So, sometimes life is hard. I know, I know…shocking revelation, right? Post this little aha on social because it’s bound for viral, baby. But seriously, just roll with me on this one for a few and repeat after me. “Sometimes life is hard.” Word. And, though often I wish I were, I am not personally immune to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, as Hamlet says.
During one rather soap-opera-y period of my life, I was reflecting on the maddening events of a really tough week. Make that a really tough month. OK, honestly, it was a couple of years dotted by what felt like a series of sucker punches to my psyche. I remember giggling for the first time in oh-so-long when, in a moment of self-pity reminiscent of a 2-year-old whose ice cream cone met a sad fate, I thought, “Is it just me, or does anyone else hear that whooshing sound? That constant, echo-chamber-like whooshing sound that’s deafening everything else in its audio path? That whooshing sound, my friends, is the sound of Deanna Davis’s life sucking.”
It was an odd moment to say the least. Because I’m an unabashed positive psychology geek, an author and speaker who extolls the beauty of optimism and mindfulness and happiness; a dyed-in-the-wool optimist such that friends, family, and colleagues uniformly call me “PollyDeanna” rather than Deanna Off-the-cuff as it was, and though it did usher in a welcome laugh, just uttering something so harshly negative made me step back and wonder who the hell PollyDeanna had become. I felt like I had officially and seamlessly transformed from Tigger to Eyore in the blink of an eye.
Now, as I mentioned, Positive Psychology geek that I am, I am without fail a “practice-what-you-preacher,” (can I get a witness???). So, when weeks (or months…or years) like that happen, I really, truly, madly, deeply do unpack every possible strategy from my little bag of bliss to recover and refocus on the magic and meaning of life. I practice gratitude and cultivate resilience, steep myself in connection and bask in compassion, and, come hell or high water (often both at the same time), I commit to the oh-so-healthy and appropriate and timely processing of the sucky awfulness of it all. I put on my hip waders, slog my way through the muck, and eventually step out the other side better, stronger, and somehow with an even more sunny disposition than before. Cue the choirs of angels.
Annnnnnd thennnnnn there are the times when none of that seems to work, at least for a while, and more accurately not on my preferred timeline. (Because in all honestly, if I stay the course with these proven practices they eventually really do work…big time. But sometimes I get impatient or exhausted or transform into a tantrum-flinging alter ego Veruca Salt in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, demanding, “But I want an Oompa Loompa NOW!” only it’s “But I want healing and happiness NOW!”
Sometimes the moment comes when you feel an overwhelming gravitational pull to wallow in self-pity for a while and swirl around in a shallow pool of emotional gunk for a bit. And actually, there are times this is called for, times when, if you have the right guardrails set up to support your wellbeing, it can actually be a healing activity.
In these cases, when you feel like you are completely exhausting yourself, struggling and straining against what feels like all odds to fight your way out of it, it can feel like your efforts are actually causing you to sink further into the quicksand rather than moving you toward stable ground. Though it might seem counterintuitive to the person who really just wants to learn what they’re supposed to learn and move on to brighter days, sometimes a brief wallow is exactly what you need…to float there for a while so you can get your bearings before you take the next step.
Doing this can help you avoid that dynamic you see in the movies, when someone is struggling with all their might to stay afloat in choppy waters, but as they do, they fatigue themselves and lose their ability to be responsive to the environment or to life-saving efforts. All that frenetic activity leads to exhaustion that actually undermines their ability to swim to solid ground or reach the life ring or be safely ushered to shore by a lifeguard or passer-by. Sometimes, the practice of the float rather than the flail can give you just enough respite to usher yourself toward or be ushered toward safety with less strain and strife.
So, back to the story at hand. I was free floating in the muck a bit, wallowing like a pig in the mud, navel gazing and throwing one heck of a pity party. My mental DJ’s playlist included REM’s timeless tear-jerker, “Everybody Hurts” and A Great Big World’s “Say Something [I’m Giving Up On You].” (True, my DJ’s a bit of a drama queen). I had finally decided to give myself a defined, structured timeline for a Caddyshack moment to “BE the GRIEF” before I decided to kick myself back into healing high gear and move on and up and out.
