I started noticing flies in my kitchen about four months ago. Big, black, plump flies, the sort that move slowly and land on your face or food as you’re eating, that seem completely unbothered by intimidation or noise. When I put the dishes out for family meals I have to cover them with cloths so the flies don’t land on them.
We don’t leave food out and the kitchen is clean, and still, at any given time, there are seven or eight flies swirling around my kitchen and sitting on my dining table. It’s disgusting. It’s making me crazy.
My husband is the person who primarily takes care of our home in terms of its upkeep. If something is broken it’s usually him that tends to it. And so I asked him if he could take on the fly issue. His theory was that they were coming through our brownstone’s air conditioning vents and breeding in the tubes. I’ve never been a big believer in his theory but I asked if he could investigate it further and perhaps get someone to come over and take a look. If not, I suggested that he try whatever other ideas he had.
For a week or so I said nothing further about the flies and just chased after them the best I could. The problem, however, was getting worse. When I asked my husband about his air conditioning theory and how it was going, he said that he had left some messages for experts and would follow up. A week later the flies were worse, as was my deepening resentment for my husband.
And so I asked again, what was happening on the AC fly front? To that, my husband barked back something along the lines of why was it his problem to solve. I responded by reminding him that he had actually offered to try and solve the problem on his own, and had, according to his own words, begun the process by leaving messages for various experts. He then offered yet again to follow up.
I sat with my anger and resentment and suddenly I heard a voice inside my head, “why are you waiting for him to fix this problem?” It hit me hard—that I had become acutely dependent on my husband to make this okay for me, to make me okay.
I had created a situation in my mind in which my getting to enjoy my kitchen depended on something outside my control. I had constructed a narrative that the only way for me to feel better, to get my home back, was if my husband would do something that clearly he was not doing.
I had a side narrative going too, one that asked how he could not do something so basic if he knew how much it meant to me. And then there was also the storyline wondering what is he doing all day long in his study and why doesn’t he have five minutes to attend to something important to me?
I won’t bore you with the thousand other scripts in my head about what was wrong with everything and everyone else—all of which was to blame for my having to live with flies in my kitchen. What was clear was that I was in a huge fight with the flies, my husband, and my life, and it was all going on inside my own head.
I had made myself entirely powerless, helpless to fix this problem that bothered me more than anyone else in the family.
While I don’t want to dismiss the fact that it’s important to me that my husband be responsible for the upkeep of our home, as it’s a significant way in which he contributes to the family, in this case I was the one suffering. I was waiting for something to happen that simply wasn’t happening, digging my heels in as the flies landed on my face.
I was not only fighting with reality but I had relinquished all power and autonomy, handed them off to my partner, who wasn’t taking them on. Most frighteningly, I had forgotten that I was actually capable of trying to fix this problem myself.
It suddenly occurred to me, as I watched a big black juicy fly land on my daughter’s sandwich, that I had made my wellbeing dependent on someone else’s behavior and specifically, someone else’s behavior changing.
I’ve lived long enough to know that when you fight with reality, reality wins. I also remembered in that moment that I was an intelligent, competent and highly resourceful woman. I didn’t need to wait for anyone else to do for me what I could do for myself. I was not helpless. All of a sudden I was a bit excited by the challenge.
I’ve been at this for a few weeks now, as the master of my own fly universe, and I’m sorry to say, haven’t gotten to the bottom of the problem yet. I’ve tried horrible, toxic-smelling sprays, strips, traps, all sorts of scents flies hate, and whatever else I can think of, and still they remain. And yet, I feel strong, empowered, independent, and most importantly, no longer resentful or stuck.
I guess you could say I traded in my narrative on who should be fixing this problem for the autonomy I get from addressing the problem directly. I feel grateful for the challenge that these flies have offered, to take ownership of my own autonomy and power, to remember my own capability.
I am thankful for the reminder that my well-being does not depend on anyone or anything else. Everything I need I already have.
So often we suffer, waiting for someone else to do or say something, or change their behavior in some way so that we can feel okay. We hitch our wellbeing to someone else’s wagon, building storylines about them, ourselves, and our life. Even when we are not co-dependent, we can easily fall into believing that the only way for us to be okay is if the other person does or says the thing we need. Our internal equanimity is reliant on an external source.
Wow, that’s a fragile place to inhabit, and one that creates all sorts of murky feelings, resentments, helplessness, and dependency. When we fall into this false belief, we’ve lost touch with our fundamental strength, independence, and capability, the best of ourselves.
In truth, we are in charge of our own wellbeing and profoundly capable of that task.
My kids know me now as the mad lady who scampers around with a dishcloth slamming it down on the table sporadically or into the air whenever I see one of my flying opponents. Sometimes I break glasses or send a cascade of paper onto the floor.
At times I feel I’m going mad, but it’s my madness and I own it. I will not be defeated by flies, and yet I bow to these flies for the clarity and autonomy they’ve offered.
Corny though it may sound, their wings have reminded me of my own.
Nancy Colier is a psychotherapist, interfaith minister, author, public speaker, and workshop leader. For more information, visit NancyColier.com