Anxious? Sad? Fearful? Then Maybe You Have It All Together

Yesterday on my facebook feed, I saw two things that stood out. One was a friend posting that he really wanted to have a conversation with his father. His father passed away over 20 years ago. Some days, that feeling of sorrow and loss hit harder than others. The other was a friend’s blog post explaining how she does not have it all together, even when others seem to think she does.

For some reason, both posts had me thinking the same thing: these two friends get it. They really do have it all together.

I think the problem is we don’t really know what “having it all together” means.

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Maybe we have the wrong idea of what the normal life is. Maybe we have the wrong definition of having it all together. Maybe we need to reevaluate what our lives should look like.

The danger is to pursue the sitcom model of daily life. Although different today, the shows that have endured–Cosby Show, Happy Days, I Love Lucy, among others–show families that quickly resolve all issues and end each day “normal” and “happy.”

While great for ratings, it sucks as a model for living our own lives.

So how do we change models? How do we shift from thinking that “having it all together” means swift resolution to all problems to realizing that it truly means living a life based in reality?

First, examine why we are pursuing a certain model. What has led us to believe that a fulfilled life is one absent of any problems? Who has taught us that always being happy with no challenges ever is the goal we should pursue? Are we trying to live up to someone else’s expectations for our lives (whether real or perceived)? How did we learn that problems = failure and calm = success?

This struggle does not come only from media sources, though they do play a prevalent role. But beyond television, advertisements, and social media pressure, we often face family, cultural, and societal pressures to attain a certain type of image. Western culture is terrible at being honest about our life experiences. We are taught from a young age to “get over it” and “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps” and “if you work hard you will automatically be successful.”

Although they may be inspirational, ideas such as these can serve as quite a detriment. We need to examine what messages we have learned, where we have learned them from, and what affect they have had on us.

Second, give it a name. Any name will do: Keeping up with the Joneses; Coveting; The American Dream; The June Cleaver Syndrome. We give it a name so that we can acknowledge the issue is something other than us. We are not the problem. The problem is that we have bought into a vision that is weak, corrupt, and wrong.

Too often, however, we blame ourselves and think we are weak, corrupt, and wrong. By realizing the source of our frustration and the root of the difficulties we face we can begin to do the things necessary to shift our focus.

This is what AA and other 12 Step groups do. The first step is always admitting there is a problem. That problem, whether it is alcoholism or some other addiction, is named. Once it is named, strategies can be developed to fight against it.

Third, we create the story we wish to live out. This is when we get to shake off all those old messages that have hindered us. We get to look forward to what we think our lives should be. We don’t have to live up to anyone else’s standards or visions. We get to set our own goals and outcomes.

The amazing thing about this step is that people do not dream unrealistically. My clinical experience is limited so this not a claim that I could publish in an academic journal, but based on my ministry, my work with 12 Step groups, working with students at FaithWorks, and my limited clinical experience, people who break down the root causes of their issues and then give them a name go on to state realistic, attainable goals.

And that is what we need to do. We are informed by our faith and spirituality. We are informed by literature, music, and art. Most importantly, we are informed by open and honest conversations with people about what life truly looks like. We take the messages we have been taught and sift through them to separate the good from the bad. It is good to work hard and sometimes acknowledge that we do need to be a little less sensitive. But we also need to realize that real life happens and not every day is going to be a good one.

The story we create does not have to be a utopia. And to be honest, I think very few of us would try to create one. The story we create needs to be real; complete with an acknowledgment there will be good days and bad days. Our story will also tell us how we will survive when the days are tough and how we will celebrate when victories are won.

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We need to realize that we will have days when we miss that person who has been gone for more than 20 years. We will have days when it takes a herculean effort just to get out of bed. And we will have days when we seem to be floating on air.

And all of that is normal. And all of it is good.

So maybe those who have anxiety attacks or bad days or moments of paralyzing grief actually have it all together more than any of us have ever realized.

One thought on “Anxious? Sad? Fearful? Then Maybe You Have It All Together

  1. This is good, Paul. Such a challenge to “shake off all those old messages that have hindered us”. Seriously. Thought I would have figured out a healthier way of thinking by this age…

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