The last month has been a bit shitty for me. I battled a nasty cold for 3 weeks, lost my voice for 2 weeks, sprained a rib muscle, Ash has been going through a developmental leap and I got to meet her highly sensitive, explosive, and mischievous alter-ego (argh, in simple terms she’s just been a turd), Tay has been teething, had an ear infection and a sleep regression, I had to go through some solo parenting, and to top it all off, our beloved pet dog Diesel was ill and we had to put him to sleep.
They say bad things happen in 3’s and I’m hoping that I’ve met the quota. Naturally, I’ve been feeling quite flat. I’ve been experiencing the works in terms of emotions over the month. I’ve been sad, felt hopeless, helpless, exhausted, stressed, anxious, lonely, defeated, and I’ve felt a great sense of grief. It’s just been shit. But you know, I’m okay with this.
I’ve been open to sharing what’s been going on in bits and bobs to people who have asked me how I’m going. Here’s what I am not okay with: the tendency for people to want to try and fix or redirect a person’s feelings of shittiness.
If I am open about the fact that I’m exhausted as a result of sleep deprivation and managing meltdowns, and trying to juggle the needs of a baby and a toddler, on top of trying to minimise the chances that I’m going to fuck either one up, I have been met with these gold nuggets:
“Oh that’s ok that they want extra cuddles”
“But the time goes by so quickly, just enjoy them while you can”
“The baby stage goes by so quickly, every child is different”
When I share my frustrations over my current injuries and how this means I have to take a break from strength training, I received this gem:
“Don’t be upset about this, just rest and take care of your babies”
And after the passing of Diesel, this corker came my way:
“Don’t be too depressed, unexpected things happen in life”
All these responses initially gave me the shits, but once I took a step back, it got me intrigued. While they are all indeed in my opinion, quite invalidating, they all share a common theme: we must get rid of unpleasant feelings. Holy moly this is a concern for me.
We’ve become so uncomfortable with tolerating the experience of unpleasant feelings. We have a tendency to try to fix things or try to make people think and feel positively about a situation, or we try to redirect them from their painful feelings. More often than not, these feelings are legitimate. Sometimes we are just going through a rough patch, and we just feel like shit. It is okay to feel hopeless, sad, hurt, disappointed, grief, helpless, dejected. We need not fear these feelings. When we start fearing these, we then attach labels to them. Unpleasant feelings become “negative” feelings, ones that need to be avoided. Judgements and labels get attached to these feelings – ones that criticise a person’s capacity to cope and function as an individual. This then ultimately leads to self judgment and self criticism about one’s worth based on how everyone else thinks these unpleasant feelings should be dealt with. This is a dangerous space to be in. This is where mental health concerns arise because people are trying so hard to avoid or get rid of their unwanted painful emotions. People then start to feel discouraged from sharing their struggles with others and then miss out on much needed support.
As a mum, I am very much aware that my children will grow up quickly, that what I’m going through is a phase and that they do not remain babies for long. But it does not mean that I need to stop feeling anything unpleasant because I need to be grateful and enjoy every.bloody.moment. My child is not sleeping – I’ll enjoy the moment! My child is having a major meltdown because I didn’t use the correct coloured bowl – I’ll enjoy the moment! My child almost bit my nipple off and I think it’s detached but I’ll enjoy the fucking moment because I’ve been told I need to be grateful, and if I blink, my child will be 30 and married off. While having children is such a special experience, it’s unrealistic to think that every moment will be a cherishing one. Having children is hard and the struggles are real. It is okay to feel exhausted, anxious, hopeless, and resentful. It is ok to want your child refunded, because sometimes the situation just calls for this.
When we lose someone or something that was have held so dearly to our hearts, it’s ok to feel a deep sense of sadness, grief, and heartbreak. Time does not heal all wounds, and nor does it need to. It is okay to miss something or someone everyday. How great is it that we have the capacity to even feel and experience love? To know that we have given someone or something the experience of love. That’s pretty special. Where there is love, there will inevitably be pain. They go hand in hand. Everybody has a right to carry a sense of grief with them, alongside happiness.
We have every right to feel what we are feeling. Unpleasant feelings do not need to be avoided or fixed or redirected. Sure they don’t feel nice. But rather then fearing them, and doing what you can to make them go away, make some space for them. When we are able to sit with them for long enough, they become growth opportunities. We need to be aware of this. It is okay to feel pissed when you face a setback in life. You need to be in that space to process what’s gone on and then consolidate and work out your game plan.
The most important gift we can give someone is the feeling of being validated and understood. And how do we go about this? By just being with them, in that space. By acknowledging that what they are experiencing is real, is legitimate, does suck, and that they will still be respected and valued and loved while they are struggling. By regularly checking in to see if they would like some support, some company, comfort, distraction, or some cuddles.
When we create space for these feelings, we are no longer creating a fear or a stigma around them. Whatever the situation, it can be a really lonely time. It’s important that we offer support in our presence – that while we may not be able to understand, we will stand with them and provide some comfort while we ride out the wave with them, without judgement. There is power in just “being with”.