Tag Archives: anxiety


Selchie: A mystical creature who takes the form of a seal in the sea and a human on land.

I have a picture book from my childhood called Greyling, by Jane Yolen. It’s one of my favorite stories, by one of my favorite authors, and I’ve told it as an oral storyteller for many years. When I began doing storytelling, I sought out all the selchie stories I could find and incorporated them into my programs.

I rarely tell a selchie story without fighting back tears.

I’ve lately revisited this wonderful material for my second book, and it occurred to me to explore why these stories touch me so painfully and deeply.

Selchie stories appear in the Hebrides, Iceland, Orkney, Scotland, Ireland and the Faroe and Shetland Islands. Like all lasting oral traditions, they contain blueprints for navigating loneliness, exile, love, loss, competition, compassion, trust and power. A good story has many facets.

A common thread in selchie stories is that a seal comes to land, takes off its skin, and becomes human, usually a beautiful young woman. Subsequently, the skin is stolen by a man and the woman entrapped. In many of the tales, she marries  the man who has her skin (always a fisherman) and bears his children. Sometimes her husband promises that after a certain number of years he’ll allow her access to her skin again, but he doesn’t follow through for fear of losing her. Inevitably, the skin is found, often by a child, and returned to the selchie, who must then face a choice between her life with her family and her life in the sea.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

It is this choice that makes me weep. I know the agonized longing for what we are made of but can’t ever quite find.

As I observe the world and people around me, I think many of us feel in some way exiled from who we were born to be, from a place, from a tribal connection, from some integral expression of self. I believe this exile creates such an unbearable hunger we grasp at anything within our reach in order to appease it, becoming addicts, developing eating disorders and body dysmorphism, and struggling with anxiety and depression. We live in a culture of distraction and entertainment. We’re busy, noisy, exhausted, and inundated with information, stimulation, propaganda, manipulation and demands.

Photo by Anna Dziubinska on Unsplash

We want what we are made of, but how do we find what that is? Why is it taken away or withheld from us? Why are we so often forced to choose between one thing we’re made of and another? This all lies at the heart of selchie stories, for the selchie is a creature torn between two worlds and two tribes, and we instinctively recognize this conflict.

Choice is so often grief. If a selchie re-dons her skin and goes back to the sea, she cannot return, for she already knows the terrible cost of losing her skin, and though she may love her children and even have grown to love the fisherman she’s with, she cannot trust him. In returning to the sea, she is joyous, but now the grief of leaving her children and the life she made on the land replaces her longing for the sea.

I was with a man who avoided choice. He said he didn’t like to choose one thing in case something better came along. My experience of this was that he didn’t want to commit. It meant we couldn’t plan a date, a weekly ritual or even a walk. If we did, he frequently cancelled at the last minute. It was painful for me, and it frayed our connection considerably as I vacillated between hurt and anger. Eventually, I gave up and made my own plans. I told him that his maybe-I-will and maybe-I-won’t approach didn’t avoid a choice but was a choice. He refused to take responsibility for that, and he was bitter about the choices I made subsequent to his.

I’ve also been with partners who believe we can have it all. One man walked away from any situation in which he couldn’t have his cake and eat it too. It was a point of pride with him. He didn’t see why he shouldn’t have it all, and, as far as he was concerned, the world (and I) owed him that. Looking back, I see this as just another evasion of the heartbreak and consequences of having to make choices.

I think very few of us have the luxury of having it all. We come together and move apart, searching, seeking, fleeing and climbing ladders that we hope end in success. Many of us feel rootless in terms of place and tribe. We don’t really feel we belong anywhere on a map, and we have no rightful place in a human circle. We do the best we can, a choice at a time, and over the years those choices and their consequences teach us who we are and turn us into adults.

What we’re made of is not necessarily what we’re born into. What we’re made of is not necessarily the place we live in, the people surrounding us, the job we have, the clothes we wear, the car we drive or the color we dye our hair. What we’re made of is not always who we want to be, who we insist we are or who we’re expected to be. Discovering what we’re made of is an excavation of our dreams, our souls and our joyous bodies. Many of us spend our whole lives finding one piece of ourselves at a time, stumbling, groping, picking up and discarding, searching blindly in the dark with nothing but our feelings to guide us.

On one particular day of no special consequence, my small toddling self, clothed in a yellow bathing suit with white trim, was lifted into a pool of water as big as the sea. From that day to this I’ve loved the water, and during occasional long, dry spells without access to swimming I dream of water and wake myself weeping with the anguish of my longing.

I’m a creature of water. It’s part of what I’m made of.

Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

For some years I lived in a city and laid awake at night watching headlights move across the ceiling and walls, straining to hear a precious moment of silence in between the sound of cars and sirens and too many restless people moving through the pale night. I dreamed of high, snow-covered mountains under starry skies and the peace of trees in unbroken darkness. Every day I died a little more, but I knew in my heart one day, one day I would leave the city and live in the shadow of the mountains I dreamed of. A thousand nights later I freed myself from the tentacles of that city, but I also left behind my marriage and the father of my children, my belief in happy-ever-after, the most lucrative job I ever had and the good wife and mother I wanted so much and tried so hard to be.

Photo by Ryan Hutton on Unsplash

At last, I slept in the shadow of snow-covered peaks in a small mountain town without pavement and street lamps and sirens. When I laid awake at night, I heard the cry of the vixen, the rushing wind, the owls calling to one another, the sound of the bear eating apples from the tree outside my window, or the raccoons cavorting in the tops of the pear trees like furry pirates.

I did not have it all. I had another piece of what I’m made of. I chose it, and I paid for it. I’m still paying for it, twenty years and thousands of miles later, and whatever the cost, it’s worth it. I cannot live in the city.

By the time my life is over, will I know everything I’m made of? Will I have lived with enough courage to choose what I’m made of, come what may? Will living true to what I’m made of sustain me? Will I ever find my own sealskin wedged between rocks, or locked away in a chest, or hidden in the thatch?

The selchie lives in a small cottage on the shingle beside the sea. She lives with a fisherman whose face is carved with a lifetime of loneliness that she has relieved. She and her children gather seaweed and driftwood, mend nets and dry fish and watch for the fisherman’s return, lighting a lamp and setting it in the window to welcome him home in the evenings. She lies with her man at night and listens to him sleep, and the waves come in, and the wind sighs through the beach grass, and she thinks of her sea kin and wonders how it is with them and if she’ll ever see them again.

Photo by Kace Rodriguez on Unsplash

The selchie takes the folded sealskin from her child and holds it to her breast, weeping, smelling its fading perfume of fish and sea, rubbing its softness against her cheek. She tells her children she loves them, but she must leave, and they clutch at her hands and her skirts, crying, not understanding what is happening. She tells them they will see her again, but in a different form. She cannot stop to explain, lest the fisherman return and her chance for freedom is lost. She stumbles out of the house, casting aside her clothing as she goes, until she stands naked in the surf and steps into the skin. The children follow, stricken and wailing, pleading with her not to leave, but her need for what she is made of is even greater than her love for them, and the surf takes her gladly in its embrace and carries her out. She looks back one more time, her great, dark eyes full of tears, before she dives into the arms of what she is made of and disappears.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

All content on this site ©2018
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Arguing With What Is

Arguing with what is.

Possibly the most fruitless endeavor in the world.

Yet many of us consistently argue with how we are, how others are and how the world is.

Arguing with what is is like living in an unending war. Clinging to a story inconsistent with what is requires constant vigilance. Our lives begin to revolve around the fear that the truth we refuse to acknowledge will escape or be exposed.

Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

We cannot allow that to happen, so we put all our energy into convincing ourselves that what is isn’t. Then we start trying to persuade others to validate our particular reality because God speaks to us, or we’re especially victimized, marginalized, enlightened, rich or powerful. If we can’t persuade others, we try to create and enforce rules requiring them to fall into line, to agree, at least tacitly, with our point of view and belief system. We scorn critical thinking, science and evidence-based data. We discourage questioning, careful definitions and nuances. We create jargon, acronyms, blacklists and smear campaigns. We enlist the sympathy, empathy, kindness and compassion of well-meaning but naïve people. We set up zero sum games, use gaslighting, violence, abuse, projection, deflection, sweeping and inaccurate generalizations and distortions. We hurt ourselves, and we hurt others.

Arguing with what is is a full-time job.

My particular version of arguing with what is takes place mostly in my head. For example:

I don’t feel loved.

What? How can you say that? Remember that one kiss at the beginning, the most passionate kiss of your life? You know you want that again! Think of how funny he can be, how charming, how much fun! If you don’t feel loved it’s because you’re not trying hard enough. You’re ungrateful. You’re disloyal. You’re a bad partner. You don’t deserve him. You want too much. You’re needy and demanding. Of course he loves you, he’s just not comfortable saying it! You are happy and loved. Get a grip!

I don’t feel happy or loved.

I had this ding-dong conversation with myself for years. I desperately and repeatedly tried to convince myself I was both happy and loved, but I could never quite silence that deep internal voice that went right on saying, “I don’t feel loved.” It wouldn’t shut up. After years of this nonsense, I finally got so exhausted I stopped arguing with my true feelings and ended the relationship. Then, one day I came across narsite dot com and immediately recognized the narcissist-empath dynamic.

