Emotional Maturity Does Not Mean Eternal Happiness

When I first realized that I have anxiety, the biggest lesson that I needed to learn was to not fight against it.

I think that fighting against unpleasant emotions is only natural. We don’t want to feel them, so we push them down. We deny that they’re happening. We try to move on, and if we can’t, if we wind up showing that unpleasant emotion in any way, then we feel guilty for it. We feel like we need to apologize.

The problem with that when it comes to anxiety is that it only makes anxiety worse. When a person with anxiety starts to feel stressed and they try to push that stress down – it doesn’t go away. It stays there, in the forefront of your mind, demanding to be heard and getting worse by the second. And the next thing you know, you are stressing yourself out because you know you are getting stressed. It progresses. It might even progress into a panic attack, for which you feel shame and guilt. It exhausts you, and it really puts a damper on your whole day, and it makes everything in life that much harder to do.

The best way to deal with anxiety is to just admit to yourself that you are anxious, and allow yourself to be anxious. Take the time to slow down. Talk to yourself about what you’re feeling. Figure everything out.

When you have anxiety, you have two options: you can push it down and make it really, really difficult to do anything in life. Or you can allow it to happen, and thus make it so that you can do anything you want, you just have to do it at a pace slower than people without anxiety.

Now, why am I saying this right now? Well, I am of the opinion that everyone – even people who don’t deal with anxiety – can apply this to their daily lives.

Let me give an example – the other day, I was feeling extremely frustrated. It had nothing to do with my anxiety, it was just your average, everyday, unpleasant emotion. It made me upset. It made me snap back at people all the time. It made me a general bitch to live with. And all the while, I was trying to tell myself to bury it down. Stop being so annoying to people. Why are you saying that, just shut up and stop feeling this already!

It wasn’t until I actually sat myself down and said, “okay, you’re frustrated for now, and that’s okay. Do whatever you need to do so that you can let it go” that I actually began to feel better. I gave myself permission to feel what I needed to feel, and that made it so much easier for me to stop dwelling in the negative.

And it’s this idea that I want to focus on, this idea of giving yourself permission to feel how you feel that I think is so important.

Because I think that we, as a society, have a very strict notion of how we should all feel.

In order to be stable role models, we need to feel strong, capable, in control, commanding, intelligent, always in the right.

In order to be good yogis, we need to feel peaceful, happy, accepting, optimistic, inspirational.

In order to be good adults, we need to feel as though we know what we are doing.

But the thing is, before we are any of these, we are human beings. And human beings experience the full gambit of emotions – pleasant or unpleasant, at any given time. We dangle this idea of perfect happiness before society’s face, telling society that that is the goal, that is the way to emotional maturity. But perfect happiness doesn’t exist, and trying to demand of ourselves that we feel that way ignores all the other ways that we feel.

Emotional maturity is not feeling happy and stable and pleasant all the time. Emotional maturity is accepting that you will feel any number of ways, and allowing yourself to feel that.

Not wallowing in it. Not pitying yourself for it. Just… allowing it. Let the storm come and pass, and remember that both will happen. There is no avoiding it. There is no reason to believe that it will last forever. And there is nothing wrong with it.

Because when you reject unpleasant emotions, they do not go away. Anger and sadness may not be as incessant or obvious as the symptoms of anxiety are, but they react in much the same way. When you try to push them down, they don’t actually go anywhere. They just stay with you, in the background, affecting everything you do and see and hear. They grow and they spread, and before you know it, the problem is even bigger than it initially was.

If you fight your emotions, then they will fight you right back.

So breathe. Have faith that this will pass, and it will. For now, just think about your situation, work it out, and do whatever you need to do to move beyond this.

The Consequences of Dismissing People

So I have something to confess: I’ve been sort of angry lately.

And why have I been angry, you might ask? (Or, maybe you didn’t, but I’m going to complain to you anyway.) I’ve been angry generally, broadly, at the state of the world.

