Why Don't You Just...
There was a time not long ago, after my husband died, that I couldn't even be a good friend. I couldn't reciprocate the kindness and generosity that people were giving me. There was no room in my heart. It was filled with grief. My mind was preoccupied. My body was numb. I didn't have the capacity to take on anyone else's pain. I had little sympathy for others. And all I could do was work on healing my soul. It's a relief to finally be able to take the focus off myself.
There seems to be a heaviness among the people I care about these days. There is a common theme of sadness and loss. There's despair, uncertainty and fear. There is heartache and worry. There's a ton of doubt. There is frustration and anger. There are a whole lot of tears. We all keep saying how hard things are in the world right now, as though we are waiting for change. For improvement. For repair. It's challenging to just listen to these people that I love without trying to fix the problem. Without telling them what I think they should do. To just be present. To just let them be heard.
I was speaking to a close friend recently whose feelings had been hurt. She was sharing a story with me, tears involuntarily streaming down her face, questioning why she was so upset. She felt like she was making a big deal out of nothing. She told me she had some great ideas for a project she wanted to start. She shared these ideas with someone she knew. She shared with this person that, even though she was excited and had it all mapped out in her mind, she was having trouble getting started. She had all the components and knew it would be great but just couldn't figure out where to begin.
What most people don't know about my friend is that she has ADHD. She has trouble focusing. She can forget her thoughts right after having them. She has difficulty sticking to tasks, among many other struggles. But most people don't know this about her because she hides it very well. It's her deep, dark secret. It makes her feel ashamed. She is often mistaken for being lazy, disorganized and careless. But she is none of those things. She's bright and goofy and driven. She's passionate and she's tough and she feels with her whole heart.
So when this person listened to my friend, with all of her ideas and her challenges with getting the job done, not knowing what she was really up against, and offered her the solution, "why don't you just..." my friend was crushed. I'm sure this person meant well. It probably made her feel good to think that she could help. That she could simplify the situation. She was probably proud of jumping in and saving the day. Never realizing how shame inducing her words could be. Not knowing how deeply this would hurt. Never for a minute thinking she might cause so much pain.
Our conversation made me think of all of the advice I've gotten over the years. For some reason, people love to tell me what to do. I'm not sure if it's because they think I'm incompetent or if they think I'm asking for help. I recognize that when I open up to people and share all of my business with them, I am inviting them in. I am increasing the odds that they will then share their opinion and offer advice. I'm always open to other people's point of view but in the end, I try to do whatever feels right to me. And I've always been taken aback by how simple people try to make the most monumental situations out to be. Like getting a divorce or leaving your job or having more kids are things that you just do.
When someone asks why I don't just do something, I think they are hoping to make the task sound more doable. Less intimidating. Like anyone can do it. But what I hear when I'm offered this solution is that it's possible I may be an idiot. Because I tend to overthink things, I start to wonder if there's something wrong with me. If this person thinks it's so easy, why am I having such a hard time? That it shouldn't be this hard for me. And I'm doing something wrong.
This topic not only made me realize how inadequate I feel hearing these words from other people, but how I was using them against myself. Why can't I just be normal? Why can't I just relax? Why can't I just get my shit together? Why don't I just do more? Why can't I just get over it? Why don't I just let go? Why don't I just try harder? Why can't I just say no? Why can't I just forgive and forget? Why can't I just not care? Why don't I just tell the truth? Why don't I just let it all out? Why can't I just feel good? Why don't I just get off this couch? Why don't I just stop overthinking so much? Why don't I just move on?
The more I thought about the word just the more I realized how I had been using it to minimize the things I had done. To lessen my identity. To downplay my accomplishments. When asked my occupation I've said I'm just a mom. When talking about a race I completed, I added it was just a 10K. I've told people I write but just a personal blog. I was a fitness instructor but just at my local community center. It was just community college. Just a side hustle. Just a few pounds. I don't drink anymore but it just happened by accident. We are a family but there are just two of us now.
I know I can't control how my words may make other people feel and that we can't always tiptoe around each other. But I can control how I receive words. From others and from myself. I recognize that it isn't the words that make me feel wrong or inferior or like a failure. They can't make me feel content or included or whole. Words can't help me or heal me or hurt me. It's my thoughts about the words, and how I think they are being used, that cause the way that I feel. I suppose I could stop sharing with people and inviting them into my world to prevent them from telling what to do. But that just wouldn't be me.
I can choose not to use just or any other words against myself. I can stop playing small and refusing to shine. I can think twice before speaking when someone is pouring their heart out to me. Words are powerful. They carry a lot of weight. Silence can be just as compelling. For me, having someone be there, silently nodding and allowing me space validates everything I feel. It makes me feel seen. It lets me reflect and hear myself clearly. To be listened to without being judged or advised or compared makes me feel recognized and understood. It makes me feel heard. To have someone just listen is everything.