The session starts:
Hi there how have you been? Well, I’m really frustrated. I have done all this work in therapy and the other day, I woke up blue. It stuck with me all day and I couldn't shake it. Oh that’s too bad. Are you still blue? No, it only lasted a day - but still. It makes me feel like I’m failing at what I learned in therapy. Oh. So there’s no room to have an off day? Is feeling sad or lonely no longer part of the human condition? Hmm .. I never thought of it that way.
Sometimes it seems, we lose sight of how things are “supposed to feel”. It is important to understand that some of how we feel on any given day is “normal”, and certain responses to events are “appropriate”.
Anxiety is our body’s way of letting us know there is danger, something is amiss, we should prepare to flee or fight. Something as huge as a pandemic for example, will understandably set your nervous system off. Here is a great Podcast with Dr. Christina Runyan talking about the physiological and emotional impact of the pandemic on so many of us. Our feelings of sadness, numbness, anxiety – are appropriate responses to a huge, life changing/threatening event. They are hard feelings, unpleasant feelings – but not necessarily inappropriate feelings. Missing our families feels like something. It’s not insignificant.
Many events in the course of ordinary life will elicit “feelings”. For example, when applying for a new job or not getting chosen for one .. wouldn’t some amount of “feelings” for either of these situations seem “appropriate”? The problem is sometimes our brain fools us and has us believe our “feelings” (anxiety? rejection? simple adrenaline?) are a sign that we aren’t good enough, ready enough, suited enough to the task… when really all it is, is an appropriate response to a pretty significant stressor. The “rejection” of not getting a job can sting to be sure, those are some strong feelings. But again, we shouldn’t interpret that as proof of something flawed about ourselves.
To the legions of young people (and also not young people) struggling with loneliness in this crazy time – that loneliness also “feels” like something. And again, I believe our brain then creates messages that undermine our sense of our self, our confidence.. Because we “feel” this .. we must not be good enough, not worthy of love, destined to be alone. This is not true.
If we accept that certain things feel a certain way, maybe we won’t be caught off guard by those feelings and then make the mistake of misinterpreting what they mean. If you feel lonely, it means you’ve been alone more than you can tolerate and still feel good. It does NOT mean you are not lovable.
Back to the pandemic, a lot of us are feeling numb, exhausted, short tempered, fed up… and while these feelings are a burden to carry, I have a hard time deeming them “inappropriate”. It’s the cost of a YEAR’S worth of vigilance and worry. That’s going to feel like “something”.
I tell a lot of my clients that therapy (I hope!) can help untie a bunch of old knots. It will help one understand where their intentions and motives spring from. It helps to understand one’s self in relation to others. What it does not do is get rid of life’s stressors. What it does not do is make it possible to feel good and happy all the time, because that’s just not realistic. Life is hard, hard things happen, you will wake up on the wrong side of the bed. Yes we can be resilient, most of us are, but it’s all going to feel like something.
Be kind to yourself.