[Febr 2013] Lessons of a Difficult Day

It is Monday morning. I went to sleep yesterday with the feeling that I am going to have a great day today. And it all started accordingly. I woke up nice and refreshed. I arrived at work on time, everything went perfectly. Until my stomach flinched, when my boss asked me about the delay of my document-management project, for which he hadn’t given me enough people to work on it for a year now. It was really hard to keep calm and balanced, but after that everything went back to normal.

I came home late to work some more, then two colleagues came to me to talk about our private little business venture. I went down to open the garage for them, and I saw that they had put a wheel clamp on my car, in front of my own garage. I saw that someone had put a black bag on the table that permitted parking. I went completely out of my mind, I lost the ground under my feet, my heart started pounding. I spent the whole meeting not really knowing where I was. Even an hour later, when I was going to the post office to pay the penalty, I had to take deep breaths to be able to control myself.

All this on a day that seemed to be so perfect, for a while…

What is the lesson of all this that I should take away?

Lesson #1: Being in the present

The one thing I learned in these difficult days is that it is not worthy living outside of the present. There is no promising, hardly waited event, that finally can’t turn out catastrophically, where I feel awful by the time I get there. At the same time, there is no seemingly depressing, difficult, unbearable day or event, that finally can’t turn out just fine or even fantastic. That is the point I realized. I don’t know, because I can’t know, how things are eventually going to turn out. If I am looking forward to something so badly and I am expecting so much of it that I am basically craving for it, chances are that I am going to miss many precious moments of my life before that event. And with it I can also miss the expected big moment as well! It seems much more likely to me that I live the long-waited moment in its fullness, when I don’t crave after it that much, when I try to be present in the moments of waiting as well, and instead of being out there in the expected future, I stay in the present and accept the unknownness and unpredictibility of my future.

These are the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn: “Am I awake now? Do I know that the gift of a new day is being given to me? Will I be awake for it? What will happen today? Right now I don’t really know. Even as I think about what I have to do, can I be open to this not-knowing? Can I see today as an adventure? Can I see right now as filled with possibilities?”

Lesson #2: Handling difficulties

The other thing I learned is something important about myself. I am living difficult days, and no easing can be expected for a while. My father is dying and is expected to die within weeks or months in best case. My mother is lying in pieces at home, and I am the one (besides my father) who tries to keep her together. My brother tries to take his share of the work, but can’t really be a support for any of us, and on top of that he is going to travel abroad for two months to work from the end of March, leaving us here with our problems. I have concerns about my relationship with my girlfriend and about our future together. And when things were starting to sort out between us, she went abroad for 5 months to study with a scolarship. So she’s away for months now. I am facing constant stress at work, I am feeling constant impotent rage there. I have to face the meaninglessness and uselessness of my work. In short, I am facing a total crisis, that affects all domains of my life. In addition, I am fighting frightening demons in the last months, I suffer from panic attacks, total exhaustion and heart rhythm problems again, that causes mortal fear sometimes.

And in spite of all these facts, I am still acting as if I was fine, and everything was alright, as if I lived my life in perfect balance and harmony. And then I got suprised – with the naivety of a little child – when the slightest inconvenience or conflict causes me immediate shock and paralysis, and my feet lose the ground in seconds. Of course they lose it! Of course I am feeling unwell! No wonder that my tolerance level is rock bottom! And despite all this, I am the one who supports everybody in our family, who pretends that everything is fine and alright, who pretends all these events and hardships around me doesn’t affect me at all.

So what am I doing, really? The exact same thing as my father does! He does just the same! He keeps my mother together, he is the one who can be still positive after having lost almost half of his weight. But not because he is so strong, it is because he suppresses his pain, his anger, his sadness and his disappointment. I see this and I am horrified, thinking that we might be better off, if he allowed himself to freak out, to fall apart, and to rebel against this terrible injustice of his situation. I am thinking this, and what am I doing? The same! I convince myself that everything is alright, and I can fight all the fights, and I can cope with all the current impossible challenges in my life.

Tonight I went to play soccer half-heartedly, because I wasn’t sure if I was able to play at all in my current mental condition. And this time, in contrast with my habits, I forced myself to accept that I might not be able to play, and it might be that I won’t play, if I feel that way. I forgave myself my weakness, and did not push and force myself to do something I didn’t feel like doing. I could eventually play and it felt good, but that’s not the point. The point is that I could forgive myself, and I could accept that I might not be able to. I felt this to be a healing experience by itself. I accepted my feelings and my weaknesses because I knew that I had a difficult day, and after doing the quick math, the result was that it was “normal” to be unable to sport, and my teammates and the world is going to understand this.

But other times, when my calculation says that it wouldn’t be normal to feel how I feel, because I don’t have an apparent, acceptable reason or excuse, then instead of respecting my feelings and my thoughts, I am terrified of them and feel like something is wrong with me, because I shouldn’t feel the way I feel. Instead of openness and acceptance, I panic, and I want to escape, to run away to some place, just to stop my unacceptable condition.

This is not right, this is very wrong this way! But at least I have come to see this all, maybe this was the hardest part…

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