Respect the Tantrum

My friend Kate came to visit.  Yes, another Kate.  She’s actually one of the first Kates I ever met.  One of the ones who made me want to be a Kate instead of a Katie.  That’s how cool she is.  She lives in Africa, so she came home at Christmas-time, and was here again for six weeks and we got 3 whole days as a visit!  E. has seen her only 3 times since she was born, with this being by far the longest time spent together.  We went to the playground, we used our swingset, we went to “Whole Toods” and “Teenix Tottee”  (Phoenix Coffee).  We watched movies and drank tea together.  E. was over the moon.  So was I, to be with one of my closest friends.

In an incident of spectacularly bad timing, about 5 minutes before Kate was supposed to leave, E. got Very Upset about something or other and started to have a temper tantrum.  I don’t really remember what she was originally crying about, but a couple of minutes in, I said, “Okay, honey, Miss Kate has to leave.  It would be better if you could be in charge of your body and calm down so you can say bye to her.”

Then things went from bad to worse.  She looked at Kate and screamed twice as loud.  Real tears began to fall.  She literally could not stop crying and I could tell that her emotions had gotten much too big for her to even begin to process, let alone control.  So I picked her up and said, “Your feelings are too big for you right now.  I am going to hold you and keep your body safe until you are ready to be in charge of it again.”  She alternately thrashed and clung to me for about 4 or 5 minutes which seemed like hours.  I asked her, “are you sad because Kate’s leaving?”  “Uh—-uh-huh!”  Me too!  Kate said, “Me too.”  We all started crying.  But she had to go.  So as all of us cried, she got in the car and began to back down the driveway.  The whole time, E. was saying (and signing), “Love you!  love you.  love you.  love you.  love you,”  so that Kate would know.  As her car pulled away, E. sighed a huge sigh, looked at me and said, “She gone!  I not say love you.  I talk her on the computer.  I sad.  I want yogurt!”

Would it have been better and easier if E. had sweetly kissed her on the cheek and smiled and said “check you later!?”  Of course.  But I do not regret allowing her space to feel what she was feeling.

I think too many times we as a culture want to act in appropriate ways and so we don’t acknowledge our feelings.  Emotions are not right or wrong.  They are what they are.  They certainly can be based on false thoughts or beliefs and those must be confronted and fought with everything we can muster, but to stuff our feelings down without challenging the lies underneath them can have disastrous consequences for our selves and our relationships.

A very wise friend (okay, it was Kate.  I really do have other friends, but this post is apparently dedicated to her) said once that emotions are like a very persistent door-to-door salesman.  They knock and when you open the door they approach you with whatever they bring.  If it is something you don’t want, you have a choice to make. You can slam the door in their face.  If you do this, they will come back over and over again at the worst times, until you don’t have the energy to turn them away anymore.

The other option is to say, “Alright, you can come in and sit on my couch.  You can talk to me about your Acme brand windows that I don’t want.  But I have things to do.  I have to make dinner and pack for a trip.  I also have to update my blog.  I will not allow you to keep me from doing the thing that lies next to me undone.”

The Emotional Palette

Emotions are like colors.  We start out life with a clean canvas, and our experiences and the way we interact with them informs what colors we will use to ‘paint.’  Each new experience expands our palette and gives us more color options.  Depression or even just ‘being in a funk’ can be like the yucky brown color if that’s all you see, but one thing I try to do is remember that brown is just one of the colors I have, and that eventually I will move on to a different one.  Sometimes that takes some (or a staggering amount of) work though.

One problem I have is that circumstances overwhelm me.  E. will throw up in the car, I burn the meal I’m making, the bread doesn’t rise, etc. etc.  One of these things at a time is not usually enough to send me to the bad place.  But each time something little happens, it takes me a minute to recover.  And if I’m in the middle of processing it when something else happens, then I get…overloaded.

I have good days and bad days.  Every now and then, I have a really bad one and then snap out of it the next day.  Much less frequently, I can’t seem to get back to normal the next day either, and that’s when I start to worry.  Then I start to access the support system (friends and family with good listening ears) I have put in place for just such an occasion.

Another thing that is key in dealing with my new emotional palette is realizing what my thought patterns are like.  Feelings are fairly uncontrollable for me.  They tend to swirl around in my brain and not make much sense.  But when I can link an emotion to something I am thinking, then I can do something about it.  I can control my thoughts.  I cannot control what thoughts pop into my brain; so I don’t consider that all thoughts that pass through my consciousness are mine.  But I am trying to learn to be more careful about what thoughts I take and make my own by embellishing them and dwelling on them.  Goodness, this is abstract!  Let me try a concrete example:

Today, I took E. out to lunch.  We went to a sushi place and I think we were the only people there not in business casual attire.  I began to feel self-conscious about being the sloppy housewife with the jeans and t-shirt and the greasy ponytail.  A woman at the table next to us kept glancing over.  I tried to figure out what it meant.  She must think I am so frumpy!  She looks so put-together…I look so gross!  Why didn’t I take a shower this morning?  And on, and on, and on…ad exaustium.

About 2 minutes into this little pity party, I suddenly realized that I had no right to judge this woman based on the fact that she glanced at us a few times (yes, assuming that someone is thinking bad things about you IS judging them).  So I made an intentional choice to assume the best of her and went on with my lunch.  As we were leaving, she smiled at E. and the people at the table with her told me how cute she was.  I felt like a jerk.  But not a frumpy one.