I used to believe in two popular philosophies regarding hard times.
First, I fell victim to the belief that hard times called for self-pity. I don't mean hard times called for lying around on a chaise lounge, hand over the forehead, bemoaning my fate (though don't think I didn't try that a time or two).
I mean self-pity in the sense that I needed, during hard times, to be extra gentle with myself, to give myself little treats and soothing moments in order to get through.
Those treats and soothing moments came in a variety of forms but usually included:
1. Hot Baths (several times each day)
2. Rest (lying on the sofa or bed, thinking/thinking/thinking about said hardship)
3. Purchasing something to perk myself up (a little knick-knack, a new pair of jeans, a beauty product, a book)
4. Eating something (sugar, coffee, wine)
5. Calling other people and stealing an hour from their lives 'exploring' the issue at hand
Over the years I've spent thousands of hours, dollars and gallons of hot water in an attempt to soothe myself out of hard times, to somehow ease whatever anguish was at hand or to ignore altogether the reality of a certain situation.
As I'm sure you're aware, it never works. Ever. The only thing I got out of all those attempts to soothe myself was some credit card debt, a shocking water bill and an extra 10 pounds.
Second, I have subscribed to (and made my family thereby miserable) the belief that I could somehow avoid hard times if I only followed a prescribed set of rules. These rules, regularly cited by bloggers and writers who argue they've found the secret to super-human productivity and cultivating one's best self, often include waking up at the crack of dawn, eating tons of protein, journaling, minimalism, taking cold showers and listening to audio books at warped speed.
For me, it all came down to control. I thought if I could control my environment and the people in it, I could control whether or not I fell on hard times. I could keep the bad stuff from happening because I wouldn't create space for it.
You can imagine how well that worked and how much fun the people around me have had.
Good times, readers. Good times.
I've tried controlling the following (and then some):
1. What we eat
2. When we all go to bed and how much we sleep
3. How much stuff we purchase, store, collect and keep
4. What we read/watch/peruse
5. Where we go - where we shop, where we eat out, where we vacation
I thought that if I fed everyone well (organic, homemade, colors-of-the-rainbow, no antibiotics), we'd all be healthy and fit and full of nutrition, which would mean we'd all be happy and mentally balanced and nobody would be grumpy or nasty or hormonal or mean or saucy.
I thought if I ensured we were all in bed on time, we'd all wake up like little hummingbirds, ever-grateful for the day and productive and filled with joyful energy.
I thought if I purged our stuff, kept purchases to a minimum and decluttered like a monk, we'd never be bogged down by the weight of our stuff, our minds and hearts decluttered right along with our closets.
You get the point.
The result of all this control has been nothing short but total lack of control. The tighter I hold, the harder it gets. I clench, strain and struggle to keep everything within the little box I've decided will make us all happy, healthy and without struggle - all the while struggling mightily to keep it all from busting at the seams.
I saw this today on tumblr?
There it is - the only real rule there is, which is: when the going gets tough, get to work.
This has been one of the biggest lessons I've learned in 42 years.
Hard times don't get better by flopping or talking or glasses of wine.
They get better when, even feeling like shit and in the depths of despair, we take a shower, put on our shoes, get dressed and get to work.
The work doesn't have to be epic or life-changing or even new. It can be the same old thing we did the day before and the month before and all those years before; it can be as simple as folding the laundry or taking out the trash or making a bed. In fact, done with intention and appreciation, I think these menial tasks end up saving us, giving us the rhythm necessary to soothe ourselves, to calm our bodies and to refocus our minds.
I've never made anything better by over-thinking it because most of life's hard times are fairly simple. There's a pretty clear right and wrong, even if the right feels wrong and hurts and makes us sick with a pit in our belly because it wasn't what we wanted or thought we wanted or tried very hard to make right.
Things aren't easy but they're usually simple.
And the other thing I've learned about hard times is that they're inevitable, even in the best circumstances, when everyone is well-fed, well-read, well-rested and free of antibiotic-laced chicken meat.
Today, I have a day with nothing on the books. It hasn't been my best or easiest few weeks. It's rained non-stop. I had houseguests and ballet recitals and a child who has taken up spitting (inside the house no less). I've been turned down for a few jobs, and I happen to live in a place where jobs are scarce. I've had a few people do a few shitty things.
So today, on this day when I could get back in bed, order another coffee, eat a handful of m&ms or call my sisters and co-opt an hour of their time, I'm going to do what I know will help.
I'm going to get up, shower, get dressed, do my workout and clean my house. I'm going to get my work done. I'm going to write an article, fold the laundry, make the beds and scrub the floor. And all the while, I'm not going to bemoan the hard times or plot ways to ensure they don't happen again. I'm just going to accept them....and keep on working.
For anyone else out there who may be struggling, let's all commit the day to the simple chores and work that need doing and steady ourselves with these simple rituals rather than flopping with an espresso, our smartphones and a handful of candy.