I haven’t talked about it a lot with many people, but I’ve been going through a lot lately . . . mostly peripherally speaking. Does that sound odd?
In the last three weeks, I have had two people confide in me that they are leaving their husbands (coincidentally on the same day, actually); another friend discuss with me regularly whether to leave her husband (and how to deal with her husband, who is abusing drugs, is lying to her, and has not been gainfully employed for a year); one friend’s adolescent brother die suddenly; and one friend end up in the hospital with a scary medical condition that may require major surgery and will at least require hard life changes. Those are the major things, and of course there have been many other, smaller ones: a friend who is desperate to get out of her current job, my husband working to prepare for his thesis proposal, a couple of people dropping out of our simplicity group, etc. Oh, and I spent at least 10 of those days sick with a bad cold, my third illness in a month.
Now, let me state a couple of things clearly:
- I would never mean to imply that my secondary experience of these things is as complex or grievous as it is for the people who are directly experiencing them, because of course it is not.
- I would never mean to imply that I wish my friends would not confide in me or share things with me freely, as the closeness I share with them is one of the greatest satisfactions of my life.
However, I’ve also had these events/issues going on in my own life: considering the possibility of a move across the country in 10 months; deciding whether to apply to graduate school this year; gathering momentum to–and following through with–making changes at my job to make my work life more satisfactory; dealing with the food allergy sublingual drops I am taking which (since I started them recently) may be contributing to my ill health as of late; seeing my father for the first time in several years and having him meet my husband for the first time; grieving the distant relationships that have developed between me and two of my siblings, one relationship worse than the other; spending the weekends needing to clean up, cook, run errands, etc., since I haven’t gotten as much done as I need to during the week (being sick); and, well, a few other things, too. I’ve been busy and exhausted both emotionally and physically much of the time lately, and I’ve been an emotional sponge for what’s been happening around me in the meantime. I’ve found myself unable to fall asleep at night, sometimes even with the help of Lunesta; and when I do sleep, it’s restless.
I’ve tried to use better coping strategies than I used to. I am normally extremely social, and in the last few weeks, recognizing my exhaustion, I have cut way back on the amount of time I have spent with others to help keep my emotional self intact. I’ve exercised some of the stress off. I’ve taken the equivalent of 3 days off of work (have plenty of sick leave). I’ve gotten an hour-long massage. I’ve talked out these situations with other people. I’ve listened to cathartic music. I’ve tried, but I’ve still stayed at about 90% emotional/energy capacity lately. My husband is well aware of this, because I’ve snapped at him several times about truly miniscule things lately.
Yesterday, I was trying to catch up on some essential, boring paperwork that has been piling up on my desk. I should have known to shut down my work and personal email accounts while I did the paperwork, because I’m easily disrupted by the next thing to do while I’m working on the current one. But I didn’t close my email, and I started receiving emails about a particular situation: I started to write it out here, but it’s way too complex to explain, since I still don’t fully understand what happened. The short version (sorta) is that I upset or angered someone—someone who has been struggling mightily with her emotional/mental health— several years ago (without ever knowing it), and though she had never told me, she had told mutual friends; and it was coming up again now; and it was coming across a huge deal, whether or not it was. Bam–out of the blue sky.
In trying to understand what was going on, I grew confused, and upset, and angry, and then utterly exhausted. When this would happen earlier in my life, I would eventually just blow my top. And I probably would have eaten a giant brownie covered in caramel and ice cream and then internally beaten myself up for eating the giant brownie and feeling grotesquely full and what kind of loser am I that I can’t cope with things better than this?
But I shut down the negative talk before it gets anywhere near that point these days. I work regularly on treating myself with empathy, of treating myself like I would one of these awesome friends I have and love. And because I have trained myself to stop and think, What is it I really want? when I previously would have eaten, sometimes my mind fills me in on what I want/need without me even probing it these days.
So as I was typing, and working on paperwork, and growing more and more exasperated, I stretched to ease the back pain I was feeling, and I thought, I want to go home and go to sleep. I paused in my stretch. Really? Yes. But it’s only 2:30, and work doesn’t end for 2 hours? I am so exhausted. I feel sick and worn out, and I can’t catch a break. Please let me go to sleep. Well, okay then. I just gave myself permission to leave work. I went home, took off my clothes, pulled down the shades, petted my two kitties, climbed under the covers, and closed my tired eyes. Ahh, but sleep would not come, no, it wouldn’t—only thoughts and emotions in deep, disturbing swirls. I thought about crying, and then I realized that over the last two weeks, I had not let myself cry. It was a self-protective measure; when you have been blowing your nose for 10 days and have been unable to sleep because of a stuffed-up nose from a cold, you don’t want to recreate those conditions if you don’t have to. But I needed it; I needed to cry. So I lay there and let myself formulate the emotions, images, and thoughts in my head into actual words: I am so sad and so sorry that loss and grief are inevitable. I am so upset that sometimes my best intentions go awry. I am so sad that some of life’s problems and some of the world’s problems seem intractable, that the efforts we make may not be enough. I am so sorry that I do not have the capability to fix things for other people, for everyone. I started with a few tears and then let myself plummet into them. I shook with loud sobs and repeated my thoughts to myself to let myself feel them. I dove to the bottom of my grief—there was a bottom down there—and let myself touch the murky bottom. Then I came up for air. And finally, I calmed down, and I was able to take a nap.
I wish I could say I awoke entirely refreshed—wouldn’t that be such a pat little post ending?—but of course it wasn’t so. I was, however, able to relieve some of the intensity of the emotions and feel more peaceful and rested.
Today, I came back to work and pounded my way through that paperwork. Whew. Done with that for a week. I cooked my lunch and checked a few blogs while I ate. Then I came across this post by Meg Wolff, and as I read the first few sentences, it was like I was suddenly breathing fresher, colder air than I had been the moment before:
I’ve decided to let go of other people’s stuff too… like fears … feelings that I can appreciate, but that aren’t mine. Not taking on (or in) STUFF that isn’t mine. Listening but … letting it go, instead of feeling sad, mad or churning it around in my head for days. Which is not to suggest that I’m not going to be there for my friends and family — it’s just that I won’t allow myself internalize and take on other people’s “work.” My new mantra is, “Let Go, Let Go, Let Go.”
I thought it was interesting and funny that Meg then went on to mention my last post, the one about not wearing heels anymore, and how it had encouraged to write her post, because, well, I needed her post. I’ve been letting myself deal with the smaller aspects of my empathizing with people to the point of adopting their emotions, but I haven’t put myself into the position of learning to listen and be present but then let it go afterward. And it doesn’t do them, or me, any good when I don’t let it go, because as I repeated to myself yesterday, though it upsets me that it’s so, I can’t fix it. (And it’s not even that I think I can fix it or that they are incapable of fixing it; it’s just that I so very badly wish I could fix it.) I think I’ve been working under the subconscious assumptions that a) I show a care by adopting the problem, b) If I don’t adopt the problem, I don’t care enough, and c) If I care enough and think about it enough, I can at least help fix it. There’s a new lesson for me (or a good reminder of one of my life’s repeat lessons), and I have a new tool to put in my belt for my journey: the mantra of Let go, let go, let go. It’s going to be a learning experience to try to adopt this new way of acting. I have to learn to let go for my own health and to be able to be present (and not overwhelmed) for the people I love, too. I’m off now to check out the post on the Oprah show that Meg mentions to maybe add another tool or two to my collection.