I’ve known I needed to write about this since 2012, within a week of publishing, You’re the Boat: Charting a course toward a life worth looking forward to. While at a restaurant, I started a conversation talking about my new book, and the guy asked, “So, what’s the ship’s bell stand for?”

Feeling the warm wash of embarrassment flow over my body, I realized I’d missed something fundamental. In my rush to get through the challenge of publishing the book, I’d forgotten to add the ship’s bell. (Along with many other things too, but we’ll save them for later).

photo credit Hiroki Kawamoto

The ship’s bell is your voice. You recognize it by listening to how you communicate with your crew and how you speak to and about yourself.

I could hear my inner voice, poisoned by shame and anxiety, saying things like, “How could you have missed something so obvious?!! Your last name is Bel-ding! Duh!! “See, you don’t know what you’re doing.” “Nobody wants to hear about the Boat! Just give up and let it go!

I immediately recognized two things. First, I needed to get my anxiety under control (again) and speak more kindly myself. Second, You’re the Boat needed a sequel! My heart sank a bit, knowing the hard work I had just put into writing and publishing my first book wasn’t even close to being over. The real work had just begun.

Here we go again.

“It’s easy to feel great about yourself when everything is going your way, but the more difficult task is to accept yourself even in the presence of your flaws.” 

Debbie Ford

That wasn’t the first time I realized I needed to pay closer attention to my words.

Our wedding day. July 17, 1999

When we moved from California to Michigan, our first year together, I learned to speak with respect and mercy with Blake. (Click the link to read that story). Now, after 25 years, I’m glad he stood up for himself that day. We have a much happier, healthier life together because he made me think about how I speak to him.

In 1998, we lived in Brazil the first time, and I was cleaning up some spaghetti sauce I had accidentally flung across the wall after being swarmed by a bunch of flying beetles. (A bunch of them got caught up in my hair, and I freaked out!) As I was cleaning up the mess, I heard myself saying what a horrible klutz I was and all sorts of other hurtful, mean things. At first, I was shocked. I don’t usually think of myself as a harsh person, but after hearing me tell myself I was clumsy and stupid, I recognized I needed to start paying closer attention to how I speak to myself.

Then, in 2008, while struggling with homeschooling our son Garrett, I heard myself being rude and snapping at him. Angry with myself and feeling desperate, I asked the question that changed everything; “How am I supposed to get through this?!” That was the beginning of a whole new level of awareness as I came up with the Boat analogy and started to see myself from an expanded perspective.

The analogy helped me realize what I needed to start feeling better. Once I began taking better care of myself, eating more consistently, balancing work with fun and rest, and creating stronger boundaries around my time and attention, I felt less frustrated. It became easier to speak to Garrett more respectfully.

It always comes back to awareness.

The Boat isn’t the only tool I’ve used to deal with my symptoms of anxiety (worrisome thoughts, restlessness, irritability, and lack of concentration).

  • When I was a kid, I would grind my teeth. This hurt my jaw and my teeth so I tried switching to rubbing my forefinger and thumb together to “scrub off” the anxiety. I’ll still catch myself clenching my jaw, but not as often and never as hard as before.
  • Right after I had Garrett in 2000, I was worrying about what kind of mom I was going to be so I decided to turn a stick into a magic wand. To this day, it sits on my desk and helps remind me of who I want to become, instead of wasting my time and energy worrying about everything else.
  • In 2003 I started reading oracle cards because I was nervous about selling the house, both cars and moving our family to Mexico for a year and a half. The cards offered wisdom and action words to guide my intentions heading into the future.
  • While we were in Mexico, my anxiety was getting the better of me. My cards indicated I needed to do something fun and creative so that’s when I started making burlap art.
  • A few years later, when Garrett and I were home in Michigan, Blake was spending 3 months working in Israel. I started a meditation practice and came up with a couple of my own meditation mantras as well as the Stretch, a balancing centering exercise which helps with focus and stress management.

Healing and growth

You might be thinking to yourself. “Why haven’t these practices worked to fix your anxiety?!

That’s a valid question. I believe it’s part of my genetic makeup. Add to that the trauma from being put up for adoption at five years old and moving a lot; it’s no wonder I’ve felt a bit “unrooted” most of my life.

The truth is my anxiety has improved drastically over the years. Meeting with a therapist over the past year has helped shore up my boundaries and recognize my shadows.

