Reflections After a Year of Feeling My Feelings

I’m in a bit of a funk and have been since February. To distill down the reasons would take time and effort I don’t have right now. This funky feeling of mine matters because it affects my writing life.

I’m still writing, but it’s not feeling like it did last year, when I found my writing voice. In 2020, I kicked my insecurities around worthiness to the curb on and just started writing. To my delight, I found this unreal sense of purpose unlike anything I’ve felt before.

Being an engineer, I’d thought I found my purpose in my career. I find immense satisfaction in using numbers, formulas, and drawings to build roads that take people where they want to go. I’ve found humanity in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field through the relationships I’ve built with people who share this same passion. But then, I unexpectedly found my art, and I even wrote this post about it last fall.

But my funk is lingering, and I had a light bulb click on this week. In the process of finding my art, I also found my feelings. Which means I’ve had the distinct pleasure and utter despair of feeling all of them. It’s been a messy, un-pretty, sometimes nauseating process to feel feelings that’ve been all bottled up for two decades. I feel them spilling out every which ways and uncontrollably, like a sticky, stinky mess without a mop. Plus, naming feelings is one thing but dealing with them is another. The silver lining is the sheer FREEDOM that comes from dealing with feelings. They really do have a beginning, a middle, and an end (thank you, Burnout by Amelia Nagoski and Emily Nagoski).

At the time I awakened my feelings, I’d been going to therapy for months. After putting in the work by talking things out every two weeks and reading on my own (Codependency No More by Melody Beattie and Boundaries by Cloud & Townsend are my faves), it finally clicked. I’m allowed to feel my feelings. And, I’m free to express them, too. God bless you if this concept is foreign to you, and you’ve never had intense such struggles to feel your own feelings.

Back to the light bulb moment this week. I dug deep and suddenly began to define a distinct, core emotion for the last four seasons. So, I decided to walk through each feeling, one by one.

I should note that anger is typically my first emotion when I feel (react), so it didn’t feel prominent last year. It was certainly there more than I care to admit, but I was able to dismiss it more often and see what was underneath.

A Joyful Summer 2020: When people talk about finding themselves, this is as close as I came to that feeling last summer. Every day I woke up and thought, what’s next? I felt…

  • Inspired by new podcasts.
  • Confident at my job.
  • Playful on weekend hikes.
  • Creative letting my writing just flow through blogging, journaling, and storytelling.
  • Calued when I saw friends after a long spring quarantine hiatus.
  • Courageous in who I was becoming.

A Hopeful Fall 2020: While still full of bubbly new gems of self-discovery, I could tell that as the days cooled off and snow began to fall, my joy was still around, but muted. I felt…

  • Hopeful about the yet-to-be-named next project I’d be sent to next at work.
  • Peaceful about the seemingly steady state of life after making it through 6+ months of the pandemic.
  • Grateful for smaller gatherings and less to do’s during the holiday season.
  • Optimistic about 2021, ready to take on the year and try to recapture what I could that 2020 took from us.

A Fearful Winter 2021: My tidal wave of joy turned hope came to a slow, steady stop shortly after the holidays. I felt…

  • Nervous because I still didn’t have the “next” project at work. I’d only been committed to a two-month gig to “help out” (the plot thickens here… read on).
  • Rejected after not being selected on a few summer projects we bid at work. Suddenly, I didn’t check all the boxes. (Figures, just as I finally learned how to not be such a box checker over my summer of self-discovery)
  • Inadequate at my short-term project because it was much larger than my last one. There were some elements I hadn’t seen before, like major traffic phasing and corrective concrete work.
  • Overwhelmed when told out of the blue I’d be taking over as the construction manager of a multi-million project . Yep, the one that I was initially only spending two months on. I had a sliver of gratitude for being given the opportunity, but whew. Overwhelm would become my new tidal wave.

