The danger of “it’s not that bad”

the anonymous mommy

it’s not that bad

          My heart is feeling weird and fluttery. But I’ve never been hospitalized for my weight. It’s not that bad.

          I can’t remember the last time I went a day without a drink. But I mean I’m never drunk at work or anything. It’s not that bad.

          He punched through the wall.  I mean, it’s not like I got hurt or anything. He didn’t hit me. So it’s not that bad.

          I am crying a lot and really don’t want to leave the house.  I’m not suicidal or anything. It’s not that bad.

          My boss says gross things to me. But he doesn’t touch me, so whatever. It’s not that bad.

These are all things I’ve said in the past, either out loud or to myself. It didn’t register that anything was wrong with it. In my twisted logic, it was about respect and self-protection. I didn’t want people to think I was being too much of a drama queen. I knew that there were people out there dealing with much worse situations than I was. And I should be grateful that I wasn’t.

But that isn’t’ gratitude. That is settling for scraps.

cupcake crumbs
Yeah, that should be plenty 

It’s not that good

Okay, so maybe you are handling the situation for now. It’s not that bad, but it’s certainly not that good! The whole reason for saying something in the first place is because there is an internal alarm system going off saying, “Bad! Bad! Bad!” But you’re afraid you will be judged for it so you qualify it. Then no one can get mad at you.

But why are we so willing to tolerate what is admittedly not so good?  Your life should be more than “not bad”.  When you think about the hopes you have for your children, is it that their lives will be “not miserable”?  Of course not.  You want them to be happy and fulfilled.

Somewhere along the way, we stopped believing we can have nice things.

dog ate bed
This could be why

There are a number of times in life when we are slapped across the face with reality.  That some things don’t always work out. Good doesn’t always win.  You can do all the right things, and still end up with what you consider to be less than your share of happiness.  The lesson of “Life isn’t fair” is a very difficult one to accept.  Part of me still wants to stomp my foot at it like a three-year-old.

Serenity

serenity now

The Serenity Prayer is some advanced shit.  It sounds simple enough:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;

Courage, to change the things I can;

And the wisdom to know the difference.

But damn if it’s not hard to carry out.  Yes, there are things that are simply out of your hands.  Cancer.  Natural disasters.  Who is currently in power. Other people’s will.  The fact that it’s raining…  It feels like if we just point out to others, or to the universe that it’s just not fucking fair, that life will somehow “get it” and resolve things to put them back in balance. We all wish it worked this way.  It feels like it should.  But it doesn’t.

Accepting things does not mean you have to like them and it doesn’t mean they don’t hurt.  It just means that you stop throwing so much energy at them.

Then there are the things you can change, and this is sometimes harder because the onus is on you.  (Hee hee, onus.)  This is where “It’s not that bad” comes in.  That is the sound of someone realizing this is something that they should probably change – and then chickening out.  It’s scary to rearrange things in your life.  But we can’t sit there and rail about the world being unfair, and then not do our part to make it as fair as we possibly can.  Sometimes it’s about baby steps.  Just giving yourself the leeway to think “What are the GOOD things that might happen if I take action?” – instead of just imagining all the bad ones.

Being able to pick through what’s yours to change can be tricky.  Sometimes we need outside perspective.  And that’s another thing “It’s not that bad” is a placeholder for.  A request for perspective.

Sending out an S.O.S

I’ve noticed over time that it seems like message boards (or Facebook groups and their ilk) have made it a bit more possible to reach out for help. Because it’s a space on social media where we have a degree of anonymity, it allows us to show something other than the glossy highlight reel reserved for most of social media. It’s a place where people can ask each other tentatively – is this normal?

scissors in head
It looks worse than it is

I am on a few different Facebook groups for mothers and have found them very honest and useful. But “it’s not that bad” is rampant on them. Thankfully, whenever there is one of those posts, other mothers usually rally around the poster, letting her know that she doesn’t have to stand for whatever it is. But in equal measure, there is often a chorus of “yeah, same here.”

