Michelle Roger: All the Feelings

Michelle was the first blogger whose work I read that wrote as if she was living inside my own brain. I found her blog before I fully understood what was wrong with me and I remember devouring post after post until I had finished reading her entire site. It’s a big blog too, Michelle’s been writing for quite some time!  Her posts were funny, irreverant, authentic and informative. I laughed myself silly, I cried, I wondered and I thought about things. She wrote about the issues no-one else seemed to talk about.  She made me want to write myself. I am beyond honoured to have Michelle guest posting on my site today.  She’s my blogging hero.  Here she is discussing the importance of being able to express even the crappiest feelings. I think this post is really important.  It originally appeared over on Michelle’s blog here.

Meet My Peeps

I’ve had a bit of an unintentional blogging break of late. My mojo has been somewhat absent and my health not exactly stellar. Sometimes it’s difficult to keep hold of that happy place no matter how much you want to or how hard you try. No amount of positive thinking works and you end up just beating yourself up for somehow doing happy wrong.

I’ve noticed there has been a move in some corners of the ether to stop discussing the negative emotional aspects of illness and in my state of funk it’s really rubbed me the wrong way. I’ve found myself moving further away from various groups which seem more intent on providing more in the way of inspiration-at-all-costs, rather than a safe place to vent and seek support or treatment information.

I’m all for inspiration, but not at the expense of silencing the patient voice. Illness sucks. At times it is hard to find anything positive to cling to. It is scary. It is challenging. It makes you want to cry uncle and hide sobbing in the corner. There is nothing wrong with these feelings. But there is something wrong with stifling those who voice those feelings or judging those who are in those dark places.

I understand not wanting to dwell in those places. That is not healthy. But ignoring them or pretending they don’t exist is even more detrimental. Already we judge ourselves more harshly than anyone else possibly could. But to hear that we are somehow doing illness wrong, is another level of guilt to bear.

Admitting these emotions is already fraught with stigma. Inspiration porn tells us that we should all be fighting the good fight. That we should face the world with a smile and a Can-Do attitude. That the sun will come out tomorrow. Turn that frown upside down. All you need is a positive attitude. We are beaten over the head with the permanently perky group-think that has been popularised by pop-psychology and smiling, big haired, over-tanned pseudo-celebrities on the covers of shelf after shelf of self-help books.

Say it’s tough and you might as well have said, “on my weekends I enjoy sacrificing small furry kittens to Beelzebub”. That is where the crazy lives. Not in the patients experiencing real emotions from living in a prolonged stressful situation. It takes courage to say it’s not okay in the face of the overwhelming positive brigade.

Say 'it's tough' and you might as well(1)

Sometimes what you need is one safe place to say it’s not okay. That you are scared. That it is all getting too hard. This is where a true support group can come to the fore. A healthy support group is a reflection of the different aspects of illness, part inspiration, part support, part venting, part information etc. We need a place to voice those thoughts and feelings free of judgement. To simply hear that someone else understands and has been there. We don’t need solutions. We don’t need to be told that we should stop being so negative. That we shouldn’t share. That we should always try to find the positive. Some days you simply can’t, AND THAT’S OKAY. We can support one another without forcing our own beliefs on others. Without expecting others to be in the exact same head space as we are.

In psychology there is a concept known as the Theory of Mind. In a nutshell, this theory suggests that we can attribute beliefs, emotions, states of mind etc to ourselves and others, and understand that other people may have beliefs, emotions and needs that are different to our own. It is this theory that allows us to have empathy for others. It means that even though others may be in a different emotional place to ourselves, we can still provide support and care for them. This theory or it’s lack, can make or break a support group.

We can support one another with a long message or even a simple emoticon, a heart or a sending of hugs. Because sometimes that is all that is needed, especially when your heart and mind are already cluttered and overwhelmed. That lets another patient know they are not alone. It lets them know they can vent and then, that they can breathe.

Positivity has it’s place. I am a positive person by nature. But it cannot be sustained 24/7 and forcing that is an added burden patients don’t need. We have a range of emotions for a reason and each have their place. We are all in different places in this illness journey and we can’t expect that everyone will be as sanguine as we are in a particular moment.

