Recently, I read a Facebook status that made me feel bad. It tapped into uncomfortable feelings and made me experience a sense of vulnerability that was unwelcome but annoyingly too powerful to brush off or ignore. It left me feeling hurt, confused and ultimately unworthy, and it was only 7 in the morning. A rubbish way to start the day!
I’m going to assume I’m not the first person to have this experience, and neither, I suspect, shall I be the last. Facebook, while often funny, wonderful and connecting can also be a trigger for feelings of inadequacy, displaying, as it does, the beautifully lit, flattering and heavily edited snapshots and highlights of our lives. No doubt the reason why this blog post by Sarah Emily Tuttle-Singer was shared so widely, so refreshing it was in its warts and all honesty.
Anyway, back to the morning in question. I was feeling crappy. My defences were on high alert. I was feeling emotionally raw and rattled, and was primed and ready, the need to protect myself from the Facebook based threat was overwhelming. And then my husband, who had been sleeping peacefully next to me, unaware of the angst bubbling away dangerously in his spouse, had the misfortune to wake up. And was met with an outpouring of complaints about a series of domestic frustrations that I had decided he was responsible for, and needed to hear about first thing in the morning.
Luckily, I have the good fortune to be married to a man who is pretty calm and tolerant, and who didn’t tell me where to go for starting his day in this way! A big part of me wanted to continue ranting at him, to express my difficult feelings indirectly by making it about his shortcomings as a housekeeper, rather than allowing myself to be ‘seen’ by him as the wounded and pathetic creature I was in that moment. And I chewed this over in my head as I ate breakfast. I could keep these feelings to myself, make it about something and someone else, keep myself safe, in control and outwardly ‘strong’.
But I thought I’d try doing it differently. Influenced as I have been by Brene Brown and her encouragement to “shine a light” on shame by reaching out and sharing it with someone who has earned the right to hear our story, whose empathy will dissolve our pain, and remind us that we are lovable. Who fortunately for me was crunching his way through a bowl of cereal right next to me. And so I told him. I ignored the voice in my head screaming at me to keep it to myself, to maintain a bit of dignity. I shared all the crappy, wounded and pathetic feelings I was having. And happily, his empathy was as soothing as I needed it to be. But what I hadn’t anticipated was that he would also say something profound. And that it would be linked to Minecraft.
I don’t play Minecraft, but my kids do. And they talk about it a lot. If I’m honest, I probably listen actively to about 5% of what they tell me about it. As a result I know little more than that there are two ‘modes’ of play – creative mode, in which you build new worlds, where it’s day time, where your resources are infinite and where there are no threats to your life. And then there’s survival mode. Where night falls, and where you are under permanent threat from zombies, spiders, and (I am reliably informed) bow and arrow wielding skeletons.
And my husband sagely pointed out how that morning (in the style of Minecraft) we had moved from survival to creative mode. That when I was feeling bruised and vulnerable, I was fighting to survive, fending off the crappy feelings (or bow and arrow wielding skeletons) by getting angry with him, even thought he was unrelated to the actual problem I was struggling with. And when I braved sharing my ugly feelings of unworthiness and exclusion, we were able to become ‘creative’ again. We were building something, going somewhere. It was daylight again, we were more productive than when I was paralysed and distracted by my pain.
And with this unlikely analogy I realised how rubbish it feels to sit in survival mode (and perhaps why my kids don’t spend too much time in it). How much energy it takes to keep those zombies at bay, and how you will swing for any one in your path in your vain desperation to keep yourself safe. I also realised that it takes bravery, conscious determination and a willingness to make yourself vulnerable to get ‘creative’ again, to a mode that’s more fun, dynamic and frankly joyful.
Who knew Minecraft, via my husband, would offer such a useful metaphor for life? I didn’t see that coming when I logged onto Facebook that morning.