When Everything Seems To Be Going Wrong, Redux

plate

Photo: Robert S. Donovan

In a previous post, The True Cause Of Depression, I discussed how having multiple problems at once seems to cause more stress than having only one or two. I likened the handling of challenges to balancing a “plate” of a certain size and suggested if we pile too many problems onto it, not only do we risk having it topple over, we often find ourselves wanting to pitch the whole thing on purpose. Though the holidays are supposed to be a season of joy and appreciation, they’re often a time when many feel overwhelmed (especially given what’s been in the news in the last two weeks). For that reason, I thought it might be helpful to review the strategies I use when my life-condition slips.

LIFE-CONDITION

And a slip in one’s life-condition is what’s really to blame. Certainly many people may be facing far worse circumstances than the ones facing us. But the degree of pain and suffering people experience can’t be calculated by observing their outward circumstances. Pain and suffering always occur as a result of a low life-condition, explaining, among other things, how millionaires can be miserable.

A story famous among Nichiren Buddhists tells of a practicing Buddhist who went to see SGI leader (in the lay organization of Nichiren Buddhists) for encouragement about a particular problem he was having. However, before he could even begin to explain his circumstances, the leader pointed to a large oak desk and asked him to lift it. Bewildered, the member replied, “There’s no way I can lift that. It’s way too heavy.” To which the leader responded, “The problem isn’t that the desk is too heavy. The problem is that you’re too weak.” His point, of course, was that our ability to win isn’t determined by the size of our problems but by the strength of our life force. When you feel overwhelmed by your own life, rather than focusing on finding a different set of more manageable problems (as if that were even possible), you should look for ways to raise your life-condition so you can gain access to the wisdom, courage, and energy you need to solve the problems you have. If you don’t have a process or a practice that does this for you, find one. Will power and intellect alone are often insufficient.

This is the real answer about what to do when everything seems to be going wrong: find a way to transform your perspective so that obstacles feel like opportunities. But if that seems too abstract, or you’re having trouble finding a practice that works for you, or you’re not interested in finding a practice at all, I’d offer the following techniques for making yourself feel better when you feel bad. These are just clever tricks—some comforting thoughts really—but ones that you might find useful.

