Swim team practice has not been going well since my 11-year-old daughter had extensive oral surgery about a month ago. She tries to swim, but the pressure she feels beneath the water’s surface is uncomfortable. I was very patient about this issue for several weeks and even had her examined by the orthodontist to make sure everything was okay. The doctor found no reason she couldn’t swim as normal, so we returned.
That day I planned to run errands while Avery practiced. She asked me to wait for a few minutes, so I did. The next thing I knew, she was holding onto the side of the pool with the look of distress on her face.
The first thoughts that came to my head were unkind. Things like:
It's all in her head.
How long is this going to go on?
She just wants to go home and play Xbox with her friend.
As I walked from the stands to the side of the pool, I asked for a new way to see and hear this situation that was getting quite tiresome.
As the pool water splashed my feet, three powerful words came to mind. I’d said them to my husband while white-water rafting with my family. As we navigated our first set of raging rapids, I was scared my younger daughter was going to fall out. I began calling out orders, sharp and gruff.
“Don't be mad,” my husband had said.
“I'm not angry, I’m scared,” I said holding back tears. That’s when three significant words came from my mouth: “That's fear talking.”
His face softened at my admission. “We got through it, Rach, and that was supposed to be the hardest one.”
I am learning this about myself – when I am scared and anxious, I get controlling and mean. I am working on a different response, but in the meantime, I am learning to interpret my unpleasantness for my family so they know I am struggling and need time, space, and understanding.
With those thoughts fresh on my mind, I bent down to talk to my tearful daughter who was now holding her hand to her forehead.
“I can't breathe,” she cried. “I can't do this.”
This time I did not hear annoyance or an excuse to try to get out of practice. I heard something familiar. I heard fear talking … and because of that, what came out of my mouth was surprisingly supportive and empathetic.
“It feels different than it used to, doesn't it? Things are still healing so it feels different, and different can be scary. Thank you for trying.”
She nodded like what I was saying was true.
About that time, her coach came over and asked if she was okay. When we told her the situation, she suggested Avery grab her kickboard and fins and practice with her head above water. I was so grateful to her coach for providing an alternative so she could continue practicing in a more comfortable way.
Avery did as she was told but asked me not to leave. So there I sat, watching her glide back and forth, amazed at the amount of bubbles my strong girl could make with her feet.
As I slowly let go of the things I'd planned to do, I could see clearly.
And what I saw was a girl who’s been through a pretty traumatic event and is doing her very best to adjust to a new mouth and nasal cavity.
It was different than what I’ve seen over the past month. And that is because I was listening beyond the words to hear her heart.
When we realize fear is talking
Anxiety is talking
Despair is talking
Hopelessness is talking,
We realize this is not about us.
And that allows us to respond to the hurting person in ways we couldn’t before.
Our empathic response has the power to create one small act of bravery and one glimmer of hope.
From there, anything is possible.
Dear friends of the Hands Free Revolution, if you are part of my Facebook community, you may have read these words this week. Honestly, I was quite amazed by the response … the number of people who said my admission created a light bulb moment … connected dots that had never been connected before. Therefore, I felt it was important to share it here with my blog readers who may have not seen it. Please continue to leave me comments in public spaces and private messages. Your support fuels me to continue sharing my hard truths and healing revelations!
Michigan friends, I hope to see many of you at the Girls on the Run fundraising event on Saturday, Nov. 18th. Ticket sales close in a few days (Nov. 9) so please get yours while you can! Click here! I can’t wait to meet you!
Also, there are still some YOU ARE ENOUGH silver cuffs left! I have given two cuffs to dear friends as gifts and the look on their faces indicated that was JUST what their heart needed to remember. Love you all. Thanks for walking beside me. You are enough — and then some.
Young athletes in the pool, this is a good illustration and one to which I can relate because I’ve been involved with competitive swimming and athletes in general for 47 years. My anxiety tends to come out in catastrophic thinking. It’s kind of a blessing in a way because now I can recognize that form of skewed thinking in others and approach them differently . . . and with understanding because I’ve been there! Good post, thanks!
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, Priscilla! I cherish your presence and comments on my blog posts!
