Grief is a sacred journey

Traveling Solo But Not Alone: Managing a Meltdown

With Pat and Anthony and a hang glider. Or is that an angel?

With Pat, Anthony, and a hang glider

My plane left San Francisco at 6 a.m. I curled into a window seat with Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver. When I arrived in Newark, I read the departure board. Flight to Ithaca canceled due to air traffic control. What?

“I can’t hear you,” I said to the airline employee when I asked for help. She shrugged her shoulders.

“Go to information desk,” she shouted, pointing vaguely to her right. I moved in the direction of pointing fingers as I looked for signs and asked more people for the information desk.

DSC00839

“May I help you?” a smiling man said when I got through the line. It was quieter there. I handed him my boarding pass.

“We have you on a flight tomorrow night.”

“How about another airline?” I asked.

He shook his head no. “Nothing available until tomorrow night.”

My heart sank and my belly knotted. I felt like a helpless child. I scolded myself for making a catastrophe out of an inconvenience, but that made me more desperate. I felt lost and vulnerable, captured by what C.G. Jung called a psychological complex. Where was the calm woman who gives book readings and radio interviews? Where was the part of me that could face death without flinching? I longed to call my husband Vic, my safety net, but he’s dead. I sank toward “all alone in this world,” but dug down and caught myself before the crash.

google image

google image

“You’re OK,” I told the helpless child in me. “I’ll take care of you. I’ll figure this out. What’s the worst that can happen? No one is dying. We’re safe.” My belly relaxed.

I text messaged my son Anthony while I drank a cup of green tea: Stuck in Newark. No flight for 36 hours.

Ugh, he wrote back. There‘s a bus from Newark to Port Authority and a bus to Ithaca.

Of course. I knew that. I found ground transportation and the bus to Port Authority in Manhatten by following more pointing fingers.

“I’m sorry, I can’t hear you?” I said to the ticket agent.

“Are you handicapped?” she yelled. Handicapped? In this noisy environment of buses and honking horns, hearing loss makes me helpless and confused.

“I can pay the full fare,” I said when I realized she was giving me a less expensive ticket. She smiled and gave me change and my handicapped ticket.

DSC00842On the bus to Port Authority, I sent a text to my friend Barbara: Do you know the bus schedule from Port Authority to Ithaca?  I got an immediate message. As I read her clear kind information about bus times and where to buy tickets, tears rolled down my cheeks. I was not alone.

On the bus, I watched a girl on her daddy’s lap. I imagined my inner child sitting on my lap. I know you’re frightened, I told her. Trust me. We’re doing fine.

At Port Authority, I messaged Anthony and told him I’d be in Ithaca at 11:40. He wrote back: My friend Rick will make sure you get to your car at the Ithaca airport.

You don’t have to do that, I wrote.

Full moon at home

Full moon at home

I want to, he said. In half an hour, I got a text from Rick: A cab will be at bus station at 11:40. Fare and tip paid for. Let me know when you get to your car.

Text when you get home, Rick wrote when I told him I was in my car. Drive safely.

I got home around 1 a.m. under a full moon. I sent a text to Rick and Anthony. I’m home. Thank you for helping me out all day.

It’s hard to admit I became so upset over a small setback I could have handled on my own. I know my feelings were connected to sadness about returning to my solo life and the isolation and frustration that come with hearing loss, but the day became a positive lesson in managing unconscious eruptions.

Everything changes when I honor and tend the part of me that feels like a sinking ship rather than ignore my feelings and scold myself. Everything changes when I reach out to people I love and tell them I’m messed up.

Sometimes a text message feels like the answer to a prayer.

***

What do you do in meltdown moments when you disapprove of your own emotional reactions? For other posts about receiving help when we need it, see Befriending Myself: Rescued by Pema Chodron or Let the Warm Love Flow: Messages from Marion Woodman.

 

35 Comments
  1. Beautiful, Elaine. Welcome home ♥

  2. I’m so happy you made it home safely, Elaine. Your visit was truly a gift – thank you so much. It is also a gift to have that relationship with your little lost child-self. I can’t tell you how many times your story of managing your inner freak-outs by having a calm conversation with you frightened self have helped me in times of stress and challenge.

    • Thank you, Pat. When I spend time with you–and what a delicious stretch of time we had–I feel how deeply related we are and how similar our inner issues. When you tend this part of yourself, it reminds me to do the same, so we remind each other. The helpless girlish responses to fatigue or upsetting change don’t go away just because I have gray hair. When I abandon or despise this part of myself, she becomes more frantic. On this trip, that voice still had to get desperate before I paid attention. I hope I’ll reassure her more quickly next time.

    • Pat, I agree. So many of Elaine’s methods of dealing with difficulties have helped me too. The ability to recognize the cast of characters inside and have one dialogue with another is fabulous. It gets that wedge in the psyche that is needed to step back just enough to see the way forward. Thank you Elaine. And thanks to Anthony for being such a mensch. He ‘does his father proud’ being so loving to his mom.