TRICKS AND COMFORTING THOUGHTS THAT MAY WORK
  1. Visualize yourself succeeding. Like a professional skier envisioning every twist and turn of a ski run before making it, imagining yourself on the other side of a problem even in the abstract can activate a powerful belief in your ability to succeed. Even if today you have no idea how to win, a belief that you can—even a “blind” belief—can be empowering if it’s a belief in yourself.
  2. Avoid making important life decisions when your life-condition is low. The kinds of thoughts you’ll have in general are always more reflective of your life-condition at the moment rather than the circumstances in which you find yourself. You’ll best avoid future misery if you can consciously recognize when circumstances have gotten you down and thereby produced gloomy feelings and defeatist thoughts—which, when your life-condition is higher, are nowhere to be found.
  3. Imagine you’ve already achieved a desired goal (one you’re completely confident you can) and bathe now in the joy you anticipate you’ll feel later. I’ve often found that daydreaming about future successes lifts my spirits by bouncing my mind out of my present difficulties into future imagined glories.
  4. Force yourself to focus on one problem at a time. Focus on what’s easiest, most important, or that which you can solve soonest. Reducing the total number of challenges confronting you will be an enormous relief and help combat the tendency to feel defeated when facing what seems to be an overwhelming number of problems.
  5. Wait. My four favorite words for weathering all storms: this too shall pass. Think of entering into a waiting mode as an active process, not a passive acceptance of whatever fate has in store for you. Other good things often happen that raise your life-condition and enable you to handle the mess you’re facing more easily. You may think you know all the bad things that are going to happen, but outcomes we anticipate—good and bad—most often don’t turn out the way we envisioned.
  6. Access your creativity to solve problems. Reduce the chatter in your head by listening to moving music, by meditating, by chanting. Solutions often bubble up from the subconscious when the conscious mind floats.
  7. Find something to distract you. Take a real break from thinking about your problems when you’re not actively engaged in solving them. Because it’s much harder to turn off obsessive thoughts about the challenges facing you than turn on more positive thoughts, finding something genuinely distracting is the best strategy. Humor works for me as long as it’s humor that’s genuinely funny. Nothing wrong with taking a break from fighting the good fight to recharge your batteries. In fact, strange as this may sound, there’s nothing wrong with engaging in controlled denial. As long as you don’t let it prevent you from acting when action is required, it can be an extremely effective way to combat anxiety. Or…
  8. Take on your anxiety directly. Identify the thoughts that make you anxious and follow them to their logical extreme. Wrap your mind around what it would feel like for your worst fears to be realized. What would you do then? Often if we force ourselves to imagine the worst in concrete terms it feels less frightening than it does when we imagine it abstractly.
  9. Ask for help. You don’t have to do it all by yourself. I struggle with this one a lot, not because I have any aversion to asking for help, but because I just rarely seem to think to do it.
  10. Accept that you must face something unpleasant. Stop worrying about experiencing pain. Stop trying to avoid it. You’ll make it through and survive. Prepare yourself to feel whatever there is to feel. The longer you wait to feel it, the more anticipatory dread you’ll feel as well. As Nichiren Daishonin wrote, “Suffer what there is to suffer. Enjoy what there is to enjoy. Regard both suffering and joy as facts of life.”
  11. Whatever you’re going through actually does represent an opportunity for growth. The thing about cliches is that they’re mostly true.
  12. There will come a time when you’ll struggle even to remember what’s causing you so much angst today. It’s hard to project yourself into that future, but if you stop think about it, you’ve almost certainly already forgotten about most of the trying experiences you’ve faced in the past (not, of course, the life-changing experiences—but most things that get us down on a daily basis are much more mundane).
WHEN YOU FEEL COMPLETELY DEFEATED

Or maybe it’s even worse for you than I’ve described. Maybe you feel like everyone and everything is conspiring against you, that no one sees things quite the way you do, and that you’re alone in the wilderness and the world. Whether this is actually true or not is irrelevant: if it feels as though it is, it can’t but help plunge your life-condition into the world of Hell, the lowest of the Ten Worlds.

When this is how you feel, you must summon up the stand-alone spirit. Even if everyone and everything—the entire world—is pointing left, if you believe the correct direction to point is right, then point to the right you must. If you feel within whatever context your problems are occurring that you have the gift of sight in a country of the blind, you must fight to help others to see until either they do or you learn you were wrong, not they.

Society, discovery, and culture are advanced by people who have every reason to remain seated but who stand up anyway; by people who resolutely and consistently point out what they believe is true. If you do this despite whatever fears the prospect of doing so brings, eventually others will be emboldened by your example and stand up with you. And then you’ll have made a worthy contribution to the world.

Next Week: I’m on vacation. Please feel free to browse the archives or, better yet, take a look at my book. It’s for anyone who suffers.

32 comments to When Everything Seems To Be Going Wrong, Redux

  • Dan

    Very helpful article.

  • chris

    If you are a parent who has lost a child, I cannot see how that “obstacle” can become an opportunity.

  • Mare

    Really? This borders on the absurd.

    Avoid making important life decisions when your life-condition is low. I’ve been unemployed for five years and just got a $2500 repair bill for my car, a transmission, to make it drivable. The car is almost 10 years old and has 185k miles. I’m using credit. Same day, I went to get my eyeglasses and found that I have a tumor in my eye and cannot get a new prescription without a clearance from an ophthalmologist. I made an appointment, but have no insurance and now with the car, I will likely have to wait to get that done. How can I avoid making important decisions? These things have to get done. And, I will eventually have to choose a job when I been unemployed for five years and lost a business I started that

    There will come a time when you’ll struggle even to remember what’s causing you so much angst today. Really? I’ve been struggling with the same life, work and relationship issues for 20 years. Never married, never had kids. Still renting. Never taken a vacation. Finished two degrees and attempted to start a business only to find my start-up capital was insufficient, so back on the unemployment line. All the things that have bothered me for years have never improved, despite all the best attempts in the world and now I am losing my health. Gee thanks for being another positivity peddler with no real insight into solving problems. Skimmed the book at a bookstore, and decided to leave it there. Good move.

