Make room for the hard stuff

Credit: Pete Souza

We do a lot of avoiding hard stuff. There are genuine reasons for this. As Obama’s sign on his desk in the Oval Office tells us that hard things are hard. I think we covered this before, right? Well let’s keep talking about what it means when we face the hard stuff and when we don’t. Yesterday, I talked about what we learn as kids if we’re shamed for having normal emotions and trying to express them. As adults, if we continue to run from those genuine emotions, our health, both mental and physical takes a toll.

Let’s stroll down memory lane back to 2015 when my midlife crisis really hit. I was completed burnt out at work and yet continued to go every day. I had a huge herniation in my spine and couldn’t walk. Still went to work every day. Stopped sleeping due to anxiety and severe low back and leg pain, still went to work. Until I couldn’t anymore. I stopped being able to go to work, my only coping mechanism. I couldn’t admit that I had serious health issues. I had severe pain in my back. I had insomnia. I still couldn’t tell anyone at work the truth. I still felt huge amounts of guilt about not being able to work. That’s what I felt bad about, not being able to work, which is really messed up. And no one at work asked me if I was ok. No one at work asked me if I needed to take time off. No one at work asked me if I needed help. What I learned through therapy was that I had a lot more healing to do. Many, many hard truths to face.

Unfortunately, the worst was yet to come. The bottom dropped out several months later, after the depression and insomnia really set in. And that’s when I finally went to get help. I learned how to help myself. But the truth is, the only way I learned how to help myself was to face the hard stuff. To do the hard work, to lean into the toughest stuff I have. To unlearn the hardest parts, cry my eyes out with grief, feel the anger and be ok with it. I learned to let the feelings out in the safety of her office. That’s where I learned that it was ok to feel my feelings. But I’m still learning how to feel my feelings outside of Jill’s office. This is the really painful part. I don’t really know how to be in my feelings, in the moment. But I’m learning. I’m getting there, but it’s still hard. So if you want to unlearn the stuff in your life that doesn’t work anymore, lean in to the hard stuff. But my advice is don’t do it alone. xo Janet

Feeling the feels

The feeling that we are often told to feel is fear. We are so often told, especially as kids, that we’re supposed to feel the fear and do it anyway. What about sadness, grief, anxiety, remorse, jealousy, worthlessness, joy? As humans, we are wired to feel and yet we numb like crazy with drugs and alcohol, sex, shopping, food and our phones. We numb so we don’t have to feel the feelings. We numb so we don’t have to process our trauma, memories, feelings of insecurity, lack of confidence or general sense of malaise.

We are in tough times folks. For many of us, times are physically easy, historically speaking. Psychologically, we are in tough times. The news this week has been awful, and that’s saying something for 2019. We are in a collective free-fall, psychologically speaking. And I’m really worried about what all of this trauma is doing to our psyches. I’m worried about what all this trauma is doing to our alcohol intake and credit card balances.

I’ve had plenty of trauma, plenty of pain. I’ve had more than my fair share of alcohol, credit card debt and numbing. I will use my phone to distract myself, worry about my level distraction and then get more distracted. There feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day to be sad or worried or fearful about what’s happening in the world or what has happened to us in the past. There often aren’t enough hours, life is busy and stressful. But there are small windows where we can find a space to feel our feelings. Therapy helps. Meditation is good. Exercise can really be helpful. Journaling helps some people although I’ve always found it tedious. I started writing this blog to get out a lot of the stuff that has rummaging around in my head for the last twenty years.

The difficulty with not feeling our feelings is that numbing results in anger, frustration, depression, anxiety, perfectionism, overachieving, micromanaging and a host of other dysfunctional ways of coping. We yell at our kids, spouses, sometimes or coworkers or employees, we anxiously meddle, we try to control our surroundings. So in the hopes that some of you may be open to feeling your feels, know this: it’s not as scary as you think it will be. What feels like our crazy is only scary to us; therapists don’t scare easily unless they’re not good at their job. So go ahead, feel your feelings. Dip your toe in the feelings water if you’re not used to it, it just takes practice. The more you do it, the easier it gets, I promise. xo Janet