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How to throw a grown-up tantrum

  • September 6, 2021
Melissa standing on top of a Utah mountain

Last Friday, I pitched a tantrum. A full-on adult version of throwing my body on the ground in the middle of a Target and wailing at the top of my lungs. I was going on two weeks of post-concussion symptoms, which left me exhausted, dizzy, anxious, and unable to perform at work, exercise, or hike. I was in daily communication with my PT, and we had a plan to see me through this temporary crisis. I was grateful for her and these tools, and that I had spent so many months prior to this setback living symptom-free.

And also, I was over it.

I was tired of feeling sick and tired. I was desperately missing my hikes and normal gym sessions. The fact that my symptoms put me in an overly-emotional state (sad, irritated, anxious) certainly wasn’t helping. Yeah, I was grateful, but it also super sucked. And right now, the sucky part needed to claim some space.

So I pitched a tantrum.

First, I told my husband (the only other person at home) what was going on. “Hey, I’m just at the end of my rope tonight. I know this is going to get better, but right now it blows. I’m cranky and mad about it, so I’m taking the night to just be miserable.”

I specifically said, “I’m not upset with you. This isn’t about you at all, this concussion is just really getting me down. I’m going to do my own thing tonight, so don’t take it personally. I just need to vent all by myself.” He asked me a few questions. “Are you okay, can I do anything?” (I will be, no thank you), then he handed me the remote and left.

So what did I do? Mostly, just sat around and felt pissed. I let myself think, “This sucks. This isn’t fair. Will I have to deal with this forever? I hate it.” I didn’t beat myself up for being negative, remind myself how lucky I was, or tell myself to buck up. It wasn’t time for that. This anger, frustration, and fear needed to be acknowledged. So I let it come.

I watched some TV and endlessly scrolled TikTok. I didn’t reply to my sister’s hiking photos (“I did 12 miles today, look how pretty!”), giving myself permission to not fake being happy for her. I cried a little. I ate, mostly normal food, but I also picked some chocolate chunks out of a tub of ice cream. (Caveat: Food just isn’t my comfort go-to, even in my darkest days. Otherwise I would have gone bigger on the ice cream.) Mostly I just felt sorry for myself, lying around on the coach, doing absolutely nothing of use.

At 8 PM, even I was sick of myself, so I took myself to bed. I told Brandon, “The only thing that’s going to make this day better is when it’s over, so good night.” I performed my extensive dental-hygiene routine (proving I was at least a little optimistic about my prognosis), grabbed a good book, and fell asleep by 8:30. My inflamed, overworked brain put me to sleep for ten whole hours.

The next day, I woke up slowly, still not energetic, still feeling dizzy, my vision still bouncing around. But the tantrum felt… over. It was a new day, I had my prescribed cardio to look forward to (never thought I’d say that), and I found I just didn’t need to feel miserable any more. That was no longer what my body required, and it was no longer serving me to stay in that space.

I didn’t force myself out of it. I didn’t say, “Okay, that’s enough of that, it’s time to think positive again.” I just organically moved out of that headspace and into a mildly optimistic, far more accepting one. How was I able to do that?

It turns out the key to releasing those feelings was giving them the space and energy they required. To be felt. To be heard. To be processed. To be grieved. I gave them the moment they deserved and the acknowledgement they required. And when we had spent enough time together, they said “thank you for listening” and moved on.

How quickly do we try to move ourselves out of negativity? Immediately, I’ll bet, almost always. How quick are our friends to tell us to “stay positive,” “look on the bright side,” and “be grateful?” It’s great advice from a well-meaning place. But the other feelings are just as worthy, just as valid, and just as important to acknowledge.

We can be grateful and acknowledge that things suck in the same breath… but we don’t always have to. Some moments, places, and spaces are meant for gratitude. Some are meant for tantrums. Both are valid, helpful, and important for our healing. The key is allowing yourself to feel it, but giving yourself the grace and permission to move out of it when you recognize it’s no longer serving you, or a bigger feeling (gratitude, hope, inspiration) is peeking out requesting acknowledgment.

I wasn’t at all worried I would get stuck in that space. It doesn’t feel good to be miserable, I knew I didn’t want to stay there, and history has proven those feelings don’t last forever. But I’ll tell you what… they last a whole lot longer when we’re trying to pretend they don’t exist, don’t matter, or aren’t valid.

Whether it took a few hours or a few days, I was determined to acknowledge and even embrace the discomfort, honor exactly how I felt, communicate effectively with myself and others, and let what needed to happen, happen.

In case you need permission to do the same.

XO MU

P.S. I’ve been thinking about how I’d handle this if my kid was home. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’d behave much the same. I’d explain that I wasn’t feeling well, and I was really cranky about it. That it’s okay to be upset or frustrated when you don’t feel well or things are hard. The most important thing is to know every feeling is valid, and it’s good to sit with even the feelings that don’t feel so good, as a way of moving through them. I would have emphasized that I wanted to talk to him about it in case I seemed grumpy, so he knew it wasn’t his fault. And then I would have gone to scroll TikTok, because when Brandon asked, “can I do anything?” I would have said, “yes, the child is yours tonight.”