It feels as though the #metoo movement has been losing a bit of its momentum lately, but I’ve been one of those people who refuses to let it die. And as a result of talking about this so publicly, as often as I have, I’ve been hearing a lot of slut shaming and victim blaming comments lately. I’ve had people tell me that women’s issues don’t matter. And for the first time since I opened up about my struggles with mental illness about a year ago, I’ve had people try to insult me by calling me “seriously mentally ill”, making me realize that I cannot own my mental illness without certain people immediately dismissing me as some sort of uninformed, unintelligent, worthless person.

All of this has resulted in me feeling a little bit pessimistic about the state of the world.

And that isn’t to say that I haven’t had rewarding experiences from talking about this issue. I have. I don’t regret speaking out, but the problem is that anger and pessimism is easy to fall into. As the saying goes, “if you aren’t angry, you aren’t paying attention.”

And normally, I’d say that a little bit of anger is healthy. A little bit of anger stokes that fire in your belly. A little bit of anger keeps you going. But I don’t like this anger that I’ve had lately. This anger is not the sort of anger that keeps me going; it’s the kind that makes me dismissive and rude and sloppy. It’s the kind of anger and frustration that often comes from feeling like you haven’t been heard.

And that’s incredibly important – for both sides of every argument. Everyone wants to be heard. Everyone wants to feel as though an attempt was made to listen to their argument and understand and sympathize. Nobody likes to feel as though they’ve been dismissed.

And this anger that I’ve been feeling – it’s the kind of anger that makes it easy to dismiss people. The kind of anger that makes you go, “well, they’re just stupid”, without stopping to think that they might have a reason for why they think the way that they do. The kind of anger that makes you go, “well, they’re just a garbage human being”, without stopping to realize that they’re still a human being.

And the problem with saying the sort of things that this anger makes you think is that it isn’t constructive. It doesn’t make the other person feel as though they’ve been heard or understood. It makes them feel dismissed, because they are sort of being dismissed. It makes them angry. And when both sides of the argument feel angry and ignored, it creates a divide. It makes it difficult for any progress to be made, because both sides of the argument have shut down completely. Discussions cannot be had. Greater understanding cannot be reached. Nobody is learning anything, and that doesn’t help either cause. It only creates resentment. So although my recent anger is born from my complete and total dedication to this cause, it simultaneously hurts this cause and turns people away from it.

And, as I said, anger is easy. Pessimism is easy. There is some research that even suggests that we, as human beings, are naturally inclined to focus on the negative. And, more than that, when someone isn’t listening to what we have to say, it can be very easy to ask ourselves why we need to be the bigger person if they won’t be. Why is it okay for them to insult us, to dismiss us, to belittle us, and yet we can’t do the same to them? But the thing is, this sort of anger isn’t healthy or constructive for anyone. It hurts the person who we are dismissing, because they don’t feel as though they’ve been heard. It hurts our cause in the long run, because like it or not, we are representing it, and so we cannot use it as an excuse to mock or belittle people without serious detriment. And it also hurts ourselves, because it makes us bitter and pessimistic and sad. It isn’t fair, not to anyone. It’s easy, but it isn’t right.

And I know that it can sometimes be hard to swallow your anger, especially when what the other person is saying is something that you perceive to be very harmful. But one thing that I have found very useful for getting passed your anger is, quite simply, this: take some time with what they say. Don’t respond to them immediately, because if you do that, your response will be pure emotion. But, rather, think about it. Try to imagine the issue from their perspective. Try to explain to yourself why they might think that way (and don’t run to that default excuse that they’re stupid, because it isn’t true). When you do get back to them with your response, chances are, it will be more logical, more thought out, and more sympathetic.

