I recently got hit with some news that threw me for a loop – it required logistical decision making, planning and action. Only one problem… any thought of it, mention of it, or attempt to move forward turned me into weepy emotional jello. It took a few days to realize that I had to separate any attempts to actually move forward into two catagories – heart issues and logistical issues. Sounds very neat, tidy and logical, right?
I mentioned to a friend that I really needed to deal with and get past the heart issues before I got into any of the logistics, and she looked at me kind of funny and asked how exactly I do that. I’ve never really attempted to articulate my emotional approach to functional life before, but exciting news – I do have one and it works for me!
Now, I am no expert. I’m not a counselor. I’m not a life coach. I am just an often overwhelmed, frustrated and sad single mom, who wants to be a functional human being. I want my life be more about joy than despair. I’ve seen several counsellors, I’ve read lots of books and I’ve consumed lots of chocolate and what I’ve realized is that I actually have developed a personal “system” that feels natural to me.
I’m thinking this might be helpful to someone out there who is stuck in the emotional garbage and thinks they have to stay that way… So, I’m doing my best to articulate the “Nellie’s 5 step system to move from emotional jello into functional human being” out into cyberspace in hopes it actually does resonate and help someone else.
(I already mentioned, I’m not a counselor and this is not professional advice, if you need to see a professional… please, please, please go see one! It can really help!)
STEP ONE – Wallow a little.
OK, so seriously, that sounds bad, I know. But, personally, I need to feel what I feel and sit with it for a little while. Not for long. But, for a time, I need to stay with whatever feelings I’m feeling. I need to give them space and room to overwhelm me a little and take me on whatever emotional bunny trails I need to be lead down to really understand what is making me upset.
I would love to tell you that I go to my favourite coffee shop and order something lovely, and sit with a beautiful journal and write out and deeply explore my thoughts. More typically, a thought cross my mind while I’m driving or doing laundry and it makes me mad or sad or angry and I pay attention to it and follow it, which tends to make me look like a crazy person with random bursts of tears or slammed washing machine doors or inexpiable consumption of ice cream…
STEP TWO – Get out the label maker.
Maybe, don’t literally make labels! For me to have any hope of moving forward, I need to actually stop (or take breaks from) my wallowing and label what I’m feeling. Am I angry? Am I scared? Am I jealous. Am I overwhelmed, frustrated, weary, sad? Does what’s happening now seem so incredibly unfair that I can hardly breath? Am I so weary that I want to climb into a coffee cup and stay there?
I need to intentionally do this. If I don’t then I’m probably going to stay wallowing and my emotions will completely consume me. This might not be true for you, but sweetie, its true for me!
This might be where that journal comes in, but for me its probably never going to be in a coffee shop. I don’t process emotions well in public! This is where I’m very blessed by drive thru coffee shops with large parking lots!
I’m likely to go for a very, very long drive and ugly cry while I talk myself through what’s really in my heart. Or just have it hit me in the small windows of time where I’m alone (I need to function in the midst of processing – I still need to go to work, feed my family, and do my laundry!)
I’ll probably rotate back to wallowing a few times through this step, and visit self-justification and pity too! I’m trying to make this into logical steps, but there’s definitely an ebb and flow here. And nothing I do is naturally neat and tidy anyway, so why would I suddenly expect my emotional processing to be!
This is also where I might talk to a friend about it. For me, I probably won’t actually “talk” in the early stages – it’ll be an email or a text to a friend, so they can’t see or hear me cry or curse.There is a rumour going around my church that I don’t know how to ugly cry – clearly no one has put a hidden camera in my car, bedroom or shower… just saying, we don’t all process emotions well with an audience! So, don’t assume that person who has it all (or mostly) together didn’t cry the whole way home in their car. Just sayin!
A word of caution about processing with an audience, if you are somewhere in the midst of this wallowing/labeling process… Sharing with friends can be very helpful, but just DON’T MAKE IT A FACEBOOK POST while you are still an emotional mess – that’s generally a very, very bad idea!