Fear and Change

Whether it’s a friend confiding in you, or someone posting on a message board, one of the reasons for downplaying the problem is that it’s scary to admit that your life isn’t perfect. We spend so much time and energy trying to convince everyone that we are happy and everything is great – even those we are closest to. Because if we admit there is something really wrong, we might actually have to do something about it. Having to “hit bottom” doesn’t only apply to addictions. If something is hurting us, most people are so afraid of change that it takes something pretty dramatic to jolt them out of their everyday routine. We’ll take the hell we have right now because we know we can survive it. We’d rather have pain than chaos.

This is another reason why sharing these things seems to happen more often online. No matter how close you feel to your online tribe, they aren’t likely to follow up with you on what you need to change. Your best friend will.

One-upping

We are all guilty of going to town with our war stories. This is another reason women tend to downplay what they are going through.

          “My child is in the NICU”

          “Oh, yeah, mine was in the NICU for two weeks and on oxygen. We couldn’t even touch him!”

not helpful
Thanks Melissa. That’s helpful.

Often this is done in a bid to connect, not belittle. But a more effective way to do this is to acknowledge them. You can say “I’m sorry. I’ve been through that. How are you doing with it today?” (Today is key here.  How they’re doing overall is too overwhelming.)  Let them lead the way in terms of asking for your story. Most likely they just need to talk.

That said, sometimes when you have a worse situation going on, it can be tempting to one-up. Because you’re not complaining, so why the hell is she? Back away from the keyboard my friend. More than one person can be in pain at a time. You don’t need to play tug of war with something you don’t want in the first place. But together you can hold it a little more lightly.

Do you know your enemy?

We are at a turning point for women right now. Can you feel it? We have the opportunity of a generation to become more powerful. To level the playing field. To say it IS that bad and we won’t accept that for ourselves. But when you listen to the voice that invalidates your pain, you accept pain as the status quo. As something acceptable.

Men aren’t the enemy here. They almost never are. Overgeneralization is never positive or helpful. The enemy is our culture. Men have their own pain and their own stories. Most just don’t talk about them because they are shamed out of it. “It’s not that bad” is translated to “don’t be a pussy”. And don’t get me started on what’s wrong with that.

The only way to change a culture is to

1) Talk about it. Say it is that bad.

2) Change ourselves.

It’s not enough to want it to be different for your daughter. You need to want it to be different for yourself.  When you hear it” It’s not that bad” come out of your mouth, it should serve as a warning sign that something is wrong in your life.  And that you matter enough to change it.

The Happiness Challenge Part II – Complaining

the anonymous mommy

If you listened what I said in my post last week, you made a Happy List to have on hand for when things get tough.  And if you are anything like me, you probably didn’t make one. You thought, “Hmm, that’s a really good idea” and then proceeded to pin it on Pinterest, never to be looked at again.  Or maybe you emailed it to yourself.  Perhaps you thought you’d just remember and didn’t need to write it down.  I know.  I’ve done it myself.  But guess how many of those things I figured I would remember actually helped me?  Zero.  Because if I don’t take the time to write it down with my own hands, I’m not really committing to it.

stop complaining
All surfaces in my home are this clean. Yup.
Studies show that writing things down (not just typing) helps us remember things better because we are engaging different parts of the brain.  Both the visual side – so you write it on the paper and not on the coffee table, and the verbal by finding the exact words you will be using.  Just like with recovery, just thinking about it doesn’t get it done.  If you want to take five minutes now to jot some down, I’ll wait.  Here’s a link to the article in case you missed it or need a refresher.

So now that we have that done, it’s on to the Advanced Exercise.  This is a challenge, no doubt. But I like a challenge. This is the last item on my happy list.  It’s my Big Guns when everything sucks.  It’s hard as hell, but it works.  My number one happy trick is:

Stop Complaining. 100%.