      • Lauren, here you are. It seems only yesterday that you and Pat and I were together. I know you have your own challenges now and I’m holding your from here.

        Anthony was terrific and generous while I was with him in CA and he went beyond the call of duty on my trip home. A quiet steady voice in text messages. Who knew cell phones would provide so much support when we’ve lost sight of camp and feel afraid we’ll never get home?

  3. Your genuine sharing–your honesty–your compassion for others and for yourself, all these qualities make you so accessible to the rest of us. How can we thank you enough? I know…pay it forward whenever we can!

    It is such a pleasure to be able to refer another friend to you.

    with love,
    Ava

    • Thank you, Ava. You make me blush. It’s hard to be compassionate toward myself. This seems to be true for most everyone. Marion Woodman and Robert Bly helped me with this issue, and I’m still practicing what they taught.
      I’m glad to be in touch with your friend.
      Sending love west to you and the Pacific Ocean. May you have rain.
      Elaine

  4. One towering female figure in my life, Aunt Ruthie, has been fading from us for years now. Last week when I visited her in the memory loss unit she was chatty and lucid. Today things were different – suitcase, car, home, dog, bed – she lamented in a vicious cycle. It caught me off guard, and I sat beside her feeling again like a motherless child. Tears and blubbering to my sister Jan. “She won’t remember what she said 5 minutes from now. Dementia is like that,” says the RN. “You feel 10 times worse than she does. It’s part of the grieving process.”

    Maybe so, but knowing this doesn’t change my feelings. 🙁

    Poignant story! I identify with such unexpected hiccups, meltdowns.

    • Mariann, your story is piercing. The nurse is right and your feelings are right, too. My friend wrapped her anxious and Alzheimer’s impaired mom in a bear hug and said, “You’ll be OK. We’ll take care of you.” Her mom calmed in her arms, but the calm faded when the hug ended. Everyone feels so helpless. I remember my mother’s craziness and paranoia as she sank into Alzheimer’s. She trusted no one and nothing. It was heart-breaking. Then, in time, she stopped being afraid and behaved like a sweet trusting child.

      Were you allowed to share such feelings in home as a child? “Making a fuss” got lots of disapproval when I was a kid.

      • “Get hold of yourself” and “Straighten up” were expressions I grew up with in my Swiss-German Mennonite culture. Thankfully, I saw the feminine face of God with Grandma L. and occasionally with Aunt Ruthie.

        As with your Vic most likely, CareBear Cliff has never once chastised me for venting except once in our first year of marriage when I threw a wooden bowl out of frustration. Since then I am learning to manage not suppress my feelings. And in response to others, show acceptance rather than censure,

        Your readers respond to your willingness to be vulnerable, obvious from the comments here.

        • I imagined that was the expectation for you, Marian. Seems to be true for many of us. Living with a sick dad and stoic mom as a child, I learned to keep it under control. With Vic (he was Italian, despite his name), I forgot that. I love thinking of Cliff as CareBear.

          When I wrote this, I felt like this piece exposed trivial parts of myself. Still we all have these parts so I posted it. It’s good to consider how we deal with it. Thanks again.

  5. I love everything about this blog post, Elaine.

    Big hugs,

    Jenna

    • Thank you, Jenna. As you know, it’s a lifetime task to become conscious of an autonomous complex and find a constructive way to engage with it. Robert Bly told a great story about this. I hope I can find it.

  6. I’m teary reading this Elaine. Welcome back nevertheless. Thank you for this beautiful post.

    • Ah, those demanding complexes that insist on attention when we’re trying to ignore them. I’m glad you were touched, Susan. Marion Woodman and a few others helped me turn to face the broken parts of myself, but I still resist. It was a wonderful trip. I’m still behind in most everything, but it’s beautiful at home as I watch a hummingbird sipping at the feeder outside my office window. Thank you for reading.

  7. I don’t think I’ve ever read a better essay on the way our inner child lives inside us, Elaine. I recognized myself in all of it –the fear, frustration, and eventual comfort and gratitude.

    Your son Anthony deserves mention. His name always catches my eye because my only son is Anthony also. And I know he would have the same kind of steady problem-solving thoughtfulness that your Anthony exhibited in this case. They both reflect their father’s strengths. So glad you have him.

    Good to know you are watching the hummingbirds again. I just returned from a trip, too. We need to remember to plan for the preparation and the return when we travel. Always takes longer for me than I expect.

    • That’s terrific, Shirley. I felt shy about posting this because, let’s face it, I’ve hardly welcomed this girlish energy in my life. It’s part of my plan to write about new things. No one has scolded me so far. 😉

      Anthony was stellar. I didn’t know your son’s name was Anthony. Both my sons have Vic’s problem solving ability and they’re good at being with their mom’s emotions and aren’t afraid of their own.

