I am pretty good at dealing with bad stuff. I want to help you all to be able to be better at dealing with bad stuff, if you are having difficulty doing so. Thus, I compose this primer. Allow me to give you some of my qualifications. (Feel free to skip forward when you are satisfied with them.) I grew up ostracized, ridiculed, and occasionally tortured for being your typical mentally sophisticated, socially inept individual. The high school I attended was a minimum one-knife-fight-a-day school. (I passed up the chance, halfway through, to move to the upscale-drugs-only school, and don’t regret it, btw.) I spent my teen years scraping the bottom of the barrel for dates, and it showed. When I moved to college (despite adamantly not wanting to go), my last relationship decided to get all stalker-y on me. College sucked rather less than life had to that point; significant amounts of fun and self-development occurred. Eventually, I got married. Not too long after that (but unrelated), my best friend of over a decade dumped me via phone call. Then the spouse and I decided to have a baby, since all I had ever wanted to do my entire life was be a mother. There followed eight years of infertility and two miscarriages before we finally got lucky. In between the two miscarriages, my marriage almost fell apart, and I engaged in an immediate and radical personal behavior change to prevent it from doing so. (Later, my partner learned that it takes two to tango, and has made some changes of his own.) Then, on the day of my baby shower, my beloved father shot himself dead. Under a month later, I gave birth to my son, healthy and happy. Then I had two more miscarriages, and finally had my second healthy, happy son. Since then, I’ve developed and am currently in treatment for hyperplasia. I also have a few chronic health problems, at least one of which leaves me with chronic pain. I’m leaving stuff out, so if these aren’t enough for you, feel free to request further examples of how much bad stuff I have had to deal with.
In spite of all that, I am an extremely happy person with a lot to celebrate in my life. I am optimistic, generally upbeat, friendly, warm, loving, open, patient, and quite well adjusted. How, you ask, do I deal with all that bad stuff so successfully? That’s what I’m here to tell you!
1. I know that life is neither fair nor unfair; it simply is. Bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people, and vice versa. This is because there is no one carefully measuring out reward and punishment; life is just a thing, happening. There is nothing personal about, for example, my infertility. It just happened. We can have an effect on life, can learn to maximize the positive and minimize the negative. However, on a fundamental level, bad stuff happens. Don’t take it personally; it isn’t.
2. I know that I am in control of my life and my choices. I can’t control what other people do, think, and feel. I can’t control what nature/life does. I can control how I prepare for and react to these things. I can control everything that I do, think, and, to an extent, feel. All these things are choices that I make, and they can and will have an influence beyond just myself.
2.a. This is for all of you screaming “No one can control how they feel!” Take a deep breath. Now listen (okay, read.) If you spend your time thinking about bad, negative things, your feelings (assuming you do not have a mood disorder) will be bad and negative. If you spend your time thinking about (and doing) good, positive things, your feelings, overall, will be good and positive. I used to spend a lot of time thinking about all the things I did wrong (aka “everything”), and all the bad things in my life (no friends, poor health, etc.), and I was miserable. When I chose (CHOICE!) instead to focus on thinking about the good things in my life, or even just the neutral ones when I couldn’t think of good ones (what needs to be done, how am I going to do it, gee, that was a fun story I read, you know, I did a nice thing there, the air smells good today), I found myself feeling, overall, good and positive. Ya gotta MEAN it, though, folks; no "this'll never work" attitude, or it won't!
2.b. We have far more choices than we realize. Each and every thing you do is a choice, from playing a video game for six hours to going to work every day. Some choices are no-brainers; no work means no money means no food or shelter, so, you know, gotta have an income (but some people who really hate work go “off the grid”, live off the land and trade for goods; it IS a choice.) But the vast majority are very much optional. Examine the choices you make; if they don’t make sense with what you want in your life, stop making those choices. Human beings slip into repetitive behavior patterns quite easily; breaking them requires effort and conscious thought. Make sure the patterns you are in are good for you. If they aren’t, make different choices till they are. I chose to spend a large amount of my time writing this essay, because I hope it will help someone. Just putting it out there means that, forever after, it has the potential to do some good. Knowing that is good for me; I feel that I’ve done something good, and I’ve reached outside myself and remembered the rest of humanity. It can be surprisingly hard to make the choices that are good for you; sometimes you really have to force yourself. Do it.
2.c. Preparing is about maintaining your own stability, mental, emotional, physical, financial, as much as possible. There are myriad ways to do this; find the ones that work for you. In my case, I keep a journal (online); I have a good support network of friends and family; I’m still working on finding the right exercise program, but know a lot about what I like and what I don’t; and I have a budget with a built-in cushion. That doesn't mean, especially in today's economy, that I don't get stressed about money, but I know I'm doing everything I can, and that makes it easier to let go of the stress.
