• StarRiseCounseling

"I've Tried Everything."

I've heard a saying for the past few years: The struggle is real. I know it's meant with irony or exaggeration much of the time, like the struggle of trying to take off leggings while keeping your socks on, or the struggle of screwing the lid back on a jar without it first spinning off and falling to the ground.

Some struggles aren't exactly worth lamenting over, while others are without a doubt. They may be ongoing or lifelong. When it comes to mental health, you could equate symptoms with struggles: intrusive thoughts, compulsions and worries; very low moods and self-esteem; grief and loss; and of course the ongoing stress of living with - and without - certain people.

When people come to talk to me, I want more than anything to be helpful. I do what I can. Sometimes, it's not enough. I remember each and every time someone said to me, "I've tried everything," or "I tried that and it didn't work." I especially remember when they've said that, and they don't come back. I don't want anyone to walk away from me feeling that way.

I've been thinking a lot about struggles these days, and it's no secret why. There seems to be almost no end to the struggle these days - with illness, the COVID virus, loss of freedoms and of people, discrimination, violence, injustice. I won't go on, because I think anyone in the world could see something hurtful, worrisome, or downright depressing these days.

And if we don't have that many struggles now, if we are so lucky as to live a long life, we will face more. And they may be more profound as the years go on, like the struggles of when your body can no longer do the things it once could, when you've lost person after person to death (or just life), when you've lived enough to reflect on dreams you used to have and come to realize that simply the ship has sailed on many or even most of them.

When people come to me with an ongoing struggle, it could be anything. It could be you and your spouse in disagreement about how to spend your wealth or retire early. It could be how to deal with the death of a beloved pet, or parent. It could be that you've realized your marriage or your partner isn't what or who you thought, and you know you need to make a decision or change. And it could be that you've felt the pointlessness of life or the dread of something bad about to happen for as long as you can remember, and you're tired of it. You're just so tired of struggling.

"I've tried everything," you might say. I've heard it so many times. And while I believe you believe that, I need to say something about this. You may have tried everything you could think of at least once, or fifty times, and yet here you still are, still sad/worried/hard on yourself/alone/hurt/angry/disappointed/heartbroken. And I know. I believe you. I can often see it, and sometimes even feel it. Yes, sometimes we have "tried everything."

Except, perhaps, acceptance. Tolerance. Endurance. We have tried everything, and it didn't help, it didn't fix the problem because it didn't go away. I can say that sadness, heartbreak, hurt, anger, pain, disappointment, and loneliness, for example, might never completely go away, but you don't want to hear that. I can remind you that, in some moments, however brief, they did temporarily "go away." When you sleep, for example. Or, that time you watched a movie and smiled or laughed during that one part, or when you got surprised by someone who called or stopped by, or when you noticed the amazing timing of that letter or package in the mail, or when you read that quote that sparked some inspiration in you, or you met that person and felt hopeful about love for a little while.

But you might not want to hear that either.

So then all I can do is remind you that there are some people who cannot say, "I tried that, and it didn't work." There are situations in which there simply isn't anything that will fix the problem. There are people born in troubled countries, neighborhoods, or situations that they will never escape, despite all efforts. There are loved ones who have died who will never come back. There are limbs and mobility and mental abilities lost to illness, injury, or age that will never be regained. There are things about this world that will never be fully within our power to change in our individual lifetimes.

There are times I can only remind you that one thing you need to try, the one thing that at least you always have left, is acceptance. When you've "tried everything and it didn't work," this might be just the thing you need. I'm pretty sure it's not the thing you want, and I know you don't want to hear me say it, yet it remains true. This is what acceptance is for - it is not to say, "I give up," but rather to say, "It is, so I give up fighting against that."

I like how this quote sums it up, and it has inspired a sense of awe in me for many years:

"Everything in life that we really accept undergoes a change. So suffering becomes love. That is the mystery."  ~ Katherine Mansfield
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