A Sad, Stressful Spring 2021: I made it through the uncertainties of winter, then another core emotion was lingering and ready: sadness. And from the stress of going from no project to a major project, the last few months have just been hard. I feel…

  • Sad because my mom and stepdad are moving to Florida part-time in a few months. I love them with my whole heart.
  • Depleted by my job, although I’ve come so far in the last three months. It’s a daily metaphor of jumping on a moving train and still waiting for my legs to catch up so I can hop on. (I’ve got 1.5 legs barely on the caboose)
  • Lonely because I don’t have time or energy for socialization right now. I also sense others’ hesitancy to get together too, despite these long-awaited vaccines.
  • Burned out by all things social media and have basically disappeared from it for an unknown period of time.
  • Disconnected from my faith, although I know it’s not lost.

What a wonderful life it is, eh? I mean that sincerely. If I take myself up to 30,000 feet, how incredible is it to have these intricacies and complexities in just one human experience? I’m equally grateful and annoyed. Grateful to be in tune enough with myself to trust the process of feelings, but annoyed to finally face the unfairly labeled “negative” emotions. Better than late than never I suppose. Really, my true goal is to face them and bring back some creativity and inspiration.

But truth be told, I have to believe that all of the above isn’t just me being down in the dumps and broody for no reason.

Colorado has had an 8 month winter. Our first snow came last September, and our (hopefully) last snow came this week in May. Indirectly, my seasons of emotions tells me I’m a sunshine girl through and through. Strange, since I live in the 300-days-of-sunshine-a-year state, and it’s felt nonexistent through these cold snaps. The sun makes me feel light and bright and full of allll the good things. I honestly think I was able to finish this post because the sun came out today, swelled my heart twice its size, and kept shining until I could sit down to write this after 6pm on a weeknight.

If you made it this far, thank you. This whole exercise has been as therapeutic as I’d hoped, though I could’ve just journaled all this out rather than blogging. But the reason I share my writing is always the same: what if someone feels seen, understood, or known because of one sentence, one paragraph, one story of mine? What if my mess helped them escape their own momentarily? What if it helped in some way I’ll never know? A single answer to even one of those “what if”s is worth it.

I’ve deeply felt my core emotions for a sustained amount of time, from the fun ones to the painful ones, and I’m still alive and functioning… and sharing it publicly. And now it’s making new room for all I have to be ridiculously grateful for. This whole feelings business will come around again, but my Type A self is so happy to be more prepared for it.

Here’s to our feelings, whatever they are and whenever they come.

Challenging the Relationship between Trust and Fear

When prompted with the subject of trust in my women’s writing group, Illuminate Writing, I found myself wondering how fear and trust are related. How the two are intertwined, yet at odds with each other. Turns out after a quick Google search, that many agree: trust and fear are inversely proportional to each other. So, the more fear I have, the less trust I have. And the more trust I have, the less fear I have.

In other words, trust must be far greater than fear to eliminate it. 

Sometimes, I like to go to the Bible when I can’t get my head around words that capture me. Regarding fear, the first verse that popped into my head was this:

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” — 1 John 4:18a

This verse mystifies me. It is simply stated but difficult to practice. On my less confident days, it feels like a standard I’ll never live up to. On my more optimistic days, it feels like an invitation that I can rely on. Fundamentally I believe this verse is a call from God to trust Him with everything in my life. This level of trust has no room for fear to live out the purpose He has placed on my heart—despite rejection, failure, even the fear of silence when I crave specifics. But I also believe it addresses the fear we have in our closest relationships with others, especially in conflict.

When tension arises between me and a loved one, it’s uncomfortable. It often results from one or both of us having some truth within ourselves that we feel we cannot speak aloud. Digging deeper, it seems we fear speaking our truth when there is a lack of trust of how the other will receive it. Our behaviors betray our feelings, resulting in reactions that downright oppose our individual truths.

It can be terrifying to be exposed, seen, and known, unless I have full trust that I will be accepted and loved just the same. Because when I speak my truth without fear, I am actually trusting myself and not relying on the other person’s response. 2020 in particular brought this concept to light for me. How many of us share the same truths across the board on masks, vaccines, AND healthcare response, not to mention the state of the economy and the racial justice movements in our midst? I engaged in more enriching conversations than ever last year by pushing past fears of surface-level acceptance that long held me back.

