by Ruth Gordon, LCSW It’s always unsettling, to say the least, when facing an inevitable unwelcome event that will occur at some unknown time in the future. This could be anything from going to the dentist to a serious loss. There hangs the sword of Damocles and we are helpless to make it vanish or to slither out from under it — we are stuck.
We can steel ourselves, go into denial, round up a crew of advisors, or utilize any one of a number of possible reinforcements.
I have discovered that I have, without realizing it, developed an unusual, intangible ally when faced with a certainty that I wish would go away. I have transformed “tomorrow” into my second in command. In my world, the dreaded upcoming event will always happen tomorrow, not today. Of course, today becomes tomorrow, but, I somehow manage to ignore that actuality.
I wasn’t always like this. My mother loved to tell the story of how when I was very little, and wanted to do something, only to be told that I could do it later, that at some point I would remind her that “now is later”.
As an adult, I have, somehow, managed to convince myself that later is a constant. The result is, that when the dreaded event arrives, I am somewhere between surprised and prepared to handle it. It’s not a bad place to be, but it is ridiculous.
A miniscule number of us are comfortable as we linger in limbo; not knowing which way the road will turn. Most of us would like to have, or believe we do have a roadmap that will guide us safely through life’s obstacles. With a fair amount of self-esteem, we can understand that somewhere in our arsenal we have the tools to deal with future misfortune. Ironically, each hurdle we clear allows us to gain the confidence we need to face the stumbling blocks that , inescapably, lie ahead. When the heat is on, however, we tend to forget our strength and resourcefulness.
As a rule, children cannot imagine surviving without their parents. We know, nonetheless, that in many cases children traverse the road of parental loss, and change, and manage to emerge with surprisingly strong coping skills that allow them to successfully continue with their own lives. Yes, life is sadder, but it is not over.
When I married my 1st husband at the ridiculously young age of 20, I would lie awake at night praying that I would never have to be without him. I felt quite differently, of course, when I divorced him some 15 years later. Now, many, many years later, I am relieved and grateful that our union did not evolve into a life sentence.
When facing something alarming, it is tempting to try to find an escape route or to deny it altogether. Sometimes, our worry is for naught and we have robbed ourselves of time, time during which we could have enjoyed our lives. There is no formula available to tell us the precise amount of concern that is warranted in any situation. It can be hard to discern which, if any, action to take. Confusion is the norm. There is a big difference between taking a break and abandoning our responsibilities. It is the people who are willing and able to “take it on the chin” when necessary who usually manage to survive and thrive.
This is not about burying feelings. In fact, allowing our frame of mind to wander where it will while withholding judgment on ourselves is a really good way to build emotional muscle. I cannot state strongly enough the importance of appreciating and applauding the emotional skirmishes you face and rise above on a daily basis. So often we focus on the fact that we feel bad that we forget to appreciate the behavior we use to manage those feelings. You are probably more heroic than you ever imagined.
If my house is on fire, you can be quite sure I will take care of it right now. When I face a deadline, I take care of it today. But… if I find that worry is keeping me awake and depriving me of a good night’s sleep, I think it’s okay, and actually, pretty functional to say, “I’ll worry about that tomorrow”.
Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”