Sunday, March 4, 2012

When you're down and troubled

Lately I have been saddled with a lot of emotional turmoil. I'm coming upon the month of my deceased mother's birthday and the anniversary of her stroke, I have finals and papers to think of for the next few days and on top of everything I've been dealing with other more private issues that shouldn't be my concern, but weigh on me just the same.

And it's hard to find refuge. Even when you're like me, and you find yourself easily absorbed in music and movies and other forms of art, when you are the most vulnerable, the only thing that really gets you through is the sound of your own voice - talking things out.

I've never gone to a therapist. The one time I ever talked to someone I didn't know personally about my problems, it was because my sister had requested that my school provide me with a guidance counselor after my mom became ill and could no longer take care of me. I sat in a room with my elementary school principal and some lady who kept asking me inane questions. "But are you okay? How are you feeling?"

"I'm fine. Everything's fine." I scooted past the issue and her questions, because I knew that even if I did address her honestly I would not feel better having done it.

It's not necessarily the act of talking things out and having things clarified that helps me. It's the fact that I know I have people around me with whom I can share anything. That knowledge comforts me even when I'm about to fall apart.

Take my dad as a very obvious example. In my moments of greatest vulnerability, I've always known I could go to his room or even call him up, either to tell him what's wrong or just to cry. He doesn't always speak. Sometimes he just listens, occasionally offering simple phrases like "I understand" or apologizing when he has nothing to be sorry for.

Sometimes this gets on my nerves. After going on a ten minute tangent, I assume he must have tuned me out and I'm immediately offended that he hasn't offered help. But more often than not, when I'm really hurting he is really listening. And those apologies and mutterings are not him being dismissive, they're him letting me know that even though he's not necessarily going to bring clarity to the situation, he'll always back me up.

Last night I cried on the phone. I talked to my dad about how lately I've felt like things are falling apart. That the strong person I was before has grown weak for stupid reasons and that I've begun to pity myself for all of the trials of my life, making myself even more vulnerable.

I listed off my qualms. Feelings of rejection, of loss, of discomfort, of being unappreciated and disregarded. I rattled off selfish tales about my experiences the past few months - and however terrible I felt for magnifying my own problems comparatively to others', he never made me feel worse for it.

It's something I had with my mom too. I remember from a young age complaining about my school life. I talked to her about bullies, about the boys I liked and my closest friends and how no one seemed to care about me. I played the victim, and I recognized that at the time in the same way I do now. But even knowing that things couldn't be as bad as I was saying they were, she listened and she smiled and she hugged and she comforted.

There is something valuable about having someone listen and not interject. We live our lives as such spectators, judging and forming opinions, ready to spout off our thoughts at a moment's notice, disregarding the fact that in doing so we might be making a situation worse. I've seen it happen, I've had it done to me and I'm sure I've done it myself.

When someone shares something with another person - something personal, something weighing on their soul - they don't always need them to be their Jiminy Cricket. Catchy as the phrase may be, we shouldn't always let our conscience be our guide if that conscience, like Jiminy in Pinocchio, is an external force (such as an opinionated friend) pushing us into feeling and acting a certain way.

Sometimes we don't need that guidance. What we need is a pillar to hang onto, a soft shoulder to cry on and a hug that promises that everything will be all right. Not a little bug dressed in a top hat and tails telling us what to do.

I don't discount the value of those who have knocked sense into me. I am no stranger to moments of wistful grandeur as well as crass carelessness. Often I need the guidance that a good kick in the head can give. But I like to take a piece of advice from Carole King's "You've Got a Friend":

"When you're down and troubled and you need some loving care and nothing, nothing is going right, close your eyes and think of me and soon I will be there to brighten up even your darkest night."

There will always be people in this world who think it's their job to share their wisdom with anyone who will listen. They'll tell you what they think even when it's inconsequential and worse, even when they're well aware it could hurt you.

But then there are people like my parents. Who even when they could (by their authority and by the circumstances) tell me I am wrong and tell me what to do to make it right, always chose not to. When I wanted advice, yes, they offered it. But when I didn't need it they were there to brighten up even my darkest night. That's truly the best form of therapy. That's really what everyone needs.

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