I’m so glad Avis said it: Nobody has their fucking shit together. There’s a culture of people putting out images of perfection at a dizzying pace, thanks to social media. We are all publishers these days. We consume others’ content, curate what we identify with by sharing it and then create our own image.
Take a look at your Instagram or Facebook feed.
Is it full of pictures of sunny days, blue skies, shiny happy people?
How does it make you feel?
Are you happy for these friends who are so friggin happy every day of their waking lives? Or like me do you look at them and think they’re wearing a mask of perfection? I’m sceptical of happy images. Always have been. Maybe it’s because my formative years showed me that the American dream is largely hollow and that people have to take anti-depressants to feel the way they think they should feel. The pursuit of happiness is one of the core values of American life. If you’re not positive and on all the time, there’s definitely something wrong, something un-American about you.
However, this isn’t a piece about the harm relentless positivity causes.
While it’s undeniable that ignoring signs to the contrary, carrying on as if nothing’s wrong has caused massive destruction to the financial markets and to innocent people’s financial well-being by wiping out their retirement savings, today I’m focusing on the negative impact of ignoring “bad” emotions to the relationships of an individual.
I’ll give you a recent example from my own life. Like Avis, I’d been having shit storm days.
Though I’m not 100% sure of the source of these feelings, I can tie some of it to my toddler (or maybe she was just reacting to me…I’ll never know). A perfect night sleeper pretty much from birth, last few weeks have been difficult. She refused to go to sleep and started waking up frequently. Consequently, I wasn’t getting the sleep or the 5am-7am writing time I must get to have proper flow in my day. When writers don’t get to do the thing they’re designed to do, we get cranky. Imagine having all these ideas bursting out of your seams. It’s painful.
It’s not clear to me if it’s the chicken or the egg when it comes to the tension in the household. My toddler could certainly have picked up on my stress causing her to get restless and then off we went in a downward spiral. We are still struggling to get our heads out of the vortex to the surface of the river of creativity to keep moving forward with our writing practice towards the destination – “How to Create Time” in published form!
The Benefits of Self-Imposed Stress
What I was ignoring was feeling the stress of doing an hour-long presentation in front of people who interested in pursuing User Experience (UX) Design careers at Academy Xi.
As I see it, UX Design is the next evolution of marketing and combines the discipline of psychology and behaviour with technology. I kept ignoring that the presentation date was approaching. I didn’t have anyone but my trusty business coach to talk about it. Though I’d pushed the presentation to my subconscious, it kept sapping my energy and gnawing at me. I wasn’t present with my toddler. I wasn’t present with my partner. The household became a powder keg.
However, stress, as bad a reputation it has, doesn’t have to be bad. In fact, stress, which causes our heart to pound and our palms to sweat, prepares our body to put out superhuman effort to tackle a challenge. And here’s one more thing about stress that very few people know. Stress causes our bodies to release Oxytocin. Yep, that very same Oxytocin termed the “love hormone”. Oxytocin is what promotes the feelings of connection and attachment. For example, an expecting mother’s oxytocin levels spike during labour and nursing, which explains the peak experience of being overcome by love for a newborn which pretty much looks like an alien lifeform.
A couples study also shows that Oxytocin levels in both the male and the female spike during times of distress in the relationship. The distress that I was feeling in my relationship with writing was whether the presentation would tank like a stink bomb. This outcome would certainly shake my confidence in my abilities as a storyteller. Sadly, I couldn’t even acknowledge this fear to myself let alone my closest ones.
My Relationships Suffered…
Over the last few weeks my relationship with myself, the toddler, my partner and family members suffered. My energy was getting sapped by the fear I wasn’t acknowledging. The toddler slept badly. People wanted my emotional generosity and understanding and instead were confronted by my impatience with their issues. My cup of happiness was empty and I didn’t know why. I had nothing to give myself or others.
Mum came to me with her own insecurities about whether she’d be welcomed in my house. I didn’t respond. I couldn’t empathise.
If only I’d put my hand up and told people what was going on. I needed emotional support but instead chose to gloss over things and putting out messages that everything’s fine and I’m happy, smiling and playing with the toddler.
How could anyone have known there was something eating me up inside?
A Sigh of Relief…
Having delivered my presentation a couple of days ago, I can now say that my fears were unfounded. The audience found the hero’s journey structure in describing the stages of personal transformation interesting and helpful. I will be in touch with them to see how where their professional journeys take them.
I will continue to push past my comfort zone with the realisation that my loved ones are there to support me (though one guy I know would rather challenge me…I’ll steer clear of him until I feel ready).
Acknowledge and Share the Negative
Barbara Sher says it’s not negativity that kills dreams but rather isolation. I say one has to be attuned to their feelings to detect negative emotions and then have the maturity to own and share them with others. Our relationships suffer when we feel we have to be positive all the time for things to be happy and healthy. My journey of developing into a published author is going to be littered by pitfalls and dark nights of the soul. As difficult as these feelings are to deal with and communicate, if I can’t do it, I’m not truly a writer.
Over to you…
What’s your source of stress these days?
How will you communicate your cause of stress with your loved ones? What’s stopping you from sharing your negative emotions?
Is it fear that people will no longer love you if you aren’t a bright beacon of positivity? Trust me, people will empathise and support you if they see you’re human just like us.
Reading Avis’s breakdown and journey back into feeling happy and healthy again helped me identify my negativity and talk about it so that my relationships become stronger.