      Yes, travel unsettles and planes are painful. I know this, but still get excited as though it shouldn’t happen. It happens to everyone and it’s interesting to watch the emotional reactions in the airline information line. Most people were angry and incensed. I was still hopeful and philosophical–until they said I couldn’t fly out of there for 36 hours.

  8. Elaine, I could feel right along with you, as having my flight canceled is always my biggest fear when I travel. When my “frightened little girl” shows up (as she does periodically), I now try to love her instead of telling her she’s being silly.

    Lynne

    • It sounds like you have the right idea, Lynne. A cup of tea. Maybe a treat. And a little hand-holding instead of scolding. I learn this over and over again. Thanks for reading and commenting. I hope you’re painting up a storm.

  9. Dear Elaine, you are always so honest and heart-piercing. It makes it easier for us to feel those moments of fear and helplessness and say “I’m not the only one.” You are a blessed friend that I have never met but feel so warmed by–like a nice fire:) Much love, Therese

    • Therese, writing this piece made me feel vulnerable and a little silly, but I posted it anyway. We all seem to have these inner complexes of fear or anxiety or other “unacceptable” emotions.” Even the Dalai Lama admits he gets angry sometimes because he’s human. He has good tools to deal with it.

      The possibility of meeting you this winter makes me happy. And if it can’t happen, it will happen another time. Thank you for your encouraging words. Have a wonderful wedding weekend. Love to you, too, Elaine

  10. Glad you made it home Elaine. We’re all entitled to have our moments. It was extra difficult for you, creating more anxiety when you couldn’t hear well. And no doubt my friend, that big blue moon had quite an affect on many of us. Welcome home. PS. Amidst my own chaos, I’m finally reading your most beautiful and touching book. xo 🙂

    • I have my moments and my hearing struggles make me feel helpless at times. I have fewer meltdowns than when Vic was around, I think because there is no one to catch me and empathize when I fall apart.
      What a moon it was. Thanks for letting me know you’re reading my book and thanks for welcoming me home. There is no rain in the forecast for five days. This feels a little like a miracle. Thanks so much for taking time to comment.

  11. Sweet Elaine, I can hardly believe that I am now in Colorado and you are in New York! Our “little girls” need to find time for a “play date” once again. Colorado is so different and yet, I find that I am loving it! I am recovering nicely from my MI and hope to be on my bike soon and pedaling around town. HUGS to you dear one.

    • Kay Marie, what a pleasure to hear from you. You never know. I may get to Colorado someday. I have friends in Boulder and other contacts. Yes to a play date. I think I would love the dryness of Colorado, just as my body loved the dryness of California. I’m so glad you’re recovering. You’ve been under incredible stress. Yes, I hope you’ll be pedaling soon, too. And a big hug from me.

  12. Welcome home brave traveler.
    Your message is so honest and true. I can relate to it. When I had my soul mate right next to me I didn’t have to worry about an unexpected crisis. Help’s hand was in mine. But when I became alone, I had to learn to seek help. The request for assistance magnified my loneliness and made me feel vulnerable. I am stronger now.

    • You’ve said it so well, Kim. I am stronger, too, or I think I am until fatigue, canceled plans, and inability to hear block my path. Then I have to dig down to find the positive mother within who knows how to reassure and comfort rather than criticize. I’ve become such a go-it-alone woman. It was great to send messages to people and have them respond so generously.

  13. You give yourself permission to feel, and that is so healthy. Thanks for posting this, Elaine!

    • Sometimes these inner complexes insist on being heard. After many years of inner exploration, I’d still rather turn the other way. I listen because I have to and then I learn how much easier life goes if I accept my feelings and take care for myself. Thanks for your comment, Ann Marie.

  14. I suppose we all wonder if anyone would come if we were in distress. Will anyone come to my funeral? Will I be missed at all? Somewhere inside, we all have that lonely frightened child, who only needs an archetypal cue to be reawakened and take over. Your story is lovely and poignant!

    • Thanks so much, Skip. One of my earliest lessons in dealing with inner vulnerability came from Robert Bly. He said (and I paraphrase from distant memory) he was a being honored and speaking at a grand occasion, but he felt worse and worse, smaller and smaller. Finally, he turned toward his feelings and took the lost little boy within on his lap. After that he always recognized and comforted the broken part of himself rather than turning away from what he had seen as weakness. We all have those helpless childish parts and unconscious triggers. I used to count on Vic to drag me out of the complex. Now I’m learning how to take care of myself.

  15. OMG you are SO good. I have tantrums. Or completely melt into tears, sniveling, “It’s so hard to be me.” If I could catch myself on time, maybe I too would be able to calm my miserable inner child whose mean streak gets set loose somewhere in all the emotional chaos. I will try this IF I can ever catch her before she completely explodes. Cheers!

    • I’m not so good, Robin, but I’ve practiced. I think we can catch ourselves any time in the process. It’s not about stopping the emotionality. It’s about being compassionate toward our feelings and ourselves instead of attacking ourselves for being weak or childish or pitiful or …. It’s just a shift in perspective.

Leave a Reply