    Mare: I am so sorry that you have suffered so much, and for all your suffering. I wish you great strength.

    Alex

  • Ondrej CZ

    Happy holidays and plenty of lifeforce and creativity in the new year, Alex!

  • rdp

    Seeing this column again was a real gift to me at this time, Alex. It’s minor in the larger scheme of difficulties, but a badly fractured kneecap (and life in an “immobilizer”) from a freak fall a couple of weeks ago is all it took to move me from low-but-manageable life-condition to too-weak-to-even-contemplate-lifting-the-oak-desk.

    All your wise reminders are very much appreciated!

  • chris

    Alex wrote:

    “find a way to transform your perspective so that obstacles feel like opportunities”

    Or, as another favorite blogger, Penelope Trunk, often writes: reframe.

    The alternative is to stay stuck. And for me, “stuck” is as uncomfortable as grief/anger over obstacles and misfortunes.

    For me, too, “indomitable spirit” has become mine and my son’s mantra—my son who is so disabled as to never be able to live independently. My son reminds me of the need for indomitable spirit and perseverance on a daily basis—I wish all of you whose obstacles seem overwhelming could enjoy my son’s influence in your lives. A person or a practice, as Alex points out.

  • Jerry

    What is a “low” life-condition? Essentially it is an unconditional assent to a mind-set that precedes everything that follows.
    A job can be found, and even part-time affords health insurance.
    A car can be found for under 2,500 dollars.
    A relationship can be found.
    A child may arise or be adopted.
    A sufficient amount of capital may become available.
    A home can be found for what you are paying for rent.
    A vacation can be in the off season.
    A thing to solve all the things that “bothered you for years” can be realized.

    A different perspective is not peddled by some one else, it can be achieved by you.

    Permission granted.

  • rosita

    My response to Mare, based on my own experience…times like this it can really change things to have help. Unfortunately it’s hard to find help that’s quality and affordable. When you’re in this situation, it’s difficult to do creative, outside-the-box problem-solving. If you don’t have insurance, go to the closest teaching hospital/medical center and talk to them about their services. My local teaching hospital has a program based on income—one could qualify for no-fee care, if for some reason you don’t qualify for Medicaid. I found, for myself, that traditional therapy was educational to some degree—but it wasn’t until I found a very gifted music therapist (very sliding scale at the local music school) that I discovered what it means to entirely change your “wiring.” This changed my life (dramatically). Cars are mostly a necessity these days, especially if you’re older—but living someplace with excellent public transportation could change all that. Lastly, simply being curious about why things are the way they are and having courage to explore has been what’s helped me. This blog is appreciated.

  • Some letters are better than the article. I never thought of the concept “the alternative is to stay stuck.” Whoa, that is scary. Then I read about the son and read the news lately and know how lucky I have been in life. That makes it all worth reading. Thanks.

  • aliss k

    Can’t agree more on this point: visualize yourself succeeding.

  • Mare

    Really, Jerry? This is my fifth year spending my Christmas by myself. I went to my church and that’s the extent of what celebrating I did. My car is the in the shop, so nowhere to go and I don’t have a TV or cable.

    In the last month, I had three interviews with temp agencies, no job, even thought I called all three daily for four weeks. I had one interview for a temporary production position which I was highly recommended for and nothing. I have three other active resumes out there for executive level positions, including one where a former colleague recommended me highly and I’m not even getting an interview.

    I volunteered for eight years with my professional organization in my field and raised 70k for three separate charities. Where are those charities now to help people who’ve helped them? Not so much as a return call when I asked for a reference to add to my resume.

    I went to the three teaching hospitals to see someone about my eye problem and have been on a waiting list since February.

