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Dealing with the Difficulty of Life

I will never forget about six years ago, I was sitting around with five friends I used to live with. We were having a reunion. These are people I adore, but I do not see most of them often. We are scattered over the US. We also don’t’ talk too often – so, I don’t get regular updates from them, except random “happy birthday” texts and other major news. These are friends that I may not talk to for years, but when we get together, it feels like it did twenty years ago. Easy.

As I was listening to them give updates about their lives, it suddenly struck me – “man – life is hard!” Each one had significant events occurring in their life: adoption, divorce, abuse, illness, addiction, mental health struggles, et cetera. I was so struck by how different the conversations were from when we in our early twenties. When had life become so challenging? We were no longer carefree twenty-somethings arguing over who was going to cut the grass. We were full-on adults coping with all the struggles of adulthood.

One thing about this group of people that was always wonderful was that we could laugh together. Even in pain. And, during that weekend of spending time together and reconnecting, there was much love and laughter in the room. The highs and lows of life in one sitting.

I’ve been thinking about that recently – as several close friends/family are again going through very challenging life events – aging parents, death, sickness, job difficulties, divorce, relationship difficulties. I’ve been contemplating what helps people get through these difficulties without breaking? That may seem like a silly question, but these life events are stressful and difficult. What helps people get through it?

As a therapist, of course, I focus on the emotions of them. Many people push the emotions aside and try to just keep moving through it. Is that the answer? Since many of my clients have been pushing their emotions aside for years and want to start seeing a therapist because those emotions are now coming out sideways – I’m thinking that might not be the healthiest approach. It works for a while, but not forever.

Some people use humor to counter the pain they feel. Is that the answer? I don’t know. I know that humor often covers the pain that people feel. But, like avoidance, it doesn’t fix the issue. One of my favorite actors of all time – Robin Williams – is one of the most obvious examples. Humor might help – but, again – not forever.

So, what then? Sometimes it is possible to get stuck in an emotion. People can be chronically sad. Grief is tricky because all of us are on our own timeline. When do we know if it has become unhealthy? What exactly is unhealthy?

For me, healthy coping comes in the way of moderation. In doing activities such as meditation, I know that feelings and emotions are not static. I might feel terrible, but it won’t last forever. I watched a video yesterday that my client sent me, where the person who created the video stated that feelings have a season. I don’t know that I necessarily agree with that. I think sometimes, feelings can last a minute and then pass. Other times they stick around longer. I suppose if feelings stick around longer than a season, then it might become problematic. I always come back to the movie, The Crow. In that movie, they say one of my favorite quotes, “It can’t rain all the time.” Even in the midst of grief, we can experience happiness and joy.

One thing I mentioned to a client today is that it isn’t the feelings themselves that are problematic. It’s what we do with the feelings. I can get angry and talk about my anger. I can get angry and yell and scream. I can get angry and hit something or hurt someone. I can get angry and go sit by myself in a field. Those are all different reactions to the feeling of anger.

Similarly, I can be sad and talk, cry, sleep, isolate, write poetry, play music or yell. Feelings themselves aren’t scary. What we do with those feelings are where people get into trouble. I can get stressed and drink a bunch of alcohol. Is that wrong? Possibly. Possibly not. Did I hurt anyone? Did it make me feel better? Did it last?

The problem with many coping techniques is that it isn’t lasting. I can avoid feelings and drink wine. But, at the end of the day – I’ll likely have a headache, and those feelings will still be there (if not intensified). I can make jokes, and displace my feelings. I can exercise and release some tension and gain endorphins. Again, it can help. It usually doesn't help forever. Those feelings will probably return. I can get frustrated and passively aggressively target the person responsible. Unfortunately, that often results in them wanting revenge against me.

So, what is there to do? Deal with those pesky feelings. Deal with them directly. Difficult feelings are difficult. But, it’s so important to look them in the face and figure out what will help you move through them.

I started this blog post a couple weeks ago. Yesterday I got news that punched me in the gut. I won’t go in to detail because it’s not my news to share. But, it is hard, difficult news. My heart aches for everyone involved. But, one thing It has reminded me is that we shouldn’t go through difficult things on our own. I know personally when I feel terrible, I have the desire to separate, isolate and try to deal with the issue on my own. I’m an introvert, after all, raised in a society based in individualism. But, I’ve realized over the years that isn’t always healthy. We are social creatures. We need other people. Now, people have different capacities for others. Some people need others almost constantly. Others may not need people as much. But, we all need support. It’s not weakness to ask for help. In fact, in a lot of ways, it is strength.

What am I trying to say? Well, I guess – life can be damn hard sometimes. It can be gut-wrenching. Sometimes we must pause. Sometimes we have to remember to breathe. Sometimes we have to take our time sorting through the feelings. It makes sense to sometimes want to push feelings away. While that is okay for a short time, it won’t work forever. Take time to figure out what you need to cope with the feelings. Keep breathing. Finally, get support. Get help. You don’t have to do it alone.

Peace to you.

“Avoiding your triggers isn’t healing. Healing happens when you’re triggered and you’re able to move through the pain, the pattern, and the story – and walk your way to a different ending. “ Vienna Pharoon

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