Crazy Days That End Well (I have people.)

paperpeople-011I don’t really do Halloween. I used to love being someone else for a few hours, and maybe I will again someday. Right now, life and its curveballs are a little too overwhelming to do anything other than smile and acknowledge the cute (or not) costumes and re-imaginations of others and hand over the candy. Without eating ANY of it!

Today, though! Crazy start. I thought it would be the typical Monday. I’m running a little late, so I’ll order my coffee on an app on my phone to save time.

Nope! ERROR message. Fortunately, the drive through line isn’t too long at 0600, but even that took longer. Okay! Have coffee. Will travel.

Nope! Red and blue lights ahead, and no one knows how to merge and keep things moving. Finally on The Grand Avenue, that everyone loves to hate, due to its 6-way intersections, and things are moving along and turning onto the street that is the most direct toward work.

Nope! Street is closed due to an accident, and routed onto a freeway with a few hundred other people trying to use a detour. Thirty extra minutes (and gallons of gas) of backtracking to make it to work. Time to focus and get things done.

Nope! Distractions related to not knowing the future. Not knowing what direction to go. Feelings of panic regarding decisions that need to be made, deadlines that need to be met, questions that need to be answered with graciousness that seem to need a magician to pull off.

But then …

A client calls to say, “I’m doing well. I have a good job. I’ve seen my kids. I’ve created accountability with my supervisor. And I want to thank you for everything you did for me.”

A daughter who loves to give gifts and make people feel special reminds you that you are loved.

A friend from across the country, takes your call and gives you nearly 2 hours of her late evening to listen. To help you reframe your situation. To understand you when you aren’t sure you understand yourself. To point to the trees that would be obvious if you weren’t so close to the forest. To send you encouragement. To pray. To help lift your load and remind you that you are loved.

I cannot do this life alone. And I don’t have to. I HAVE PEOPLE.

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Universality: Strength in Numbers

love-in-any-language-is-the-same…Often it’s the smallest little detail shared that makes me realize I’m not alone in my struggles, nor can I overcome or move through them single-handedly. In this post from nearly a year ago, I wrote about stories – everyone has one, and all should be heard before instead of passing judgment. Stories are a significant part of keeping us connected with other human beings, reminding us that lessons can be learned from everything experienced in life. But relating to others’ stories is not the end-all for learning life lessons and feeling supported.

I provide my clients with a worksheet about the benefits and concepts of group work, because that is primarily the venue that is used in my position as a counselor. (It seems like group work was originally promoted for it’s financial benefit of serving more clients by using fewer resources. However, the more I facilitate groups, the more I see the other benefits as the most critical.) The worksheet lists various terms that are familiar to the average person, such as hope, tolerance, feedback, and imitation, and explains their meaning related to group work. Other words are not as familiar – insight, cohesiveness, altruism, catharsis, and universality. Universality is a big word, and some struggle to even say it, but it has a very down-to-earth meaning. The worksheet’s definition – “others have my problem.” There it is. That simple. Others have my problem.

One of the reasons we struggle with a problem so much is that our thoughts lead us to believe we’re alone. Isn’t that special? I’m so unique that I’m the only one with this problem? I could be famous, maybe, because no one else in the history of mankind has ever experienced this problem? Maybe they’ll make a movie about me? But then no one would understand it and no one could play my part, except for me. Why do we struggle and isolate, thinking that we will somehow gain kudos for handling a problem all by ourselves? Will someone really believe we’re less of a person, whiny, or weak because we share our challenges? I drill this concept into my clients, having them share their stories, and watching as walls of pain and judgment come down. When a friend or a client shares their situation with me, I don’t judge them. And yet, I hold back and feel alone because someone would think I’m crazy for the feelings I have about a challenging situation.

This week, I had a conversation with a forever-friend, and realized there are similarities in a specific struggle going on in our lives. As I felt comfortable to share and relate, my friend was free to share as well. I saw so clearly this lesson I work to help my clients understand. Others have my problem. The details are different, but the underlying issue is significantly similar and warrants the emotional stress it causes. And sharing it, getting it out, gave relief and a very personal understanding of what universality means. Someone else in my world understands from experience what this is like. (What a relief that I’m not crazy.) I would never wish similar problems on an enemy, much less a friend, but discovering that this is the case gave me a boost that I needed, as I hope it did to my friend.

I am not alone. I have friends all over the world and coworkers close by who lift me up and understand when issues are overwhelming. I am fortunate. I am blessed. I can get through the tough times, because I know someone understands what this feels like.

And knowing that helps me believe that others also have faith and hope and respect and kindness . . . and LOVE.