Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Astrology and Mental Health: Accepting Uranus (try not to laugh when you say that)

I don’t know about you, but for me, this year has gotten more and more emotionally difficult as the months pass by.

From January through March, I was too distracted with my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, writing papers for school, and winding down my peak season for college counseling. When I caught my breath at the end of March and found myself emotionally spent, I thought it was the climate of the country, and we were all collectively beginning to realize that our new president was stirring up some real shit and that he was probably not going anywhere any time soon.

So I declared, as a possible healing salve, May as the Month of Mindfulness; I figured this would be the best antidote to the anxiety I was experiencing. Mindfulness, by definition, is being fully in the moment and getting engrossed in activities that keep you in the here-and-now. So, I set out to mediate daily as well as incorporate mindful activities like brushing my teeth slowly or paying attention to the smell of the shampoo while showering or taking in the sounds of the birds chirping while on a bike ride.

For the most part, I stuck to this plan, with just a few days here and there missing meditation. What I began to understand was that with Mindfulness came an avenue to acceptance, which is the key to coping with scary and distressing thoughts and feelings…and to other important aspects of life, like dealing with difficult but necessary changes.

I wondered though, that while things have not gotten worse internally for me, and they even improved in some ways, if there was something, well, bigger going on.

That’s where astrology comes in.

Not too ago, back in April when I was in a bit of a stuck spot, my shaman Acupuncturist, after one particularly intense treatment said, “I think you should see an astrologer.”

Now understand, both my shaman Acupuncturist and I share a somewhat science-based mind when it comes to treatment. I’m not a huge fan of mediums and psychics. Astrology, however, I can get behind because there is a science to it.

So, I booked an appointment with an astrologer for the first week in May.

And that’s when I learned that Uranus is screwing up my life.

(That sentence conjures up so many puns…)

But seriously, what this means is that the planet Uranus, right now, is directly opposite where it was when I was born in 1975. Apparently, in the science of astrology this is BAD. Yet, it happens to everyone and manifests in a kind of “mid-life crisis” of sorts. The outer planets move more slowly through our birth charts, with effects lasting years and being wide reaching, like generational. Outer planets also have the greatest influence and can shape the most important events in our lives.  

Upon further research, I’ve discovered that if you are around my age (41) you may be feeling the effects of a “Uranus opposition”, too. According to this same research, it really depends on how much you resist what Uranus is calling for you to do, meaning resisting the changes that it signifies.

(There are so many ridiculous jokes that I could do about the above sentence; It’s hard to stay serious when I have to say the word Ur Anus so many times in this post.)

Anyway, this Uranus opposition means that, like the caterpillar who digests itself while in the chrysalis stage and then emerges a beautiful butterfly, the process of transformation during this time is slow and painful. Makes sense that the astrologer I worked with used words like “anxiety” and “discomfort” and said this “breaks things up and brings about the unexpected”.

Best of all, according to my chart, this whopper-of-a-astrological-cluster-eff lasts until 2019!

What I find comfort in though, is that my instinct from back in April was right—this anxiety is bigger than just a relapse of symptoms. It has a specific, universe-influenced purpose: transformation.

I’m about to embark on a significant shift in my career and I have many, many fears around letting go of the old and stepping into the new. These fears make me want to stop, curl up, and just avoid all the steps I must take in order for this change to happen. Even though it is a change I want, change, itself, scares me and typically sends me into anxiety (as it does for many of us).

Yet, I kind of feel like the universe has got my back, so-to-speak. Even if I’m scared, this is supposed to happen, it is happening. Might as well go with the flow. Might as well feel the fear and do it anyway.

This is where the mental health piece comes in.

The mental health piece is that anxiety, over an extended period of time, makes you doubt yourself, makes you lose trust in your instincts…it makes you question yourself over and over. This astrology reading told me that my gut was right, that I am heading into a difficult time period of transformation and one that will be slow and painful. It reminded me that I can trust my gut. Though my anxiety many times is a false alarm, I felt it in my gut that this was different. Sometimes it is a real alarm system, alerting me that difficult change is coming.

What all of this brings me to is the beauty and usefulness of Mindfulness in terms of helping ourselves through a difficult mental health period.

I had a therapist say to me, when I was in a fit of rage and frustration that my anxiety was back and I just was so tired of it and I hated it and (now picture me stomping my feet like a five-year-old), that “to not want something is to have it, especially when it comes to symptoms of anxiety.”