During my backstroke through disillusionment and disbelief, I received an unexpected note from a friend who had heard tell of my troubled times. Her note simply said, “Wowzer! What a crap week you appeared to have had. Just wanted to send you hugs and acknowledge the suck. Sending love and light your way for only smooth sailing ahead!”
Evidently she had also heard that whooshing sound. From all the way across the state. That’s how loud it was. As a result, in my mind she was able to hit her buzzer and win that game show round, saying something like, “I can name that tune in 8 syllables! ‘THAT IS THE SOUND OF YOUR LIFE SUCKING!!!!.” And I smiled. Just like that. An unexpected, kind note, a dated pop culture game show mental meme, and a deep breath that helped me realize that I would be ok. Maybe not now, in this moment. Maybe not in the moments to come, but at some point. I. Would. Be. OK.
As I reflected on this little interchange, there were three things in this note that provided a ray of hope that helped me see the path out of the muck and toward the high road again:
First, a sweet friend had reached out with a “quick connect,” knowing full well I was suffering, knowing there wasn’t anything practical she could likely do to make anything better, but also knowing that somehow the connection might make a difference. Indeed, there’s nothing more healing than the touch of another human being (physical, emotional, or even virtual) when we’re hurting. Sometimes we can ask for it, and we should. Sometimes, we can’t, and that’s why we need to depend on the reaching out of others. Oh yes, sometimes we need to be the reacher and sometimes we need to be the reachee.
Second, she also unapologetically acknowledged that life isn’t always the epitome of the inspirational quote on a graphic tee. This revelation from a girl who designs and sells inspirational quotes on graphic tees, so it’s an important one. At times, life is messy and chaotic, disheartening and confounding. And sometimes it’s stunning and awe-inspiring, humbling and hope-building. And sometimes the transition between those two experiences is as disorienting as the feeling of stepping off a Tilt-a-Whirl. But contrast is the name of the game, and life is a study in contrast. Sometimes life sucks. If we acknowledge the suck, we honor the challenge of the moment while empowering ourselves to learn from it and take the learning, rather than the pain, to inform who we become next.
And third, my friend unwittingly shared a moment of humor that deftly aligned with my own, so that even though I was flash-mobbing at my weep-fest, the self-sponsored Bawl-apalooza, a poor-me-festival of epic proportions, her note made me laugh in a moment when I thought I didn’t have the capacity to, and it opened up a menu of other things to giggle at, which was a welcome feast. And THAT, my friends, was the helping hand I was able to reach because I stopped struggling and simply acknowledged the suck. As I did that, the volume of that whooshing sound ever so gently decreased to the point that I couldn’t hear it anymore over my laughter.
And here’s what I wrote back to her:
“You are so sweet! Thanks for reaching out. It’s been a bit of a bear, quite honestly :). But in my good moments I’m keeping a good attitude. Those moments aren’t often aligned in close proximity to one another but it’s something! It’s so funny that you used the word “the suck,” as my daughter has been quoting the movie “Freaky Friday” for the last week, saying, “You mean we’re, like, STUCK in this SUCKFEST????” Dying laughing. Sure miss you and your amazing sense of humor and your huge heart. Thanks a million and thanks for thinking of me.” Of note. I said “dying laughing.” Not dying. That’s a nice distinction.
And so it goes. My gratitude to her, this quick connection with her, and the humor that punctuated that connection, all turned my suck volume down even further.
So yes, sometimes that whooshing sound is, indeed, your life sucking. Because we’re humans. And we’re imperfect. And we inhabit this earth with other humans. Who are also imperfect. And sometimes the pain is all-too human. And sometimes it feels inhuman. But it fades. That audio mixer eventually reduces the volume on that whooshing sound one thought, one connection, one laugh at a time.
We have so many powerful and proven techniques to help us get healthier and happier and more resilient and more radiant through all of life’s twists and turns…and those things work. Big time. Almost all the time. When you give it time.
And still, sometimes, we need a moment or two to simply acknowledge the suck and wade in the muck and give ourselves a tiny little reprieve so we can take that deep breath and extend that hand toward another hand to help ourselves out of it.
The elements of hope and healing are pretty simple in times like these. Compassion–for yourself, and both for and from others. Connection–with yourself, with others, and always with something bigger than all of us. And a good laugh when you can muster it. Because sometimes that’s the thing that turns the suckfest into the deep breath that fuels you to go on.