And maybe they still won’t hear you. That is very possible, and when that happens, it can be very frustrating. But if you listen to them and you try to understand them (not necessarily agree with them if you just don’t), a few things still happen that otherwise wouldn’t:

  1. You expand your understanding of the issue. You see that there are other views, and you have at least made an attempt to understand the thought process behind these views, so that, if you still don’t agree with them, you can intelligently and thoughtfully explain why you don’t agree with them.
  2. You don’t make any enemies – for either yourself or the cause that you might be fighting for. The people that you have been talking to still might not agree with you, but at least they feel heard. At least they feel as though a discussion has been had (or at least attempted, in some cases), and at least they are not made to feel stupid and ignored. Nobody is hurt because of this discussion. And, whether you want to hear this or not in moments of anger, that is incredibly important.

We are far too quick to dismiss people in this society – and perhaps part of that is because anger is easy. Listening to people is difficult. It takes actual effort to sit back and think about other perspectives, and I’m not trying to say that we don’t want to put the effort in. Sometimes, it just isn’t our first response, especially not when we feel insulted and ignored.

But putting that effort in, taking the time to step outside of your emotional response, is worthwhile. As I said, a little bit of anger can fuel you, but too much anger will have its consequences.

You Don’t Need to Forget Your Anger

I’ve been thinking a lot about the role that anger plays in our lives.

Over a year ago now, something happened that left me feeling hurt and angry. Very, very angry. Angry at the other person. Angry at the world. Angry at whatever it is you believe in – God, fate, the universe, whatever – because it put me in that situation. And while some people felt the need to question my hurt – telling me that the reason for it wasn’t enough, that other people had it worse and I had to get over it – it seemed to be my anger that offended people the most.

And I had a lot of people telling me what the proper way to deal with that anger was.

Some people told me that I needed to get over my anger – that it wasn’t worth it for the sake of the other person. I needed to be the bigger person, accept the reasons that they had for doing what they did, and move on. Because they weren’t going to change, I wasn’t doing any good by being angry, so why bother?

Some people told me that I needed to get over my anger for my own sake. They said that anger equals misery, and why would I allow myself to be miserable all the time? Shouldn’t I reconcile what happened, for my own sake? Shouldn’t I move on, stop thinking about, and just be happy with what I had? When we hold onto anger, we only hurt ourselves, so we need to not hold onto anger, we need to let it go.

Still other people told me that it was alright to be angry – I should be angry. It was a natural response to what happened. I should be allowed to explore it rather than push it down and repress it. I should yell and scream and punch walls and take it out on whatever I needed to take it out on because I had a right to my anger.

With so many conflicting messages, what I actually ended up doing was… none of the above. I didn’t punch any walls or scream at any people, but I also didn’t really let go of my anger. I held onto it, keeping it mostly at the back of my mind to deal with when I needed to, but safely tucked away so that I could still function despite it. And sometimes I needed to deal with it. Sometimes I needed to think about it, to work through it, to come to terms with the fact that I felt it, and sometimes I needed to let it go and focus on other things, because I didn’t want it to overpower and define my life.

Now, that being said, I’m not trying to argue that I dealt with my anger in the healthiest way that I possibly could. I don’t know if I did. It’s been over a year now, and I’m still angry, I’m just… differently angry. I’m not angry at the world, or at whatever deity or higher power you believe in. I don’t want revenge, I don’t want to scream or punch walls. I just want to be angry when I need to be.

And sometimes, I think I need to be.

Because here’s the thing: my anger came from somewhere, and it serves a purpose. I’m pretty sure that what happened to me is supposed to teach me some sort of lesson. It’s supposed to make me grow, turn me into a better person, make me realize what sort of boundaries I need to set with people in the future and what is going to be ultimately constructive in my life and what will ultimately be destructive. I’m not sure that pain alone would have been enough to teach me that lesson, because pain is such a passive emotion. Anger is the fire that forces you to enact change.

And I don’t know if I’m quite at the finished product that this experience will turn me into. I don’t think that my anger is quite done with the job it was set forth to do. I still have a lot of things that I need to work out, think through, make decisions about. I still need it for all that.