    A car is a necessity for my job and nothing acceptable can be found for under 2500. I only drive a VW Jetta but it has to be immaculate as that is one of the indicators of the quality of work I can do.

    A relationship can be found? Really. I was online dating for 10 years and only had one relationship over that time. A child may arise? Really? I’m 44. And adoption? Nope. I would not qualify.

    I’ve applied to over 40 grants, small business loans and spend over 4k just filling out applications for funding and keep getting the same rejections to my business proposal, which is that I don’t have sufficient operating expense money, so to risky for them to assist with capital. I had a great attitude for many years and still end up broke and alone. Thanks so much for that. Most days, I hope the cancer is real because then I could stop fighting to live.

    And, I looked—there is nothing that can be purchased for what I pay for rent…

    You are assuming that I am poorly educated and have not exhausted all options.

  • What a wonderful toolkit you have offered up for getting out of those “dark places,” Alex! I’m loving your book, as are all the people I’ve gifted it to this holiday. I appreciate all the pearls you have given me this past year on my quest for “happiness in this world.”

    Kara: So glad you’ve enjoyed my blog and are enjoying my book! Wonderful to have another like-minded blogger out there!

    Alex

  • 001mum

    What helps me to become unstuck and move forward?
    1) Absolutely thinking > “This too shall pass.”
    2) Making lists and crossing off my accomplishments. Thus is my best practice.
    3) Going for long walks, no matter what the weather. I force myself (and it’s so hard some days to put one foot in front of the other) to get outside.
    4) Doing something extra for others; example: an elderly person trying to cope with getting groceries into their car and then taking the grocery cart back to the corral (in a bad windy winter storm) by giving them their quarter & returning the cart for them. I get fabulous looks of gratitude when I do this. AKA the daily good deed!
    5) Remove myself from negative people.
    6) Change routines to try something different.
    7) Sometimes, if I am really tired, it causes me to be unable to cope with “life” so getting extra sleep is important.
    8) Creating beauty. Art? Photography? Poetry? Gardening? Knitting?
    9) Touch/pet an animal. A dog. A cat. A horse. And talk to them when you do it.
    10) I try to stop hating myself. Bloody hard.

    Dear Mare, I wish 2013 to be so much better for you. I hope it is. No one can solve our problems for us. It is up to each of us to find sources of strength and various techniques to help make us happier and more settled in this world. I wish you well.

    http://betterweatheraheadforme.blogspot.ca/

    001mum: My favorite here is your #9.

    Alex

  • Christine Blumenthal

    I have struggled most of my life with illness and depression but I was blessed with resolve and my creativity. I have found for me that your blog is uplifting and helps me gain a better sense of peace. When I am told I can’t do something, I try harder, sometimes over and over again and it is tough. There is always someone who has a tougher life. I have tried to stand tall when most are content with the status quo. I’m not always successful but I have the experiences of trying to do my best. I have found your blog and book to be the best. I have read and I reread both often. Thanks for sharing your best thoughts. I cherish them. I especially like to read about resilience because that is not something that I was informed about when I was younger. More often than not, I experienced seeing people in denial. Your book deals with that and thanks again.

    Christine: I’m so grateful for your feedback. I’m so glad you’ve found my writing helpful.

    Alex

  • Excellent post and wonderful strategies. I often find myself going for the “willpower and intellect” route, and as you said it doesn’t work.

    Thank you for another wonderful (and eerily well-timed 🙂 article.

  • Rick

    I like to pair up Alex’s views with Camus. Once you answer the ultimate question: “Is life worth living?” then you have no choice but to embark on a journey of creating an impenetrable self which can withstand the hardships and challenges of the world. Life is always going to be hard; it is up to us to prepare and be up for the challenge.

    It all starts with introspection. If the things we do are not enough, we have to keep exploring the things we do. Not just the concept of it but our part in playing it out. If I wanted to be a great basketball player, I need to examine every movement, every muscle twitch, in order to understand how I can be faster, jump higher, shoot better, etc.

