Driving a manual is still like middle school, in that it sucks for a while and then it doesn’t anymore. Plus some That’s Not Helpful.

I totally survived.  I know, I know.  Everyone was waiting hyperventilating oh wait no that was me with baited breath.  Traffic was shite, and I stalled a few dozen times in the hour and a quarter long trip, but you know, whatever.  That is the purpose of one’s hazard lights.  “Y’all could just go around me, you know.”  And people do!

So yesterday, driving a manual was like middle school because oh for heaven’s sake this is unavoidable, and also everyone thinks I suck and boys think I’m stupid, and I just want to go home and eat a banana and read AUGH LEAVE ME ALONE WHY AM I NOT ALREADY GOOD AT EVERYTHING WITHOUT TRYING.

That, by the way, accurately sums up my seventh grade experience.  It was not my best year.  It may be why I am so lured to teach that age group.  Man, they need some realtalk and unconditional positive regard.  I HAVE IT FOR YOU, SMALL NOT-YET ADULTS.

During this whole experience, I had a ‘That’s Not Helpful’* moment that was sort of illuminating, but also a bit obvious.  Third-party worry?  Not actually helpful.  Let me open with, I love my mom.  Let’s go from there.

I love my Mom.  She is my only parent worthy of the name, unless we’re talking about overcoming adversity or why I can’t be around people with narcissistic tendencies.  Then we’re talking about my Da, and it’s probably either a personal triumph blog post, or a therapy session.  Or a telephone call to the police!  So.  I love my Mom.  We are very different people, and have very different attachment styles.  My mom has a tendency toward anxious preoccupied attachment, and I overcame a significant problem with disorganized attachment as a child and later, as a young woman, and have moved towards a much more secure attachment style (though, everyone falters, and when I do, I tend now more toward anxious attachment).  This often translates to a difference in how my mom and I express care on the regular.  One of those differences is the expression of concern as an act of care.

For my mom, heaven love her, concern = worry = expressed worry.  Pretty much that fast.  So, for example, I say,

Me: Ugh, Ma, I’m so not looking forward to this drive.  I’m a little scared.

Mom: *head cock, brow furrow, possible wiggly eyes* “Please, Rabbit, BE CAREFUL.” *Hand clasp*.

Me: Sigh.  Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh.  “Mum, I could use some reassurance instead of worry.  I promise I am worried enough for both of us.”

Here’s the thing folks.  Expressing worry in this way doesn’t accomplish a whole lot.  It is clearly an example of Misdirected, Well-Intentioned Care.  It says, “Your anxiety may be justified (because I feel it too! Oh my freaking golden tap shoes, what if my treasured daughter dies in a fiery car wreck!), and therefore, do not stop feeling it.  Here, I will feel it with you, and then neither of us has to be alone in this fear PLEASE DO NOT LEAVE ME EVER.”  

The thing is, me worrying about the drive?  Won’t actually make me more focused.  It won’t make me… careful-er.  It doesn’t protect me with some magic force field of caution and therefore, safety. I also wasn’t planning on being, you know, reckless, so it doesn’t really add to the conversation.  Like, yes.  Imma be careful.  Because cars can, you know, kill people.  Careful driving is how I roll (PUN!).  Here are some examples of what can be helpful, instead of expressing worry in this way:

  • I know you’re scared, but I believe you can do this.
  • You have got this, just go slowly and don’t think too much about other driver’s reactions.
  • You’re smart and capable, but if traffic is just too much too soon, you can pull over and call me!  We can chat until you feel ready to go on!
  • What would be helpful to help assuage your fear and discomfort?
  • Here, let’s put a mix CD together for you, with happy music.  You can keep it in the car for times when traffic feels overwhelming.
  • I know you will be careful, and with practice, this will start to feel easier!
  • {{Hug}} You’re going to totally kill it.  Call me if you need anything, okay?

One of the great things about Mom is that she takes direction from me about what is helpful pretty well.  She’s aware I’ve done a lot (a LOT) of work, both personally and professionally, excavating helpfulness and healing, and defers to my judgment whenever it is emotionally possible for her to do so.  It is pretty rad.  So you know, no conflict or hard feelings.  Just a gentle correction and a hug.

