I’ve been dealing with something very upsetting to me.
It’s tangled up in personal, artistic, and professional pain. I’ll fill you in when I’m certain of what I have to say. For now, I’ll share how I’ve been processing it.
After too many meals trying not to bother Steve with the same question – what do I do?, I suggested that we go out for breakfast to air out the stress and problem-solve this once and for all.
Steve sipped hot chocolate while I cracked open a notebook and listed out all the problems. Three categories emerged. I presented him the list:
- It hurts.
- I don’t know what to say about it yet.
- I don’t what the consequences of speaking up are.
‘Is this in order?’ He asked, ‘Because I think it should be’.
In the mess of emotions and possible actions, I was telling myself that taking action would make me feel better.
I was sort of acknowledging my feelings, but in a ‘yeah yeah’ kind of way. I was trying to distract myself from the pain, with the illusion that doing something would make it go away.
Here is the truth though: Distracting myself from the hurt never lasts long term.
I get frustrated with my feelings, to the tune of ‘I Don’t Do Sadness’ from Spring Awakening, in which Moritz feels too busy and too pressured to experience sadness. I’ve taught myself – and I keep teaching myself – that feelings are productive. I don’t believe in multitasking, certainly not after seeing Doctor Strange. I wouldn’t text and drive, so I shouldn’t process feelings and work on solutions at the same time either.
When I put action steps on hold, I can sit in how the problem feels. This pause teaches me about what I’m facing. When I give emotions the space they need, they pass more quickly than if I were to carry them around while doing other things. Suppressing emotion takes effort. Distracting myself from sadness while taking action is a waste of energy.
My aim is not to banish sadness, but to learn how to work with her.
This indeed is the premise of Pixar’s Inside Out. In the beginning, the personified group of emotions don’t understand Sadness’s purpose. They expend energy trying to shut her down instead of listening to her.
By the end of the film we learn that we’re better off having Sadness contribute to the team. I’m still learning how to communicate with my Sadness, how to give her attention to share her wisdom. Imagining her in glasses and a cosy, animated sweater does help.
It’s hard to pause.
It’s hard to unlearn the belief that doing things will make the bad feelings go away. Inaction makes me antsy. I’m learning to recognise that obstacles large and small will keep coming, and if I’m mindful about facing them, next time I will be slightly more prepared.
If we accept that life is a series of obstacles, why not see it as an obstacle course? We long for adventure, and life is presenting us with our own dragons to fight, dressed up in muggle clothes. Learning how to work through each obstacle will not make them go away forever. But if we use all the tools we have, Sadness included, we’ll be ready to face them more elegantly.
P.S. If you would like to learn more about turning obstacles into mini adventures, join me this Thursday for my masterclass, ‘What Would a Heroine Do?’. RSVP at heroinetraining.com/rsvp (it’s free).