2.d. One of the most important points here is this one: You have control over how you react to what comes your way. Once upon a time, I spent all my time glooming over my miseries. I hurt my back; my boyfriend didn’t really love me; nobody loved me, everybody hated me; I couldn’t do anything right…and on and on. I wanted, and got, sympathy and, more often, pity, because I believed it was the closest I could get to love. This way of reacting maximized the bad and minimized the good. Now, when bad stuff happens, I deal with it, and the emotions it raises, but I don’t maximize the events. I don’t wallow, even when I’m tempted to and no one would turn a hair if I did. Life, I decided, is too short. Yes, I've lost four children, and I’ve grieved (denial is bad for you!), but I’ve also remembered that I have two children that delight me daily, and a great many other things worth celebrating, and I choose to focus my energy on those things. I choose to move on, as life does. Forward is definitely the better direction.
3. (At last!) Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt, honey. Be honest with yourself. Human beings lie to themselves all the time. It’s the easy way out of dealing with things and you can function reasonably successfully doing it, which is why it’s so common. But some people, like me, just aren’t good at it, and they keep trying, and it backfires. Even for ones for whom it works, the odds are that one day it’s gonna come up and bite them where it hurts. Really facing yourself, being utterly honest, is extremely difficult…but it can have amazing results.
The crucial moment in my life occurred one night, alone in dorm room, when I faced all the inner me that I’d been desperately running from my whole life. I looked the monsters I’d created…the ones that screamed things like “YOU ARE THE MOST SELFISH BEING ALIVE AND DON’T DESERVE TO LIVE!”…and I said, “Fine.” Just that. Okay, I said, you win. I’m SELFISH. There. I said it. Happy now? And I cried. And all the other things I feared and hated about myself came tumbling out and I looked at them all straight in the eye. One by one, I admitted the things I’d denied for so long. And I accepted them; they were part of me, after all, and denying it had only made them worse. I decided that night to be who I was, flaws and all, to stop hiding and trying to be something I wasn’t. If I was that selfish, if I WAS a monster and didn’t deserve to live, well, in time, I’d know that, and then I could commit suicide in peace, ‘cause no one would care, although, of course, if I WAS that much of a monster, I wouldn’t end up committing suicide because I wouldn’t care. (Gotta love those catch-22s!) Not surprisingly, I wasn’t that much of a monster. My flaws, in the light, were nothing like what they had been in the dark. Yeah, I have a selfish streak, but I’m also, and not inconsistently, one of the most giving people most folk have ever met; that part of me is just as true, just as real, as the selfish part. The rest of my flaws are similarly balanced out. I am a human being, imperfect, and so is everyone else, and that’s okay. It’s part of what makes us unique, and being unique is what makes interactions worth having, what makes life, really, worth living. If we were all perfect, what would we have to learn from each other? What would we do? How would we grow? Nothing, to my mind, could be more wonderful than imperfect, vibrant, growing, creating, learning, sharing life, and I’ll take wonder over perfection any day. Accept, even embrace, imperfection. Now excuse me while I go eat the last piece of cake. ;)
4. You can never have too much compassion. Most world religions try to teach this incredibly important lesson, but, somehow, it seems to get through the least often. Part of this, I think, is because, before you can really feel compassion for others, you have to feel it for yourself, and most religions don’t get that part across successfully at all, in part because so few people are ready or willing to hear it. You can’t feel compassion for yourself if you’re busy denying your own truths, if you can’t or won’t face who you are. So here’s another reason to be honest with yourself. Once you’ve done that, once you’ve accepted yourself fully for who you are, you can look at yourself and feel compassion. Poor, silly thing, so afraid not to get her share that she takes more than she should; there’s no malice in her, she’s just afraid. We are all terribly vulnerable beings, from the outside in. The vast, vast majority are just trying our best and are genuinely trying to do the right thing. Lots of us (us, not them!) screw that up in really horrid and horrible ways, but we’re trying. That’s what compassion asks us to remember; that, for all their flaws and errors and monstrosities, other people are just that; other people, trying. My stalker-y ex was a sad, lonely person, and I was one of few people who gave him love, and he just didn’t want to let me go. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have gotten a retraining order if things had progressed; compassion doesn’t mean you have to be stupid or weak. But compassion allows understanding, kindness, and good will to grow and prevents or heals anger, hostility, and ill will. Compassion allows me to forgive, to let go of pain and anger and…you guessed it…move on.
Now I know some of you have skipped to the end without really reading, so here’s the short version. (Then go back and read the long version!) Life is neither fair nor unfair; it just is. Don’t take it personally. You are not in control of life/nature or the thoughts, actions, and feelings of others, but you ARE in control of yourself. Everything is a choice; make the choices that are positive for you, no matter how hard they are. Minimize the negative and maximize the positive. Be honest with yourself, even brutally so. Accept, even embrace, imperfection, both your own and that of others. You can never have too much compassion; start with yourself and then find it within yourself for everyone else. Deal with the bad stuff, move on and celebrate the good stuff. No regrets.
Life is stunningly short; make it wondrous, beautiful, and fulfilling. When my head is laid down for the last time, I will know only joy and peace. So can you. Go; live; love, celebrate and be happy. That’s what I’m going to do.