But it got me thinking: What unites the list above under the umbrella of ‘Helpful Responses and Properly Directed Care’?  I think the answer is threefold: each statement above 1) acknowledges the expressed (and tacitly shared) fear as real, valid, and strongly felt, but also 2) provides affirmation and comfort, and 3) a possible mitigating factor or coping mechanism.

Duh.  How many hours of crisis counseling training have I undergone?  So.  Many.  What is the first thing you learn?  “Reflect, Affirm, Suggest.”  Even when the stakes are high.  Even when the consequences are dire.  Likewise, even when the reported problem sounds trivial or small.  Even when the consequences seem minor.  Reflect, Affirm, Suggest.

Fear, uncertainty, and indecision are all batsh*t crazy-makers.  In fact, I would say that during my time at the crisis hotline, every single call I fielded in over 800 hours of volunteer service included some sliding scale ratio of those three emotions.  And lookit: I cannot make life less scary, outcomes more certain, or decisions for people who are not my own self.  BUT!  But.  I can assuage the crazy.  Reflect, Affirm, Suggest.

Reflect: I have heard the feeling you have expressed, and its proximal cause and will now repeat it to you, allowing you to correct me if I am mishearing or misunderstanding.  “I am hearing that you are afraid right now, because [concrete identified reason], am I hearing you accurately?”

Feeling heard is an instant crazy-diffuser.  There is nothing worse than feeling totally alone, like you’re screaming your feelings impotently and unheard into an unfeeling abyss.  There lies the path of despair and resignation.  As a helper, I’m not having it.  YOU ARE HEARD, FRIEND.

Affirm: Your feelings are as they are, and you have the reasons you’ve identified for feeling them.  I understand that, and affirm your emotional response as normal, sane, healthy, etc. “That sounds frustrating/scary/unnerving/upsetting.”

Well, clearly it sounds that way, because you just told me it is, in fact, that way!  You’re having an emotional response.  That emotional response is a neutral piece of you.  We can talk about actions in a second, but for right now, let’s take a moment to be like hey, sometimes I get angry at inanimate objects, too!  Crying because your kid is so beautiful and might (will) die one day?  There is a name for that (it’s foreboding joy), and oh man, people don’t talk about it enough, do they?  Sometimes, success is scary as f*ck.  That’s okay!  Emotions are weird.  You have my permission to have them.  Protip: You don’t need my permission to have them.

Suggest: While I’m not in a position to resolve the situation for you, I am in a position to provide resources , support, and brainstorming!  Let’s try to come up with some ways to make these feelings more manageable together! “Have you considered…[coping strategy]?”  “Have you eaten today?” “Is deep breathing something you find helpful?”  “Is talking directly about your feelings helpful, or would a distraction be more helpful right now?”  “I can see if we have some resources available for temporary rent assistance — is that something you want to investigate?”  “When you’ve felt this way in the past, what has been helpful?” “I know you love writing — have you tried writing down everything you feel?”  and the most important question ever, “Is there something specific that I can do that would help you right now?”

Have you ever let your space get so cluttered and out of control you don’t even know where to begin?  Have you ever gotten yourself in so much trouble that it feels like no amount of effort could ever dig you out?  Yeah.  Me, too.  Sometimes, we need to be reminded that no single action can fix All the Things; but inaction is a surefire way to fix None of the Things, and likely, feel like crap while you’re at it.  We eat a whale one bite at a time, and sometimes, even small improvements can help us feel empowered for that Next Bite.  YOU CAN DO THIS.

So, to bring it back around: Today, driving a manual is like middle school in that yeah it is total balls a rich learning experience because you’re screwing up a lot.  While it feels like the consequences are earth-shattering serious, they’re actually fairly minor — you know, like most of seventh grade for the bookish among us.  Also, the suck ends (thank Cthulhu).  You hit your growth spurt, salvage some poise and grace, develop a sense of humor, stop taking yourself so seriously, and likely end up valedictorian of your post-secondary scholastic endeavors, because seriously, prom queen who needs it.  Nerd Lyfe For Prez.

Driving a manual is still like middle school, in that it sucks for a while and then it doesn’t anymore. Plus some That’s Not Helpful.

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