22 Oct The Tyranny, of ‘If Only’…

“Angie Bell!!, Angie Bell!”, I heard a woman shout at me as I left the grocery store a couple of weeks ago. Angie Bell is my maiden name, so it took me a minute to respond. I turned to discover a woman who was a friend when I was 13 years old. Donna had the same fiery personality and red hair as I had remembered. Something had changed though. The spark in her eye was gone, replaced by the heaviness of disappointment and helplessness.

She shared how she had recently separated from her husband, leaving her broke, homeless and alone. She told me that her hopes were stirred when she recently began dating an old elementary school friend , but was then devastated when he dumped her because she was “too negative”. “If only we could get back together”, she shared without saying the rest of the sentence out loud. It is a sentence that too many of us can relate to and we know how it ends. “If only” always ends with “then I would be happy”. “Ah”, she said to me, “you look so happy”.

Less than a week later, I was contacted through Linked In by Bob, a high school friend who was between jobs. I had not seen him in at least 22 years, and knowing that he had 2 young children, was eager to give him any support that I could at getting back on track. As with my other old friend, there were remnants of his old self, shining through. Still stylish and fit, I remember that he was the first to wear a new trend and was always active. Biking, skiing, swimming, he was always working out. However, similar to Donna, there was a tiredness and a desperation. “If only, I could find a job” he said, “then after a while, I could focus on what Ireally want”. The next day he followed up with a kind note, thanking me for lunch in which he commented on how happy I had seemed.

I had my own “If only” moment last December. I was hosting a birthday party for a friend and my husband and I were behind in our preparations. The guests were about to arrive a couple of hours later. I was exhausted. 2 weeks prior, I was boarding a plane to China when my doctor called me to explain that I needed a biopsy and that my mammogram “did not look good”. I went to China anyway because after all, the clients had been waiting a year for me to work with them. I arrived home to domestic clients who were eager to see me. I was jetlagged, scared, overwhelmed and in total chaos. I did what most of us do in that situation. I blamed my husband. “What were YOU doing all day yesterday?! It must be fun to have time to play hockey and relax when I’m working 14 hours and all you have to do is get ready for a party!!”. He didn’t get mad, so I kept on pushing, and pushing.

Donna, Bob and I all had something in common.

We felt helpless. Helplessness is a natural, healthy response to an experience that we didn’t anticipate or want.

We felt helpless. Helplessness is a natural, healthy response to an experience that we didn’t anticipate or want.

We felt angry and disappointed. The problem here, isn’t with the emotion, it is with the distorted perceptions created by our emotions. Bob believes that if he had a job, he would be happy, Donna believes that if she were in a relationship she would be happy and I believed that if I had more time, then I would be happy.

Lucky for me, I had something that neither Donna nor Bob had at the moment of their insanity. I had a husband who refused to be pulled into it.

 “Angie, if you can’t work 8 hours instead of 14 when you are jetlagged, are planning a party for your friend, think that you have cancer and work for yourself, then when are you going to be able to”, he said. Sanity restored.

Al helped me to manage my helplessness by NOT believing the distorted perception that my mind created. Problem solved and life changed.

Feel the feelings to uncover the thoughts, question the crazy thoughts that are often created by overwhelming emotions, and change your life.

My greatest hope for Donna and for Bob is to know the source of my happiness. It doesn’t come from having my health restored, it doesn’t come from my job, it doesn’t come from having more time and at the deepest level, it isn’t sourced from my husband. It comes from my ability to honour my emotions, question my perceptions and change my actions. Our sanity can be restored instantaneously. Feel the feelings to uncover the thoughts, question the crazy thoughts that are often created by overwhelming emotions, and change your life.

1Comment
  • Anne Lindyberg
    Posted at 16:49h, 14 November Reply

    What a life-affirming post.

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