For the month of May, my writing prompts have been taken from this website. Today’s prompt is: “One thing you wish you could do.” There are so many things that I wish I could do better, but that isn’t what this question is about, so I guess I will talk about something that’s been plaguing me recently. Something(s) I wish I could do.
*Buckle your seat belts, this post is a lot.*
I recently started going to therapy with a fabulous counselor named Angie. After my mom died, and after I had COVID for the third time, and after I realized that this school year was incredibly difficult, I decided that I might need someone to help me through, and that someone couldn’t be a person with whom I regularly interact.
Here’s the killing part of this, despite our oldest son and his wife and our middle son all being therapists, my friend and I used to talk about how therapists were for people who didn’t have good friends, but now I know how wrong I was. I have the best friends of anyone I know, but I am an expert at keeping secrets when I think someone might think less of me if they know something about me, and I am an expert at allowing everyone else to tell me things about themselves—I know some pretty deep and intimate things about my friends—but then I turn around and tell that same person that I am fine, refusing to share the deep intimacies of my life.
When I say I am expert at these two things, I mean I am very talented at faking being okay. I faked being okay for well over 30 years and was fully prepared to keep faking it. Thankfully, another friend of mine said to me at lunch, “You’re not okay, and you should probably talk with someone.” She’s awfully pushy, but I love that about her.
Long story short, I started looking for a therapist sometime last fall, and got on Angie’s waiting list, then I quickly swore that when she contacted me, I’d just say I found someone else, I was feeling better, or some such nonsense. Basically, I got really brave about my mental health for a minute in September, then figured out how I would sneak right back out of it if she ever called. Well, in December, just after mom died, I received an email from In the Midst Counseling Services that Angie had an opening, I begrudgingly accepted the appointment, and here we are.
At therapy, I have been working on something that I would love to be able to do: I’d love to be able to hear about people’s difficulties, situations, problems, joys, accomplishments, and all of those things without holding them and carrying them as my own. I’d like to be more of a conduit of God’s love and grace, than a repository for people’s emotions. I would also like to be able to share more of myself with others—so that they may fully know me—without me being afraid that whatever I have hidden from them will some how drive them off. I have a lot of things I’ve kept tucked away for a lot of years.
Don’t hear me wrong: I am not blaming others, nor do I want people to stop sharing things with me, but I find that when people share their stories with me, I hold on to them in a deeply personal way, absorbing their emotions and making them my own. I am especially prone to doing this with negative emotions, so much so that I have a hard time experiencing my own long-lasting joy.
Anyway, in therapy, we’ve talked about a backpack analogy, which has been really helpful to me. In this analogy, backpacks equal emotions, situations, thoughts, experiences, and whatever else people carry around with them. Basically, when the people around me tell me that their backpacks are heavy, my common practice is, without hesitation, to pick up their backpack, put it on, and just carry it for them. So, in the practice of not doing that, I have learned to accept someone’s backpack, look around in it with their permission, maybe help them rearrange their baggage so it’s lighter and possibly more well organized and easier to carry, maybe take a thing or two that I can help carry, and then to have them take back their own backpack. By doing this, I am able to see what others are carrying with them, maybe help them with some of the items, maybe liberate them into throwing some of their garbage away, but I do not carry the weight of their pack on my own shoulders.
When I first learned this technique, I thought how silly, but I can tell you now a few months later that, that one analogy was worth my $100 for that session! I have found that when I am in a sticky situation, people around me with whom I have shared this bit of wisdom will say things like, “You’re carrying their backpack,” or “Did you forget to give their bag back to them?” or “Let me help you carry your backpack.” That last one is the most difficult for me.
I am completely humbled when people say to me, “Let me help you carry your backpack.” Humbled is maybe the wrong word. At first, I feel more humiliated and indignant. “How dare that person insinuate that I can’t carry my own backpack! Grumble, grumble…” as I stumble under the weight of the baggage… I am not a person who is accustomed to letting others carry my back pack. I am not even someone who is accustomed to letting someone see inside just the front pocket of my backpack (those are my lovely wife’s words), but I am sometimes now letting others see in that front pocket, I have maybe even let a couple of people see inside the pack itself. I haven’t let anyone really get in there and dig around, but I am trying.
So, in a nutshell, my two things I wish I could do are:
- Not carry other people’s burdens in the extreme way I have for most of my life, to remember to give them back their backpacks, and to
- Allow people to start seeing the inside of the compartment of my backpack, not just the front pocket. And maybe if I get really brave to let people help me rearrange the things in there.
I really wish I could do these two things well enough some day to experience longterm joy, instead of being weighed down by intense sadness. I know I will get there. I know I will. But for now it’s still a wish.
Also, if you are worried about after this post, please don’t be. For the first time in 48 years, I am learning some tools to cope with the way my brain works, and I am doing the best I’ve been doing in a really long time. I just process through writing. So here we are.