Letting go of the Narrative

A few weeks ago, my husband and I went to a friend’s house for a bonfire in their lovely city backyard. That’s how we see friends these days—on computer screens or outside. We sat in lawn chairs at appropriate distances and wore masks if we needed to use the bathroom or get a drink. We did the usual round of catch ups, and when it got to our turn, we started in.

How Ethan’s job search since he lost his job in the pandemic has led to one dead-end after another and mostly has dried up at this point. He took a retail job, which is easy and comes with nice coworkers, but causes him more physical pain than any other job he has ever had. Plus, it’s far from the job he thought he would have coming out of graduate school four years ago.

How my internship is great but really hard. The pandemic has forced me to practice telemental health, before I was even really practicing in-person counseling, and how my caseload is much lighter than I need it to be in order to graduate on time. Of the clients I do have, they are struggling. This is hard, all of it, and for many, it’s reviving old demons that they thought they had long buried, and I am to help them carry that weight.

How money is tight, but we recently were forced to spend $1,000 because our dog developed a mysterious GI issue that took more visits to the vet than we would have liked.

How we think we may have found a solution to our infertility issues, but I can’t get a diagnosis because our insurance is limited, despite the hefty monthly premiums, high deductible, and significant copays. 

How our car is close to breaking down, but we need it to hold on until we both have fulltime jobs and can afford a monthly car payment.

How we hope to leave Chicago when I graduate but there is so much standing in our way for that to happen.

How depressing the news is, how we can’t understand why we are still living in this, how baffled we are at people’s lack of care about others, how it seems to never end.

When we finished, ready to throw the conversation ball back to others, I caught a glimpse of our friends faces. They were a bit stunned, taken back, like they didn’t know it was that bad. I made a joke about venting, embarrassed that I had used this limited friend time for an impromptu therapy session and moved on.

On the way home, I wondered why I felt like I had to spill all of my struggles and worries out in that moment, and I realized it’s something I often do. I like people to know that even though things are hard, they are a little bit harder for me. This morning I was thinking about my first few months at my Peace Corps site in Lesotho, and how when I met up with other volunteers, I was quick to explain my school’s disfunction and how it’s impossible to accomplish anything. It’s hard to tell if things are truly more of a struggle for me, or that’s the frame I like to put on my story.

The last week has been an emotional brick. Things in my personal life are in disarray and each day presents another situation that didn’t go my way. The state of the world is tense and scary and so unfair. In many conversations I’ve had recently, I list all of my stressors, citing how specifically bad life feels right now, and I’ve realized this lens of storytelling is my way of coping. I use it for validation or to garner sympathy.

Or, maybe I cling to this narrative because it is the one thing I can control.

My greatest ailments, lately, are things I cannot control. I have no say on when my husband will get a job with a reasonable salary and benefits and that satisfies him professionally. I cannot force my clients to show up to sessions. I can’t wave a wand to remove COVID. I do not have the power to undo all the evil, cruel, inhuman things our government does to our most vulnerable populations. I can’t will my way to pregnancy.

I’ve long fooled myself that worrying myself to such high stress that I am physically nauseous has an impact on these situations. Or, that I can fix things by doing this or that. Rarely, if ever, does any of this work. Rather, I work myself up into a tizzy only for life to continue on doing whatever it wants.

I suppose that this is something I’ve always done, but the difference now is that I am aware of it. I know that I am worrying about and focusing on things I cannot manipulate, change, fix. I kind of just have to let it be.

Spoiler alert: I am TERRIBLE at letting things be. I honestly do not know how to do that. It’s not in my nature. But at this point, I am losing so much of my presence and missing all the good little things because I am fixated on controlling the uncontrollable.

My professor and I were recently talking about an issue I have, and she agreed that there is a right to be concerned. She gave me two alternatives, and I hated both options. They were unfair, I thought, but really the only viable solutions. I had come to her because I wanted to be validated in my struggles and challenges, and she gave me that. Yet, it didn’t make me feel better. She suggested that we wait two weeks and then reassess.

“You’ve got to let the process do its thing.”

I did not feel good about this, but I knew she was right. Two weeks. I would just have to wait and see and then decide how to move forward. I found myself with an urge to tell others how bad it is, that it’s come to this, that I might have to make some big drastic decision. See, it’s hard for us all, but it’s really hard for me, I wanted to scream.

I wondered, what if I don’t tell that narrative? Not to others, but specifically not to myself? What if I don’t focus on the struggle, and just let the process work? Will I be in a better spot? Maybe not, but also maybe, or at least my I wouldn’t lose so much time to worrying and I wouldn’t feel so nauseous all the time?  

It’s a new month, and there is a lot at stake here. There is so much we don’t know about what will happen, both around the globe and in our personal lives, but I do know that I don’t have much control. I can do what I can do, but at some point, I just need to let go. I won’t be good at it first, but I can keep trying. My story is more than just how hard things are, and I owe it to myself to start writing a new one.  

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