This past week I felt fear. Something I haven’t experienced in a long time. My bradycardia was the worst it’s been in….well, to be honest it was probably the worst it has ever been. I experienced all the crazy scary thoughts. I realised there was a chance that my heart could stop. That my kids could come home to find me. I was scared to be alone. Later that night when my heart rate had stabalised somewhat I realised I was over it. Really over it. I’ve been sick a long time. I’ve had enough.

There is no shame in airing those thoughts. They were a natural response to a damn scary situation. They are thoughts that I know others have had. Airing them doesn’t scare others. Or if it does it opens up an opportunity for more discussion and support. It allows others who have been sick for a longer time to share their experience. It means that should other patients have those thoughts at some point they know they are not alone or crazy. If they see support on a thread from other patients they learn ways to deal with the messy emotions that crop up with living with a complex chronic illness. They also see that we make it through. That no matter how tough it gets, there is a point where it gets better again. That today I am planning art projects and laughing at YouTube videos. The worry of last week is still there, but it is balanced against the good and put in it’s place. Today I can laugh and smile again. I made it through. Today’s emotion losses much of it’s salience if it’s not seen alongside the darkness of last week.

Living with illness is a crazy ride, filled with complex emotions and situations. We face challenges to our sense of self, our relationships, our entire way of living. There are highs and lows and even the most positive people can find themselves dealing with sadness, fear, guilt and other negative emotions at times. Pretending those times don’t exist or minimising another’s experience does a disservice to ourselves and to our fellow patients.

Shame and fear thrive in silence. And that’s one burden we can change.

-Michelle

I should add I am a strong supporter of seeking professional help for dealing with this aspect of chronic illness. For some, psychologists or counsellors, for others clergy, or professional support lines. Support groups fill a very valuable place in dealing with illness, but sometimes more is needed. There is no shame in seeking help for the emotional aspects of dealing with illness, just as you would seek out a cardiologist to help with heart rate issues or a neurologist for small fibre neuropathy, a psychologist can help with the emotional roller-coaster that is chronic illness.

Kissing Frogs

 

my prince by Anita Jeram for TWO BAD MICE
Art by Anita Jeram for Two Bad Mice

 

I remember when I was younger, my Mum would tell me what sort of man I should choose to be my husband one day.  Some of her advice was outstanding. I didn’t listen to it.

“Choose someone who is good with their hands.  A practical man,” she said.
“Don’t marry for money; but don’t love where there is none”.
“Make sure your choice is a man of God”.
I ignored them all, but the last one in particular. I recognised that a man of God wouldn’t choose a girl like me.  I was well away from the church by then, and even if one of those hapless chaps had wanted me, choosing someone from the church felt like choosing to straightjacket myself for time immemorial.  And anyway,  some of the most “Christ-like” people I have ever met don’t have a religious affiliation, but they are warm, giving, loving people.  So I amended that bit of advice to: “Make sure your choice is a good man”.  All three requirements made for a tall order.  Speaking of which, I had also decided that my Mr Right had to be tall, like me. It was my only physical criteria.  It is really hard to find a good man who is practical with his hands and sensible with money, a good person and tall to boot!  Especially when that isn’t what you are really looking for.  See, what I was attracted to was rebellion, passion, poetry and emotional connection.  I wanted excitement and intellectual conversations.  I wanted challenge and heated arguments.  I wanted crazy good sex.  Lots of it.

But it took me a long time to realise the kind of person I actually should spend my life with.  It was a lot more like my Mum’s set of criteria. By the time I was 27, I had been divorced and back on the dating scene for four years.  I was afraid I would never find someone. But I was a proactive searcher! I went along with one of my friends to a desperate and dateless ball.  It was Valentine’s Day.  And as I gathered my nerves and walked in I recognised I was definitely desperate… to be anywhere else!  My heart sank.  I made a beeline for the bar.  The only man among the crowd that even tickled my attention was talking animatedly to a Morticia lookalike.  I thought ‘if that’s his taste in women, he won’t look twice at me in my LBD and french chignon’.  And proceeded to drown my sorrows.

