I’ve been making a conscious effort to appear as though I’m maintaining my mental health during the past few weeks. But on Friday, I fell apart. I only got out of bed when my puppy Jasper jumped on top of me insisting I pay attention to him.
Paying attention to Jasper always requires getting out of bed.
The rest of the day, my emotions cycled between anger and despair. I was feeling powerless in almost every aspect of my life. And I hate feeling powerless. I’ve always been someone who believes in dealing with problems instead of ignoring them. But confronting the biggest problems in my life hasn’t been working for me lately.
The impact of the new reality of social distancing due to COVID-19 is only partially to blame. The truth is, I’m struggling with a lot of negativity. One particular situation is getting progressively worse, and I’ve been foiled at every attempt to address it.
I loathe the thought that anyone describes me as helpless, but that is exactly how I was feeling yesterday. And since self pity has always been one of biggest pet peeves, feeling that only made me feel even worse.
So I did everything I could to “snap out” of my funk.
I spoke with a couple of friends who encouraged me. I did my best to celebrate my husband’s birthday. I posted silly photos celebrating National Siblings Day on Facebook. I took a couple of long walks. I ate healthy food and took my vitamins. I sent silly text messages. I reviewed the daily devotion I’d committed to read every day for Lent. And I cried. I cried a lot. And then I got mad at myself for crying.
This morning, I woke up to the sun shining and to Jasper once again jumping on me.This time, he didn’t need to drag me out of bed. I was prepared to face the day even though my circumstances were exactly the same as they were yesterday.
I’d like to say that, through some amazing self talk, I’d been able to improve my attitude. But that would be a lie. Instead, I think I needed a day of self pity and crying before I could move on.
That probably goes against the sage advice of any self-help guru. (I don’t know for sure since I’m as resistant to reading self-help books as I am to giving up, giving in or being deferential to people who don’t earn my respect.)
But yesterday, I was absorbed in self pity. And while it felt horrible and went against the essence of whom I like to believe I am, I think my psyche needed to stop fighting. For at least one day, I needed to put down the boxing gloves and just feel the pain of every punch life has been throwing at me lately.
It’s humbling to admit that, but it’s also liberating. I realize that I wasn’t giving up or giving in. I was just giving myself a break.
Life sometimes sucks, and despite our best efforts, we can’t always fix it. Sometimes we can’t laugh our way out of a bad mood or find the silver lining in the grey clouds. Sometimes we just have to hold on tightly while we ride out the crap storm with the understanding that this too shall pass. And it will pass even though it won’t happen as quickly as we’d like.
In such cases, a little self pity might actually be acceptable.
I try to be a nice person. I really do.
But sometimes, the person I strive to be and the one in my head couldn’t be more different.
O.K. – not some of the time. Most of the time.
In fact, I’ve often wondered if the first verse of “Cell Block Tango” in the musical Chicago was written with me in mind. In it, a young woman explains how the habits of other people can “get you down.” She complains about Bernie, who popped his gum when she was having a bad day. Her bad day turned into his bad day when she shot and killed him.
I can’t say I’ve ever come close to killing another person, but my mind is often plotting revenge. I just don’t act on these thoughts.
But when I’m in a funk, like I was last week, people or situations that are normally just irritating suddenly proliferate as though purposefully torturing me.
The moms who have known each other for years and don’t make an effort to include me in their conversations, even when I try to insert myself, morph into that pack of mean girls from high school.
The people who talk about updating the living room paint to “this year’s color” make me feel completely incompetent and out of touch. (Up until this year, I never even knew that some shades of beige are “in” and some are “out.” I generally feel accomplished when the old, faded living room carpet at my house gets vacuumed a couple of times each month.)
The grocery store clerks who make comments about the food I’m buying completely annoy me. Even though I tend to be a chatty person with almost everyone, I don’t need complete strangers talking to me about my eating habits.
Parents who make sure that they drop a list of their children’s accomplishments into every conversation seem to taunt me for my less accomplished (in their eyes) kids.
And those are just the people who irritate me. I haven’t even mentioned the ones who make me really angry:
- Individuals who don’t take pride in their job. I just don’t get that. If you are being paid to do something, you should never, ever expect other people to compensate and clean up your messes.
- People who compensate and clean up the messes for individuals who don’t take pride in their job. When that happens, the lazy people never learn.
- People who post derogatory comments in social media about low-income people who receive government benefits. No one in this world goes without the help of others. Some people are just fortunate to have family, friends, intellectual gifts and opportunities that helped them overcome difficult situations.
- Individuals who don’t take time to listen to others who may be less educated, less beautiful, less wealthy, less accomplished or less socially connected. We are all on this planet together, and I’m fairly confident that God doesn’t care more about some than others.
- Those same people who flaunt all they have by dropping snide comments or making off-hand remarks that are actually intended to put down others.
- Anyone who makes decisions that hurt my children and cause them to question their abilities or their dreams.
Generally, my antidote for this anger is to make up and play out entire scenes in my head. In them, I say just the right words or take just the right actions to cut down the offenders and put them in their place.
And then I pray to be a kind person and pretend to be the nice person I wish I were.
Usually, that’s enough, and the anger and irritation subside.
But when the irritation and anger continue to linger and the notes from “Cell Block Tango” become an ear worm, I have to do something a littler more dramatic and employ a stronger antidote.
That’s when I write about the people I annoy me. And sometimes, I even make those written words public.