Rollover mopes.

Recently a reader (and friend) commented on the “2011, in one word” post. Vicky noted that she allows “five minutes a day to mope or feel sorry for myself.”

I like the idea of slotting a five-minute mope in the day minder. Remember Holly Hunter’s short, stupendous bout of hysterics in “Broadcast News”? I aspire to that sort of efficient catharsis.

But I’d also like the option of setting aside the unused minutes, for those times when I need a longer session of self-pity. Thus I suggest a new personal indulgence: Rollover mopes.

Moping, within reason, can be as useful as optimism. Focusing on what’s right with your life is a terrific way to keep problems in perspective. But focusing only on what’s right with your life means ignoring what might be wrong with it.

Perhaps it’s a temporary worry, e.g., “My spouse is recovering from a serious illness.” Or it could be a longer-term problem, such as “I have a great job and wonderful family but I’m a member of the sandwich generation and it’s shredding me,” or “I’m in my 50s and have barely begun saving for retirement.”

These are very real stressors that can create very real anxiety, whether acute or low-level. Pretending that everything’s fine may be as counterproductive as playing handball with a sprained wrist. You can do it, but it’s gonna hurt – and more to the point, it will delay healing and maybe cause permanent damage.

Drop the brave front, just for a little while

Suppose you’re going through a divorce and having to deal with lawyers, new financial realities and, last but not least, your children’s confusion and resentment. Your own emotions go on the back burner; “staying strong” is the only way to make it through each day.

This kind of denial exacts a pretty grim toll. Swallowed pain will eventually come back up, probably at a wildly inappropriate time. Or, worse, it will stay right where it is – and grow. You can tell yourself all the lies you want and you might even believe them for a while. But your body never forgets and your body cannot lie. Notice how your stomach burns and your head aches? That your jaw is so tightly clenched that it hurts to chew?

Instead, try this: Admit that sometimes life really stinks, and that this is one of those times.

Your soon-to-be-ex gets to be Disneyland Daddy (or Mommy) while you’re the one who checks homework, does laundry, shops for new snow boots. Your kids lash out in sudden bouts of rage almost always aimed at you, the parent who’s almost always there.

Nobody’s checking in to see how you’re doing. And how you’re doing right now is pissed as hell, thanks for asking. So before you go back to your role as caring, compassionate parent who deals gracefully and courageously with crisis, allow yourself a short mope: I’m worried about my kids, I’m worried about the bills, I’m worried about how to rebuild my life.

No, it won’t fix things. But sometimes you need to let off a little steam, like lifting the lid on a pot that’s about to boil over. Drop the brave front for a few minutes, either with trusted friends or alone. Acknowledge that an awful lot of awful things are happening. Admit that sometimes you’re overwhelmed.

Don’t stay overwhelmed, mind you. Try to brainstorm ways to make things a little more bearable. Professional counseling, simplifying what you can, exercise, getting a massage, talking with a friend or clergy person can all reduce stress and thus give you more strength to deal with what must be endured.

Sometimes just a hot soak and an early bed can make a huge difference. I find that an occasional 9- or 10-hour stretch of sleep provides energy and clarity.

Don’t get stuck in sorrow

And sometimes you just have to mope, i.e., allow yourself to grieve.

  • “This breakup is devastating. I really thought s/he was The One.”
  • “I desperately wanted that promotion – the salary increase would have let us start college funds for the kids.”
  • “My father has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and I just don’t think I can handle it.”

Our ethos here in the U.S. is rugged individualism. We pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We’re the steely-jawed hombre who absorbs all of life’s pain without flinching. We’re eight feet tall and emotionally bulletproof.

Real healthy.

My mom died in August 2003. I’ve gone through the stages of grief and acknowledged my great loss. But I still wish she could have seen me get my college degree in my 50s. I wish I could send her a ticket to visit me in Seattle. I wish she could look at pictures of herself at age 12 or 16 or 40 and tell me what she was thinking about when the shutter clicked.

I can’t have any of those things. My mother is dead. Usually I accept that. Some days I still mourn.

But most days I don’t. Hence, rollover mopes. I’m saving them up for big-ticket items. I won’t waste a perfectly good mope “there’s a long line at airport security” or “they’re out of my favorite bread at Panera.”

Occasionally life sneaks up on me. Out of nowhere comes a thought like, “I wish I could hear my mother tell her story – to explain why things happened the way they did.” That calls for a little more time to process: 5 or 10 minutes for moping and another 5 or 10 to square what happened then with what’s happening now.

We need to give ourselves permission (there’s that word again) to acknowledge that life sometimes hurts. A lot.

