Sunday, December 20, 2020

A Should-less Christmas

There's a list of words and phrases I don't allow my clients (or myself) to say.  The aforementioned 'what if' is one of them.  Another, perhaps the biggest and most important of the outlawed words, is should.  In my experience, this the most destructive word in the English language and it's message comes through loud and clear- sometimes in unspoken ways.

The spoken is obvious.  I should do this or that, I shouldn't have done this or that, I should be this way that I'm not.  When heard from outside, it's you instead of I, but all the rest is the same.  It's a comparison to some idealized reality or a command to improve in ways we can't.  It comes from media, our families, friends, and yes- ourselves.  And it hurts, every time.  It's a one way ticket to shame town on a bullet train that gets faster the longer we're on it.  And the number of shoulds seems to grow the more we listen to the messages.  

The particular breed of shoulds I've been hearing a lot lately are about the holidays.  And despite being in the midst of a pandemic where 3k plus people a day are literally dying there's still a ton of them going around. Shoulds about holiday decor.  Shoulds about the perfect Christmas meal.  Shoulds about gifts and showing love through monetary means (as if that's ever worked in the first place).  And most of all shoulds about family togetherness.  And right now I think that's the single most dangerous should we can buy into.

No, no one wants to zoom Christmas dinner.  No one wants to exchange gifts virtually.  No one wants to celebrate with Netflix and takeout instead of home-cooked family dinner and games.  But right now I think that's the most loving thing we can do.

I don't know what's safe and what's not.  I've given up on trying to figure out if I'm being overly cautious or taking really unnecessary risks.  All I know is that one family dinner isn't worth dying over.  And certainly not worth killing over.

So I'm telling that voice in my head that I should go see my parents to shut the hell up.  I'm forgiving the part of me that is scared of doing the wrong thing, hurting people's feelings, and generally fucking up.  I'm sitting in the quiet resilience that trusts that there will be another Christmas in the future that looks a lot more like ones of the past.  Because if we all stay safe, there will be.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

What if?

It's funny, what if is normally something I don't allow my clients to say because usually it triggers panic.  "What if I get COVID?", for example, is a question that could easily trigger a panic response in any one of us that are sitting primarily on the outside of this thing with no first-hand knowledge to fact check or allay the fears that come from thinking about the possibility of contracting a potentially fatal disease.  Which is why normally, I outlaw that phrase.  Don't say it, don't feed into the negative thought spiral.  It's simply not a productive line of reasoning.

But sometimes, I think it can be a powerful exercise to think about that question in the big scheme of things.  What if, for example, I'm never known for anything other than what I mean to the people who love me?  If I never get famous, never publish that book I sometimes still dream of writing, never revolutionize the field of psychology, never get a Wikipedia article written about me, and never have anything on my epitaph other than "Loving"?  Would that mean that my life wasn't worthwhile?

What if I never "figure it out"?  What if the meaning of life, the great spiritual answers to the universe, the wisdom of the scribes is something that I'm always questioning and never answering?  Would that mean that all those questions beat me?  That I never learned?

Or what if I never have "enough money"- whatever any one of us dreams of enough money to be?  What if paying bills always causes me stress, tax season is always something I experience some small amount of anxiety over, my credit card bill is always more than I thought it would be?  Would that mean that I wasn't successful?

What if, and this is my biggest fear, I fail?  At life.  What if I never achieve whatever it is that I think I'm meant to?  (Which, to be fair, can change on a daily basis.)  What if, on my death bed, I look back and am overwhelmed with a sense of missed opportunities, chances not taken, experiences not experienced?  Will that mean that I failed, that everything I fear is true?  Or what if that's just a perspective?  One that I don't have to take?

I try not to take that perspective.  On a daily basis.  I try to look at the black and white thinking my mind does and see it as just that.  To realize that if even one person I love has a better life because I'm in it, that I am winning at this whole life thing.  To consider that if I help even one person in my work as a therapist, that what I do every day is worth it.  To look at only the experiences I've already had, rather than focusing on all those I've yet to, as enough.  To see my life exactly as it is as worthy, important, and big enough for this life I've been given.  What if I, actually am, enough?