You know what? I was right. I didn’t feel loved because I wasn’t, in fact, loved.

Photo by Travis Bozeman on Unsplash

Arguing with what is means fear and self-doubt are my constant companions.

So what’s the other side of the coin? What’s the fix for arguing with what is?

This magical phrase: However this needs to be, it’s okay with me.

Say it aloud: However this needs to be, it’s okay with me. Is it a lie? It usually is a lie for me when I first apply it to any given situation. I want things to be predictable, controlled and adhere to my expectations and standards. I expect that of myself, of others and of the world.

I haven’t had great luck with that expectation. The rebellious world is chaotic, unpredictable and unexpected. I’m not in charge of anyone but myself, and my feelings (along with the rest of me) are disobedient and refuse to be controlled.

My need for control and predictability are rooted in fear and lack of trust in myself. If, at any moment in any day, however things need to be is not okay with me, I know I’m dealing with fear or lack of self-trust, and those are both places where I have all the power. That instant refocus from avoiding, denying or refusing an inconvenient or unexpected truth or reality over which I have no power to the very center of my power clears away anxiety, confusion and fear. What happens in me, in a day, or in the world is not really the problem. The problem is in the way I manage my power and my choices. Addressing my own power and choices allows me to say, with perfect truth, that however this needs to be, it’s okay with me.

Being okay with the ways things are doesn’t mean endless love, light and turning the other cheek. It doesn’t mean I accept boundary violations, bullying, coercion, violence or any other kind of power-over games. It doesn’t mean I tip-toe through life pleasing others, following rules and keeping silent. It doesn’t mean toadying to the political correctness police. It doesn’t mean I feel no frustration or disappointment, or that the status quo should remain unchallenged and unchanged. It means clarity about where my power is.

Nobody wants a flat tire, herpes, an unwanted pregnancy, a cancer diagnosis, mental illness, the flu or to lose a loved one. We don’t want superstorms that wipe out our homes, the uncertainties and anxiety of climate change or food and water shortages. Nobody voted for lead in their drinking water, or to experience genocide. Nobody wants to be silenced, attacked, abused, marginalized, shot or scapegoated.

Yet all these things are. They’re real, along with many magical, wonderful things, and I can’t change the way things are.

Photo by Ludde Lorentz on Unsplash

I can only change the way I am. I can decide when and how to speak. I can decide how I interact with others. I can listen, learn, research, ask questions, think critically and decide where I stand on important issues. I can speak up for those without voices. I can pay attention to my own integrity and operate within it. I can disengage, refuse to pick up poisoned bait, move away from where the blow is going to land (sometimes) and learn self-defense.

I can say no.

I can learn to trust my own strength, courage, willingness to love, intuition, intelligence, feelings and ability to adjust and adapt to whatever happens. I can choose confidence and curiosity as companions.

I can make sure that however I need to be, it’s okay with me.

I can surrender to others in all their flaws, beauty, passion, wounds, strengths and imperfections. Each one of us is however we need to be, sick or well, destroyer or hero, weak or strong, power-over or power-with. People in the world are okay with me, and I choose who I engage and connect with, who I support or hinder, who I share power with, who I collaborate and cooperate with and who I allow in my life.

However this minute, this hour, this day needs to be, it’s okay with me. If I catch the flu, it’s okay with me (Ugh). If I can’t get out of the icy driveway to go swimming, it’s okay with me (Rats!). If I reread the rough draft of this blog and decide it needs to be rewritten before tomorrow when I post, it’s okay with me (what a pain in the neck!)

I can accept what is, deal with it, and go on.

Or I can argue with what is.

It’s a chocolate-or-vanilla choice, and we make it a hundred times a day.

Whatever you choose, it’s okay with me.

And So

Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

And so, after all, it was no use,
That desperate determination to please.
In the end a hidden, untamed thing
Always looked out of my eyes,
Beseeching for freedom,
And none of us could beat it down.

Now all the rigid outlines of my life
Have fallen around my feet in graceful folds.
I’ve counted silver threads and lines
And granted freedom.
If there’s no lover for what I am
I can kiss my own shoulders.

All content on this site ©2018
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Abundance or Scarcity?

Last week, I explored the meaning and experience of anxiety. In doing so, I realized that all my anxiety has a common root in scarcity, which gave me the subject for this week’s blog. Scarcity and abundance. What could be more perfect for Thanksgiving week?

Scarcity, according to a quick internet search, is “the state of being in short supply; especially want of provisions for the support of life; unlimited wants in a world of limited resources.”

