24 May Plugging the holes of a sinking ship
I was speaking to a very dear friend of mine the other day. Two grown men spoke from the heart with vulnerability, honesty, tears, anger, frustration, and hurt – past and present. My reflection is that it is nice to have such conversations as a man. We are typically discouraged from showing up like that as men are less manly if vulnerability surfaces, or so we are falsely made to believe. I am glad that this was a different and true moment that allowed two men to be two real people.
We spoke about the challenge of “adulating”. Having been raised to follow the rules, be a good person, be decent, caring, show empathy and be generous and loving, it has been difficult to witness these values not always being respectful or even nurtured. It is so challenging to watch people who seemingly act carelessly and appear to have not a worry in the world. Based on my profession and life experience, I know that everyone has a story and we can never know how they feel on the inside. Our discussion, however, centered on the effect others’ behavior can have on us.
Years of tiresome effort collided with despair and a tear in the fiber of hope. This is an important point that I hope we are all paying attention to. There is a generation of adults in their 40s that is struggling to make sense of how things are in the world. It appears easy to dismiss this as the old “mid-life crisis”, but it is something else. I repeat, it is something else.
We are in the midst of major and fast transitions all within a generation instead of over several generations as occurred in the past. Technology, ideology, religion, faith, politics, society, values, identity and global awareness have seemingly become moving targets as opposed to solid pillars upon which we can safely build our existence. The pressure of finances in a place like Vancouver is real. The cost of living is very high and not at risk of decreasing anytime soon. Job stability in an economy that is marked by a very high rate of turn-over as is a luxury, not a guarantee. The blend of generations within a workforce is presenting major communication challenges.
Here we are, talking about the local and global challenges while considering that we happen to always think about the kind of husbands and fathers we are. The aim is effective self-reflection to allow for growth, kindness, love, dedication and the ability to be enough. I realized that we are really talking about the challenge of hope amid the pressures of life. The analogy we came up with was that we are on a ship that has holes in its hull. The holes represent the current life challenges. As we find ourselves plugging each hole with our fingers, it appears that “life” creates yet another hole. Feeling overwhelmed is real and something that many people in their 40s are facing. We pass it off as a part of life. We are busy, we have families, we have jobs, we have responsibilities, so this is just a part of life. Is it, though?
I know of many people who feel like they are running out of fingers to plug all the holes. I know many more who move their fingers from one hole to the other, facing their reality that the ship feels like it is sinking one way or another. Trying to be and do enough in a world that seems to constantly demand more is tough. Losing hope is even tougher. Worse yet, we tell ourselves that we should not complain since there are so many people that have it worse than us. We ought to be grateful, right? Yes, we should AND we should also be honest with ourselves about our experiences in our life. If we are struggling, it simply is our reality regardless of anything else in the world. So what do we do?
Acknowledging that you feel overwhelmed is step ONE. You may think that this is useless, since nobody may be able to fix whatever is going on in your life, but let me tell you that realizing that there is something that needs addressing allows you access to the possibility of peace of mind. What we often find ourselves doing is keeping things to ourselves. The struggle within us is dismissed or hidden as accomplishing tasks and plugging holes is more important than making sure that we, as people, are not sinking. I know many people who view such honesty as weakness. To those people, I simply say that I wish you the courage and wisdom to see through those misconceptions so that you and the people in your life are blessed with the chance to meet all of you instead of the restricted version you may present.
Step TWO then is to start talking about what is going on. The goal may not necessarily to find solutions but to at least know that people care to hear what is going on for you. Validation and the realization that we are not alone goes a LONG WAY! Why? Validation activates our ability to keep going and to not lose hope. It makes us feel seen and cared for which may be the opposite in the challenging situations we may find ourselves in otherwise. Furthermore, talking to people about what is going on for us on the inside prevents us from running to coping mechanisms that only serve to numb and/or distract. Know that you can likely rationalize anything you do as positive, but rarely do we actually think about why we are doing what we are doing. If I am going to the gym 4 times a week because I am stressed, it may sound great and useful. Wouldn’t it be more useful to address the stress directly and then go to the gym for sheer fitness and enjoyment? You tell me…
Step THREE is fueling ourselves. Yes, I am not even talking about solutions yet, just ways to stay afloat and gather strength so that we can move full steam ahead once we are ready to tackle the obstacles. Fueling ourselves has to do with looking at our internal and external environment and ensuring that what we “feed” ourselves (what we expose ourselves to) fuels us and lifts us up. The people that we choose to have in our lives should stoke our fire, not dim it. The activities we choose should brighten our life. Our online exposure should motivate and inspire us. Remember that you control your online feeds as they are simple algorithms that you can direct.
Step FOUR is to start to brainstorm with people you care about and who genuinely care about you. This is the part where we begin to think about how to plug some of those holes once and for all as well as toughen the hull of our ship. After all, it only makes sense to figure out how to decrease life’s challenges in frequency and intensity.
We need hope to survive. We need hope to live. Hope is undermined by experiences of feeling constantly battered and bruised. We have a lot more control over our experiences in life than we give ourselves credit for. Dismissing hardship as some yuppie crisis only harms our heart and affects all those whom we care about and who care about us.
Be brave. Be open. Be honest. Let’s start an honest and open conversation with each other to ensure that we all know that none of us are alone in our struggles. Let’s grow together.
As always, be kind to yourself and others. If you have any questions or comments, you are always welcome to send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next time,
Geoff Ayi-Bonte MA RCC
Registered Clinical Counsellor