In essence, I’m learning to accept the risk of an unfavorable outcome. This can range from a simple misunderstanding with quick resolution, to an intense life-changing battle. The paradox is that the bigger the risk, the more I fear what I say and what I do not say in equal measures. If I trust myself, how will my truth land? If I don’t trust myself to speak it aloud, can I survive? What will I sacrifice either way? How does it align with my loved one’s truth?

In the verse, note the phrase “cast out”—which is different from avoiding. To cast out is not to bypass, but to remove it, like a cancerous tumor, before it consumes. How can I access this “perfect love” that holds so much power? The stakes are high when it comes to trusting myself with a spouse, family member, best friend, or lover. At the highest level, I often wonder: is “perfect love” most attainable after surviving one of life’s most gut-wrenching fears—death of a loved one, divorce, trauma, prison, bankruptcy—to find a lesson in love through the worst imaginable pain? Love when fiery anger melts into genuine compassion. Love when it sees past someone’s behavior to their shame and doesn’t turn away, or shame back. Love when it hurts to decide whether to speak or not speak, to stay or leave, to grieve, to forgive.

I won’t fully know what Jesus meant in 1 John 4:18 until my earthly life is over. Until then, I rely on this: I can trust myself. I can trust the pure example of perfect love that I believe Jesus exemplifies. And both levels of trust will help grow my expression of love into a force that banishes fear from existence in my most precious relationships.

This post was inspired by a theme from Illuminate Writing by the editors of The Kindred Voice who share womxn’s powerful stories.

Please check out these amazing writers and their posts on Trust

Trust is Hard to Come By
by Mia Sutton
My Superhero in the Sky by Sarah Hartley
Pattern Making in Parenting by Laci Hoyt
In How We Trust by Liz Russell

Original publication date: August 27, 2020

Why I’m Obsessed with Metacognition

Last summer, I was listening to a podcast that was discussing metacognition – the notion of thinking about what you’re thinking about. Here’s the formal definition for my fellow Webster nerds:

Not sure yet how I feel to admit this, but I haven’t been able to stop analyzing my thoughts since. Not every single thought, of course, just the big ones that make me stop and say: “Wait. Is that really true for me?”. I was probably doing it subconsciously before, but now I have a word for it: metacognition. It helps me shift my perspective when I need a fresh look at a tough or undesirable situation.

Here are a few recent examples of what’s rattled my brain…

First thought: “Holy crap. I can’t believe I have to leave the house for work every day in the middle of a pandemic.”

Next thought: “Wow. I love the quiet time I get in the car driving to work every day. The traffic is manageable, and thank God I haven’t gotten sick this whole time.”

First thought: “I left my blog alone for a month. How on earth will I get back into the groove of writing.”

Next thought: “I left my blog alone for a month because my day job got a lot more interesting, and I’m up for a promotion. I have so many new stories to tell about faith, women in engineering, and self-worth.”

First thought: “Ugh. I only worked out twice this week. I’m behind on my goals and feel exhausted.”

Next thought: “It’s time to reassess my goals this week and back off where I need to. On the plus side, finishing The Glass Castle and a couple Grey’s Anatomy episodes felt AWESOME.”

This week, I also finished the book The Dance of Anger by Harriett Lerner. It has completely changed my perspective on anger. It is going to take a LOT of unlearning, but I am amazed at how differently I see anger already. It’s always felt like such a charged, negative emotion for me. But I learned that anger can be a tool to help tell you what you need to do to take care of yourself. It is possible to look at anger as a neutral emotion, instead of an emotion that beats up my self-worth and makes me feel “wrong” for feeling upset.

The book reminded me that I’m entitled to all my feelings, especially anger. It’s just what I do with it once I feel it that makes all the difference. And after this book, I have so many more options to deal with my anger than my standard go-to’s of over functioning, blaming, and defending. I highly, highly recommend it for women, since it’s written for us specifically. I plan to read it again this year (and, nerd alert, take some notes this time).