And according to research, trying to suppress or not think certain thoughts or have certain feelings only gives them more intensity.

The fact that the planets are aligned such that I am supposed to be experiencing this intense change-anxiety actually forces me to have to accept that it’s happening…because it is and the universe corroborates that fact.

Mindfulness is a way of getting you to accept that which you cannot change. I cannot change my unpleasant anxiety symptoms and feelings; I can only accept the discomfort and then I have to move on and live the day’s demands and activities. Because all I do have control over is that my actions and behaviors.

So, I set forth into my birthday month and choose to “feel the fear and do it anyway”, and I shouldn’t worry because the universe has got my back.


Tuesday, May 02, 2017

May is for Mindfulness

April was a time for me of staying off social media and journaling—by hand!. This was my way of celebrating The Mighty’s Month of Kindness as part of their year of self-care for 2017. I managed to journal 25 out of 30 days of the month. A victory! It was very liberating and fulfilling to watch the pages fill with all my “stuff”. With each stroke of my pen, I was letting go of the fear and worries that were getting in my way on daily basis.

Speaking of fear and worry...

April was a really difficult month for me. Anxiety and depression seem to creep up and tap me on the shoulder when I least expected it, and though I tried to shrug them both off, they continued to tap, tap, tap until I finally turned around and said, “What do you guys want now?”

They wanted my attention, to say the least; they were like two scared, little girls who had been begging for their mom’s love and kindness, and I acted, at first, like a negligent “too busy” mother.

Pretty quickly, I’d say by the middle of the month, it became clear how much they needed a good strong hug from me and that they needed to be heard. So, I sat down and listened to what they had to say.

They told me how afraid they were about getting older, about the uncertainty that the passing of time brings, and about how they weren’t sure what was going to happen in the future. They kept throwing all these "what if" scenarios at me, seeking reassurance in ways I simply couldn't give, in ways that were virtually impossible. "What if", by definition, has no real answer or no real reassurance because it is the unknown, the uncertain. At first I kept asking my anxiety and depression what can I do? What do you want me to do about all this? And they just kept crying and asking to be hugged…so I held them and soothed them until they quieted and relaxed into my arms.

By the end of the month, I realized that they didn’t want or need me to fix or solve or work really hard at anything. They just wanted to be heard, supported, and validated. Ironically, they needed kindness and compassion, which were the themes of the month and are the things I give to my clients on a daily basis…so why was it so hard to give it to myself?

Fear. I feared that being too soft and loving with myself meant that I would somehow become a weak mess. I would lose control. When, in reality, by turning towards myself with loving kindness actually made me stronger, made me more in control over the things I truly have control over (my behavior) and let go of the things I don’t have control over (other people’s behavior and the passing of time).  

As the month of April began to wind down, I found myself seeking more mindful and spiritual approaches to coping with my anxious brain.

Me, at Acupuncture, working on my shen.
I made a silent promise to myself that for the month of May, I was going to practice true, in-the-moment Mindfulness.

So as I leave the month April behind, with its deep, spiritual and emotional struggles, I embrace May, with its promise of mindfulness and hope. Ironically, The Mighty has declared May as the month of Mindfulness, and I am embracing this commitment fully. 

My mindfulness practice for this month is very simple: 

1. Daily meditation
Ten minutes a day, using the Headspace App (which I really like!), I'm going to allow myself to be fully in the moment of doing nothing but being aware of sound, breath, and sensation.

2. Awareness of "What if" thinking

"What if" thinking typically indicates that I'm about to get pulled into a tornado (or quicksand, depending on which analogy works for you) of anxiety. What if I go crazy? What if fail my test? What if my kids get sick? What if this anxiety never ends? So, for this month, when my brain starts to “what if”, I'm taking a deep breath, stepping out of the tornado (or simply not flailing around in the quicksand so I can float to the top) and grounding myself into the precious present moment. Grounding myself could be as simple as focusing on my breath for a few moments or doing mindful activities like: doing yoga poses, grabbing my kids poster paint and doodling out my feelings, asking for a hug, walking barefoot on the wet grass, going for a bike ride, looking outside at the blooming trees, or taking a walk around the neighborhood.   

If you are reading this post and want to commit to mindfulness this month, post what you're going to do in the comments below.