“I wish that was my biggest problem.” That was the response I used to get from my mother when I expressed the usual teenage complaints. Want a new dress for Easter? Boyfriend didn’t call when you hoped he would? School dance ends too early? There she was, with that same pat phrase, “I wish that was my biggest problem.” Of course, at that moment my biggest problem was my own annoyance at a mother who I felt didn’t take my issues with all the seriousness they deserved. Now that I have lived long enough to see and experience some much bigger issues, it feels appropriate to come up with my own list of things that—well, it would be great if any of these were MY biggest problem. Here are some for starters, and I hope this leads you to come up with a few of your own. Levity, after all, is one of the best tools to get us through our worst times. – Which car should I buy? The Jaguar or the Lexus? – Would I rather have chocolate ice cream or vanilla? – Where can I find the best creme brûlée? – What to wear to the party tonight? I have too many choices. – How best to plan for a month’s vacation? – If I stand under that tree, will a coconut fall on my head? – What size large screen TV will be best for my new home entertainment center? – I have such a wonderful circle of friends. How can I best show them my appreciation? Here’s hoping this smattering is encouraging and that you have more of your own. Just remember, the point is to come up with something trivial that you wish was your absolutely biggest problem? Have at it!
You know how our mothers can sometimes drive us crazy? Mine has been deceased for several years now, so she no longer has the opportunity. And far be it from me to admit I could drive my own son crazy, though I am sure there are enough ways that I do. He’s a smart man, though, in that he accepts me for who and what I am and doesn’t waste time trying to change me. My mother had one habit I used to hate, though, that has actually worked to my advantage as an adult. It is one that puts things into perspective. As a teen, I hated it, because it got in the way of the drama that some teens feel they cannot live without. I would be kvetching about not having the outfit ready that I wanted to wear that day, or about dinner being too late, or one of a million other everyday problems that we cannot get through this life without. And my mother would say “I wish that was my biggest problem.” Granted, our problems don’t have to be huge to matter; if something is an issue, it deserves attention. But every issue does not need to be all-consuming. I pulled this phrase of my mother’s out a few years ago, when a good friend of mine was suffering from breast cancer that was likely to be terminal (as it sadly turned out to be). When we needed a little levity, she and I took my mother’s expression and turned it into a joke for when things looked darkest: What would you like to be your biggest problem? Not just a problem, but the biggest one you will have to deal with for a while. Here are a few we came up with, and I am sure you could add plenty of your own: – When I am choosing a new car, would I rather have the BMW or the Lexus? – Chocolate ice cream or vanilla? – If I stand under that tree, will a coconut fall on my head? – I have too many true friends. How will I keep up with them all? – Two great job offers came in on the same day. Which one to choose? – Next vacation, would I rather go to Italy or France? Okay, you get the idea. These problems are so trivial they are almost phony. But aren’t they fun to come up with? And couldn’t we all use a little more fun these days?
As a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, I am expected to assign labels to clients based on their “symptoms.” I put that word in quotes, because the bulk of my counseling hours are spent helping people navigate their way through situations. The “symptoms” are their perfectly normal responses to abnormal circumstances. Did you suffer abuse as a child and now have issues with trust, and/or PostTraumatic Stress? Sounds like a normal reaction to me, though the diagnostic label would likely be PostTraumatic Stress Disorder. Seriously, is it a disorder or a normal reaction you would like to mitigate or overcome?
Of course you want to feel better. I am here to help you process your issues so you can do exactly that. I’m just not sure how helpful a label is in that process. After all, each of you is unique, and though some labels may apply to you, they certainly do not define you.
To be fair, these diagnostic categories do give us a better feel for what we are dealing with, which of course leads to better ideas as to what approach will be most helpful. Just as a reputable medical person would never suggest treating asthma the same way they would a broken bone, I would never advocate that all clients be treated in an identical manner.
As I write this, I am reminded that there is valid overlap. I was about to bring addictions into the previous paragraph, when I was pretty much gobsmacked by the thought that there is almost invariably a link between addictions and previous trauma.
In one of my more rebellious moods, I came up with my own diagnostic system—one which is definitely not validated by any professional research. But in some ways it does cut to the chase. It refers to everyone being on a continuum, between NWC and JFN. NWC is my shorthand for Nothing’s Wrong wit Choo—you are unhappy and want to feel better, but you are mentally stable so there is that. JFN, my shorthand for Just Flippin’ Nuts, is not one I have given anyone; it is just there for comparison. My clients are not crazy, and I don’t say that to be facetious. If someone comes to me with a pervasive problem, such as psychosis of any type, I am likely to refer them to someone with a specialty in that area. This is not to be critical of that client; they simply deserve a therapist who specializes in their specific issue. I do not have enough experience in those areas and attempting to treat those potential clients would be doing them a disservice.
So here is my final word: We are all on the continuum between NWC and JFN, and in any normal lifespan we will move around a bit on the continuum, depending on our current situations and stressors.
Will it pass academic muster? Probably not, but I still like it and I hope you do too.