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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  • Andrea says:


    Thanks so much for these honest words. I just had a “meltdown” last night and was feeling like I should be a pro at change by now. Thanks for making it ok to crash after big life changes. When we are brave to make bold choices, we must also be gentle and kind in the transition phase.

    Big hugs,
    Andrea Q

    • Gail Kauranen Jones says:

      Thanks, Andrea: It feels a lot more real to share “a meltdown” than to pretend a big change is effortless and smooth. That’s why it takes COURAGE to embrace transitions and go for our dreams. And, on the plus side, our vulnerabilities are what connect us to the humanity of one another. To another brave woman…love, Gail

  • MaryAnn Holak says:

    Hi Gail, Lovely piece and so full of you…not what’s in the boxes but your gentle spirit and thoughtful expression of ideas that are meant to soothe others as well as yourself. I am trying to grapple with the transition of my mom who climbed the steep stairs of my house to view the new 2nd floor bathroom on Dec. 28th to the one who fell down the stairs on Dec. 29th and landed in the hospital and now rehab. But truly no one wants to try to rehab a dementia patient. So try as we do to explain what she could do for herself before the fall, they have already written off her ability to gain any new skills. It is heartbreaking in so many ways and there is still hope if she gets home she might regain some of what seems to be lost – sitting in a rehab hospital but not receiving rehab. I still have your Christmas card here to mail – I got yours but could not make out your new address…Susy provided it to me but hasn’t made it out the door yet.
    Just started reading Being Mortal…have you read it yet?
    I wrote my January column on Let it Go…I will have to send you the link to it. MaryAnn

    • Gail Kauranen Jones says:

      Oh MaryAnn…so very kind of you to write such sweet feedback on my blog, especially during this trying time in your life. I will check out the book you recommend and also look for a card from you in my mailbox. And here’s a book recommendation for you during this stressful time of caring for a parent: Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff. I love it. It was recommended to me by my dear friend, Kim, and I am using it in my book to help distinguish between self-love and self-compassion. I hope you can make time to do something extra special and pampering for yourself. My prayers for your mom. Love, Gail

  • CCH says:

    Hi Gail,

    Your blogs always seem to come at the perfect time, and I feel as though you are speaking directly to me!
    My most recent transition is being in an “empty nest.” My only child, left for college in September. It felt surreal at first, then a bit sad. Slowly I picked myself up, and now I am enjoying the freedom that comes with living by oneself! If I don’t feel like cooking dinner, there is always a snack in the fridge! When I tidy the house, it stays that way, and if I’m out having a good time, there is no rush to get home! Of course, I was thrilled to have my girl home for Christmas break, and witnessing her new independence! That said, it was much easier saying, “So long” (for now), the second time.
    I love the honesty in your writing, and you are always spot on! Your blogs are so full of hope! Please keep them coming!!


    • Gail Kauranen Jones says:

      CHH: Thanks for sharing the vulnerability of your own transition. Becoming an “empty nester” is a huge life change, and one that is often challenging as parents have to redefine who they are without the full-time, care-taking responsibilities of their children. I’m thrilled both you and your daughter are discovering the joys of newfound independence and the “so long” is becoming easier. Glad you appreciate the honesty in my writing…it’s the way I have always been guided to communicate:) Gail

  • Marianne says:

    Dear Gail,
    You may not remember me but I remember our few sessions in your beautiful Topsfield home and walking out to the peaceful office. I don’t mean to bring back tears, I’ve got some, as I remember meeting your kids and your adorable dog (I think he was a white fluff!). We met up again perhaps a few years ago at some network marketing meeting (I’m totally done with that!!). I’m so excited for you as you move on to a new chapter. Best wishes in your new home, your relationship and your children.

    • Gail Kauranen Jones says:

      Hi Marianne: I do remember coaching you in my backyard studio and was moved by your kind spirit. I hope all is well with you. I’d love to hear how your life has unfolded. Thanks for your best wishes on the new life I am creating. I am touched that you reached out. Warmly, Gail

  • Ann Marie says:

    You are the most honest, vulnerable, insightful woman who I have ever met. I thank God for your ability to share your own life experiences in such a way that our own vulnerabilities and experiences seem valuable instead of just painful.

    My move is considering a relationship after being on my own for awhile and with that transition I will be cautious versus petrified. I appreciate your coaching and look forward to every blog you write.
    Big hug.

    • Gail Kauranen Jones says:

      Ann Marie: I am thrilled that you are opening your heart to the possibility of a new relationship and reframing your feelings of fear to ones of hope. With all transitions, I love these three “P” words of focus as described in my first book: PAUSE, PACE and PARTICIPATE. It sounds like you are moving beyond PAUSE and are learning to PACE yourself as you check in on your NEW feelings in the present without getting hooked by triggers from past relationships. It takes time to build trust in self in new situations and in others. A healthy discernment is a good thing as you evaluate another’s character. Enjoy the moments of discovery along the way. And thanks for your very sweet and thoughtful comments about me as a person and a coach. Bravo for your courage!!! Love, Gail

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