Metacognition helps me mind the endless “what if” scenarios that can plague me and overwhelm me. Metacognition is an antidote any time I have self-imposed feelings of self-doubt. Metacognition, guided by two of my favorite allies—grace and gratitude—powerfully tames my coronacoaster thinking, so I can hold onto a realistic yet positive perspective throughout life’s daily curveballs.

What It Means to Stay In My Lane

How much do you pay attention to the lane striping on a roadway? Unfortunately for me, I critique notice it a LOT from working in the transportation industry as a field engineer.

Double yellow, that’s easy: don’t cross into oncoming traffic. Dashed white, also called skips: lane changes are allowed. But I mean the finer details. Like when you’re merging onto an interstate, but there’s a long solid white line that slooowly turns into white skips. Ooh, gray area. I bet at least 90% of us cross that solid line before the skips. I can neither confirm nor deny my choice, given where I’m going and how heavy traffic is. These areas are tricky because the lane next to it looks open. So, can’t I sneak on over and be on my way?

The lane lines serve as boundaries of what we can and cannot cross. We don’t own the roadway, of course (as much as we’d like to, some days). And the more I studied “striping” as we call it in the engineering field, the more I began connecting this concept to everyday life. I’ve also studied quite a bit on boundaries in my personal growth, as the notion of it was completely foreign to me until a few years ago. Back then, aside from some obvious ethical boundaries like don’t cheat, I had very few personal boundaries.

I thought saying yes to everything and everyone was both encouraged and expected. “Be a hand raiser!” “Don’t miss a good opportunity!” “Fake it till you make it!” were the mantras told to us as young college students ready to change the world. Seldom were the phrases, “But do what’s best for you” or “But take the time you need to decide what opportunities fit you” added on to remind us to stay balanced. The main message was: get the degree as fast as possible to start making as much money as possible, and the rest will fall into place. An engineering fairy tale at its finest.

I’ve learned that boundaries give us language to say what works and what doesn’t for us, both in life and at work. I think this is really tough for women in engineering to do consistently, because we naturally want to help people out. Sometimes we put up a white solid line (do not cross temporarily) but find that someone urges us to change it to white skips (passing lane, come on in). Like when a manager moves up a deadline when we just admitted (or wanted to admit) we were burnt out and need a short break. Sometimes we put up a double yellow that gets completely ignored, like when we told our significant other that we need to reschedule dinner with the folks, but they forgot and now “we can’t let them down”.

Boundaries are tough, because often others can see our lines, plain as day, yet decide to cross over anyway. The reverse can be true from us to others as well. It takes commitment, strength, and love for ourselves to not only discover our boundaries, but also to hold them, especially with outside pressure.

One thing that took me a while to understand about boundaries is that love and kindness can break boundaries. My rule follower intuitions are so ingrained that default to seeing boundaries in black and white (or, yellow and white, if you’ve stuck with my roadway metaphor this long). We can set our hard lines, but we can choose to open them up and allow them to be crossed over, too. This choice comes from the desire to preserve our most precious relationships and partnerships.

The other thing I learned about boundaries is that it’s more important that I stay in my lane rather than peek over at someone else’s. It’s easy to do this on a road when cars are traveling so quickly; save for stoplights, there’s little time to really check out what the other person is doing. We can try, but a few seconds in, and we’re easily distracted away from our own destination that day. We can easily miss the green light on our side if we’re too focused on someone else’s green.

My own boundary lines help define my perspective of my life. I can choose how much to invest in a friend or coworker who may be temporarily struggling. I can pull over safely near their lane and help support them, but I don’t have to be “in” their lane, problem solving for them and taking over their car. They can get to their final destination better with me as a passenger, not the driver. Boundaries help me stay detached.

Maybe the next time you’re on the road, the road striping will take on a new meaning and new perspective for you. Maybe you’ll wait to merge before the white-lined gore on an off-ramp. Or if someone sneaks over the white line in front of you when they could’ve waited, you’ll smile and think of love and kindness. But if you honk, that’s OK too, since boundaries are all about owning our power and choosing what works for us.