You know those moments when everything seems bleak? You go out on a bad date and fret that there are no interesting men left in the world. You find yourself getting older, definitely wiser, but not prettier. You don’t have enough money to pay the bills. You’ve got physical ailments, arthritis, allergies, back pain, ulcers, you name it. Or maybe these problems are mundane in comparison to this. I met a man in yoga whose wife of ten years suddenly died six weeks ago in a traffic accident. Imagine the pain that he feels.
Wow, you didn’t expect this from me, I know. Recently I have been following a blogger Big Little Wolf who, like me, is a divorcee with kids, except she is doing all the parenting. She has written a series of posts that have really cut me to the core. First, there was one about how alone she feels, especially in the middle of the night when she can’t sleep. Why does everything seem particularly grim in the dead of night? I used to wake up with anxiety attacks where everything I thought of was a worry, but then in the morning, those fears just didn’t grip me. The dark night, while being the inspiration for much beautiful poetry, can also really play with your mind.
Then she wrote a post that many of us parents can relate to, her inability to pay for her son’s college tuition. She called it “Numbers do not Lie.” God, we love our kids so much and want nothing but to secure them a bright, successful and fulfilling future. That’s our duty, right?
As positive as I am, her fears and concerns cut through my serenity like a knife gash in a bag of rice, allowing all the inner contents to come spilling out. Once I saw the rice on the floor, however, I knew that I couldn’t just leave it there. I had to take action. That’s when I remembered positive denial.
When my ex lost his job a year and a half ago, leaving little me, a college lecturer, the main breadwinner of the family, I remember what I did. After my initial breakdown and freak out and the subsequent cost cutting (of course), I stopped thinking about it and started focusing on my desires instead. I dreamed of us living in California near my loving family where the kids would have the best support network ever. I imagined myself married to a rich man who took care of all of our needs. I fantasized about being independently wealthy and having no cares in the world about money. And of course, I looked at was underneath my nose, which were two adorable, loving kids who have fun playing with cardboard boxes, flowers and sticks (and library books!). We didn’t need money to enjoy all that. No long thereafter, I was back to my cheery self, enjoying all that life had to offer.
Positive denial, a therapist friend called it. When you have done all that you can do to remedy a situation and yet it is still painful, I find it helpful to rewrite it. To tell a different story, one that is so much more pleasant. A story more fitting to my truly deserving nature. A fantastic piece of fiction that makes me excited to get up in the morning to see what will happen next. Maybe it’s someone else’s story (or what you think their story is) of true love and living happily ever after. Maybe it’s a story that you read somewhere, the Vows section of the New York Times or a novel. Perhaps it’s something you saw on TV or in a movie. Or maybe you have the ability to imagine a wonderful alternate reality all by yourself. Fantasy has its purpose, and for me it is to make me feel better and to get me through the day with a smile on my face. And you know what? It works. I am more than what the numbers show.
Last night as I was contemplating this, one of my favorite bloggers, Kris from Pretty All True, wrote a lyrical piece about having a migraine. She went to sit on a hammock and then had the most wonderful memory of a perfect moment in her life lying on a hammock on the beaches of Hawaii with her loving husband and her two sweet girls. She told the story like it was one of those transcendent and resplendent moments in time in which you feel so grateful to be alive. As her head was exploding in pain, she wrote that story. I don’t know if this memory was real or if she made it up, but as it wound down, I could feel the tension draining from make my body and a great sense of ease and wellbeing flooded through me. Go read this story now. Print it out and keep it somewhere for the next time you are feeling pain, heartbreak or fear. Re-read it and make it your own beautiful story. I’ve already made it mine.