Updated: Nov 20, 2020
Go Ahead And Throw One - If Beyoncé Can Have One, Then So Can You
If you were alive and slightly above the age of having nailed down your ABCs, you likely remember the horrifying images of the Ethiopian food famine that flooded television and print media in the 80s. You may remember your parents using the crisis as a cudgel to get you to choke down your veggies. “Finish your asparagus. Children in Ethiopia are starving.” And you may remember, like me, thinking, How does me ingesting this foul tasting, stinky-pee making spear of heinousness help those starving people way over there in Africa?” The answer: it didn’t.
In these extraordinary times (I refuse to use the word “unprecedented” and desperately wish it stricken from the English language as it has maxed out its lifetime use allowance in 2020 alone), we are facing crises on so many fronts. Not just in the United States, but throughout the world. Economic insecurity, food insecurity, health insecurity, insurrection insecurity, democratic values insecurity, minority rights insecurity, women’s rights insecurity, climate insecurity. I’ll acknowledge some of those are extreme understatements and that the list is far from exhaustive. There are people all over the world suffering, truly suffering, in ways some of us can never comprehend. But that too many of us can.
I’m one of the lucky ones. None of the tragedies that have befallen so many have landed on my stoop. And yet there are days when I feel discombobulated, anxious, directionless, untethered, blue or downright depressed. Sometimes it can permeate multiple days. Do you know people who always seem to be happy, upbeat and see the glass as half full? Yeah, I’m not one of those people. I have to work at it. And I do. But some days it’s easier than others. And some days, I just feel like ass.
On days when it feels like the sun just won’t shine, I often find myself in a no-win war of self-flagellation. I feel shameful for not focusing on all that is good in my life. I feel guilty for allowing the suffocating feelings to take hold when my actual, tangible suffering is relatively non-existent. I feel embarrassed by all that I have when others have lost so much. I feel weak for not being able to white knuckle it and power through all of these emotions. I feel frustrated by my inability to turn the frown upside down. Oh, and I live in Southeast Georgia so you can bet your bippy that there is a plethora of days when the sun is actually shining. So then I feel shitty that it’s a beautiful day outside and I’m sitting inside with my head in a bowlful of woe and not out there grabbing life by the balls. Er, I mean, basking in the sun...
There are times when I embrace my emotional range, but there are most certainly times when I wish I was wired differently. Because the way I am wired is much the way my actual house is wired - an unruly mishmash of interlaced conductors, upside down electrical outlets, and lights that flicker on and off. There are times I wish I could burn this house down and rewire the entire building. Nice, clean copper circuitry that sends signals consistently and safely without the ever-present possibility of a shorted out circuit or a fire igniting spark hanging over my head (yes, both metaphorically and literally - my home is an electrician’s worst nightmare). Alas, there is simply no way to do that. I’m built the way that I am. But that does not mean I can’t make some modifications, that some rewiring is possible. And that there are some work-arounds using creatively placed electrical tape band-aids.
So, many years ago, I started trying to employ a little rule I made for myself - post Ethiopian crisis - but way pre-2020: The Fifteen Minute Pity Party (with Flex Time).*
Just as me eating my vegetables when I was 10 made not one single Ethiopian less hungry, me feeling happy, content and blessed at all times will restore not a single lost job or revive a single Covid victim or make even one parent less nervous when their black or brown son goes out in his hooded sweatshirt to hang with his friends.
Nor would it serve me to deny my emotional truth. Emotions are safe. Emotions are teachers. And we do better when we allow them, when we sit with them, when we acknowledge and honor them. So I’m going to call bullshit on Dale Carnegie’s quote (at least in part): “Feeling sorry for yourself, and your present condition, is not only a waste of energy, but the worst habit you could possibly have.” This is what the Fifteen Minute Pity Party is about. It’s about giving yourself grace, understanding and space. But it is also about perspective and perseverance.
Just because someone is hurting more than you are, does not mean you are not hurting now. Pain and suffering are all relative, and yours is very real. It does not diminish, cheapen or lessen the pain that others are feeling for you to allow yourself to feel yours. It isn’t healthy to shove down or box up your feelings. In fact, it can be downright dangerous. They’ll just sit there, fester and grow gangrenous over time. Or they’ll throw their own party and gather together with your other dismissed feelings and stage an en masse uprising later. Trust me on that one. Mine staged a full-on coup once upon a time. The Fifteen Minute Pity Party is a way to let your emotions live and breathe. To be heard and understood. All while acknowledging that perspective is key, terminability is key, and that, when the party is over, getting back up on that fucking horse is key.
Brow beating yourself for feeling down and out because someone else has it worse does not dull or extinguish the very real pain you might be feeling. So, one condition of the Pity Party is that you are not allowed to feel guilty about it. That only pours salt in the wound and defeats the entire purpose. And then it becomes a big ‘ole waste of time. It is a time-out for you and should be used wisely. It’s a time to live in the moment of unrest, to let it be, to feel it and to know that whatever it is you are doing, is exactly what you should be doing. It doesn’t mean that you should be doing it 5 minutes, 5 days, 5 weeks or 5 years from now. That part is up to you.
So. Need a Pity Party? Throw one. Bells, whistles, streamers, strippers. Whatever. Take a minute to analyze the scope of your pain and give yourself the freedom to live with that pain for the appropriate amount of time. This is where perspective becomes relative. Stub your toe? Maybe 15 minutes is enough. Your prize roses get a nasty fungus and some aphids? Maybe an hour is enough. Boyfriend dumped you? Maybe a whole day is enough. Lose your job? Maybe a couple of days are enough. Break a fingernail? Well, that one only gets 2 minutes. Sorry, but we do have draw some lines here, folks.
Now while the time frame allotted for the Pity Party is flexible, it does have to be terminable. It is not a license to wallow in endless self-pity. Rather it is a license to wallow. Permission to grieve the lack of happiness or peace, or acknowledge the presence of despair, in your life. For a time. Hitting the snooze button once or twice is allowed because sometimes you just need a little extra time to lick the wounds - but turning off the alarm altogether is not. At some point it has to come to an end. When the final timer goes off, the Pity Party is over. Otherwise, I have to admit, Dale Carnegie would be right.
You get to decide what kind of Pity Party to throw. Maybe it’s curling up with that book you’ve been meaning to get to, followed by a nice long nap. Maybe it’s Netflixing in a warm bath for an hour. Maybe it’s Netflixing for a whole day. Maybe it’s a glass of wine. Or five (but this will likely extend the Pity Party into the next day…and that’s okay too, because, you know, Flex Time). Maybe it’s simply a good cry. Or a sob fest. Ugly crying can work great here. And if you’re super ballsy, you can record yourself. It might make for a little more perspective down the road, not to mention a good private laugh at yourself which can be its own form of catharsis. Maybe you want to beat on some bongos naked - Matthew McConaughey style. Or maybe you want to stomp out the weeds in the garden while yelling Fuck, Fuck, Fuck at your highest possible decibel - a personal favorite - the neighbors not so much. Eh, at least I’m clothed. Usually.
I’ve been employing this life-hack for years - not religiously - but enough to know that it can work. It was only when I went to find a picture to go along with this little ditty that I added a new element. And that is that once the Pity Party is over, it is time to “Flex.” Start flexing in the other sense. Flex your inner strength. Flex your drive and determination. Flex your positivity muscle, no matter how small or weak it is, you can strengthen it. See what I did there? With the musclely arms? Yeah, you feel me. It’s okay...your eye roll is totally warranted. But you have to admit, the kitschy kismet is totally apropos.
I shall quote an ancient Japanese proverb here: “Nana korobi, ya oki”, which means “Fall seven times, stand up eight.” In Mack speak, I say to myself, Get back on the horse, you asshat. To be clear, you are not an asshat. Maybe sometimes, like me, you act like one. No judgment. We all do it sometimes. The point is, you’ve taken a break. You’ve given yourself some time and some room to feel and to be. You’ve had your Pity Party. And you deserved it. But it’s over now. Hopefully you are reinvigorated. If not, that’s okay. But you still have to pick yourself up and dust yourself off. Then take your renewed perspective, go back out into the world and FLEX.
And if you don’t believe me, then believe Bey. Even she, in all her glory and riches, allows herself the occasional Pity Party. And if she’s entitled to one, you sure as hell are.
"Whenever I feel bad, I use that feeling to motivate me to work harder. I only allow myself one day to feel sorry for myself. When I'm not feeling my best I ask myself, 'What are you gonna do about it?' I use the negativity to fuel the transformation into a better me."
*Note - The piece is intended to speak to those who experience intermittent highs and lows and not those who may suffer from a more severe condition such as depression or anxiety that may require the assistance of a licensed therapist or medical professional. Your mental health is important, and you matter. Take care of you. If a Fifteen Minute Pity Party works for you - great. If you are experiencing more serious distress, I pray that you have a support system and that you seek out and receive the help that you need and deserve.