I recently spoke with a parent whose son is struggling with alcohol and drug use. “We are good parents,” she said, “no drug use, no child abuse; he’s got a nice, stable life. This whole thing has made me anxious and angry. I yell at everyone. I can’t sleep well. I've lost it."
We spoke for over an hour before she said, “I’m disappointed in him. I don’t like him. He’s not who I want to be parenting. He embarrasses me and I’m angry at him for it.”
Then she started LAUGHING!
“Why are you laughing?” I asked
“Because I’ve never said that and it feels so good. It’s not politically correct to not like your son, but I don’t like him right now and that’s just the truth.”
When we hold in the feelings that we really feel because they “shouldn’t” be said, they come out in other ways. Anger can come out as depression. Shame can look like anxiety. We try to treat our depression and anxiety with every yoga class and medication available and it won’t go away because it’s not the real issue.
Real issues are often what is not said. It may be ”I’m not happy with my life choices.” “I don’t like my kid, my spouse, my job.” “Antarctica in winter sounds better than another meeting with my book club, Parent Association, Church….insert whatever works for you. Real feelings don’t always need a solution. And they are often temporary. But they don’t go away if we are afraid to acknowledge them.
So put your arms around yourself. Close your eyes and take a breath. Tell yourself what you really feel. Say it out loud and release yourself from judgement. The heart feels as naturally as it beats and the feelings can’t be stopped. Remind yourself that feelings are just feelings. They don’t necessarily demand action. They aren’t necessarily “truth.” They may seem bigger today then they will next week. But they do demand respect or they will pop up in other ways. Then take another breath and tell yourself that you can get through this. The feelings will dissipate or the situation will change and either way you can handle it.
What “shouldn’t” be said is often what we most need to say.
Need a safe place to talk or think it through? Book an appointment today in my no-judgement zone. Counseling, medication, or both from one person with one stop.
If you're feeling overwhelmed by anxiety, here's a possible solution: realistic expectations.
We want fulfilling work, a connected marriage, high achieving kids, organic meals, great abs, healthy finances…all at once. All the time. But what if we defined success differently?
What if we agreed we are the ultimate parent if our kid goes one day without tripping on LSD? We are diet gurus if we limit ourselves to four Oreos instead of the whole pack. Our marriage is awesome if the day ends with only one episode of sarcastic sniveling. OK, maybe we can set the standards a little higher than that, but you get the point.
I blame two phrases: “work/life balance” and “having it all.”
Who started the idea that work/life balance means that work life and home life are equally magazine-shoot flawless? That's not balance. It's a pipe-dream. Balance is giving energy to both, not letting one or the other take over, and not expecting either to be "perfect."
My sister, new mom to a beautiful three month old, wept recently as she talked about her recent return to work. “I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t,” she said. “I’m at work but less productive. I’m with him…but for a lot less time. Balanced. But not the balance I sought.”
But I think that balance might be exactly right for this point in her life. Having a work life and home life that are going okay, with occasional moments of amazing is a very reasonable definition of balance! Holding out for balanced flawlessness in all areas at the same time holds us back from ever feeling we have achieved it.
We further punish ourselves with aspirations of “having it all.” What is the definition of “it?” If “it” is fulfillment and achievement of our life’s purpose, we are bound to be disappointed. But if we redefine “it” as “having totally mixed feelings about competence in all areas of our life,” we’d be there already! Achieved. Checked off the list.
Again, our definitions keep us down.
We control those definitions. Aim for what can work in your life and preserve your sanity. Let’s redefine success so we experience it.
If you know someone struggling to find joy in their "good enough" life -- send them my way!
Debbie Granick is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner and a Therapist in Raleigh providing both counseling and medication to reduce anxiety and depression and improve mental health. She is available to speak about wellness to groups of all sizes.