What do you do when life feels really awful?

You know that day when you wake up, you feel like crap, and then everything gets worse? Pick some of the following or add a few custom complaints:

  • No one wants to go to school. In fact, they start generating faux illnesses.
  • The teenagers start bargaining, “I promise I won’t miss another day of school for the rest of the year if I can just stay home today.”
  • The car won’t start.
  • You realize you haven’t showered in 3 days.
  • You get an email from the school saying your kid is missing a bunch of assignments and the term ends in a week.
  • You forgot to put out the garbage (again).
  • The mailbox is full of medical bills.
  • You realize you are a slave to the laundry, the dishwasher, and the clutter along with being the family chauffeur.
  • You don’t get paid for working from 6:00am to 11:00pm.
  • You wish you could go back to real work, but, oh yeah, you realize that you have 10 years left until all the kids are gone and some of them may never be able to live on their own.
  • You have a job you cannot stand but cannot leave.
  • There isn’t enough time to get anything done.
  • You have chronically ill children.
  • You have a migraine.
  • You have children with learning disabilities, psychiatric problems, etc.
  • You haven’t spent any time with your partner or friends because of the demands of daily life.
  • Fill in the blank ________.

You could tell the story for hours about the things that are not going well and not getting any better.

This is a miserable place to be. I was here this morning. I felt hopeless and angry. We all find ourselves here on occasion. Usually over time we find our way out only to return later. I was wondering how I could find my way out intentionally and maybe not return as often. Then my husband threw out there, “You need to shrink your energetic bubble.”

He was saying I was spreading myself too thin. I was doing too much. I was taking on responsibility for things out of my control. I cannot control the outcome of my children’s lives and basing my sense of well-being on their state is not wise.

I knew all of these things to be true, but the one thing that really resonated with me was shrinking my energetic bubble. Instead of sending out my energy to care for and worry about all of my children, my husband, and a bunch of other people and issues, I needed to focus on myself. I was needing something and was tricking myself that if other people performed in a particularly pleasing way or good things happened to me, I would feel better. Sadly, no matter how hard I try, I cannot manipulate people into doing things my way (darn!). My husband was also quick to remind me that while I might feel better if something I was hoping for happened (like my daughter actually doing her homework), my happiness wouldn’t last. He said, “You need to learn how to relax and take a real break. No one can do that for you (and the kids aren’t going anywhere). So, shrink your energetic bubble and focus your energy on yourself.” I knew he was right. Once I felt better, I could be a better parent (even if my situation is ridiculous with 7 kids and their unbelievable circumstances).

All we can control is ourselves. We cannot control our children, our families, friends, or spouses. It is enough to be responsible for ourselves. Taking on responsibility for anyone else will drain us. We can love people until the cows come home and not feel tired (interesting isn’t it?). So, when you are drained from life… stop and look around. Are you carrying other people through life? Are you energetically involving yourself in other’s lives?

You might justify this behavior by thinking that you are helping these people. A hard lesson for a compulsive helper to learn is that it is ok to care about someone but not to take care of someone (minus small children and really sick people – and even then there is a limit). People need to feel whole and competent and capable all on their own. If you start taking over responsibility for your teenager’s grades, then the teenager is going to believe they are not ok on their own. They will think they need you to be ok. This isn’t a good thing. You want them to become independent and confident. They need to make their own decisions, not look to you to answer life’s questions.

Love everyone including yourself. Loving people is easy and effortless. It is when we worry and believe that we are in some way responsible for the well-being of those around us that we start to exhaust ourselves. When I began to focus on myself, I felt better, more in control. I started to relax and could return to a state of gratitude and compassion. My negative focus started to shift. I could then intentionally focus on things that were going well or even just ok. When I am consumed by anger, I cannot receive. That includes love. I was so angry this morning, even the loving hugs from my husband felt yucky. It was as if I wanted to stay in my miserable state (bad sign!).

While it is ok to be angry and express the anger (see Emotional Workout blog), I don’t want to live in the anger. Sometimes life can be overwhelming. No different than putting your oxygen mask on first before you help others, you must be ok to be useful in the world. Take responsibility for yourself. Love everyone. Don’t take responsibility for other people (including your children). You will not only empower others, you will revitalize yourself!