When Things Are Bigger Than You
Recently, I have been truly connecting with the approach of "Is this bigger than me?" to try to combat what I call "The Guilt of Saving the World." This is where someone has such strong feelings about helping others that it sometimes inhibits them from seeing the limitations of their help or that they may not be able to remedy certain situations at all. I became acutely aware of this guilt that I so often encounter when I first moved to Boston. The homeless population around Newbury Street and the Back Bay area absolutely break my heart. They do. It makes me feel so deeply sad. I without fail will always purchase food and drink for someone when we go walk around that area. I won't give them money because I want them to be fed and hydrated more than I want [insert whatever their sign says]. I can't help them get a job, or help them get to their destination, but I can feed them and I can give them water. I can give them a hug and let them know that they aren't alone and good humans still exist.
My Walk With Things Bigger Than Me
I once was yelled at by a supervisor of mine... in a one-on-one meeting...about something that I had tried to prevent in the first place. DAMMIT HEHE! After leaving the meeting and leaving for the day, I began to cope with what exactly happened there and after realizing that it seemed to be an extreme reaction to me feeling frustrated, I realized, "This is bigger than me." That supervisor was so stressed and so run thin, that they lost control and I just happen to be the last straw on the camels back. Bigger than me.
I recently supported a mother who had such blinding Postpartum Anxiety that it was frightening. I questioned how things escalated so quickly from newborn mom to irrational in what seemed like overnight. I have supported many of newborn parents through anxieties and "firsts" so I was well-equipped. After a single conversation about how we got to this irrational island, I realized, "This is bigger than me." And it was. There were cultural norms playing a role in it and there was concerning medical histories that drove the insanity. Bigger than me.
When I first began my career as a doula, I worked with another doula in the community that was so threatened by having a doula so close in proximity to her own service area that instead of coming to me and having a conversation like an adult, she contacted all of the other doulas in the area (and some of my clients) and tried to persuade them that I was a fraud. Obviously, this didn't do any good for her mission, people just thought she was a mud-slinging lunatic. Boy, THIS ONE FELT PERSONAL. Honestly, it took me a bit to get over this one. She was my friend (or so I thought). We had grabbed drinks before and had lunch with one another--we even had been "back up" for one another. After looking into several things like how many true friends she had, her overall happiness in life (judged by her demeanor and comments she made), and her general business ethics, I realized, "This is bigger than me." I feel sad because it seems like the fear of possibly losing business didn't encourage her to "up her game" and provide better quality service to clients, rather it turned her into a nasty human who tried to manipulate others and ruin another person's business. Huge character flaws will always be Bigger than me.
This year I worked with a couple that was so unorganized that it hindered their ability to properly prepare for the arrival of their baby. They kept asking if these things would affect their birth experience and I continued to remind them that the way they prepare will have an impact of the birth of their child. They never got around to taking Childbirth Education classes (despite saying they wanted to take it) or putting together a nursery (despite explicitly noting they definitely didn't want the baby in the room with them) or having a conversation about alternative pain relief options (because talking about pain meds made her anxious). I realized the moment she went into labor that "this was bigger than me." There were underlying complications with her pregnancy that was causing extreme anxiety and it was never shared with me for the reason of shame. Bigger than me.
Is It Bigger Than You?
Don't get me wrong, it took me years to get here. I'm quickly approaching 30 years old and this is a recent mental shift that has happened in the last 12 months. I just recently have begun to be so attuned to my own body, thoughts, and emotions that I became acutely aware of how external things affected me. Through this acute awareness, I began to cope with the fact that somethings I wont be able to change. Weird, right?! Because when you're a child, everyone always tells you, "You can do anything if you set your mind to it." This just isn't true. and that's okay. I'll say it one more time, it's okay that you might not be able to change everything you want to change.
Welcome to Parenthood
Starting with pregnancy, there are things that you just can't change. The gas, the sleepless nights, the heartburn, the nausea, the emotions-- just turn it off already! You can accommodate and adjust to these things, but changing them is pretty difficult since your body is doing a lot of work. With work comes changes and these changes have purpose (or at least happen for a reason-- is there a purpose for extreme gas?!).
