Move meltdown

meltdown BLOG photo“Settling into a new country is like getting used to a new pair of shoes. At first they pinch a little, but you like the way they look, so you carry on. The longer you have them, the more comfortable they become. Until one day without realizing it you reach a glorious plateau. Wearing those shoes is like wearing no shoes at all. The more scuffed they get, the more you love them and the more you can’t imagine life without them.”

 –Tahir Shar, In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams


My moving boxes arrived the other day—and with them a flood of unexpected emotions.

Downsizing twice before, once from my marital home to a smaller home, and then from there to my empty nester apartment in Newburyport, Mass. (see last week’s blog, Changing Venues), I thought I was a pro by now at simplifying my life.

This time looking at the belongings that just arrived by a freight truck, I burst into tears.

My friends, family, clients and others I cared about weren’t in those boxes. They were on the East Coast, 3,000 miles away.

I shed a similar bucket of tears a few weeks earlier when I drove past Topsfield, Mass., where I raised my children en route cross-country to my new home In Scottsdale, Arizona. The days being “home” with my children were now officially over. One lives in Atlanta and is getting married in September and the other is headed to Rochester, New York for college. That image of us all living together under one roof again was just a fantasy. Children grow up and create lives of their own.

No matter how excited I was about my boyfriend and new work possibilities in Scottsdale, these positive changes couldn’t replace my lifetime of building other relationships that deeply mattered to me. No longer would I spontaneously meet up with close friends I’ve known for years for a walk, write or see clients at my favorite café, and drive down the street with a water view on the way to my funky, fun “city” apartment.

I also had whittled down my entire life into 31 boxes, which now included only business files, kids’ photo albums, two seasons of clothes (versus four) and books that served as my teachers for many, many years.

“Is this all that is left of me?” I thought to myself and later sobbed into my boyfriend’s arms. “All that work at raising children, building a business, and creating nurturing homes fit onto those two truck palettes?”

My boyfriend comforted me saying he knows it’s hard to move cross-country and leave family behind. He had done it a few months earlier than me. Then he took me outside to look at the mountain views, reminding me how beautiful it is where we live.

“There is more to you than those boxes,” he said. “You are in the world everywhere touching lives.”

In leaving Newburyport I was so proud that I was able to start fresh, selling most everything to move cross-country and tossing into donation bags years of outdated clothes, knickknacks that became clutter, and housewares that wouldn’t fit my new southwestern decor.

It took weeks of concentration to choose what to discard and what to keep. I couldn’t have done it without the help of my dear friends Carrie, who priced every item I was selling at my yard sale, and Catherine, an excellent organizer who kept me focused and worked tirelessly with me into late evening hours.

Yet, starting from scratch on the other side of country was a BIG TIME transition. I should know. I wrote a book, To Hell and Back…Healing Your Way Through Transition (which you can order here), published in 2004, to guide adults through the three stages of major life change: letting go, embracing the void and recreating. That book focused on changing careers, embracing motherhood, caring for elderly parents and coping with the death of a loved one.

The same stages of transition apply to a major change like moving cross-country, but there’s an added component to living in the desert for me.

A new woman I met at my first networking meeting in Scottsdale last week articulated it best when she shared the difference between living here versus back East where five of us who attended the event were from:

“The desert sometimes strips you of everything until you come to know who you truly are,” she said.

“Yep, right on” I thought. My short stack of newly arrived boxes reminded me I was stripped of nearly every material thing I owned when I sold most of belongings to start anew.

Five days of driving cross-country helped ease the transition by giving me time to let go of old thoughts and stories that no longer served me and set intentions for the new life I was slowly embracing.

Still, transitions can evoke anxious feelings as we step into new unknowns and risk new ways of being.

Madisyn Taylor articulates it well in her recent article, “Anticipating the Good,” which appeared January 12, 2015 in The Daily OM online newsletter:

“When we find ourselves going through any kind of change in our lives, our natural response may be to tense up on the physical, mental, or emotional level. We may not even notice that we have braced ourselves against a shift until we recognize the anxiety, mood swings, or general worried feeling toward the unknown that usually results.”

She suggests we can shift our perspective by changing the labels we use to identify our feelings or creating ceremonies that honor our feelings of letting go of the old or welcoming the new– similarly to how we hold a bon voyage send-off, wedding or graduation.

Since change will occur in almost every aspect of our lives, we can learn to make our response to it an affirmative one of anticipation, welcoming the new while releasing the past with grace,” Taylor suggests.

Moving from denial to acceptance can ease our anxiety, allowing us to bring our memories with us and stay open to the good to come, she concludes.

In coaching myself in the same manner as I guide clients, I am remembering one more piece of advice I often give and share in my book: New beginnings are a time to be extra gentle with ourselves.

Meltdowns are allowed. It takes time for the psyche to absorb the enormity of a major life change. We don’t move from A to B (or Newburyport to Scottsdale) in a straight line.

Maybe in this stripping away of nearly all I have owned or that was familiar to me, it’s time to relax and laugh more as I fill up a new life gifted to me by grace.

With anticipation,




1. I allow myself to feel all the emotions of a major life transition.

2. I allow myself to see the new with anticipation of good things to come.

3. I allow myself to be gentle with myself as a new life or way of being evolves.

The image, pictured above in this blog, was taken by Alison MacEachern, an art therapist, to represent “a meltdown.”  She uses this image for a character having a meltdown in a children’s book she illustrated called Alex and the Scary Things that will be released next month. Visit the publisher’s site here to learn more about this excellent book for helping children deal with trauma. Alison took a photo of clouds after a storm and altered it in Photoshop to create this effect.

Alison explains a meltdown this way:

“A meltdown could be a word, or no words, a look, a tone, an action or lack of action that can tap into the depths of our pain. The pain we worked so hard on pushing deep down to hopefully be forgotten. Inevitably it surfaces, it floods, it takes over and there it is, a meltdown.”

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