Like Howard Beale, I Literally Cannot Anymore

Photo by Christopher Ott on Unsplash

Today I feel like the world’s biggest phony. I try to blog about situations that might resonate with others or that might be inspiring or hopeful. I know I don’t always succeed at this. Sometimes I can tell, based on the replies I am getting, that people can see right through me. They know I am writing all this bullshit as a means to make myself feel better or to inspire myself to make difficult changes while inside I am crumbling like a saltine squeezed in someone’s palm. Some of you know I’m faking positivity (fake it til you make it?) and others of you, based upon which posts you might have read, may feel I’m living a pretty damn good life, devoid of acrimony.

The truth is that I am lost. Thanks to tons of therapy, I am no longer lost about where I came from or why I am the way I am. I long ago got the sobering answers to those questions, and I work daily to slay those demons and move on. And, honestly, I feel pretty good about that. I no longer hate myself. I no longer see only my bad qualities. I know they are still there and I acknowledge them; it’s just that I see the other side too now. I see why I am worth my carbon matter, and I accept that as reality even when others don’t seem to see the good in me.

But I am struggling. A lot. I enjoyed my peaceful weekend, came home filled with optimism about my plans and ideas for writing and my plans and ideas for getting better sleep and more exercise and eating better, and the minute I walked back into the door of my home I was right back into my struggles because nothing at home has been addressed. All the things I want to achieve or do for myself can only happen if there are changes at home, and there have been none. So today I am feeling deflated and hopeless. Today I want to sell something, take the money, get in my car, and run away. Except that I don’t really want to do that because I would miss my people. What I want is to snap my fingers and have all the negativity in my life evaporate so I can pick up from there and move forward. That isn’t going to happen.

Hard conversations need to be had and hard work needs to be done, but no one wants to talk or work. We’re going along in this bubble where we’re pretending everything is fine and everyone’s needs are being met, but that isn’t true in either case.

I come from a family of defensive fighters. We explode. When there was tension in my family of origin, it was resolved with a blowup. The tension would build, someone would need to release steam, and then there would be nasty, no-holds-barred, critical exchanges where all participants were hurling hurtful and unnecessary blows in an attempt to win an argument or make a point that could be neither won or made. There was often door slamming and item chucking as well. None of this was very healthy. Then, I married into a family of stuffers. In my new family, nothing negative or difficult is discussed. Everything is stuffed deep down or swept under the rug. This means that conversations that need to be had to set boundaries, resolve disagreements in viewpoint, and determine appropriate paths forward are simply not conducted. The result is that everyone is anxious. Everyone is talking, which is great, but nothing of importance or consequence is being said because everyone is afraid. It’s verboten, not part of the family dynamic. This is untenable as well. And as a result of my family affiliations, I am now adept at being both a venter and a stuffer. Oh boy.

The older I get, the more I think that what needs to be taught in preschools, kindergartens, grade schools, and high schools across this country (as well as in homes and churches) is communication. We need to teach kids early how to communicate their needs, how to listen to others, how to compromise, and how to support others while protecting the boundaries they need to feel safe. A large portion of this teaching needs to be done by having adults model these behaviors, but we can’t model something we don’t know how to do. This can be witnessed in our current political environment. We’ve become an entire nation of selfish toddlers, unwilling to discuss our feelings in a civil manner, grumpy that we aren’t getting our way, and cruel to others to make ourselves feel better about the shortfalls we perceive in fairness. I’m not saying communication is the only or most important thing that should be taught to our youth (and our grown ups), but it needs to be addressed one way or another because we are all struggling and no one wants to go to that dark, vulnerable place of admitting our fears and needs. No one wants to sit and listen. People want to point fingers, blame, name call, and live in their self-righteous bubble. This is ruining our families, our social groups, our churches, our schools, our government, and our society in general. We hide behind screens, spewing hate, and then go on about our lives because we’ve normalized cruelty and bullying and eliminated common courtesy, patience, and empathy. We live in unkind soundbites and talking points. And this has only been exacerbated by our isolation during this pandemic.

I know I have fallen short in all the good behaviors I’ve listed above. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be sitting in my house feeling misunderstood, ignored, taken for granted, and overwhelmed. I can’t live like this anymore. Like the Howard Beale character in the 1976 film, Network, I want to stand in my living room and yell, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.”

I’m finished stuffing my feelings and playing nice and pretending everything is great when I am losing my mind. I don’t want to revert to the patterns of my childhood and explode and say hateful things. The time to resolve things civilly is now. I am going to start by opening up in my own house. Maybe if we all decide to undertake some of the difficult conversations we’ve been avoiding having, perhaps we would open a release valve and vent some of the explosive gas currently expanding our national dissatisfaction. Maybe not. But I believe it’s worth a shot.