If there's an upside to spending most of your life in abject poverty and soul-sucking alcoholism, it's that you become an expert in shit-handling. Many of you out there can testify that it doesn't make you panic any less when personal disasters do pop up, but it seems like the more frequently you fall into a sewer, the more skilled you become at battling the turtles that reside within.
But no matter how skilled we get at handling a good old-fashioned clusterfuck, there are still some basic reminders that we could all use when we're right in the thick of it. For instance ...
#5. This Is Temporary ... Even if the Problem Isn't
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I need you to understand right off the bat that this article isn't about life-shattering catastrophes. There's a major difference between having your car suddenly start smelling like devil farts and the doctor telling you that you have Parkinson's disease. But for this point, I want to talk about both levels of severity because, realistically, you're going to encounter both at some point.
My aunt Brenda was diagnosed with terminal cancer a few years ago, and she reacted exactly how you'd expect: denial, panic, fear -- all the natural emotions that humans go through when progressing through grief. Now, I don't want to bring you down, so before we go any further, here's Lexy and Stephany singing "This Feels Like Love."
Better? If not, watch it again. All of it. For the rest of you, let's skip ahead to when Brenda accepted her situation and made peace with it. Once that happened, she told me, "All of this is temporary. It sucks that I have cancer, but the problem is never the situation -- it's how we handle it." That really hit home for me because I never looked at it that way before. We are creatures who excel at adaptation, even when things are their most dire. Especially when they're the most dire. But the initial burst of panic and fear inhibits that perseverance ... and that is where the problem seems the worst.
When Brenda said that it's only temporary, she didn't mean that her cancer was going to suddenly decide to stop being a douche and leave with an apology. She meant that the chaos and negative emotions don't last very long. That once you're able to clear your heart and your head, these things become so much easier to deal with.
So two weeks ago when our car broke down like the asshole dick licker that it is, I had to remind myself that it's not the end of the world. It's a problem with a definite solution, and panicking isn't a part of that equation. Then a week later my wife needed all four of her wisdom teeth pulled and we had to deal with it all over again. Where's the money going to come from? How much is covered by insurance? The only day that's open at the dentist is the day of my article deadline. How in the living fuck are we going to handle this? Do I have to start selling crack? Again?
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"I'm sorry, did you say 'discount'?"
And that's where Brenda's foresight still helps me to this day. Her lesson reminds me, "Hey, dipshit. Calm down. Take a breath. This is fixable, but only after you get past the panic. You're solving nothing by freaking out. It's all temporary. Just be glad your mom didn't name you 'Brenda.'"
#4. "It Could Be Worse" Is a Bullshit Phrase
One of the most common replies I hear from someone who's just been used as an emotional dumping ground is "Hey, it could be worse." We hear it so much that sometimes we even say it to ourselves when shit hits the fan. And I'll be honest here -- if it helps ease your mind and gets you past the panic, then by all means continue saying it. But that doesn't mean that it comes without downsides.
Obviously, the problem could be worse. The airline pilot could decide to start up the jet right as you're fucking the engine. You could have just been runner-up in a game of "I Bet You Can't Stab My Chest." You could be Lexy and Stephany's manager:
More times than not, the problem I see with the phrase is when people use it to downplay their (or someone else's) current problem. "God, can this day get any worse? I have to come up with an extra hundred bucks to get my tire fixed. Rent is due. All the food in my fridge is covered in a glowing purple fungus ... OK, just take a deep breath. This could be worse. Let's just relax and get my mind off of it for a bit."
It's a means of delaying the problem until you're stable enough to handle it, and at first glance that sounds logical. But the problem is that normal humans actually need to go through those stages of grief as a process because grief isn't just a thing that happens when someone you love dies. It encompasses any loss, no matter how small. It's just hard to recognize that we're going through it sometimes because small losses generally mean a fast grieving process.
But think about the last time you had a problem with hotel reservations or a mix-up with your luggage at an airport or your stunt motorcycle suddenly petered out. For most of us, our initial reaction is telling the person behind the counter, "No, that can't be right. Check again." Or in the case of the bike, trying to kick start it 25 times in a row, knowing full well that it's not going to magically rumble to life and scale that flaming ramp. That's denial, and it's the first stage of grief. It's almost always followed by the rest of them, too. Anger that this bullshit is happening to you, and then acceptance.
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Dude, it's just chalk. It breaks all the time. Get over it.
Putting off that process only delays the part where you get past it and dive into finding solutions. "OK, let's take this one step at a time. Grenades won't help, so let's put those away. I fully plan on setting this place on fire later, but my lighter was in my bag. So I'll need to stop at the store ..."
Of course, if you're not careful, there's danger even in allowing yourself to go through those stages. So we have to remind ourselves that ...
#3. Venting Is Necessary, But It Can Come With Consequences
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Keeping your composure during an emotional butt fucking is ideally what you want, but let's face it, we don't live in a world of theory. Reality for many of us dictates that when the world drops a crisis turd in our happy soup, we're going to flip out. Again, it's natural. If you don't let some of that out, you're setting yourself up to be an emotional time bomb.
But we have to be careful when and how we do it. In the last month, my wife and I have gone through about $1,500 worth of unexpected emergencies, mostly involving the aforementioned car and teeth problems. Since I work from home and her teeth are in her head, my wife was in the center of every financial setback. And each time I got the bad news that we needed to spend more money to clean up all of the dicks life was spray painting on our walls, I got more and more stressed. I needed to vent.
The neighbor girl is kind of a shitty listener.
It is so easy to forget in those moments that the other person is just as stressed as you over the disasters. And it's even easier to forget that even though you're only venting your frustrations to "get it out of your system," he or she can take it as "It's your fault that we're in this predicament! Why do you keep causing all this financial headache?!"
Even if they're not directly involved with the crisis, how often have you heard someone say, "Hey, don't take it out on me!" I couldn't even attempt to put a number to it.
It's in those times that you absolutely have to remember that you're talking to another human. And that human is processing everything you're venting. It's incredibly important that they understand that you're not mad at them. That sometimes, you just need someone to listen while you bitch. That sometimes, your venting means having to drop someone with a German suplex while screaming, "OOOOOH YEEAAAAH!"
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"And then the hot water went out right in the middle of my shower!"
But keep in mind what we talked about earlier. How at the beginning of the disaster, everything feels chaotic. You're panicking. Logic feels like an enemy. If you can help it at all, it's best to vent when that dust has settled a bit. If you've given yourself enough time to really wrap your head around the problem, you're going to sound a whole lot less like a frothing lunatic, and a lot more like someone who just needs to talk it out.