In parenthood, when your child insists on waking up at 2am every single night even when they are 8 months old, you aren't going to be able to change this. Your child needs to eat, or maybe they need to know they are safe. Whatever the reason for their wake up is, until their body is ready, you can't control their wake ups. When your toddler yells their first curse word, you will want to react in a supportive, but stern way to express that what they said was not okay. This won't necessarily stop your child from saying this--if you're lucky, it will. However, if you have a strong willed child, you might hear this foul language over and over again..what's a gal (or dude) to do?? It's the "you can lead a horse to water but can't make them drink" mentality. You can ask your toddler not to yell "SHIT!" every time they drop their binky, but inevitably they will in a place where it is least acceptable!
Of course, with all things bigger than us, we try (in the beginning) to control the situation. Maybe you take a Gas-X, or eat some ginger chewies. Maybe you speak with your boss who acted so inappropriately or ignore your toddler's ugly words. But at the end of the day, that's where your control ends. You can't actually control another human. I couldn't make that couple go to CBE classes. I couldn't wave my hand to take that mother's postpartum anxiety away. and I certainly couldn't have been able to predict that my boss was having such a bad day.
So Where Does That Leave ME...Realizing that something is bigger than you is hard. Not feeling challenged with this new information is even harder. When someone says something is bigger than you, a natural instinct is to be bigger than whatever is bigger than you, right? Wrong. That will only lead to a vicious and very unhealthy cycle. However, there are a few things you can do. I wish I could say, "take this magic pill and all your troubles will go away." (*cue my wanting to save the whole world complex*) I don't have a special pill, but I do have a few words of advice about what I've learned to do.
- - Remind Yourself. Constantly remind yourself of what you have learned and why this is bigger than you. Whether that look like, "They are not a good person and no matter how nice I am to them, they won't change," or "This person needs more help than I can provide them and they aren't open to speaking with anyone new," or maybe even a little self-preservation of "I just can't continue to support this person because it is so negative and it is affecting my personal life/relationships."
- - Do Some Soul Searching. When something doesn't sit right with us, it is important to search within yourself to understand why. It is important to understand your own triggers and your own boundaries when working with other people. Understanding this about yourself can help you be aware of when someone is getting close to crossing those lines, advocate for yourself and set your limits and expectations.
- - Talk About It. Find someone you can trust and someone who understands and talk. Talk it through with that person. It's helpful if that person will challenge your thoughts to help you consider other viewpoints and angles. Some people want to talk about things once and they feel better, while others may want to continue to verbally process all the things so it may take a few conversations. Remember, there is a difference between coping and talking versus dwelling.
- - Plan For The Future. What did you learn from this encounter? Take a bit to reflect. Self-reflection will help you learn things about yourself. Behavioral reflection will allow you to look at both parties' behaviors to learn something; plus this may give you an insight to where the other person might be coming from. Emotional reflection will help you evaluate your emotions going into the situation, during the situation, and what emotion the situation elicited from you afterwards. You can also try to think about the other person's possible emotions. Through this time of reflection, you can think of ways that, if you had to have this conversation (or one similar) again, you would be better prepared to stay in control.
Whatever is going on in your life--especially in your pregnancy or on your journey to conceiving--take a pause to really think, "Is this bigger than me?" This time in your life is full of learning opportunities. Having a child is just the beginning of a long journey of "a-ha moments" that help you realize things about yourself such as your boundaries, your weaknesses, your breaking points, your achievements, and your triumphs. You will learn what you need to survive vs. what you need to be happy. You will learn what exhaustion really feels like, but you will always, somehow, find the energy to keep going.You will be amazed at yourself and your child, but also at your partner.
One of my darling friends said it best, recently. She said, "This year has been a year of pure happiness, pure exhaustion, pure amazement, pure anxiety, and most importantly pure love." It will also be filled with those moments that are bigger than you and that's okay.