    I can observe the distances, rules and physics involved but ultimately, those are circumstances outside of my control. I would need to master myself in order to push beyond the limits imposed on my by the rules of the game. When Michael Jordan arrived he was said to be super human. Jerry Rice was held in the same light for Football, just like Walter Payton. But when you study these athletes, they worked harder than anyone had before them. They redefined individual preparation for sports. They were harder on themselves than anyone else was and held themselves solely accountable for their performance.

    It’s the same thing let’s say with a job interview. You can master interviewing. One can learn the skill of conversation and how to dazzle and sell oneself beyond the expectations set by the world. But it begins by being brutally honest with yourself about where you are now and where you want to go. Once you lay out the goal, you determine the steps needed to accomplish this. You train, you practice and you remain honest with yourself at all times on your progress. Wash rinse repeat. I’ve always mentored my co-workers and team members to become masters at the skills that intimidate them most. Computers, public speaking, accounting, learning from adversity, etc. Create a passion around being the greatest person they know at these subjects.

    Life is hard but it IS worth living. The key is to find the way to push the rock up the mountain and continue to smile. I wish all of you success in defeating the most relentless of opponents: ourselves.

  • ET

    I think Mare and chris raise very good questions. I notice that they either get no responses or shallow mind-set improvement suggestions.

    Why not respond to the hard questions?

    ET: What do you do when nothing seems to be going your way no matter what you do? What else is there to do but work to master your own mind, to ignore how discouraged you are and keep trying? There is no magic formula. In all honesty, and at the risk of seeming self-serving, I wrote at great length about my best ideas about how to do this in my book, which Mare decided wasn’t for her.

    Alex

  • mare2

    Mare, I want you to know there are readers out here that understand what you are going through and share some of the same, long-standing problems. Once they have become entrenched, the positivity and “tapping into indomitable spirit” talk is very hollow. I know you did all of that and more for years. You aren’t depressed. You are way beyond depression. I hope for a miracle for you and, if not that, kindness.

  • Dan

    Hi,

    Right or wrong, what Alex wrote is probably what he believes. Otherwise he would have written something else. If so, Wine doesn’t agree; fine, but the insult is probably unnecessary, and no one is required to respond to a comment positive or negative.

    I was reading Mare’s comment. And I am struggling too just as desperate and alone in many ways. I thought about what Mare wrote, and I actually wished I had several versions of my resume out there in circulation. Mare has a better chance that something might happen then if nothing was done. If we are brave we will be more satisfied making the effort to win even if we fail than never having tried at all.

    Sure, the author could be a little bright-sided, but it is difficult for one individual to take on all life conditions at once. We might enjoy being down at times but we can’t be down and up all at the same time. We have to choose on or another.

    I surely understand, Mare, and I’ve spent time in dark times that I learned a lot from. I like the keeping-it-real approach. Hell and heaven are both right here, choose!

    Have a great day…

  • Ee

    Thank you for this wonderful post. The closing of a year can be a depressing time for some of us, and your article is timely. I check your blog every week for your rousing encouragements, and through your words I can truly feel the triumph of the human spirit.

    Regarding Chris’s skepticism about “transforming obstacles into opportunities,” my understanding is that everything happens for a reason, brutal as reality can get…rather than digging ourselves a trench of grief and defeat and shroud ourselves in darkness, here lies a chance to transform ourselves into something greater. To see the dawn, we must first endure the darkness. Just my two cents.

    Dear Mare, I feel your frustrations at the injustice of life. I hope you will be able to discover life anew once more. I wish you all the courage and wisdom in the world to challenge life’s tribulations and emerge victorious.

  • chris

    About trying and not succeeding:

    So you ARE stuck and this may be a season of your life, a developmental phase.

    1) And then, you will come to another season, and move ahead, even if just by baby steps.
    2) Or you will go back and retry something you’ve already tried—like when you take a piece from a puzzle box and try to fit it into place, and then retry later with the same piece but with a different angle/renewed determination.
    3) Or you will get tired of feeling victimized by fate and you will get your ire up and attack the problems with renewed energy.
    4) Or you will have a moment of introspection—maybe even meditation—thrust upon you. And a new approach will become evident.
    5) Or another’s sorrow will supplant your own and you will feel as if you are actually lucky compared to that other . . .
    6) Or you will find a book or a blog to inspire you—even if it is not Alex’s.