Hola Rachel. Reading this post almost brought me to tears. It also inspired me. Your posts always do. I can empathize with Avery. I remember still being terrified during appointments after my eye surgery. And how my father would invalidate my feelings or say I should be used to it. But the worst sting of all was what he said the day we found out my pressure was up. While in the waiting room, bad memories started to engulf me and I started crying, fearing history was about to repeat itself. The only thought going through my mind was, I was about to lose the only eye I had left the same way I had lost the right one at age ten. Instead of pausing and really seeing what was going on, my Dad admonished me by demanding, “Don’t start. Stop crying!” As I’m writing this, I’m in tears. Reading your post had me wondering why my father couldn’t have done what you did for Avery. Obviously, while I didn’t have a choice whether to go through the surgery, my father had a choice either to react or respond to my fear and emotional pain. He chose to react. This month is hard for me bc it’s the traumaversary of that day. I want to thank you for giving me hope during this difficult time.
Rachel Stafford says
Lauren, each time you share your painful memory, someone else is enlightened. Thank you for letting us know what you wished your dad would do in your time of fear and uncertainty. Someone will read this and will respond with MORE LOVE, EMPATHY, and KINDNESS to their child or loved one in pain because of you. Your pain has purpose, and I am so grateful for the way you so generously give.
Hola Rachel! Gracias for your kind reply. Every time I Read your authentic posts, God uses them to help me find the inner strength and courage to share my own. I’m praying my experience will do exactly what you described for someone else. I want to buy a come as you are bracelet for my best friend, Rebecca for Navidad. The only thing is, when I went to your store page, my screenreader didn’t play nicely with it as in it didn’t read me everything I Needed to make the purchase. Could you help me fill it out? Please? Gracias.
Rachel Stafford says
Hi Lauren, thank you for your kind words and presence! My amazing sister in law Stacie runs the shop and she will be happy to help you! email@example.com
Hola Rachel! Gracias for your help! I’m sorry I didn’t see this earlier. For some reason, I didn’t get the e-mail alert that you had replied. I’ll e-mail Stacey tonight. I want to let you know that I use Only Love Today when I’m in need of reassurance and a reminder to come as I am and it’s okay to do so. Gracias for that. I also recommended all three of your books to my friends and familia!
Hi Rachel. Thanks for sharing this post on your blog. I’m not on Facebook so I really appreciate being able to read your words on this site. Another insightful, beautifully written post. I have no children of my own but for the past 20 or so years I have been doing volunteer work with refugee children, helping them with their school work (and now helping the next generation). I have come to realise that every word I say to them, and the way that I say it, is of importance if I am to make the most positive impact. Looking back on my childhood, I can now recognise the ‘fear talking’ behind my parents’ usually angry reactions to whatever was happening. I can also appreciate that at the time they knew of no other way to deal with situations, probably due to their own upbringing.
Rachel Stafford says
This is very insightful, helpful, and healing. I appreciate the way in which you bring love into the world and into the lives of the refugee children. Thank you for the compassionate view of your parents’ not so becoming responses that you remember from your childhood. You are so dear.
I recognize this. Fear talking in a angry voice is how my parents each handled their anxiety when things went wrong, when someone was sick, when tragedies happened, since it was probably modeled by their own parents, and of course that is the pattern I learned and acted out in my life, including with my late beloved who passed earlier this year. I have such deep regrets for not recognizing this pattern sooner… fortunately he forgave me before he took his last breath. Now if only I can forgive myself.
This was spot-on for me as I, too, get controlling and mean when faced with anxiety or fear. Unfortunately, this response makes my loved ones feel unloved and unsupported. I am trying to react differently– slowly, yet surely and with the Lord’s help. Thanks to this blog, I will now remind myself that it is the “fear talking” and to instead focus on the ones that matter most. Thank you for sharing this poignant moment. God bless you and your family!
I like the post, but I would also like to challenge your assumption that the anxiety is not actually triggered by pain. I am a clinical pharmacologist and just finished a small study looking at Migraines and Craniofacial Pain Disorders. We ran brain fMRI and could see clear reduction in migraine/pain and subsequent body relaxation when specific pressure points were manipulated in the month itself. These “perceived pains” that dentist/ oral surgeon say should not exist are real. The pain increases with increased blood flow, such as exercise from swimming, and can be relieved by knowledgeable dentist/ oral surgeon/ chiropractor. The frequency of migraines /”perceived pains” is highly correlated with extensive time in a dentist chair. Again I like the post, but would hate for your daughter to get the message that her pain is not real, because a dentist/ oral surgeon has not kept up to date with the latest science.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, Kara. I appreciate this knowledge and wisdom. We can learn so much from each other!!!
Dearest Rachel. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. In the past I have expressed my fear as anger. Going forward I now know I can pause, and then act with love and understanding. Thank you.
Rachel Stafford says
I am so grateful. Thank you for letting me know. You bring me hope.