STEP THREE – Own it and make your decision
For me, this is the point where I get to chose. Am I going to wallow in self-pity, harbour bitterness or let unhappiness take root in me? Or, am I going to call it what it is and reject it. Now, a point of clarification. I’m not suggesting that my feelings aren’t valid or that they haven’t been well earned or deserved! I can almost always justify my feelings, and you can probably even affirm me for feeling them.
My life is hard. I am weary. This isn’t fair. So, hear me well… many of my feelings are legitimate. And, I’ve had enough feeling spin out of control and take me bad places, that I know not ALL my feelings are true. Sometimes feelings lie and sometimes they can’t be trusted. That’s part of why I need to sit with them. But, I also need to own what I’m feeling and make a choice. I don’t want to keep feeling like this!
Now, it’s important to note that I am a Christian. I deeply believe that God is real, Christ loves me deeply and his holy spirit dwells in me and wants my best. SO, I’ve got serious help with this! I can immediately start owning these things in prayer. I can say “God, I am tired of all of this. I’m hurting so deeply. I’m angry and frustrated and overwhelmed. I just want… I just need… I’m ready to quit on…” This is where I pour it out. Often this it the time when I do grab a journal. I write out my prayers – because I’m forgetful and I might need to re-read them to remind myself what I rejected, turned over to God and asked for help with.
STEP FOUR – Repent (EEK!)
Hard word, I know… But, almost always, in almost every situation, there is something that’s my part of the problem. If it’s legitimate, I’ve gotta own that too! Sometimes, I need to confess that I’ve given bitterness a place to take root in my mind. I need to say outloud that I’ve got jealousy in my heart. I need to ask for forgiveness and reject those things as sin myself.
I tend to write those things out in the same prayers. It’s both humbling and freeing – and if it’s in writing, I can go back and read it over and remind myself to reject those same behaviours and habits when they creep back in the next day, or the next week. I’m a bit of a creature of habit. If I let bitterness be a habit, I’m going to have to fight hard to stay free of it! If I seek comfort in self-pity, I’m going to have to stand on guard against that too!
STEP FIVE – Stamp some truth on it
OK, so as I’m writing this I realize how non-sequential this particular step might be. I need to have truth be my go-to source to combat my emotional roller-coaster rides. So, often I need to grab hold of a Bible verse or two (or six) at some point in any given situation – and really, the earlier that happens the better.
In my most recent situation, I was still a wallowing emotional mess when God brought a scripture to mind and that was the piece that helped move me from wallowing to labeling and owning it. Other times, it’s the scriptures that I’m reading or wrestling with that I grab hold of when writing out my prayer and reaching for repentance. So, darn it, my neat formula isn’t quite as neat as I thought!
However, I’m keeping this as the last step for now, because if it hasn’t happened naturally already – don’t finish off without it. You need to grab hold of some truth before you close this door. Bible verses are a great go-to, but realize that truth can be communicated in many forms.
You might be so wound up that its hard to hear, hold or be confident in truth. That’s when asking a mentor, pastor, or counselor might be your very, very best decision. Don’t be afraid to seek the help you need. You might just need a friend’s affirmation. If you are struggling with finding your own value, truth might look like a friend reminding you how much you are loved. You might need to directly ask a friend to speak into your situation, or it might be that you save notes or cards or emails over the years and look back at what’s already been said. If you feel incompetent, it might be making a list of all the things you actually are good at. Sometimes it might be writing a list of all the things you are thankful for or getting out in the fresh air and looking for signs of joy or hope…
For me, the most powerful thing is definitely God’s word. I’d love to have it so entrenched in my heart and mind that the verses just pop up, but I’m often googling “verses for when you are…” and then I see where God and google lead me.
As I mentioned already – I’m not a counselor or a life coach. I’m no professional. If you need professional help to deal with the emotions you are experiencing, then by all means, SEEK IT! I’m not suggesting that this is a system that will work for every situation or every individual, I’m just sharing what works for me and praying that for someone out there, this might help them too!