As much as anger is an unpleasant emotion, unpleasant emotions are not always a bad thing. We need emotions like grief when we lose a loved one, because that proves that they mattered to us. We need emotions like guilt, because that is our indication that we have done something wrong and we want to do better. These are all naturally occurring emotions that come from somewhere and lead to something, even if they are unpleasant at the time.

So although I understand the argument that I need to let go of my anger because it causes suffering and it won’t change anything about what happened, I also think that I’ll be just fine with my anger, so long as I don’t let it overpower me, and I’m not punching holes in walls and taking it out on innocent people. My anger is what will teach me that I don’t want to get in a scenario like that ever again. And even if my anger never goes away, if it remains this constant reminder in the back of my head, I won’t always be suffering. In my own way, I have moved on; I just haven’t forgotten about it, because I know that I need to learn from it.

 

Documenting Grief

So my grandfather has been checked into the hospice, and it’s really starting to look like he won’t check back out again.

I’m not saying that to gain sympathy or anything. I don’t want anyone to feel bad for me. I’m just saying it because it’s true. And the way that I deal with things that are true is by writing about them.

So I’m going to write.

I’m not going to sit here and pretend that my grandfather was a perfect man, because he wasn’t. He was flawed. And I’m not going to pretend that I always agreed with everything that he ever said, because I didn’t.

But he was a man who scraped up his knees diving heroically to grab me when I fell through the centre of the tire swing when I was little.

He was a man who I praised to no end as a kid because he let me eat ice cream before my dinner.

He was a man who made stupid comments like “my name is only eight letters and half of them are L’s, so it’s easy enough to spell” (his name’s Bill Hall), and “is there any other flavour than chocolate?”

So I guess I need to prepare to start grieving.

In preparation, I did a Google search of the stages of grief, because I can never remember them even though I know that, as a writer, I should. And when I looked over the list, I recognized that I’ve already gone through a few of the stages.

The first stage is denial. And when he was first diagnosed with cancer, I figured that it wasn’t that bad; he had beat cancer twice already, he could do it again, no problem. When they first told him it was terminal, I thought that that was nothing; terminal can mean a lot of things – it can mean one week or three years, who knows? And besides, the more that he fought this, the better chance he had of surviving.

The second stage is anger. I don’t logically know where this stage comes from. Why do people have to get angry when they lose someone? Either way, this stage came upon me when I received the news that the doctors weren’t going to do any more for him and they were entering him into the hospice. At that point, I was just mad. Mad at everyone. I don’t want to go into too much detail here, because I’m fully aware that my anger isn’t necessarily my shining moment, but suffice it to say that I was mad until someone pointed out to me that that was just my way of dealing, that what I was really doing was grieving.

And I guess I am.

So what next?

Bargaining. That’s a stupid one too. Who do I bargain to? I don’t have a religion. I don’t have any hope left that he’s going to get better. And if (when) he does die, I don’t believe that any miracle or last-minute conspiracy theory will be revealed. He’ll just be dead, and as much as I do believe that there will be an afterlife for him, I don’t have any hope that I’ll see him again before my time comes.

I don’t have anything to turn to besides the one religion that I do hold onto: my books.

I have all my favourite quotes on death to cling to.

“To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure” – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling.

“To die will be an awfully big adventure” – Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie.

“Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living. And above all, those who live without love” – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling.

These quotes make me feel better.

And I know that we all must die, that it’s just a part of life, that the only thing scary about it is the fact that it is so unknown to us who are still alive. I know all that.

But still, 60-something is such a short amount of time to get in this world.

After that, I suppose I’ll have to deal with depression, followed by acceptance, assuming that everything is as straight-forward as it looks when I’m staring at it on a computer screen (and let’s face it, life never is).

But maybe I’m jumping the gun by writing all of this. Maybe he’ll be alright after all. Maybe, with just a little bit of time, I can go right on back to disagreeing with him.

Stage one, denial.

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