Back in the day, I struggled with migraines that lasted for days, hemorrhoids that laid me up for a week or more, and debilitating stomach issues that seemed to come out of “nowhere.” While most of my physical symptoms have gone away, the voice in my head (the Lizard) can sometimes still be mean and undermining, mainly when I’m facing uncertainty. For example, writing this blog post has taken me two weeks and eight revisions. Fortunately, finding ways to manage my fearful thoughts has inspired me to become stronger, more persistent, creative, and aware, and for that, I’m deeply grateful. That’s why I want to share these ideas with other people struggling with anxiety.

Thanks to VeryWellmind.com, here’s a list of characteristics of people with high functioning anxiety are often thought of as positive, including:

  • Outgoing personality (happy, tells jokes, smiles, laughs)
  • Punctual (arrive early for appointments)
  • Proactive (plan ahead for all possibilities)
  • Organized (make lists or keep calendars)
  • High-achieving
  • Detail-oriented
  • Orderly and tidy
  • Active
  • Helpful
  • Appears outwardly calm and collected
  • Passionate
  • Loyal in relationships

If you’re reading this and realizing you have anxiety, too, please know there is hope!

You are more than just your thoughts.

Despite whatever the voice in your head says, you are much more robust than you give yourself credit for. You have much more going for you than you may realize. You are a Boat with a crew and a Captain, and the life you dream about wants you to bring it into existence.

Using your awareness and tuning into your Captain (God, Allah, the Universe, etc.), you develop fortitude by taking action despite fearful thoughts. By focusing on taking care of yourself and your crew and steering with your values and best intentions, you can use the power of love to chart a course toward a life worth looking forward to. You deserve to be happy, healthy, focused, and confident. We all do.

To be a good influence.

Despite the anxious voice in my head, I’ve done my best work learning to speak kindly to other people.

In 2017, I took Garrett to Toastmasters, a nonprofit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs. He enjoyed it so much that he agreed to be the Topicsmaster, offering our group leading questions about Trust, the topic for the following week.

Garrett started by asking, “As a 17-year old, I have my entire life out in front of me. What advice do you have to offer me and why should I trust you?”

With a big smile on his face, he pointed me to and said, “Mom, you first!”

Everyone laughed as I came up to the podium and shook Garrett’s hand before he went to sit down. With two and a half minutes to speak, I began.

“Thank you, Garrett, for this opportunity to offer you some advice. As your mother, I have always had your best interests at heart and that’s why you can trust me. My advice is for you to remember you are the author of your life and the architect of your relationships.”

A young man wearing jeans, a plaid shirt and glasses stands next to a podium which is covered in ribbons and a flag representing Toastmasters International.
Garrett at Toastmasters

“Every single day you’re going to tell yourself the story of who you are and what matters to you. Pay attention to your words and listen to how you talk to yourself, about yourself, and to the people you love because, with every single word, you are telling yourself the story of your life. Make it a good one.”

“Pay attention to your relationships with your family, your friends, and people in the world around you. Those relationships, along with your sense of humor, are the tools you’ll use to build a life worth living. Remember to be kind. You get what you give.”

“Before I go, if you don’t remember anything else I’ve said tonight, please remember this…”

“You know, your attitude is a lot like the rudder on a ship and as long as you keep your attitude adjusted appropriately, you can get where you need to go because You’re the Boat, charting a course toward a life worth looking forward to.”

The rest of the audience laughed along with Garrett, who roared with laughter and pounded the table! He was surprised and delighted that I had included the Boat, making him roll his eyes since he was eight years old.

To be clear, powerful, and resonant.

By tuning into my Captain to write this post today, I aim to be an excellent example of the Ship’s Bell, clear and powerful as possible, hoping my message will resonate with you. I always share my story with the desire something in my experience touches something in yours.

I’m not saying there aren’t reasons to worry. I’m simply pointing out that spinning around in fear doesn’t make you or the people you love any safer. What does work is telling yourself the story of what you’re doing to love and protect yourself and your crew and then get busy making it happen.

If you are struggling with anxiety, there is hope. You can choose how to respond to uncertainty. You are more than the storms you’re sailing through. You are an entire Boat, sailing with your Captain and crew, charting a course toward a life worth living.

Healing and growth look different for everyone. Thank you for sharing my story.

Don’t forget. Attitude is like the rudder on a ship. By looking at the truth of our situation, adjusting our attitude appropriately, and taking action, we can all get where we need to go.

What do you think, my friendly blog reader?

What do you hear when you listen to the tone of your ship’s bell?

What’s been your experience dealing with your inner dialogue and your crew?

If you’re interested in talking with me, I’d love to hear from you.

I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below.

xoxo Pam

p.s. You can download a free pdf of the Boat analogy from the Library.

p.p.s. If you enjoyed this, take a look at the Boundaries Class.

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