Are you constantly pursuing the next thing?
My Father in Law once asked me a wonderful question when we were discussing my drive to get better at surfing in more dangerous conditions. He said, “Do you really want to?” He knew all too well that there is an urge among men particularly to adhere to the idea that suffering is noble, without taking into account self-care. It’s a simple question, but when I ask it in session it obviously requires a considered response. I understand that personal growth pushes us into a place of discomfort and is a necessary if aversive emotion. However, in a society that is constantly placing expectations on us that are often arbitrary, when do you choose to slow down?
I often have highly successful, previously highly functional clients coming in with debilitating burn out. People who never thought they would suffer a mental illness. I can’t emphasise this last point enough. Just because you don’t “believe” in mental illness, doesn’t mean that it can’t come and claim you. Denial in these circumstances can be quite strong and the first port of call is often an emergency ward expecting heart troubles. These are people that are taking weeks off work because their anxiety freezes them in their tracks. Recovery can take months, sometimes you can’t afford to not slow down. A few simple questions usually reveals a set of goals or expectations for themselves, the value of which they had long since stopped questioning. Shifting your goals and expectations can be difficult, and in session I would assist in overcoming the psychological obstacles to making steps toward a less stressful life.
Another question I will ask to step past the financial question is “If I could provide a pill that would remove all this stress for you, how much would you pay for it?”. Take a moment to consider how that would apply to your life. Would you take a pay cut for a less stressful position, would you stop paying for a top end private school, would you take significant annual leave or even leave without pay to start working toward a better life?
This article is obviously not addressing the intense stress that can come with simply trying to feed and shelter your family in a city that has increasingly high prices for rent and food. That is a political problem that requires an approach outside of my remit. Even then however, I have seen unrealistic expectations contained by those men thinking it is their responsibility alone when help is available, and even when it isn’t that they must suffer this in silence. “No one wants to hear your problems”. Which obviously translates to “I don’t want to seem weak” or in some cases “my friends have no idea how to emotionally support someone and get aggressively dismissive in the face of it”.
Unrealistic expectations and the pursuit of the next “stage” is part of the human condition. Unfortunately it too often becomes a habit which is never questioned until the pursuit of the next thing leads someone to a place they never really wanted to go.