stories or the comparisons she gave that turned on parts of my mind that I didn’t even realize were dark, or her passion for peace and self-acceptance, but I can sure as hell try. These were some of my favorite moments, and what I took away …
On being an anxious person.
In preparation for her talk, she took a shower at the hotel and then began going over her notes. She got so anxious about the public speaking, she started sweating and had to shower again. “But that’s what we do. We just keep showering and keep showing up!”
On truth tellers.
The Momastery founder is known for her brutally honest accounts of her struggles and full-disclosure (for the most part) approach to her work. And that’s a characteristic she shares with all folks, even the fellow mom at the park who inquires about her day. “We have a sign,” she said, making a slashing motion across her neck, “Craig will say, ‘Gosh, Glennon she’s just trying to push her kid on the swing.'” But she explained that her over-sharing and offering an honest account of how she’s feeling in the moment or through her writing is no different than someone who cuts themselves or eats too much or drinks too much or refuses to eat. They are saying how they feel and that something is off by hiding in a small place or habit where they feel entirely safe. “We’re all truth tellers. Just in different ways.”
On the mentally different.
Glennon shared a story about her Great Uncle, who worked in the coal mines where there would often be high amounts of toxic, dangerous chemicals. The workers would bring a canary, which had a higher tolerance for the harmful elements, down with them. When the bird stopped singing, they knew it was time to leave because it was too dangerous. If they stayed too long, the canary would die. “The longer I think about this and learn about this, I just know that some of us are canaries.” But instead of assuming those who notice what’s wrong or have heightened sensitivities should be silenced or sent away, perhaps, she suggests, they should be celebrated. “I mean, maybe we’re just the ones paying attention. There’s certainly a science and a poetry to it all.”
Many of us live under the false notion that pain will kill us. We treat it like a hot potato and often run from it, pass it off to some unsuspecting bystander through hurtful exchanges, or push it down as far as it will go so we can’t see it, smell it or taste it. But the truth is, pain won’t kill us. In fact, Glennon believes it does the opposite. “If you can sift through a crisis, you’ll often find you’re left with some sort of treasure.”
Everything we need to change or grow as a human being lives inside of pain.
Shortly after her marriage fell apart, she found herself in a hot yoga class. When the instructor asked her what her intentions were, Glennon, boiling over with raw, violent sorrow, simply said, “My intention is to get through whatever comes next.” The teacher told her just to sit still on her mat. So, she did. For 90 minutes she sat in the silence and anguish of her own personal pain. At the conclusion of the session, the instructor looked at her and said, “That is the journey of the warrior.”
“Pain is a traveling professor,” Glennon said. “Wise people invite it to come in and teach them.”
At one of her talks, Glennon had a concerned mother stand up and ask what she could do for her quiet 8-year-old son. “Give me 3 words to describe the kind of man you want him to be,” she said. The woman responded that she would love for her son to be kind, brave and intelligent. “All of those things come from pain,” Glennon explained. We spend so much time shielding our children from what we think will hurt them, and overthinking every word we say to them, but really all we can do is show up, every day, over and over and over and over again, and offer to walk through their pain with them. That, she suggests, is what will make them the strong, kind men and women we so desperately want them to be.
“It is not your job to fix your child’s pain.”
You can watch Glennon’s TED talk here and I 120% suggest that you do. Make time for it. Settle in for it. You won’t regret that you did. If this is what mentally different looks like, than I’m all in.