Acknowledgment doesn’t mean getting stuck in pain, though. It means learning from it – and sometimes what we learn is that there’s not much we can do at the moment. That divorce will eventually be finished and you and your family will eventually learn to craft new ways of living. Until that happens, you cope as best as you can.

And sometimes if you can’t cope? Then mope. Within reason.


18 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this post. I’ve been going through an extremely rough separation, and this encapsulates how I’ve felt exactly. My friends and family have been very supportive for the most part, but no one’s approved of me grieving – “You didn’t love him” is a common (and immediate) response that I often get. They’re too afraid that any attachment will cause me to go back.

    So, thank you. I know I don’t need permission to feel this way, but it made me feel a lot better to hear someone say what I’ve been thinking (albeit far more eloquently).

    • Donna Freedman

      Wei: Thanks for your kind words. I’m with you: Separation can be tough even if it’s the right decision. You should deal with it in the way that’s right for you.
      If you can’t explain how you feel to your friends, ask them to read “Rollover mopes” and see if they can work with you from there.
      I wish you the best.

  2. I forwarded this entry to a person who really needed this. Well-written, thanks Donna.

  3. Great post. I think sometimes we are afraid to let down our guard and open the door to mopes for fear we will unleash a monster and never get that door shut again.

    Darla

  4. ImJuniperNow

    Joyce Meyer calls these “pity parties”. And I go all out for mine – I haven’t reached the point where I wear a party hat, have cake or play musical chairs – but I do feel sorry for myself.

    For my next one I will “celebrate” that I can’t sell a great set of lamps I have to my consignment shop because my nephew decided he had to play with the unusual finial on one and lost it, my vet doubled her fees, I have to buy my lunch today because last night my sister threw out what I was bringing, there was no hot water (again) for my shower . . . . and my five minutes are up, aren’t they?

    Yes, I know there are people in the world with really serious problems and I can only hope I never find myself in their shoes.

    Tomorrow is another day!

  5. What a powerful post! Reading the last part of the post, my eyes misted over. I have been dealing with a family issue for a while now and I was just pissed at the entire world last week. I never let people know around me I am hurt as I am the strong one of my siblings. I did take it out on my poor blog though. I let my BFF know of this last week and she was shocked and I feel hurt bc I chose not to confide my problems to her. I ty to do it all because I am strong! Please!
    I am going to to try to let myself have a pity part for a few minutes once a day or so. I don’t want to pop one day bc of the built up anxiety. Thanks Donna.

  6. lostAnnfound

    Excellent post! this is a great idea rather than letting stuff build up inside until you pop, like sobbing for 10 minutes last week and bitching about things are not they way they are supposed to be! Felt much better afterward, but it had been brewing for too long. I like the idea of a daily “pity party” for five minutes, get whatever off my chest, then get up and move on!

  7. Vicky Fox

    Amen to that, Donna:) I busted a main line last night and used my “Rollover minutes” to let it all out.

  8. Laura P.

    Thank You for this post. I know the week before Christmas was stress filled, and we have my husbands parents living with us. I keep things inside, like how my step father in laws daughter never helps with financial needs for them. Drives me nuts! It seems like its almost impossible to save money with them here. Its always something.
    There’s my five minutes.

  9. There is something to be said for announcing, “I feel terrible!” and just going with it, whether that feeling is emotional or physical.

    And let’s not forget what happens when we rollover our mopes too long — that is, don’t allow ourselves to feel upset or unhappy in a timely manner. At least for me, it comes out as my freaking out about something, telling Tim I quit (I think I’m referring to being a grownup, but I’m never quite sure) and then flouncing off to bed to hide under the covers. Literally. Then he has to go into the bedroom and coax me out from underneath, assuring me that the world isn’t ending just because I didn’t keep everything going smoothly and perfectly.

    I think it’s easier on all of us when I just send him out for some junk food and turn on some sitcoms and generally just allow myself to feel un-spiffy.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Abigail: Ah, the famous “burrito of covers.” :-) You’re right: If you wait too long to lift the lid the pot boils over and makes a much bigger mess that didn’t have to happen.
      I’m thinking chocolate chip cookies and “Big Bang Theory.”

  10. My hoarder friend who was killed by his hoarding had weeks and years of depressive, suicidal thoughts–Pityfest. Over 30 years ago, I would literally stay on the phone for 8-10 hours at a stretch to keep him from pulling the trigger on the gun he said was in his mouth.

    http://practical-parsimony.blogspot.com/2010/10/hoarding-literally-killed-my-best.html

    Finally, after he had quit drinking, I would say firmly to him that he had 5 minutes for his pity party and I had balloons, party hats, cake and candles. He laughed so hard the first time I said that. After that I could deflect all the depressing rhetoric coming from his mouth:
    “You get more done than I can. I don’t have enough time.”
    “You are retired. I am in grad school and work and commute. When did you get less than 24 hours?” I countered his ridiculout depression. I did pay attention when he had serious tests for medical problems.

