Are you struggling with the feeling of becoming undone? Like everything you know no longer feels true, no longer relevant, like you no longer know who you are, like you have just become a blank slate?

If you do, I’ve been struggling with the same for months. If you follow me you’ll know that I shared about this in this post recently. I remember having the same feelings when I was a teenager, and when I became a mother. In this post, I want to share analogies and tools that help me, and I hope they help you too.

During my first year as a new doula I suffered quite severe burnout. I reached out to my mentor who told me that the self care practises I had put in place in my job as a scientist were no longer adequate, as I was now suffering from spiritual burnout, as well as physical and emotional. I wrote about how I had to develop a new way to care for myself.

This has the same energetic flavour. And I need, yet again, to grow new ways of caring for myself. I recognise what it feels like, and I know the power that may come from the other side. I know on some deep level that, like the caterpillar that becomes goo inside the cocoon, I have to dissolve to reform. I tell myself, I am goo now. There is not much to do but be goo. You cannot fight against the dissolution as it only makes things harder. 

The dissolution makes us vulnerable and soft for a while. Animals that need to cast their shell to grow new ones, like lobsters, hide under a rock to shield themselves from predators whilst they wait for their new shell to harden. For these animals, the sign that they have outgrown their old shell is discomfort. As Dr Abraham Twerski says in this video, if lobsters went to the doctor, they would be prescribed antidepressants for the discomfort, and would never grow.

If you are struggling, remember that the discomfort is there for a reason. If you were comfortable, you would stay where you are.

When we come undone, even if we understand on an intellectual level that it is a necessary transformational process, it can be very hard to navigate and stay in a place of trust, vulnerability, and surrender. And it is doubly hard as life doesn’t stop and we still need to care for others as we undergo this process. I cannot help but wonder what it would feel like if we still had the rituals that indigenous cultures have to support such tremendous life transitions, and how lost at sea we are  in a culture that does not witness or support times of metamorphosis.

Nascence is the term that describes a coming into being. As women we have many obvious nascences in our lives: Adolescence (the beginning of our menstrual cycle), Matrescence (becoming a mother), and Cronescence (I’ve made up this word to represent entering perimenopause and menopause). There are other times of course, with every big life change, but these are the ones who share a process of death and rebirth that is not only happening on a visible physical level, but in the mind and the soul too. These times share is the undoing of who we were to allow who we are to become to be born.

The film Inside out is an anime movie about the emotions in the brain of Riley, a young girl as she enters adolescence. In her brain, as well as characters representing 5 major emotions who rule her behaviours (joy, sadness, fear, disgust and anger), there are islands that represent different aspects of Riley’s personality. As she goes through the beginning of puberty some of these islands are destroyed, much to the dismay of the characters in her brain who try and do everything they can to stop them from crumbling. Eventually, new islands emerge, which the characters are delighted with.

The crumbling is scary because it feels like everything we have worked for is being destroyed. And we then find ourselves on barren ground, where there are no landmarks. It can feel very disorientating, and frightening. There is no path ahead. Things no longer make sense. 

Science tells us that the crumbling literally happens in the brain during periods like adolescence, matrescence and cronescence, as neurons and neuronal connections are pruned, and what is no longer relevant is removed, and the brain is remodelled.  

So what can we do to support ourselves through the challenge of becoming undone?

I am on the exploratory path of this myself once more, and  sharing what I find helpful. I hope you may find some aspect work for you too. Remember because it works for me, it may not work for you. We are all unique with unique brains and bodies. If you try things, though, you’ll quickly know what helps and what doesn’t. Start with what you feel excited about trying.

Body stuff

  • Find ways to be present and ground in your body. It can be a simple of feeling the weight of your body on your feet, or where you are sitting. Or try the trick of noticing 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
  • Develop a regular movement practice. Start small, even just 5 minutes can make a huge difference. It doesn’t matter whether it’s yoga, or a walk, a run, or putting some music on and having a quick dance. When you feel in a funk it’s quite amazing what 5 min of movement can do to help you shift your state.
  • Have some bodywork, like a massage. Bonus if a somatic massage. It can really help re-teach your body to feel calm.  I’ve also found working with a holistic herbalist, an acupuncturist, and an osteopath helpful. Read what I wrote as for my doula colleagues in the past.
  • Give yourself self care practises like a warm bath (I like to use salt and essential oil), or some gentle self massage (a few minutes massaging your feet feels great, especially with a magnesium balm). You can also try my Rebozo self care massage routine.
  • Try a 5 rhythms dancing class, which is like meditation in movement. It ticks the body, mind and spirit boxes all at once. It’s one of my favourite practises, and so much fun to do, and I also now belong to a large community of fantastic people. There are online as well as face to face classes.

Mind stuff

  • Meditate/practise mindfulness. It’s easier than you think and you can also start with just a few minutes. Watch this cool animated video which debunks a lot of myths. There are free apps like Insight Timer, which offer guided meditations of various lengths to get you started.
  • Connect to your breath. Three mindful breaths is often all it takes to shift your energy.
  • Listen to drumming tracks, it slows down your brain and allows more spaciousness of thoughts. Or even better, take up drumming, and/or join a drum circle. Search for shamanic drumming on youtube or spotify. Read this short post where I explain more, complete with a link to a drum journey.
  • Singing is also a beautiful way to uplift both mind and spirit. Join a local community choir and enjoy both the vocal and community support experience.

Spiritual stuff

I have 3 favourite practises because they tick all 3 boxes at once (mind, body and spirit). I do these weekly or more.

  • Year round swimming in my local river. I took this up in 2018 years ago and I’m now entering my 5th winter of swimming. Read more about that here.
  • 5Rhythms and other forms of mindful movement/dancing meditation. I’ve tried 5rhythms, Freedom dance, Open floor, Ecstatic awakening dance, and Zero one. 

Conscious dance is a free form of dance that anyone can do, whatever their age, shape, gender, mobility or fitness level. No prior knowledge is needed, there are no steps to learn and nothing to get right. It allows you to connect your body to the music, and, if you like, to connect with others in non-verbal communication of common movement. Let go of your mind, let the music move through your body to awaken your heart, find richness and openness in your life” . This quote is from the Cambsdance community website. There are similar practises all around the UK and the world.

Despite these practises, I am currently experiencing major challenges. The practises still serve me, and I am also learning to develop micropractises during the day when I notice I am feeling triggered, or overwhelmed (this happens often). The trick is not to try and chase the feelings away, but to feel them deeply and allow them to pass through you. Remember: the only way out is through, and the only way through is to be with whatever wants to be expressed of felt.

Finally, be gentle with yourself. Becoming undone is deep, hard work, and it can take a long time. It is especially hard to do in the culture that doesn’t recognise it as “work” and want you to only be “your best self” at all times.

Don’t waste energy beating yourself up wishing that you were further along the journey. You are exactly where you need to be. 

I take solace in this quote from Brene Brown’s book, Braving the Wilderness, where she quotes Joseph Campbell : “If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.” 


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