Managing the rainy days of life

Managing the rainy days of life
February 22, 2019 Maggie Lynch
In inspiration, philosophy

Seventy years ago The Ink Spots had a hit song titled Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall  The primary two verses were as follows:

Into each life some rain must fall
But too much is falling in mine
Into each heart some tears must fall
But some day the sun will shine
Some folks can lose the blues in their hearts
But when I think of you another shower starts
Into each life some rain must fall
But too much is falling in mine

My father loved listening to the Ink Spots and, both as a child and later as a teenage, this song reminded me that the rainy days of life happen to everyone. Those who follow my blog or my social media posts know that I’m a pretty optimistic person. I’ve been blessed in that way–born an optimist and seeing the good in people more than the bad. And that natural tendency to optimism was certainly buoyed by growing up in a very loving family that taught me how to keep going even when the worst things happen–sickness, economic downturns, and even death of a family member (my parents lost two children–one at age 5 and another at age 15). Watching them grieve and work through those times were a big lesson to me, whether I recognized it then or not.

For me, my optimism is dependent on a true faith that people are good at their core and that the more we treat each other with dignity and respect, the more likely we will find a way to work through our community problems and we can all survive and thrive. Some people might suggest that my optimism is born out of denial–denial that evil exists or a simple refusal to hear, look at, or recognize all the bad things that happen in the world. I do have people in my life that become angry with me when I don’t express my anger and disappointment regularly at the state of our country or community. I DO feel anger, but I don’t believe it helps for me to post that on social media and get into flame wars with complete strangers. I have not yet seen a single person change their position on an issue because of posts on social media. Maybe it happens, but I don’t see that it’s valuable for me to try.

There is a sliver of truth to the criticism that I am in denial sometimes. I do work hard to not let the daily reporting on politics, or the latest social media drama, or the daily news of yet another person who has fallen off their self-constructed pedestal of fame, fortune, or power take over my day. It’s not that I don’t see it. I see it all too clearly. I am easily moved by the suffering of others. However, if I allowed myself to dwell in those events or the trauma it wreaks, I would not be able to get out of bed every day.  I would not be able to do the things I know are helpful to those around me. If I listened to all the fear and hate and sensationalized headlines all day I would end up in fetal position and be rocking myself against the wall.

(Photo by Scott Kowalchyk/CBS via Getty Images)

How do I deal with all of this? I make choices that work for me. When it comes to politics, I take that in through comedy shows like The Daily Show with Trevor Noah on Comedy Central or the Late Show with Stephen Colbert on CBS. Both of these comedians are on top of the latest news. It fills their day and they find a way to deliver it to me with humor. They know it’s actually very serious and so do I. But seeing the ridiculous in the events takes the edge off my fear and allows me to know what has happened without feeling like it is too overwhelming to deal with. By seeing the humor, I see a way to move forward and to act.

I also am not immune to difficult things happening in my own life. Again, that optimist side will take a lot of hits before throwing in the towel for a few days. That’s because even when something hard happens to me, I keep seeing that it will pass and that I’ve been through worse and I can get through this. However, sometimes my body and/or mind says: “Stop. Rest. Retreat. Stop pushing.” When that happens I must listen. And I usually do absolutely nothing for two or three days except live in the moment, do a lot of escaping (TV, books, music, sleep) while things work out my worries in my subconscious and come to terms with the fact I am still not a superhero.

Have you ever seen that list of “life stressors” that psychologists or therapists often bring out when working with a client? Here is the typical top ten stressors in life according to WebMD. Any one of these can have an impact on health, sleep, the ability to do a job, or do undertake many of the daily responsibilities of our life. Most therapists will tell you that any one of these is enough to put you off your game for a while. The more that it is added in a short period of time, the harder it is to cope.

  1. The death of a loved one
  2. Divorce
  3. Loss of a job
  4. Increase in financial obligations
  5. Getting married
  6. Moving to a new home
  7. Chronic illness or injury
  8. Emotional problems (depression, anxiety, grief, guilt, low self-esteem)
  9. Taking care of an elderly or sick family member
  10. Traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, theft, rape, or violence against you or a loved one

I’m also good at denying that I must bow to the pressure of these stressors. 🙂 But I have forced myself to slow down in the past few months and to seek balance because too many of them have happened too close together. It began in the late Fall when I was hospitalized, then it took a good month for me to physically recover from that and deal with the fear of it happening again. Around the same time, I had come to terms that the cost of living where we had been for the past 15 years was not going to get better and we needed to move to a place that would allow us more consistent budgeting. So, we started the search for a new community, home, and church family. In November, my aunt was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. In early January we closed on our new home and I moved the first week of January–leaving my husband to pack everything and manage the cats while I began work on some remodeling (tear out carpet, but down flooring and paint everything) before we officially moved. I got the flooring down and one third of the painting (thanks to the help of my sister) before we moved our things on January 20th.

