I’ve been living in a shed in Portland, Oregon for two weeks with another two weeks to go. My backyard has an apple tree, a plastic horse from a merry-go-round, and an old doll in a bird cage that stares at me when I leave my shed. Two chickens roam freely and wake me up every morning with their chatter.
I found the place on Airbnb. It was the cheapest I could find in a decent location. My cabin is completely detached from the house and contains a bed, desk, dresser, sink, microwave, bar fridge, and coffee maker. The only reason I need to go into the house is to use the toilet and shower.
Karen is the owner of the house and we hadn’t spoken much, which was fine with me. I liked having my own space and I could tell Karen, her boyfriend, and daughter liked having their own space as well.
Last Thursday night Karen and I crossed paths as I was leaving the bathroom. The house smelled like incense and boiled chicken.
“Hi Karen,” I said with a smile. “How are you?”
“Terrible,” she replied. “I’m in a really bad mood. My best friend committed suicide yesterday.”
“Wow,” I said. “I’m so sorry to hear that.”
“Yeah. Thanks. Listen, I need to talk to YOU about something.” She crossed her tattooed arms and a vein popped out of her neck underneath another tattoo. Her eyes burned.
“You go pee A LOT,” she said. “I know you told me you do, but seriously, it’s a bit ridiculous. You pee more in a morning than I go the whole day. All this toilet flushing is costing me money. I already pay $80 per month for water. I notice you’re not using the bucket under the sink to flush the toilet, either, so start using that. Or just don’t flush the toilet at all if there’s no smell.”
“OK,” I said.
Before noon I’ve usually downed two cups of coffee and two litres of water so yes, I do use the bathroom frequently. But all she needed to say was, “Please use the bucket to flush the toilet or don’t flush at all.” Full stop. Instead, I felt like she was attacking me.
And she wasn’t finished.
“When you have a shower, have respect for others and let us know before you go into the bathroom. What if I left my phone in there and needed to get it?!”
I thought about my five-minute showers and what an unimaginable amount of time that must be for someone to be without their cell phone.
“I get it!” I wanted to say. “Your friend just died and I’m really, really sorry to hear that. But that doesn’t mean you can dump all your negativity, anger, frustration, and sadness onto me!”
But I didn’t say that. I just smiled and said, “Thanks for letting me know your concerns.”
She turned away from me with a grunt and I let myself out the back door.
Have you ever experienced a similar situation?
Perhaps it was your best friend, romantic partner, or family member who let something fester inside them like a rotting egg until one day the shell cracked and they unleashed all their pent up negative emotions onto you. Or maybe it was you who unleashed on someone else.
Why can’t we express ourselves to others in the moment? Why do we wait to let things build up to a breaking point where they only get released in moments of high emotion?
In Karen’s case, I wanted to be forgiving. She had just lost someone she loved. I tried to tell myself she was only venting and it wasn’t personal.
But still, I was pissed off. I don’t like to feel attacked, especially after I told her the first day I arrived at her place that if I was doing anything that wasn’t respecting her house rules to let me know immediately so I could adjust my behaviour.
I remember something my friend always said to me: “If you have a problem, express it. If you don’t express it, it’s your problem, not mine.”
I know it’s not easy. When we get upset with other people we tell ourselves things like, “Oh, it’s not that big of a deal. I’m sure I’ll get over it.” But then you don’t get over it. You just store that emotion in the pit of your stomach. The negativity grows over time from a pebble into a basketball until one day you unleash hell and fury on an unsuspecting person.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Remember:
- Be aware of how you’re feeling in every moment.
- Don’t be scared to share your feelings with others.
- Express your emotions constructively and without judgment.
- Be open to feedback and criticism.
If you don’t do this and choose to bury your feelings instead, guess what?
It’s your problem.
The morning after my confrontation with Karen I went to yoga. It made me feel better. I guess there really is a calming effect from those Downward-Facing Dogs, mindful breathing techniques, and friendly conversations with cute women after class.
“Eric, there’s a gift for you.” My yoga instructor pointed to a medium-sized brown paper bag.
“Thank you, Eric Ibey, it’s so nice to have you as a member!” was written on the bag. Inside was an eye cushion and a star-shaped candle.
“That’s really nice,” I said. “Thank you!”
I’d only bought a one-month membership to the yoga studio for my stay in Portland so I really did appreciate the friendly gesture. It was the first time in my life doing yoga and so far I was enjoying it.
I went home to my shed and spent the day working on my computer.
My calm from yoga dissipated by the afternoon. I started thinking about Karen and our confrontation, again. I knew I couldn’t let this frustration fester inside me or I was doing the same thing I was trying to preach against—I was holding onto my own bullshit negativity. And I needed to release it.
I took a few deep breaths and left my cabin. I walked past the chickens and caged doll, through the back door, and into the house. Karen and her boyfriend were sitting on the couch watching Seinfeld.
“Hey Karen, you got a minute?” My heart thumped like a drum inside my chest.
Karen and her boyfriend both turned their heads toward me.
“Sure,” she answered with a hesitation.
“Do you like candles?” I asked.
“Do you like this candle?” I held out the star-shaped candle from my yoga loot-bag.
She half smiled. “Yeah, I do. It’s really pretty.”
“Then I’d like you to have it,” I said.
Karen looked at me. The fire in her eyes was gone and there was no vein showing in her neck. The rest of her mouth unfolded into a full smile.
“Thank you,” she said.