Seriously?
Don’t worry. I’ll give you the secret I use, and you won’t become some annoying Pollyanna type.

This is a game changer so stay with me here:  When you talk about something, you reinforce it to yourself.  By saying it out loud, you are plucking it from all the flotsam and jetsam that floats through your mind and saying, “Here.  This is true.  This is safe to say to the outside world.”  The more you focus on those things and see them as conversation pieces, the more your brain looks for evidence of them every day and stores them up.  So now they are multiplying.  You get to choose whether they are doing that for the good or the bad.

What will I say to people?

Complaining is tricky because it’s a social crutch.  Who can’t relate to stepping in a huge slush puddle on the way to an important meeting, or having the baby keep you up all night right before a big day?  It’s a safe topic. Like the weather, only not as boring.  Everyone will nod and commiserate with you, and you feel like you’ve made a connection.  But look at what you’ve actually done – you’ve taken something admittedly crummy and spread it. So now several people are thinking about circumstances from their past that are unpleasant.  No one’s day improves because of this.

When you think about it, how much of your conversations are spent complaining?  Go back and look at your text messages.  I’m always horrified when I do this.  It can happen before you realize it — you have become that person who is always bitching about something or another.  I know I can fall into this completely by accident.  But now I know how to turn it around.

It was a radical idea to me that something shitty could happen to me and I could just keep it to myself.  That it wouldn’t get worse for doing so. I think on some level I felt like if I told people something negative happened, they would then coddle me.

“The dry cleaner ruined my favorite shirt.”  Subtext – You should buy me an ice cream cone.

Definitely mint chip.
Being sad or scared and seeking comfort is not the same as complaining. If someone close to you dies, or you lose your job, of course, you need support.   You do not need to be comforted because the deli didn’t toast your bagel to your specifications.

One Day at a Time

This is some One Day at a Time business, but we’ve got practice with that.  Don’t wait til tomorrow or Monday or the next new moon. And don’t just try to complain less. That keeps the focus on the crappy things AND makes you feel deprived so they just fester. 

By taking the option completely off the table, a miraculous thing happens – you begin to let the things that annoy you go.  They serve no purpose anymore.  You aren’t going to entertain anyone with them.  Just like how the obsession with alcohol is lifted when we decide to give it up, your brain just says, “Well that’s off the table completely.  Might as well focus on something else.”
This happens quickly. I saw a major effect after about two days.  The world seemed a thousand times better.  I was practically giddy. I was focused on all the good stuff and barely noticing the bad.  Because really?  It’s not all that bad.  I was just magnifying it.

When everything goes wrong – My secret weapon

I get it.  Some days suck.  Everything that could go wrong did go wrong over and over, and you feel like you are just going to explode if you can’t unload it all.

Sit down. I have stories.
Guess what?  You have permission.  You can complain to your little heart’s content for up to one hour.  But only AFTER you name one hundred things you are grateful for.

Yes, one hundred.  Not by rote.  Think about each thing as you count it and try to associate a sense with it.  When you are thankful for your baby think of her tiny chubby fingers.  When you are thankful for your home, think about how great it feels to open the door after you’ve been away.  You don’t have to write it all down, but I find keeping count with a pen and little hash marks keeps me from losing track.  This may take awhile.  If you REALLY need to complain, make your way through it.  But for me, I found that this exercise stopped my complaining every time.  Mostly because I was in such a better mood it was no longer necessary, but sometimes it was just the feeling of, “Oh screw it.  This is too much work.  It’s not worth it.”  Either way, I never got to one hundred.  But I know I could if I needed to.

Me too

I was going strong with this for a long time and fell off the complaint-free wagon about seven months ago because I was feeling sorry for myself.  (Never a good look on me.)  So with this post, I am dusting myself off and getting back to it because I know it makes my life better.  It makes me a happier person.  And I love the idea that in looking back at my day, I can say I put only good out into the world with my words.

What would happen if you started right now?  

I’d love to hear how this goes for you. Here in the comments or on social media.