Elisa A. Escalante/ LCSW/ 10-12-2022
“I may not get the rainbows and butterflies and fairy tales, but at least I’ll be able to know that I lived in that honest brutal reality that most people are afraid of.”
I had a patient that often talked about the ‘screen saver’ of his life. This was a metaphor for what he viewed as what other’s saw of him, from the outside looking in. The screen saver on a computer is often very beautiful and appealing to the eyes. But ‘when you click on the mouse and it vanishes’, he added, ‘you then see all of the documents scattered on the screen monitor and it’s a big fat mess’. He told me that for decades, this was what his life was like. He was a Deacon, he had a wife and kids, and what everyone presumed was a perfect happy family. The reality? His wife had narcissistic traits along with complex PTSD and chronic medical conditions. He expressed she treated him as an ATM machine and withheld sex for years. (Sex was a reward reserved only for if he gave her money or acts of service) She was overprotective of their ‘spoiled kids’, he was not ‘allowed’ to correct their bad behaviors, if he did, he was labeled as ‘mean’. In turn, her differing parenting style caused the kids to cling to her (The cool/ ‘good’ parent) and hate him. The kids grew more spoiled. He did not make enough money to leave the household, despite fantasies to often pick up and run. He was depressed, sex deprived, misunderstood, and often broke due to their ever-increasing demands of his wallet. But he stayed… year after year after year.
This situation is NOT unique or rare. Honestly, maybe I’m a bit jaded, because for me, all I ever hear is ‘miserably ever after stories’ due to working in mental health. But perhaps, these strained/ discorded family situations are 50/50. Same with friendship stories, same with career stories. The deeper question is, why do we sit in shit, and try to cover it up with rainbows and pretend to be okay? Especially, when it is evident to both others and sometimes ourselves, that we are NOT okay or happy, with anything that’s going on.
Some people believe that ‘manifesting positivity’ will make everything ‘okay’ again. Like we can ‘will away’ our bad feelings/ responses toward toxic situations: Abusive spouses/ shitty bosses/ toxic family members/ Trauma & grief situations. Or maybe, we can ‘positive ourselves to death’ to the point of being happy in horrible situations. Or maybe, our fake positivity can rub off on our evil abusers, and they will in turn learn to accept us and reward us as we are. But, NO. NO NO NO NO NO, we cannot, and we never have been able to, and we never will be able to. A very harmful thing when it comes to most of us humans, our hopes and fantasies can sometimes lead to our demise. There is always a time to take off those rose-colored glasses and get yourself grounded back into reality.
I’ve lived a ‘double life’ before. It was not for me. Why did I choose to live it? At the time I felt immense guilt. Like I needed to put another person’s needs above my own. And therefore, I was not living as my authentic self, and I was accepting a life that was NOT for me. Sometimes we fear letting other people down. Sometimes our egos are overinflated, and they cause us to gravitate toward a world that pleases our social circle more than it pleases our individuality. I personally don’t know how people do it for long, keeping up with an exhausting ‘act’, while they brew inside. Sneaking around to live their true selves, while their fake self is what is displayed and projected for the world to see and believe. (The only people that get a pass are people in the LGBTQ circle, because honestly, they fear for their lives and it’s understandable some of them have to hide from Bigots) Married people having affairs for decades, second families, lying and pretending to be this picture-perfect example of monogamy. People staying in careers they hate for decades, making everyone around them miserable, while deep down fantasizing of their dream jobs/ escapes, but never pulling the plug. Friendships that stand the ‘test of time’, but both parties cannot stand each other. Frenemies vs friends.
If we want to optimize our mental health, it truly starts with knowing yourself, and knowing what you NEED. You will never get the opportunity to do this if you are living your life based on acting, pleasing, self-obligating, or self-sacrificing. You will never be able to do this if you are okay with ‘good enough for now’, or ‘I’ll live through it’ type of mentality while you are suffering every single day. This does not mean, sit, or play around, or goof off because it’s fun either. Why not? Because that too, is a form of suffering. (Nothingness & no sense of purpose or identity) This means deep self-exploration, this mean’s doing the hard work of tuning into your … gasp…. ‘Useless annoying emotions’. There are messages you may be ignoring from your inner therapist. Do you want to live in a true rainbow or shit? Nothing is ever perfect, suffering is guarantee just as much as happiness is. But, there are certainly lifestyles that are NOT suited for you, and certain lifestyles that will flow very naturally for you.
So, what happened to the patient with the screen saver life? He did receive couples counseling off and on for many years, which proved to be useless. Because it takes two, and only he wanted real change, the wife was content with the shit covered rainbow marriage. They sent off their oldest child to college, they flunked their first semester with his GI Bill… what a sad waste. He did push his kid to switch to a more appropriate major, which they did reluctantly and started to do better; but with little gratitude for the fact that it was ‘free college’ for them, off the sacrifices of their combat Vet father. The patient also finally switched professions and found a career path that they loved, and the joy of leaving the house more often and getting away from the wife was helpful. Did they ever divorce? I have no clue. I ended up taking off and pursuing my rainbow: Back to SoCal!
My Shit covered rainbows included: A mundane/ boring relationship, an abusive relationship, a long-term abusive friendship, a career as a trauma therapist (I was good, but the triggers were overbearing) Living in NYC! (Enough said there) Trying my best to hit those twenty years of Air force service toward retirement. I fell short and hit ten years, and honorably separated. When it’s over it’s over. I tried starving myself for a good couple of years back in the day, I looked ‘hot’ and received TONS of compliments, but I couldn’t hear them over the relentless growling of my stomach. I pursued an MMA career once upon a time…. (Who was I kidding?? I absolutely despise being a spectacle on a stage for people to gawk at). But, it’s like my old social work colleague used to always tell me: “It’s just as important to find out what you don’t want to do, as it is to find out what you do like”. That line makes more sense the older I get. Enjoy the journey! And please try to wipe that SHIT off your rainbow! 😊