I’ve mentioned before that my husband and I have a marriage counselor. We spent about two years seeing her regularly, but now we only go occasionally. After my mother passed away in December, we made a few appointments. We didn’t know how my mother’s death would impact me, but we figured it would.
We were right.
At some point during our two years of therapy, our counselor explained to us that on an emotional scale of 1 to 10, I consistently live around 1 or 2. She told us that, while I was capable of moving up the scale, I couldn’t maintain a higher level for very long and would have to retreat and come back down.
In an effort to help me move my comfort zone up a little on this imaginary (and unquantifiable) scale, one of my homework assignments was to frequently stop what I was doing and ask myself the question “What am I feeling right now?” I was supposed to do this for a week. or two. I don’t remember.
My first response to that assignment? “What difference does that make? That’s completely irrelevant.”
For a few days, I answered myself with adjectives like “cold” “sleepy” and “hungry.” But I knew that wasn’t what the counselor had in mind. Since we were paying her and I’m pragmatic, I tried again.
I started coming up with words like “focused” “impatient” and “distracted.”
In the end, I don’t think the base of my emotional comfort zone actually shifted, but I believe I have become more aware of the emotions I do experience.
Never more than these past few weeks:
- Dealing with the aftermath (estate/creditors) of my mother’s death,
- Politely responding to all the people who assume I’m emotionally distraught (Because when I explained how I was really feeling nobody believed me and/or I just made them uncomfortable.)
- Politely responding to the people who’ve been telling me they know “exactly” how I feel, when they are so completely off base that telling them the truth would make it glaringly obvious that they don’t know me at all.
- The problems created by Social Security because they mistakenly reported my father’s death to Medicare and his mortgage company, among others and
- A passive-aggressive attack by someone from whom I had previously and successfully been distancing myself.
If I were to have asked myself the “What am I feeling right now?” question, my answers would have been “Frustrated” “Exasperated” “Overwhelmed” “Angry”
I felt like a bow, being pulled tighter and tighter each day. My blood pressure went from a normal 120 over 78 to 152 over 93.
Then, three major things happened this past weekend:
- My daughter faced a disappointment that shook her faith and is (still) shaking her self-confidence. I listened and held her as she SCREAMED at God, saying things like “WHY are you breaking my heart!?” and “I thought you LOVED me!?” and then held her some more while she broke down weeping and apologizing to God, telling him she would love him no matter what.
- I led a new song in worship that I really, really loved. Rehearsing it literally hundreds of times through the week proved to be an extremely effective barrier against stress. When I sang it Sunday morning I was completely invested in offering it up to God as praise and worship in the middle of one of the most stressful periods of my life. I didn’t hold on to any of it for myself. After church I was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted.
- My husband took my sisters, my father and I off shore on our boat to spread my mother’s ashes in the ocean. As ethereal as that sounds, coming face to face with the logistics of actually doing that was . . . there are no words. (Thankfully, my daughter didn’t come with us.)
But I had something I had to do that afternoon before I could try and rest.
By the end of the day on Sunday, the bow finally snapped.
If I had asked myself the “What am I feeling right now?” question on Sunday night, the answer would have been “nothing.” I was completely incapable of emotion. I wasn’t sad or happy, angry or peaceful, frustrated or content. I was nothing. Negative numbers on that emotional scale.
My son was having a hard time with something and he was cranky and obstinate and sarcastic and I kept saying, things like “I’m giving you grace. I’m not going to argue with you. I’m really, really sorry you are so upset and if I could change your circumstance I would. But I can’t. But I can give you grace.”
I’m slowly inching my way back up to the positive numbers on that emotional scale. It shouldn’t take too long. I don’t have far to go to get back to my normal spot.