Last week I had dream that I was in a car accident and ran over four people with my car. I was horror struck. The dream did not last long. It was interrupted, as my nightmares increasingly are, by a lucid though. “You are dreaming. No one is hurt.” I immediately opened my eyes. My heart was pounding very fast. As I looked around the room, I quickly became calm. It was just a bad dream.

It may have just been a dream but my horror was real. And my horror matched my thoughts. But my thoughts did not match actual concrete actions and events. Yes, I had real feelings. Yes, I had real thoughts. But no, the action I was carrying out was sleeping. My location was my bedroom. I had not been driving or hurt anyone.

Feelings and thoughts do not always align with our actions or external realities. We think about thoughts and feelings as being unreal if they do not align in this way. Feelings and thoughts are real. They have some reality. They have meaning.

A tricky part of life is knowing when to take thoughts and feelings at face value and when I need to interpret them as a communication to do something else like eat if I am irritable because I’ve skipped breakfast or to take better care of myself if I am getting my feelings hurt easily because I am working too many hours.

One of the skills we have been learning when emotions and thoughts seem to be out of synch with other realities is called, “Checking the Facts”. Our instructor prefers the name, “Checking Your Thoughts”. I prefer the latter as well.

I have to say, this is one skill in which I excel. I am typically able to come up with alternative explanations for situations when I sense that I have jumped to conclusions or when a situation is upsetting but the pieces just don’t seem to add up.

Sometimes, in my quest to be restrain myself with thoughtfulness and understanding, I have a different problem. I over explain and over understand. I work too hard to find the whole truth.

We never know the whole truth or the full story. I have been working for many years on this, especially when it is a need to master reality to reduce my own anxiety and I just end up creating more anxiety to myself and others by being a know-it-all. My dear husband of 25 years gets the brunt of this, I’m afraid. We will have some kind of minor misunderstanding based on a different recollection of an agreement. Usually, this is an agreement during which I remember him agreeing to do some kind of chore at home. I’ll ask him about it and he says, “That’s not what I agreed to do. I agreed to do _____.” Then I start feeling guilty because I had been annoyed with him. Then I feel anxious because I stress out about forgetting things and dropping the ball. So I start doing an inventory.

“But John, don’t you remember. You said that you’d stop at the store to pick up ice for the party. You were just finishing a phone call with your mom when we talked about it. You said you’d do it as soon as you got your shoes on. I asked you if you were sure that you could do it. You said yes, I asked you to pick up two bags of cubes, not solid ice. Also, I was wearing a blue dress, that one I picked up on our last vacation to the San Juan’s. You know, it was the time we took the ferry that had a public puzzle set up that was so fun.”

Okay, I am exaggerating and that situation is fictional but representative. Is it really necessary for me to go on in this level of detail?

Is it really helpful?

Is it really that big of a problem that I need it to be acknowledged and fixed immediately?

This brings me to the next skill I am practicing. It is called, “the wave”. Basically, it’s allowing oneself to feel uncomfortable feelings in their entirety without trying to fix them. It is a type of exposure in cognitive behavioral terms. All feelings go down if you let them.

Yikes, this is one of those passive skills. I. Am. A. Problem. Solver. This is one of the hardest things for me to do. To sit with my own distress without trying to fix it. To sit with the distress of my loved ones without trying to fix things for them.

But I am getting better. I am accepting, bit by bit.