After about five plastic cups of chateau cardboard, I returned to the bar for my sixth. And there he was, Morticia’s mate.  He smiled.  I sidled up to him and said hello.  He spoke back in the most delicious English accent;  “Where did you disappear to? I saw you at the start of the night but couldn’t find you again!” He followed me out to the steps and we sat there until the wee small hours, talking. Even when the couples were emerging from the hall like it was the ark, in two by twos; we were still talking.  We watched them stagger out and off into the night.  He told me about his ex, he learned about my History of Men.  We were both divorced.  Both of our exes had cheated on us.  We talked until even the organisers had filed out of the hall. And carried on talking all the way to another nightspot.  Then, when it looked like time to go, he called me a cab. I had hoped he was going to make other suggestions (!) and so, when he called me a cab, I felt sad. I wondered if he hadn’t felt the connection I had felt.  I was a bit taken back by the gentlemanly approach.  He told me he would call me the next day.  Yeah right, I thought. I didn’t believe him.

But he did.  He rang!  We went out for dinner together the very next night.  Our eyes locked, we talked about books we loved, we covered the contents of the whole universe! We talked about love and loss and the language of trust. We laughed and ate great food and somewhere in that memory of that night is a moment.  He is looking into my eyes and I am knowing.  Knowing that he belongs with me. He felt that moment too.  We return to that moment whenever we are alone together.  It was the beginning of something important. Even now, we sometimes talk about how easy it would have been to miss each other.  To be living in Auckland at the same time, but never crossing paths.  I am grateful for the desperate and dateless ball.  For the cheap wine.  For Morticia (who turned out to be his flatmate). For the aligning of stars and the convergence of fates. And I’m glad that I didn’t give up searching.

But I wasn’t the smartest girl when it comes to love. I second guessed myself, as any serial dater would: was he right for me?

After we had been going out for some time, an ex boyfriend of mine came back to Auckland.  This guy told me that he was certain we were supposed to be together.  It threw me into a tailspin.  I told my man about what was happening and how I didn’t know what to do.  Had I taken the correct path?  Was I on track for happiness, or poised for disaster?  He nodded his wise head and suggested that we should break up. I should take my time and go and work it out.  So, that is what I did.  My Mum was horrified.  “He won’t wait for you to work it out Rachel” she said, “You’ve lost a good man there”.  During the whole time that I was figuring things out, that good man would invite me out for coffee.  We’d talk. A ten am coffee date would turn into pre-dinner drinks.  But he never pushed beyond friendship. We just talked. As the months stretched out I began to wonder…

He was always kind, always available to me. He talked to me with respect and felt comfortable talking about his feelings. He was sensible, cautious, careful.  He was reserved, but when he laughed it boomed out of his six foot four frame and shook the ground.  His natural tendencies were the opposite of mine.  Where I was spontaneous, he was a planner, when I was loud, he was quiet.  Where money ran through my fingers like sand, he was fiscally responsible.  And his values were solid. He prized trust above all things.  He spoke my language.

The other guy, my ex, was exciting.  A bit reckless even.  He had a capacity for needing me that made me feel important, even essential, to his life.  He wrote poetry and could turn a phrase into a thing of beauty.  He was deep. World-minded. Political. Complex.  But somehow, I couldn’t rest with it.   It occurred to me that I had spent so much time falling in and out of love with men I was attracted to;  and I was attracted to the wrong sort.  I had to make a decision with my head, not my heart.

And that’s what I did.  I chose the hubster.  With all of my head. And you know what?  The heart followed swift behind.  This time I knew without reserve that I had made the right choice. I was so fortunate that he was prepared to wait for me, to give me the respect and freedom of time to choose.  He was a good choice for me for all the right reasons, and none of the old reasons.  He was the start of something entirely new for me.  A relationship on equal terms, spoken in the same language of trust, built on a solid foundation. A healthy relationship.

My Mum was happy too.  

I’m glad to know that she approved.  I’m glad I made that decision when she was still with us.
She was right you know.  It’s a good thing to be married to a man who is good with his hands, responsible with money and who carries good values.  I have been so cared for, so nurtured by his magnanimous heart.  I know I made the right choice.  By then, I had kissed more than enough frogs in my quest for my handsome prince.  And I found him, there on the steps of Hopetoun Alpha. My prince. My happily ever after.

I’d love to know your love story.  Even if your story is about finding a love you haven’t met yet.
I am a sucker for love stories and I love finding out what brought two people together.
How did you meet your main squeeze?
How do you hope to meet them?
How did you know?
What was the clincher for you?

Let’s talk about love.

And honey?  Here’s to you:

Being Green

Some days, it’s good to remember, that even frogs feel this way.

Jim Henson, you were a genius.  Kermit the frog sings ‘It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green’

 

(here are the original lyrics if you want them)