My family dog, Bonnie, lost her eye recently. She had serious glaucoma and the vet had to remove it.
“Poor thing,” we all said. When I arrived home the weekend after her operation, I could not help but cry at the sight of her little stitched-up face.
“Poor Bonnie,” I said, fussing her. Bonnie wagged her tail and tried to put her chin on my knee (difficult as she has to wear a big bucket on her head while the stitches heal). She fetched me her toy and continued to wag her way around the kitchen, bumping into tables and chairs because she cannot see so well now. The next morning, she wanted her usual breakfast (with a dose of painkillers) and her usual walk.
The thing is, Bonnie does not know that she is supposed to have two eyes. Being a dog, Bonnie is blissfully unaware of the sorts of social narratives that we are restricted by every day.
Bonnie does not worry that she should look a certain way or have certain things. She has no sense of entitlement to a certain kind of life or being or eye. All Bonnie knows is that things are a bit fuzzy on one side now. She has no concept of it ever having been a different way.
Still, everywhere we go, people continue to pity her.
Humans are different. They are outraged when things go wrong and highly indignant when the picture of their life looks different to what they hoped or expected. I, for example, am horrified that my beautiful dog has lost her eye while healthy two-eyed dogs roam around everywhere.
I have a lot to learn from Bonnie.
Humans are remarkably optimistic. It never fails to astound me how much of life we expect to run smoothly and well, when there is so much capacity for it to just not. Every day that we do not encounter some kind of accident or catastrophe is a genuine miracle. But we never notice when this happens. We just carry on stamping our feet when computers break down and trains are delayed and keys are mislaid and other people are late.
“Why did this happen to me?” We cry out to the heavens, or sigh to ourselves.
But why shouldn’t we fail and fall down and run into adversity? Why would any of us be exempt from the chaos of a chaotic universe?
With big things, it gets even harder. I’ve had a fair storm of crap thrown at me recently (quite a bit more serious than key-losing), and I cannot seem to get rid of this fundamental feeling that life has let me down and I am cursed in some way.
Perspective takes time when you’re not a fun-loving springer spaniel, but I really hope I can get there. In the meantime, I thought I would share some of the ways that are crucial for coping when things go wrong. As always, when I share advice, I am not saying that my way is the only way, or that it will work for absolutely everyone. I’m just expressing my experiences of surviving my own personal crises.
Keep calm and carry on
Churchill may have had a point. When things are tough, retreating to your bed can seem very appealing. However, this may only make you feel worse. Getting up, showering, dressing, going to work, cleaning up after yourself, exercising, eating, socialising…it’s a lot, and it’s hard, but getting on with your day is so crucial for maintaining some sense of normality and identity.
As a graduate struggling to find stable employment, it’s even harder. I am tackling this by planning out my week, regardless of whether I have a job. There are plenty of useful things to be getting on with and plenty of opportunities to pursue. And if all else fails (which it often does in the world of a graduate), you can always focus on looking after yourself, getting in shape, pursuing hobbies you care about and seeing people you love.
Sometimes, when you feel like the world is against you, it’s easy to slip into the mindset that you do not deserve self-care. You do. You owe it to yourself to look after yourself. Don’t let anybody (including yourself) tell you otherwise.
I do not feel like telling everyone when the world has messed me up, or I have messed up. I want to be all shiny and happy and inspire positive feelings in everyone I meet.
This is completely unreasonable. I am human and have every right to be messed up and mess up. I would never expect a friend to be perfect all the time, so why do I expect it of myself? I would be heartbroken if a friend felt they could not tell me when they were having a hard time.
I am trying to be honest and open with my loved ones. I am trying to say: Yes, I feel like shit, but thank you for being here with me. It is not easy, but it is keeping me afloat right now. I have had some incredible support lately, and I am extremely grateful for it.
Speaking of being grateful… “finding gratitude” may be a cliché, but I believe it has become trendy for good reason. Gratitude is not the same as “being positive” (which I think is kind of bullshit when you’re in the middle of the tragedy). Gratitude is not about dressing up shit, but about counting your blessings. And you will find that you have many things to be thankful for once you start counting.
For example, I cannot run on tarmac, because it messes up my joints. However, I can dance, swim, cross-train, walk and climb. How lucky am I? Very!
It’s so simple, but I would recommend giving it a try. My bad day can take a serious turn for the better if I simply stop and think: I’ve got a roof over my head, I do not live in a war-zone and someone gives a shit if I get home late tonight. Wow. I am better off than most of the world!
As humans, we cannot wag our tails in the face of adversity or entirely forget how our lives were before bad things happened. However, there are so many things we can do to cope with hard times, that a spaniel cannot. We have an incredible capacity to deal with difficulties, often way beyond what we thought we could.
One day, we cannot imagine feeling remotely ok about life. A week later, we have already moved onto bigger and better things. I started writing this post two weeks ago, and I am already in a better place now than I was then.
So, when things go wrong, remember that you are in the majority, not the minority. You are not cursed, you are human. You can thrive and grow and learn.
You can (and you will) get through this.