    Donna, my one joy is that my mother lived to see me graduate after 29 years of distractions from the time I was 17 to 46, always attending two years here, a semester here and there along the way. I regret I did not ask enough questions or listen enough. I was the one who did question and knows the family history (oldest daughter, favored child) and listened to everything until I was partially distracted by my divorce.

    Okay, now I have tears and my pity party! Never hold a pity party near bedtime so you will not be distressed and lose sleep or have nightmares! Okay, tears gone; party over.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Practical Parsimony: I’m impressed at your accomplishments when you had so much else going on. However, I winced when you mentioned your friend’s “ridiculous depression.” People who have never been clinically depressed or known someone who had it may not be able to understand the seriousness of the condition.
      It’s not necessarily a failure of will that keeps people from getting things done. Clinical depression is a very serious illness and untreated can completely blight a person’s existence. Even those undergoing treatment may have a rough go of it.
      Although it was incredibly caring of you to stay on the phone for hours to talk him out of committing suicide, that should not have been the only help he got. With counseling and maybe medications he could have had a much better life. I am sorry that you lost your friend, and sorry too that he did not get the care he needed.
      Thanks for reading.

  11. MaryLambert

    I like this idea! Sometimes you’re just busy dealing with a situation that you don’t have time for the “luxury” of moping….but it’s got to go somewhere, sometime or it can have very real physical consequences. For the last several years I have been down more than one rough road (rough superhighway?!) and I have always stuffed my feelings down, been strong and stood up to the situation. Along the way I’ve managed to worry myself into a stroke & a heart attack, both in my early 40′s! Maybe a good roll-over mope would have helped. Certainly can’t hurt!

  12. Very good post, Donna. You got me on the sentimental thoughts about mom. I can empathize and most people probably can, which makes it easy to get this post.

    Thanks for putting this post together, this is good. Really, within reason, it’s OK to acknowledge one’s own feelings, even if they involve sadness or disappointment. It’s normal, and you can’t deny how you feel at any one situation. As you said, however, save the mopes for such legitmate times and not the times when your favorite bread at Panera is unavailable. Asiago Cheese bread is good but not that important to me anyway:)

    • Donna Freedman

      @Squirrelers: Thanks for your kind words. And I’m all about the Country White thinly sliced, toasted, and served with real butter and some of my homemade jam. A fairly frugal indulgence.

  13. Weird. This morning I woke at 3:00 missing my mother. She died in 1976, a year before my son was born. She would be 100 years old this spring, if she hadn’t been murdered by the tobacco peddlers.

    I guess you never get over losing someone who cares for you.

  14. Donna,
    I reread my comment here before I read your response and winced when I read ‘ridiculous depression.’ I tend to write these comments and not edit. In this case my inattention was more than just my appearing to have forgotten how to spell or punctuate.

    His allegations that I had more time than he were ridiculous thoughts expressed during his depression. Everyone gets 24 hours. Period. But, he did not work, volunteer, visit, clean, bathe, or cook. He was very punctual when it came to doctor visits or coming to a monthly party at my home.

    We had very frank talks. He was very logical about everything. So, it was easy to get him to see that he got the same amount of time each day that I did. Yes, I was sorry his mother died. Yes, I regretted he did not have a washer and dryer. But, he could not blame his whole life on the actions of others when he did nothing to change anything.

    He refused for 15 years to get help. Actually, it took me that long to get him to the point he would seek help. I knew exactly when and for how long to molly coddle him. I knew when to pull out logic and when to just refuse to deal with him. He responded to me and no one else in his life. I almost lost everything I had accompanying him to appointments with a psychiatrist because I knew he would get sidetracked (drunk) and just skip the appointment.

    I made him laugh. I made him get dressed. I made him furious. He really liked me. Not that way!

    At first, I was all sympathy. Knowing him was like walking through a mine field some days. Toward the end, I knew exactly his moods and how to handle them so both of us did not suffer. Then, he died.

    Yes, that sounded foolish and uncaring. Maybe everyone who read the first comment will read this one.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Dodgeblogium » SoTU CoTV - [...] Freedman presents Rollover mopes. posted at Surviving and Thriving, saying, “Moping, within reason, can be as useful as [...] …
  2. What the Cheapskate is Reading | Northern Cheapskate - [...] the idea of allowing yourself a little time each day to wallow in life’s challenges.  Read Rollover Mopes at …

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