“I don’t know how to answer. I wish there was something to reveal, some horrible secret about my childhood so we would have our explanation and they could feel sorry for me. I wish someone had hurt me so I could say, This is why. But I’ve never had an excuse for being me.”
-Glennon Doyle Melton, Love Warrior
Glennon is standing in front of her parents trying to explain her bulimia and alcoholism. And when I read the words I feel the same way. I’ve never had an excuse for being me either.
I am not a bulimic or an alcoholic but I wish I had a way to explain my anxiety.
I come from a middle class family. I had parents who loved me. So I question: “Why do I feel so much? Why do I need so much therapy? Why can’t I deal with my feelings on my own? Why do I need help?”
I look at the world around me and see so many people who seem to have it figured out. They have jobs that they like. They have families and priorities and vacations. They don’t go to therapy. They don’t talk about their feelings. And they’re fine.
There is this part that believes that if only I had some deep painful secret then all of my feelings would be justified. Then my therapy would be worth it. Then I wouldn’t be this person that is pretending to be in pain.
When I was in my undergrad I waited in the waiting room of the campus psychiatry office. Eventually I was called and I went into the psychiatrists office. I told her about the challenges I was having. My sister was having a hard time. My family was having a hard time. I didn’t know how to help. I was upset.
After I finished talking she told me that they had a long waiting list. She said that I seemed fine. I seemed stable. They had to prioritize the students who were suicidal. I didn’t want to take a space from a student that really needed the help, did I?
And I thought, yes. She’s right. I’m not suicidal. I don’t need help. I’m fine.
I soldiered on. I learned how to deal. I learned to believe that I didn’t deserve help.
And I’ve always been a functional emotional. My coping skills are excellent. I know how to shut it all down and keep going.
When I am coping, I am not at my best. I am not kind and generous and joyful. I am stressed and tired and short with those that I care about. But I am able to keep up. I get my work done. I pass my classes. I make money. I contribute to society.
I harden my heart. I shut down my sadness, my anger, my pain. I smile. My smile is false. It is painted all over my face.
Last fall I was going through a break up and was crying a lot. I would wake up in the morning and cry as I got dressed, made coffee, packed my lunch. Just before I was about to walk out the door, I would pull a Kleenex out my pocket, wipe my eyes dry and then step out onto the street composed. Ready.
One morning I arrived at work for a meeting with a co-worker. She asked me, “How’s it going?” I responded, “Good, fine. You?” But as the words escaped from my mouth, I felt sick. It couldn’t be farther from the truth. I wanted to retract it all.
“Actually,” I continued, “That was a lie. I’m doing really terrible but I don’t want to talk about it. I might need you to beat someone up for me later. I’ll keep you posted.” She laughed, “I’m really good at yelling people out if you need that too.”
And then we launched into the meeting.
It was a small truth telling, but it felt so good. I didn’t want to talk about the details with a co-worker but I didn’t have to pretend I was fine either. I could be me.
And the people that I am beginning to trust the most are those who admit they have big messy painful emotions just like me. The people who talk about the challenges that they face, the pain they’re feeling and what they’re learning from the messiness.
I love Glennon Doyle Melton’s new book, Love Warrior because she doesn’t pretend that life is easy or that she is perfect. Her story is about going from alcoholic to motherhood and she doesn’t pretend that she didn’t cause her friends and family pain. She doesn’t claim to be the perfect mother. And as I read, I knew the little gems of truth she shares have been hard won through the pain and messiness.
And although our stories are different, what she shared, helped me feel better about my own pain.
After reading, I know more clearly that in some ways, I am weak. I need therapy and friends and family support to navigate my big messy painful emotions. I cannot do it alone.
And I’m beginning to believe that’s okay. I’m beginning to believe that even though I don’t have some epic explanation for my pain, that my pain is still real. My pain is a part of being human.
And I want to be that kind, joyful, generous person I can be when I’m doing more than just coping. I want to live in a way where all of me is welcome – my joy and my pain, my anger and my sadness, my gratitude and generosity.
And most of all, like Glennon does, I want to tell the truth.
And my bet is that you do too.
Do you want to:
- Overcome shame?
- Stop feeling so drained?
- Have more time for friends, family and the activities you love?
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Take care of yourself!!
Career Burnout Coach
The Courage Compass