Getting Back to Good: Surviving Pressure to Succeed

 I’ll let you in on a little secret.  It’s not all exotic trips, personal trainers and daydreaming at my house.  Yes, the home behind the blog is flawed.  Last week was especially trying.  The air was thick and suffocating, the floor was sprinkled with eggshells and the corners were piled with gunpowder awaiting the tiniest spark.  It was hard to breathe, create or live in this supercharged, stressed out atmosphere, but little, by little we got it back to good.

Work Stress

Last Friday our middle son, Josh, brought home his third grade spelling test with a score just below failing.   School is usually easy for him. 

Josh is a highly sensitive  kid.  He can only tolerate very soft materials for his clothing, bedding and bath towels.  If he is hungry nothing else matters.  His sense of smell is keen.  He doesn’t like milk from a carton because it smells and tastes different than milk from a plastic jug.  He internalizes everything.  So you can imagine his reaction to the low score on his spelling test.  His self esteem flagging, he raged at my husband and I when we had him study for and retake the test at home.  He didn’t want to do the work, which is why he was in this predicament in the first place.  He didn’t study before the school test either.   The teddy-bear kid who still holds my hand when crossing a parking lot, now hated everyone and everything.  He was ornery and overwhelmed and consequently so was the rest of the household. I was anything but calm.

At the same time Josh was stewing and spewing, I was feeling my own internal pressure.  I had put up a fan page on Facebook for space2live and now felt an intense need to be wise and witty with my status updates and weekly writing.  I created an audience and now I needed to perform…well.  Adding to the pressure, a couple of  writers that I respect (seasoned bloggers with published books) had contacted me regarding my own blog.  They were watching. 

It was difficult to focus on writing when my house was a powder keg next to a lit sparkler.  There was no flow state to fall into, just survival.  The turmoil manifested itself into insomnia.  I could fall asleep because I was mentally exhausted but then around 2A.M. my mind became a runaway train with me, the damsel in distress, dragging behind it.  There was no soothing mental exercise or gentlemen with a handlebar moustache to save me.  I just waited for the alarm on my nightstand to go off.  I got up and trudged through my day with a numbed brain and racing rabbit heart. 

Back to Calm

 According to Elaine Arons’ book The Highly Sensitive Child, one of the first things you have to do to live and love with a highly sensitive child is remain calm.  You have to be calm so that your child can be calm.  Like putting your oxygen mask on first and then your child’s when the plane is going down.  No one can process or learn anything if they are worked up and overwhelmed.

So this is what we did…

Josh was worried about the new spelling packet for the week, but my husband went over each word with him.  Josh and I sat down on our wooden steps and breathed deeply together.  I demonstrated belly breaths (expand the belly on the inhale, squeeze it towards the spine on exhale) but he just took big gulping, hyperventilating breaths instead.  Somehow that worked.  He relaxed.

Also to create a diversion from Josh’s schoolwork, I had him help me make dinner.  At first he viewed it as more work in his life, but then found it fun to snap asparagus spears and peel apples.  He reveled in being useful.  I made sure to point out his help at the dinner table that night.  He smiled and showed his beautiful dimples.

I slept better that night.

As for myself and my worries about being creative, prolific and perfect, well, I decided to restock my images, a favorite suggestion from Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Way .  I know when I am feeling low on ideas I need to explore the world a little, leave behind the mundane and witness the meaningful.  For this expedition I didn’t even have to leave my house.  I allowed myself a day of freedom and tried not to feel guilty.  I chose Monday to slip into my artistic reverie.  The kids were at school and my husband was at work.  I watched a French film called The Chorus.  The story about misunderstood boys in a prison-like reformatory school pulled on my heartstrings, releasing them from their tight, desperate knot.  I saw Josh’s wounded spirit in the eyes of those boys.  The angelic singing in the movie brought me to that place where everyone is connected through beauty.  That higher level of living. 

I dusted my guitar off and played.  It felt good to pluck and strum.  Tension from my fingertips met the tension of six wires and transformed into music and ease. 

I read essays by E.B. White and poems by Mary Oliver.  I floated on their words rather than try to eek out my own.

By the end of the day, my shoulders felt lighter and my posture improved.  My eyes twinkled and I was looking forward to the kids coming home from school. 

Back to Work

By Wednesday I was ready to get back in the saddle.  I put my head down and wrote.  Over the previous few days ideas had flitted in and out of my consciousness.  My idea notebooks (scattered all over the house), were doing their job, holding bits of clarity and brain lint.  I only needed to pull something together out of the pieces.  Some of the pressure was off.

I spent 45 minutes on the elliptical machine in our basement on Friday morning.  I listened to a podcast on Internet Marketing for Smart People about transient success. It spoke of getting back to grounded once you’ve achieved.  It all came down to doing the work, keeping up your craft.  If you have an idea and get others to go along with it you have to be willing to pay the price of consistently committing to the work. 

I believe failure and success are opposite sides of the same coin.  If you falter, same thing, pick yourself up and carry on.  Get back to the craft, the work, but consider an element of ease, or space where you can breathe first. Something that soothes your spirit and creates an opening for inspiration.

