When Your Reality is Wrong

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Awhile back I was talking to someone who was telling me about her exercise-induced asthma. She described the feeling of her chest tightening up and her breath cutting off when she ran without her inhaler and that for a long time she thought that’s just how exercise is. It wasn’t until she was talking to a friend who has asthma that she learned that she might be experiencing exercise-induced asthma. She thought she was experiencing the same old thing everyone was experiencing and so she didn’t question it. She did shame herself about it a lot telling herself that if she just worked harder! If she just made herself run through it! If she just tried more! After all, other people pushed themselves so why couldn’t she? Well, because other people could actually keep breathing.

Here is my point.

Sometimes our reality isn’t real. Which is to say, something that we think is universally true (Don’t all bosses belittle their workers? Don’t all partners shut down periodically and refuse to speak to their spouses? Don’t all eight years olds still have falling down tantrums?) may actually be a sign that whatever we’re putting up with needs to change. Maybe we don’t have to suffer. Maybe there’s a way out. Maybe other people aren’t just stronger than we are; maybe we’re actually for real having a hard time.

But how do we know? How do we know that what we’re experiencing is not “normal?”

(I hesitate to use the word “normal” here because sometimes what we need to do is redefine normal. So for my friend, normal means hitting her inhaler before she does cardio. That’s not necessarily “abnormal” if you think about it in the context of asthma. Likewise some behaviors may just need a new definition of normal depending on what’s going on.)

I think one of the biggest ways we can know that something’s wrong and could use some fixing is when we allow ourselves to recognize our unhappiness or discomfort with it. At the very least, that’s the best way to know that we need help. Maybe the fix won’t be as easy as an inhaler but letting ourselves acknowledge that we want things to be different is a giant first step. Recognizing that what we thought was normal might not be normal is awfully brave. Yes, you’ll have to face that sinking feeling that something big might need to shift and we might have to be the ones who do the shifting but on the other side of that? Well, things might get better. You could be happier. You might actually get to run all wild and free.

My feeling is that if something is bothering you, it’s worth checking out. What the heck, it might help, right?

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