In spite of the fact that I come from a middle-class background, I’ve always lived with the bony specter of scarcity. As a child, I constantly feared there wasn’t enough, even though there was enough. We always had a home, and food, and clothing. The house was full of books and music. We had pets. We had cars. We even took vacations, a thing I was certainly never able to do with my own children. Still, I was always afraid we’d run out of money. The worst thing I could imagine was not being able to afford to feed and care for the animals! I was continually waiting for it all to disappear.

My insecurity around physical resource was not the biggest anxiety producer. What really ensnared me was emotional scarcity. It never seemed to me there was enough love, or patience, or joy. There wasn’t enough time, enough energy, enough hope. My feeling of emotional hunger led me to conclude that the problem was me. I was greedy and selfish. I wanted too much.

Most painful of all was my belief that I wasn’t enough. Not smart enough, not strong enough, not quick enough, not wise enough, not loving enough, not adult enough. I could see no cure for my inadequacies, no hope that I could ever be fixed, and, employing the heartbreaking logic of children, my conclusion was I didn’t deserve anything but scarcity.

Unsurprisingly, my experience since I formed that belief has been of scarcity on every level.

It’s important to note that in some significant ways this frame of scarcity has been useful. I don’t have “unlimited wants,” for example. In fact, I’ll rarely admit to wanting anything at all, which is a problem on the other end of the spectrum. I’ve never enjoyed shopping. I’m a reluctant consumer. I don’t long for gems or cruises, fine wines, luxury cars or elegant homes.

Living with restricted financial resource has taught me a lot about the limited power of money. What I value and want most, as well as what I most want to contribute, can’t be bought or sold. I’ve also learned unfulfilled wanting and longing can be lived with.

On the other hand, living from a position of scarcity has not only kept my anxiety fat and happy, it’s impoverished my courage, my ability to love, and my self-confidence. My belief in scarcity has sucked away a lot of my power.

Photo by Brigitte Tohm on Unsplash

What about abundance? Abundance is “a very large quantity of something; plentifulness of the good things of life; prosperity.”

When I started thinking about anxiety in the last couple of weeks, I began to notice its presence or absence during activities of my daily life. For example, when I deal with household needs and wants, bills, the grocery list, and think about jobs, I feel anxious. When I’m out walking, gathering cones, cutting greens for holiday wreaths, collecting the beautiful little Sensitive fern pods for crafting, I feel no anxiety and have no experience of scarcity. The fields, the woods, the river, the trees, the fall bracken and naked branches and twigs all speak to me of plenty, and plenty, and plenty again. Abundance is everywhere. There is enough. I am enough.

I wrote last week about my suspicion that my anxiety is a bad habit as much as anything. I wasn’t consciously choosing to haul around such a dreadful burden, but dredging it up from my subconscious into the daylight, specifically defining it and shining a light on it allowed me to realize I don’t have to allow anxiety to run me. I can choose to disengage with it.

What if the frames of abundance and scarcity are also choices? What if I decide scarcity is no longer a useful label for my experience or self-definition, and I choose instead to believe in enough, or even in more than enough? Imagine it. Enough resources. Enough water and silence and time. An abundance of arms strong enough to hold me through the deepest hours of the night. A river of tenderness. A roomful of dancers. A strong, resourceful, wise, creative self.

Photo by Roderico Y. Díaz on Unsplash

Abundance is everywhere I look this morning, in the glowing wood stove, in the cartons of eggs stacked in the refrigerator, in boxes of wreaths I’m loading into the car to take to my friend’s farm store. Abundance is in writing these words, and when I glance from them I see, out the window, the infinite beauty of the November landscape.

It’s also true that we’re nearly out of bacon, and I know there are other items on the current grocery list. We’re heading into winter and haven’t been able to fix the leaky roof, but I suppose one could say there’s more roof than hole, so that’s a good thing!

Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

Isn’t it really all just a cosmic balance? We can’t possibly take in everything at once in life, so we narrow our focus, and invariably find what we’re looking for. Changing our focus changes what we see. Perhaps abundance has always been hand-in-hand with scarcity and I’ve just never looked beyond what I knew and expected. How can these two concepts be separated? They make each other possible.

My anxiety is currently sulking and on a starvation diet. Scarcity is what it thrives on, but I’m kind of bored with that tired old goblin. I’m enjoying my new focus and filter of abundance. I like the way it makes me feel. It doesn’t make all the challenges go away, but it certainly balances them with a peaceful, satisfied feeling of enough, and I’m grateful.

It’s Thanksgiving Day as I post this. I wish everyone the abundance of the season in food, loved ones and joy.

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted