Wow, this last week has gone by in a blur. It feels like yesterday was Monday and I was thinking, “Great, I’ve got a solid 5 days to get everything done for my aid trip to Poland.” How is it already Friday and I feel like I have nothing done? But at the same time, so much has solidified and come together with my planning and prep. Such a contradiction. I kind of feel like my entire trip is full of contradiction.
None of my family is excited about my aid trip to Poland. I’ve been preparing for this Poland trip for two weeks now, which admittedly is no time at all. My plans and goals for the trip have gone from wishy-washy details two weeks ago to very solid plans with names and contact info of organizations and people I will be meeting. It’s really a night and day difference. One thing that hasn’t changed, well, hasn’t changed much, is how my family feels.
Okay, that’s not entirely true. Most of our family, while they certainly don’t agree with my decision to go and help in Poland, have come around to the idea of supporting me … at least outwardly. As Fat Papa likes to say, “I’m absolutely terrified for you, but I support you all the way.” Now, this is a BIG change from how he was feeling two weeks ago. But what has NOT changed is the overwhelming feelings of fear and anxiety Fat Papa, Gigi, my fairy-mother-in-law and others are feeling.
Breath in, breath out … Everything is going to be okay.
It is times like these that I am really glad Fat Papa and I both see a therapist for 1-on-1 counseling as well as a couple's therapist. I think without therapy, these last two weeks would not have gone as well as they have. Without therapy, I think Fat Papa’s and my communication could have broken down completely.
Because Fat Papa and I are opposites in so many ways yet complement each other almost perfectly. I’m a risk taker while he is cautious and plotting. Fat Papa is grounded and steadfast while I am flighty, always jumping from one thing to the … oh something shiny! I’m an optimist, he’s a pessimist. I wear my heart on my sleeve, he bottles everything up inside. He is the Yin to my Yang.
However, where our opposite perspective really hurts rather than benefits us is in communication. Because Fat Papa is so consumed with worry, doubt, and fear, he tends to focus on the negatives of a plan. Before he can show the smallest amount of satisfaction with an idea, he first must tear it apart, analyze it from every probable angle, and throw every improbable (sometimes impossible) scenario at it and then … maybe … he will feel comfortable being less anxious about whatever it is I’m planning.
You can imagine then all the … let’s politely call it constructive criticism … Fat Papa had when I announced that I wanted to do aid work in Poland. Wow, we had some bumpy roads to drive over before we could get to a smooth highway with that announcement.
The good thing was that after discussing my plans, why I wanted to go, and what my goals were, Fat Papa was able to see that there was no changing my mind. So, he was no longer in control. which meant he could either continue to pour his negative thoughts and lack of confidence into me, or he could be responsible for his own emotions, work through them, and support me even without agreeing with me.
This was a MAJOR breakthrough for us.
By letting go of the control, Fat Papa was able to start looking at my trip to Poland kind of like a boat ride. Like a boat ride, a cruise around the Bay, if you will, Fat Papa has no control over where our cruise is going. He isn’t the captain, he isn’t steering the boat, he doesn’t control the currents. Will he still worry about what happens if the boat capsizes, or Itsy Bitsy falling overboard, or if a seagull is going to poop on his head? Sure, absolutely, that is a defining characteristic of Fat Papa’s personality (as well as both of our mothers’ personalities).
Despite these fears, once Fat Papa realizes he is not in control of a situation, like a boat ride, he is able to push most of his fear and anxiety to a quiet spot of his brain, allowing him to enjoy, or at least be less anxious, about his situation. So having embraced the fact that I was going to be traveling alone, without support, without him there to help, Fat Papa let go and accepted that I was taking charge and would indeed be in charge.
Suddenly, this new perspective of “I’m terrified, but I support you” made him see our mothers’ fear in a whole new light. Now, he was defending me to them. He was telling them how much planning and care I was taking with this trip. Fat Papa was telling our mothers that everything was going to be okay and that I am in control and have everything handled.
The Confidence is Just an Act … I'm Scared Too
For the first time, Fat Papa realized what it was like for me to be surrounded by nervous, anxious people who allowed fear to dictate their behavior. Because Fat Papa had come to terms with his feelings about my trip to Poland, he was able to move past the fear and into support. Does he agree with my decision? HELL NO! But does he love, respect, and support me no matter what? HELL DUCKING YES!
Fat Papa’s unequivocal support of me as his partner, friend, and person who is full of good ideas helped him realize how difficult it is to be the holder of other people's emotions. For the first time he was projecting an air of confidence while others used him as an emotional dumping ground. Do he and I both have doubts and fears? Of course. But we can only both feel comfortable discussing our anxiety when there is room for both our feelings. And an emotional dumping ground leave only room for one persons feelings.
For the first time, maybe ever in our relationship, Fat Papa was the emotional dumping ground for our family while ALSO having a different opinion than those dumping on him. Fat Papa being able to feel and experience the horrible weight of having to hold other peoples’ emotions and provide them emotional support, while simultaneously not trying to change their mind but wanting them to accept his different point of view without having to agree, has completely changed our communication. It’s been AMAZING!
Finally, being put through the practically impossible mental gymnastics of being surrounded by crushing pessimism while just wanting someone’s emotional support for a really difficult thing you are doing, made Fat Papa understand what he has been doing to me for over a decade. While he had recognized it intellectually, the last two weeks have been the first time he understood it emotionally … and he was appalled!
So now, Fat Papa is able to discuss his fears and anxieties with me rather than dumping them on me. What does that look like? It’s the difference between saying, “Can I discuss my fears and anxieties with you so we can work through them together?” vs. “I don’t want you to go because I’m afraid you’re going to get sick.” Or “Have you really thought this through? What about …?”
The hardest part of all of this for Fat Papa was figuring out how to disagree with me and still be supportive. What cleared this up was when I broke down and, through tears, asked a simple question: “If something bad does happen, do you want me to face it head on with strength knowing that no matter your agreement or disapproval with my decision that you will still love and support me? Or do you want me to face the problem feeling alone, confident that I’m going to get a big ‘I told you so’ when I return home with this event always held in front of me as an example of my poor decision making?”
That really opened his eyes. I think most of us can agree that even if we think our partner, kids, or parents are making a bad decision, we will still love and support them no matter the outcome. The problem is, when you use someone as an emotional dumping ground and leave no room for their thoughts and feelings, it’s impossible for them to see the love and support you have for them.
Intellectually I know that Fat Papa will love me no matter what ... or at least that is what he tells me. But, oh duckies, when all I hear from him is “but…” “what if…” “how will you…” “are you sure…” “have you thought about…” rather than “oh, I am so scared you are going to get hurt, but I will be behind you no matter what…” it’s emotionally exhausting and confidence crushing. When the worry and anxiety isn’t followed with affirmation (that doesn’t mean acceptance, just confidence or love in the person, not their idea) it feels like I’m a kid being talked down to by all the adults in my life. But duck it, I’m a full-grown adult!
What Fat Papa and I have really worked through, thanks to my trip to Poland, is being able to support one another without agreeing with one another. We are learning to hold our own emotions, express ourselves, and support one another. Did I say agree? No. Why? Because support does not mean agreement.
So, for the next couple days, Fat Papa and I will continue to talk together about our fears and anxieties. We will give each other room to express ourselves, without dumping on the other, forcing them to deal with our emotional diarrhea. And best of all, we will express our never-ending support and love for one another, even if we don’t agree. Hopefully we will be able to continue this after Poland too.
Now if we can just get our moms to do the same.
Your Support Would Mean the World to Me and a Whole Bunch of Displaced Ukrainians
Wish me luck in Poland, ducky friends. I’m ready to fly across the pond and land in turbulent waters. Next Friday, my blog will focus on my experiences in Poland, but if you want to follow my daily progress, check out the new Travel for a Cause section on the website. Here you will find daily updates to my Quest Log, information about how you can help organizations I’m working with, and stories from eyewitnesses and people I meet.
Also, if you like what I am doing in Poland and want to help me provide support for displaced Ukrainians, please share my posts on social media and donate to Travel for a Cause. Every single penny raised on my website will go toward purchasing items needed by displaced Ukrainians. Your donations will make an immediate impact on those most effected by Russian aggression.