    Mare, keep seeking.

  • chris

    Alex, I am slogging through your book in the sense that I allow myself/force myself to stop frequently and reread a particular sentence—like a meditation. So it is slow-going.

    I bought multiple copies as Christmas gifts. One of my daughters saw my copy and asked to take it back home with her—she lives in Montana and I am in Wisconsin. Thus even without knowing your work, my daughter saw the cover and the title and knew she wanted The Undefeated Mind.

    I think we all want an undefeated mind . . .

    Chris: And may we all find one…again and again and again. Thank you for the enormous contribution you make to this blog.

    Alex

  • Mare

    The problem really is that I’ve been resilient many times before, weathering hardship after hardship and always bouncing back, but like a rubber band that has been stretched too far and has lost its shape, its just doesn’t bounce back with the same veracity.

    I don’t feel like a victim. I feel like more like someone who did all the right things, had the right attitude and ended up here anyway. I had a lot of personal responsibility for everything I did. I worked full time, volunteered, held leadership positions within three professional organizations, spoke at colleges, ran marathons, I’m fluent in two languages and then lost my job and that was the foundation of everything and it’s gone. There is not a lot left in me to bounce back on my own and despite being kind and encouraging to so many other people, there is certainly no one in my life to cushion the fall.

  • rdp

    Mare, I don’t know whether validation will help or make things worse, but I will tell you that my experience is emphatically that life is not fair. If you are a certain sort of person or maybe just caught in a particular eddy of life, you will NOT get support. Life is mostly a matter of luck. I know we are all trained to believe effort is the ticket to success, but I don’t believe it. And new behavioral science research (see Kahneman http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/dec/13/thinking-fast-slow-daniel-kahneman) seems to support my skepticism.

    You can do all the right things and still end up on the ash heap, Mare. All you can do is choose how to react to being on the ash heap. Honestly, I think that is all there is. It sucks and it’s not fair and “helpful suggestions” are infuriating. But at the end of the day, you still get to choose how you respond. I’ll be thinking of you and hoping something breaks your way.

  • Mare,
    Might just be the perfect time to try out a different church, to engage with some other people who would make sure you shared in their good fortune and company, and/or have a deeper network support than what you have had thus far.

    I’ve counseled many people through various obstacles. Feel free to reach out to me and I’ll see what I can do to help. I offer my service free to you. You may email me at gisellemassi@gmail.com.

    A song lyric comes to mind… I hope today will be a lot of highway, for friends are found on every road (and on the web). 🙂

    Giselle M. Massi
    http://www.gisellemassi.com

  • Alex, your posts are always thoughtful, and they certainly speak to people! I hope more people continue to find you and read both your blog and your amazing book, The Undefeated Mind. I’ve nominated you for an award: http://changeitupediting.com/2013/01/03/i-love-bloggers/

  • Cecilia

    This is the first time I read any of this. I am sad and sorry to say that I am not yet as familiar with your publications as I would like to be.

    So far many articles have … FELT helpful. Just the simple act of reading them makes me feel like: “Hmmm. At least I’m trying. At least I’m in action. And least I’m doing something.” But the truth is, though I WANT to better myself, I can’t stand the idea of putting in the time. The effort. Lately, not much is turning out the way it should. You say that many times the outcomes we visualize end up different than the way we thought they would. I couldn’t agree more. It appears as though nothing’s really worth it, not even myself, my well-being, or my sanity, because it probably won’t end up the way I wanted it to anyway.

    In response to a comment posted by “ET” you say that we need to keep trying… I ask you: “Why?” Not to be depressing or anything, but, it will all be over soon. Nothing lasts. Not even our misery. I would say I have about 65 more years left of life. Why should I try to make the rest of the time I spend here happy? If you think about it, 65 years really isn’t that long, and it’s not like my 65 years will make an impression on more grand things, such as life, or the whole existence of our world. My 65 years, in fact, my whole—estimated—78 years of life are very unlikely to make any kind of impression at all. Though I really DO want to be happy, “What difference will it make?” “Why should I try?”