Josh and I both had put stress on ourselves regarding our commitments.  What seemed to get us out of the boiler pot was breathing and returning to the work.   In his case, literal deep breaths calmed him down.  In my case, taking time to connect with film, music and poetry led to an openness where creativity could enter.  Both of us moved forward with our responsibilities.  He studied for the spelling test this week and did his daily reading.  I sat down with the laptop and tapped out strings of words and did my best to be a calm mom. 

 Success and failure are transient, but for today, we’re back to good.

How do you pick yourself up after a downfall?  How do you handle achievement? 

P.S. Josh did very well on this week’s spelling test.

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10 thoughts on “Getting Back to Good: Surviving Pressure to Succeed

  1. Pingback: The Art of Dancing with Resistance « space2livedotnet

  2. First, I think you did great with Josh. This reminded me of what we were just talking about yesterday and today…Osho. If you could teach him that concept…over time…it would be soooo beneficial for him…even if it took seven years for him to comprehend it…can’t remember his age…it would help him in adulthood.

    Breathing…everybody starts breathing awareness meditation at an irregular rythm. I think it’s awesome that it did the trip. I bet the more he does it with you, the smoother his breathes will become.

    I pick myself up from a downfall by engrossing myself in figuring out the next step, now that this one failed. The steady research…reading, running around for info, making copies, writing, etc….usually distracts me and brings me into a new realm of focus that gives me energy again. I also write, workout, cook, organize my apt with a vengence, and call my friend Brenda ;)

    I try to take my achievement and apply it to a new level where I can continue to expand myself (I’m an overachiever.)…in whatever it is…cooking – invite friends for dinner, raise – tell the family, workout schedule is great – share the news, charity work – dole out my talents and experience to someone who needs it and move up in what I offer to do as people realize my sneaky – hidden abilities. I also smile with my whole face and my whole body. I wander somewhere unique and new to explore like Crazy Wisdom Bookstore or checking out hiking boots that I want but can’t afford at Cabela’s but be happy even though I love them and can’t take them home with me…hmmmm…maybe that’s slightly backwards…or needed more up front to at least equal the after effect of an achievement. I tell the whole world, unless it’s something I have to be discreet about, what I did and why I’m so happy! I usually can’t contain myself :)

    • I will re-read the Osho Anger management piece again and this time think of Josh as I read it. I like how you move on to the next step once one method has failed. Learn and move on. Seems you do the same thing with achievement. Keep growing and sharing. Thanks for reading and commenting my friend.:)

  3. I would like to add that it was difficult to decide whether or not to put Josh’s story out for public viewing. I even pulled it off the blog for a while after publication. I left it in place because I know some of my readers struggle with the same kind of parental stress. Maybe our story would make them feel a little less alone. Josh is not perfect and neither are we, his parents. Overall, we keep it together, but every once in a while we stumble.

  4. Dear talented, compassionate, beautiful Brenda,
    Your words are as beautiful as you. Your inner beauty is so much more than your outer. What a wonderful blog.
    Kimber
    P.S. I loved the reference to a Matchbox Twenty song

    • Thank you Kimber for reading and responding. It’s wonderful to know my writing resonates with wise spirits like you. I almost included a verse from the Matchbox Twenty song at the top of the post but felt they all spoke more to a romantic relationship.

  5. I too was extremely sensitive as a child of 4, 5 and 6 years of age: I slipped into the world of fairy tales as a true believer of elves: Disney’s Pinnocchio had a huge effect on me–a puppet coming to life. I was enchanted by The Shoemaker and the Elves, The Brave Little Tailor, and especially Rumplestiltskin–stories about supernatural beings that would befriend me. I remember this rich fantasy that enriched me before the school years really kicked off. As a young child, I was also highly senstive to popular music that came off the hi-fi: Percy Faith’s hit “A Summer Place” had me running into my room, upset, clamping my ears with my hands to shut it off. Moody orchestral music could do that. Some adult faces bothered me, or faces on a record album cover, enough to lose my appetite for food. I was this pintsize, highly sensitive receptacle taking in the world of everything–yet I had a happy nature grateful in seeing the funny side of things too. I was lucky to be in a family that let you nourish your imagination, which was easy because my mother is Italian and the folk lore from that side of the family was theatrical. My childhood was fascinating: it was stuffed with make-believe. I guess I saw a drab adult world in my immediate environment. I took to the movies at a very young age: I had an appreciation for drama. I remember being seven, and faking sick making the whole family miss out on Christmas Eve church service so I could hog the TV and catch the film “Marty,” which was pretty sophisticated for a kid of seven. Bill Ogle

    • It seems your sensitivity led you to a rich inner life Bill. I feel the same way about my own sensitive nature. I think Josh is just starting to discover his internal world. He is still working on processing things like music and stories. Thank you for sharing your own experience as a sensitive being. I appreciate the candidness and vivid details. “I was lucky to be in a family that let you nourish your imagination…” Yes!

    • I know you understand the wisdom and weariness that comes with parenting Sally.:) Getting to calm is tough for me when the environment is so charged, but seeing the kids go from defeated to elated is worth every effort. I also have more energy when they are on solid ground. Thanks so much for reading and responding.

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