I know I pushed myself too hard, because my body told me I’d had enough on January 23rd and I got the flu for an entire week (even though I had the flu shot). Pushing too hard had depressed my immune system. My aunt died January 30th and renewed grief and extended family notifications began. We are still unpacking and painting, and it is just this past week that I’m finally not coughing. My body is almost back to normal. The celebration of life service for my aunt is this Saturday. Extended family and her large web of friends from California, Oregon and Washington will be in attendance.

I share all this not to make you feel sorry for me. But more to say I survived. But I had to make some hard choices and accept that all the things I had planned weren’t going to happen in the timeframe I’d set. I also had to allow myself some time for FEELING–grief, anger, confusion, surprise, comfort. Often when I’m faced with a lot of challenges I can become a pretty good robot for a while. Doing that means all those feelings will crash at once and I’ll be down for the count for several days. I tried to make sure I allowed those feelings to have space in my life as well.

Many things have been forced to later dates. For example, I’ve written very little on the novel I was half way through in early December. My plan to release it in late January is now long past. Now it’s going to be more like April. I’ve put together concepts and schedules for a new series that I’m very excited about, but I haven’t started writing it yet–even though I have a hard deadline of May 1st for the first book. I’ll make it, but in order to make it other things have to go on the back burner too. I’ve had to accept that there is no amount of work, effort, or persistence that will get me back on track with the original schedule I had made back in October/November for my 2019 schedule.

My grand plan to have the entire interior of our new home painted has suffered a large setback as I try to balance what I must do for my writing business (my income) against my desire to live in an environment with colors I find soothing and a more organized and put together home. Though we have unpacked most of our things, we are still not in “normal” living mode because we can’t put pictures on walls until those walls are painted. We also have things in storage that I’ve been looking forward to seeing again (after three years) now that we have more space. We won’t be getting those things until well into March and maybe even April. Other people might make the opposite decisions that I have–put the environment in place first then return to the work of writing. I understand that need to stop the chaos in order to function.

No one approach is the best way for everyone. It is whatever works for each person. For me, what works is taking small bites out of every task I have before me. In that way, I don’t feel that I’m ignoring something important. For others it is prioritizing and dropping a task or farming it out to someone else. I might take the latter approach later in the year. But for now, my optimism is winning out on still producing the number of books I had scheduled and still doing the painting myself but just on a different schedule.

Believe me, though I may seem calm on the outside, my insides have been worrying about all the things I intended to have done already that are still on that long to-do list. I KNOW on an intellectual level that I can’t do it all and that the new timelines are my reality. But on a gut level I still find myself saying: “If only you work a little harder, a few more hours each day, wake up a little earlier, get started, take fewer breaks…you can make up for this and get back on the original schedule.” That is a one way trip to failure for me. Though I do have dreams of having superhero powers, my body will remind me soon enough that I don’t. I’d rather not go there. Though a very persuasive part of my brain still thinks I am 28 years old and can go without sleep and still bounce back with ease, my body knows I’m 64 and I can’t recover from continuous sleep deprivation or from pushing too hard.

So, what is the best way to live life when times are tough, when one challenge after another presents itself? I don’t have the answers. I only know what my experience is. That is balance. I need to balance what I take into my world–both in terms of information and in terms of tasks to do. I need to balance what I take in emotionally from the world around me against what I need to get up every morning and keep going. I need to balance the things that MUST be done (eating, sleeping, taking care of the cats, helping my husband) with some time that is just for me. Being selfless all the time is not a good recipe for thriving in the long term.

I need to refill, regenerate, remind myself of all the amazing blessings this world has to offer me. I do that with time that’s for me. It may be sitting at the window and enjoying the first rays of light in the morning without the need to get going on a task quite yet. It may be taking an hour to read a book for pleasure, instead of thinking I should fill that hour with another chapter of writing, or another wall of painting, or unpacking another box. It may be keeping our once a month date night sacrosanct, so my husband and I can be reminded that we are stronger together than alone.

Most of all, my mantra for this time of challenge and change is focusing on the word “patience.” I’m pretty good at patience with others, and I’m sometimes good with patience for practice and learning. However, what I need to focus on is the quote from St. Francis de Sales: “Have patience with all things, but first of all yourself.”  Ahhhhhhh. Now that is really hard.

How do you get through the stormy times when it seems everything comes at you at once?

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