The past few months have been challenging. My own frustration, bitterness, and pessimism seems to match our nation’s collective angst. Perhaps the Summer of 2016 could best be called the “Summer of WTF” or the “Summer of Tragedy” or the “Summer of When-Will-This-crapshow-End?” We all seem to be feeling a bit beaten down, frustrated and scared.
I hate to admit it, but as grateful as I am for all the joys in my life, I haven’t been very good about feeling grateful or showing gratitude for those joys. I haven’t been a very good wife, mother, or friend. I haven’t been my best self. There have been days when I’m not even sure I’ve been an okay-ish version of myself because I was a downright pain in the ass to be around. And quite frankly, I’ve annoyed myself with my own moodiness and sulking.
Some of the reasons for this funk or despair (or whatever you’d call it) are somewhat obvious. The news headlines make me want to scream or weep on a daily basis. Adjusting to our summer schedule was difficult, and certain work projects that I busted my butt on didn’t produce the results I would have liked. An extra 5 pounds (oh, who am I kidding, it’s definitely closer to 10) have permanently attached themselves to my belly, butt, and thighs. And as much as I would like to say that I’ve made peace with this, the truth is, I have not. I want the scale to magically adjust itself without giving up my daily Kit-Kat bars and French fries.
As much as I would like to have a IDGAF attitude about ALL THE THINGS, the truth is that sometimes I care too much about too many things, and it gets to me. I wish I didn’t care, but I do. I know that in the grand scheme, I have very little to complain about. You should be grateful, I tell myself. You have nothing to complain about. Just buck up and stop feeling so angsty.
And believe me, I’ve tried to do just that. I ignored the restlessness. I pretended I wasn’t disappointed that the work projects didn’t go as planned. I denied the fact that I was overwhelmed and overextended. I tried to ignore the news headlines and pretend that I’m not scared as hell about certain political prospects. I pushed aside the feelings of sadness, confusion, and frustration. I told myself I was happy because I knew that I should be happy.
Except that I wasn’t happy — at least, not as happy as I could be. There was an underlying grumbly sensation, a sort of unsettled and choppy feeling that was difficult to pinpoint. And because I couldn’t name it, or feel justified in feeling it, I pretended things were fine.
But my family noticed. I was snippy and angry. I huffed and puffed about the socks on the floor and the dishes in the sink, instead of asking for help. And all those negative emotions that I didn’t acknowledge because I didn’t feel I should feel them festered and grew into bigger and nastier and more negative emotions until eventually they were spilling over as tears, slammed doors, and lots of yelling to “PICK UP YOUR FREAKING SOCKS!”
I am typically a rather self-aware person, especially when it comes to my feelings. Some might even call me “emotional” or “dramatic.” (Po-TAY-to, Po-TAH-to.) But even those of us who are in-touch with our emotions sometimes dismiss them or deny them, especially when we feel like we aren’t entitled to feel those emotions. Life is good. I am happy. So why am I frustrated and scared and angsty?
Over the past few months, through several long conversations and a lot of soul-searching, I’ve realized that I wasn’t fooling anyone. My discontent was palpable and my family was suffering as a result. What’s more, by not paying attention to my own emotional wellbeing, tiny little things were festering and turning into big, nasty, rotten things.
As women, we have a tendency to dismiss our emotions, pushing them to the back-burner or denying them because we feel unentitled to feel the way we’re feeling. And as mothers, we spend a lot of time worrying about everyone else’s emotional wellbeing that we forget about our own. We ignore the little things until they turn into big things. We tell ourselves that we should “count our blessings” without realizing that it is possible to feel both gratitude and longing at the same time; it is possible to appreciate what you have while wishing for something more.
So we deny that we feel a certain way even though those feelings are manifesting all around us. We feel it. Our family feels it. And like they say, if mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy. As much as I wish my family’s emotional wellbeing didn’t rely so heavily on mine, the fact is it does. And maybe it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, it means that my presence and my emotional health matter.
So I am learning how to pay attention and tend to my emotional health. For me, that means talking through issues in therapy, and after a break for a few months, I’m realizing that it’s time to make that a priority again. It means paying attention to the physical signs of my emotions, things like headaches, shaking hands, and stomachaches. It also means regular check-ins with my husband about our own emotional health and reaching out to friends, especially during those stretches when all I want to do is hibernate and not talk to anyone. And most of all, it means giving myself permission to feel whatever it is I’m feeling, without judgment or shame.
Because if I don’t take the time to pay attention to my emotional wellbeing, eventually the little things end up like the produce at the bottom of my crisper drawer — brown, rotten, and stinky. And no one wants that.