    Cecilia: Sixty-five years may not seem long when considered on a cosmic scale, but to the subjective experience of a human being, it seems to me a long time to suffer. And as to the likelihood of your making a meaningful impression, I’d point you to this.

    Alex

  • Alex,

    I just found this important post—and the remarkable array of comments it inspired. There’s a lot of pain and resiliency within these comments. It’s difficult to offer up anything in light of the struggles so many people are going through.

    In the years of my work to bring meaning to my own struggles and those around me I often find there are no words to “explain” what appears as unnecessary suffering. Resiliency ultimately is derived from our beliefs about our conditions, starting with Rick’s question from Camus, Is life worth living? It is often a matter of faith.

    While I agree with several comments about the over “promise” of “positive thinking,” I also firmly believe that thought is our greatest ally and source of power. However, it’s also very important to take ourselves off the hook (this doesn’t mean we don’t make the effort and do “right action”) about things that are very hard and clearly unfair.

    The reality is we live in one of the only “developed” countries where there is no universal healthcare. As someone recently said, “health insurance is not healthcare.” It’s an outrage that people are left to fend for themselves and suffer needlessly in a country of such immense wealth.

    The reality is that many corporations are sitting on trillions in wealth and cutting employees, benefits and jobs to protect their profit margins. Couple that with a global and technological transition and you’ve got a very gloomy picture for decent jobs. The US has one of the worse income inequality ratios in the developed world, and no amount of positive thinking is going to change that. Only the applied pressure to change policies toward more balance will.

    We are also taught to compete and compare in this system from the time we are very young. Unfortunately we often use these cognitive habits against ourselves as we age to measure and judge the value of our lives and possibilities. Extreme self-care is in order here. If the world isn’t as gentle with us as we ALL need and deserve, let us be with ourselves.

    A powerful and thoughtful post.

  • Mare—

    It does seem like you’ve done all the right things, and you do appear to have some serious obstacles ahead of you, but think of all the obstacles behind you. You’ve listed quite a few problems with your life, but also look at the list of accomplishments you’ve made. You’re bi-lingual, something that can’t be said of many in this country, you have two degrees, of which I envy you, I have a GED and some community college credits. Think of all the volunteering you’ve done, don’t you have any good memories from those experiences? Didn’t it bring you even an ounce of joy to help other people, regardless of whether those charities will now give you the time of day? Forget the charity, it’s just an organization, what about the people that charity ultimately helped?

    You say that you used credit on your car repair, I assume that means the car is now fixed? I don’t mean to sound flippant, but isn’t that what credit is for? If I had a $2500 repair bill right now, I don’t know what I’d do, and with an older vehicle, that is a looming eventuality, one I solved by having a cheap spare vehicle. I’m only a couple of years out from a bankruptcy, a foreclosure, and an auto repo, so credit is something I don’t have.

