life

We’re all (not) fine

There’s a word we use over and over. Fine.

How are you? Fine.

I’m sorry I did that to you. It’s fine.

Are you ok? I’m fine.

Sometimes I don’t think we’re even aware we’re doing it. I got caught saying “fine” a lot the last several days. Yesterday, one of my friends called me out. “Is it? Is it actually fine?” Nope. Not even a little bit.

I am overwhelmed, over-busy, over-stressed. So much is happening, not any of it bad or overwhelming in and of itself. But, when all the things get together…it’s a lot.

That coupled with the fact that this part of October still hangs over me like an albatross waiting to take me down, it’s…well…fine…or not.

I found myself repeating the same set of phrases over and over today. “It’s fine. I’m fine. You’re fine. We’re all fine.” It’s almost as if I thought repeating that to myself would make it fine. As if that mantra would pep talk myself into fineness. (It almost worked when people started laughing at me for saying it yet again, and I had to laugh at myself because yes, I was doing it again.)

I think it’s funny that the phrase “I’m fine” can mean so much. Sometimes we try to use it to disguise our annoyance. This passive aggressive tactic rarely works as our intent is made clear in the delivery. I most often use it to dismiss my real feelings, as if my feelings aren’t valid. And if they are valid, they don’t deserve a voice, so I wave them away with an “It’s fine”, often tucking tears deep into the words where you can’t (I hope) see them.

What would happen if we stopped hiding behind “I’m fine”? What would happen if we started voicing the problems, the frustrations? What if we let someone else try to shoulder some of the burden or help us carry our too heavy loads? What if we stopped settling for “fine”?

It’s all going to get done and it’s all truly going to be fine in the end, but it would be a better level of fine-ness if we let people into the not fine places.

I used to think I was a low anxiety person. (You can laugh. It’s fine.) The more I get to know myself, the more I realize this isn’t the case…not at all. I’m not the type to hyperventilate or completely freak out, usually, but I do carry quite a bit of anxiety about quite a lot of things. Usually I keep it under control, oddly enough with control. But when it’s little friends get together and the little things start adding up and I lose the ability to keep it all tightly in its place, well….usually tears. My anxiety manifests in tears and anger. And more tears caused by anger because I’m angry that I’m crying which makes me cry more. And that, my friends, is what we call a vicious cycle.

I think maybe if I stopped being “fine” and let people into the places where I’m feeling overwhelmed in the beginning, they might be able to help me keep it together better. We all have different strengths and sometimes when you’re in the fight, you develop tunnel vision. Someone coming alongside you may be able to look at the bigger picture and say “yes, but what if we…”. And it might even be a good idea.

People like to say “give it to God” and I agree that’s a great idea. But I don’t always know how to do it. I’m not always confident that if I give it to anyone else, including God, that it will get taken care of the way I want, the way I would. But more than that, I don’t always know how to give up control.

Sometimes for me, it comes down to focus. If I can slow my mind down enough to focus on one problem at a time instead of all of them, I can calm it down enough to get it all done.

This week, on a podcast called “The Next Right Thing”, I heard Emily P Freeman give an idea that I jotted down, thinking it might come in handy. She was talking about allowing God to nurture you, like a mother would.

Start with 2 clenched fists and count on your fingers 10 things occupying your mind, opening your fingers with each occupation. Now you have 2 open hands ready to receive something.

This weekend has been crazy busy and today I found myself overwhelmed with all the things that needed to be done today, so as I was driving to pick up something I tried it. (Not physically because I kept my hands on the wheel of course). At the end, I did feel like I could breathe again. Just making the things felt like it gave them less power to overwhelm.

God’s grace can carry us through when we learn how to let it. It’s hard to learn how to breathe, not for oxygen but for a calm spirit. To pause before the reaction. To engage brain before engaging either the mouth or the emotions.

For now though, I am actually, truly mostly fine. I’ve tucked myself into my bed for the night and all the things that need attention will wait until tomorrow. I still feel the consequences of the stress in my body, but for now we rest. Tomorrow we will soldier on, trying to remain focused on one thing at a time. And continue day after day.

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