You Can Be Grateful And Still Feel Like Things Suck Sometimes
I do this very unhelpful thing when I’m feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, or disappointed: I argue with myself about the severity of the offense that has caused me to feel anything uncomfortable or irritating. Or worse, when I’m miserable and sad, I tell myself I shouldn’t feel that way. I try to analyze my way out of feeling shitty. I attempt to stop the negative thoughts by replacing them with ones that say It could be worse or I have so much to be grateful for.
Even while I try to trick myself into contentment — if not happiness — all I do is delay the inevitable emotional meltdown. It’s exhausting to procrastinate the necessary act of feeling; instead, I’m learning how to embrace the fact that sometimes life just sucks.
I know we can’t navigate life by being overly negative all of the time, and I’m not suggesting we do. But I don’t want to pretend or conjure up the naïve belief that there is always a silver lining. When my depression is telling my brain lies and when my anxiety is rampaging its way through every cell of my body, I get into the “shoulds.” I somehow think I should be able to control the chemicals in my brain by telling myself I should be happier. After all, I have my physical health, a job, a warm place to sleep, happy kids, and a wonderful support network. And when my anxiety is high I beat myself up for overthinking everything and for feeling agitated and short tempered. I can barely stand to be around myself so I become convinced no one else wants to be around me either. I should be better by now.
I feel guilty when I can’t come up with positive thoughts about my life or myself. And all I can think is WTF is my problem?
I know there is no such thing as “better by now” when it comes to mental health. I also know that the right answer is not the easy answer in this case. It would be easy to say I’m selfish, a misery, and unappreciative. But the right answer is that I am a human being with tough stuff to deal with and for the most part I do a pretty damn good job at it, but there are days and situations that are garbage. Calling shit stinky doesn’t make me lose sight of the wonderful things in my life.
I’m learning that I’m better off allowing raw and natural reactions to unwanted events and feelings be what they are. Instead of telling myself it could be so much worse or that other people struggle more often or that their hard is harder, I tell myself my hard is still difficult. I need to honor the struggle and believe I have the right to work through negative feelings. I know I get to a better version of me when I accept being uncomfortable and trust that I’m deserving of care from both myself and those who love me. When I stop fighting myself, I usually move through the muck a bit faster.
A large part of my sobriety and recovery is a sense of gratitude. I am truly thankful for where I am today compared to two years ago. I am grateful for what I have to look forward to because of a clear head and healthy body. But sometimes I take it too far. I almost will my way into feeling thankful for what makes me feel like shit, as if depression and anxiety or everyday stress and bad luck are punishments for my alcoholism. I want to see them as reminders of my strength rather than as crosses to bear.
Complaining about the messiness of life it doesn’t take away from my gratitude. The problem comes when I’m told to reframe a situation. Someone will send me an inspirational quote or meme. An acquaintance will tell me to focus on the good. Be optimistic. This too shall pass.
Fine, I can reframe something in a more positive way, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the challenges in front of me for what they are—absolute trash.
And there is so much more to the story than the inspirational and motivational words behind memes with pretty font and prettier backgrounds. Those viral posts and videos of folks smiling and triumphant after going through the absolute worst shit that was ever piled on top of shit would not be celebrated if the focus was on the miserable parts of the process. But folks love a good underdog story. We strive to rise from the ashes. It’s not that bad, right? If they can do it, so can we!
Let me remind you of something: The joy, success, and ability to walk out of fire didn’t happen without the misery of being burned.
Failure and pain—both physical and emotional—are part of life, and we should be able to talk about them in the same way we talk about our moments of euphoria and pride. I don’t want to be stuck in dark cycles for too long, but, when life is tough, I am no longer going to rush to throw on the rose-colored glasses.
It is what it is. And sometimes it all fucking sucks.
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