    Here’s a play on perspective. You seem to count renting as a negative point in your life, having never owned a home. Let me give you my perspective on that one: owning isn’t all that great. Now, don’t get me wrong, it has it’s perks, but just think about the advantages renting has for you in your current life-condition. You’re probably on a one or two year lease, meaning that you can up and move anywhere in the world if an opportunity presented itself as soon as you’re lease is up. Unless you own your home outright, all a mortgage is is a 15-30 year lease agreement. I bought at the peak of the housing bubble because I was just starting out my family and my little duplex wasn’t going to cut it. Having little to no buying experience, I followed the advice of my loan manager and real estate agent and got a lousy house with a lousy loan. When the market tanked, I was about $100 grand upside down. My 5-year plan to sell turned into a 30-year money pit with a 10-year balloon payment. I was paying $1800 a month for a run-down, 1700sq ft ranch home in an area that nobody even wanted to look at in a buyer’s market. I was living in an anchor, and I had to pass up numerous out-of-state opportunities because I couldn’t get out of my home outside of the dreaded “F” word that my conservative “personal responsibility” upbringing considered equivalent to failure. Then my pay was cut, my company folded, and I was looking at unemployment. It sucked. It was painful, and it created an environment of stress that tore my marriage apart. I was not only facing the loss of my home, but the loss of my family, and becoming one of those “weekend dads.” But, as hopeless as this all seemed, it worked out. Once I let go of the house, I actually became excited. There was a future again. I patched things up with my wife, and we rented the first house we could find at half the price I was paying. I now no longer need to worry about appliances going on the fritz, having to fix a broken A/C unit in Arizona, and every year, at the end of my lease, I sit and wonder, “Should I move? Where do I want to go, where do I want to be?” The reduction in my monthly obligations brought on by the bankruptcy and the foreclosure have allowed me to live on a salary $20k lower than I had before this whole mess, and I’ve found more happiness living frugally by buying used clothes, used furniture, and even upgrading my home theater by fixing someone else’s garbage. Now, granted, I can’t blame the stars on my misfortunes, I was financially stupid, but I’m getting better. So, renting doesn’t bother me, and right now I actually prefer it.

    Now, I’m not going to go tit for tat with you on lousy life conditions. I’ll gladly hand over the prize to you on that one, but consider an alternate reality where you have a wife and kids, but are still unemployed. Could you feed them? I have four kids, and as much joy as they bring me, the fear that my next paycheck could be my last with no savings to fall back on is always at the back of my mind.

    Now, not to sound like a positivity junkie, I’m not, really, I’m about as cynical as they come, but perhaps you should focus on the kind of person you are instead of your haves and have nots? You sound like someone who has done a lot in her life, and should be proud of yourself even if the universe has it out for you. I doubt you’ve kicked any kittens lately, so you are probably a good person, and you’ve completed a few degrees along with fluency in more than one language, so you’re obviously intelligent. I don’t know what kind of solutions you are looking for—we can’t, after all, change the paths of determinism that have culminated in our present maladies—but we also aren’t entitled to good fortune. Life is pain, misery, and suffering. Happiness is overcoming those three things. How else do we overcome the negative things in our lives without positivity? Winning the lottery would probably help, but, then you might get hit by a bus on the way to claim your winnings. Sure, you’ve survived a lot, and guess what, it’s probably not going to get any better. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something. Did you eat today? Did you have clean water to drink? You obviously have an Internet connection, so you have more spare income than many people in the world have for food. Over twenty-thousand people are going to die of hunger today, and you aren’t one of them. Many people are going to die or lose a limb from infection because they don’t have access to any form of modern medicine. You’re on a waiting list for an eye-tumor (which sucks, really, I feel for you, but consider how fortunate you are to actually have the option you do, waiting-list or no.) So, I’ll agree with you, your life sucks. Until you decide that maybe it doesn’t.

    I think maybe you ought to take a little more than a glance at Alex’s book the next time you’re at the book store. You sound like the person he wrote it for.

  • […] Original Article via happinessinthisworld.com – When Everything Seems To Be Going Wrong, Redux […]

  • sylvia stuart

    Thanks, Justin, for your refreshing post. I really feel for Mare as my partner was unemployed for 3 years and I believe he didn’t get many of the jobs he applied for because he posed a threat to the prospective employer and that may be the case with Mare. Until you go through it yourself or with a partner, you can never appreciate how truly awful unemployment can be especially when you have always done “the right thing” in life. I’m sorry you guys in the US don’t have proper universal health care. Mare, you sound like a real survivor. I’m sure you could teach us all a thing or two.

  • Renee

    Nothing is rational any longer… Life, no matter how hard I’ve tried, continues to draw me into darkness and crippling depression and anger. No therapy, no medicine, no amount of prayer, what faith I have processed all fail. I no longer wish to exist in this world and fighting just isn’t worth it. Death is my desire.

    Renee: I’m so saddened to know of your pain.

    Alex

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