Friday, February 7, 2014

Whistling in the Dark

Imagine you are swimming in a deep and turbulent ocean. Nearby is a good-sized boat, and on the boat are people cheering you on. It will be over soon, they cry. The shore is only a few hundred feet away! This is such a rough sea, the captain of the boat hollers. Aren't we glad we're in this together? You'll get there, I know you will!

Meanwhile, your arms are somewhere past exhaustion. Your mind is shutting down, and all you can think is to keep moving. You've lost all sense of trying to move somewhere, all you know is you need to keep paddling your arms and legs because the alternative is stopping. And while part of you thinks stopping sounds pretty restful, and maybe not that bad, you know in your deepest heart that stopping is giving up. You're not going to give up.

The people on the boat are rocked with the same waves that are swamping you. They are nice people. They are cheering you still, telling you what a great swimmer you are, how they don't think they could swim as well as you are. Every once in awhile, one will express the wish that they were able to throw you a lifesaver. Unfortunately, they are struggling to hold on to the railings so they won't be washed overboard. You get it, you're not upset by it. But you still kind of wish they'd stop cheering you on and let you concentrate.

Positive thinking is kind of like someone cheering me on from a storm-tossed boat. I know I'm supposed to find it comforting, but I'm really just wanting to concentrate on surviving. And it kind of hurts. If I let myself, I could get all pity-me, and how terrible my life is compared to some. Then I'd have to think about all those who have it worse than I do (like they're trying to swim, too, but with only one arm,) and feel guilty that I'm not being grateful that at least I have two arms to swim.

I don't want to pity myself. I don't want to dwell on the frustration that is always lurking under the surface of the water, waiting for me to look down. So being told to "think positive" twinges something in my heart and triggers a touch of emotional panic. Like I'm supposed to swim for my life AND think positively about it. So instead of getting frustrated, when something like that comes up, I tend to poke at it and laugh. It's called gallows humor by some, but to me it's a way of coping with things that are desperately frustrating. If I can laugh at the frustrating parts of my life, I can deal with them.

Unfortunately, that tendency often offends people. I'm truly sorry for that. Because of it, I am trying to learn to keep my mouth shut and just say it to myself in my own head. It feels isolating, but at least it's just me being isolated. What I'd really like to say, if I had someone to say it to, is something like "This really sucks right now. I really hate pretty much everything about the essential nature of my current life. All the fun things I do, they are just a way of flailing around to try to find what joy I can. I know it looks like I'm some kind of superwoman, but really I'm just trying to find something to hold to so I can weather this storm. And don't I look kind of silly flailing around like this?! It's hilarious!"

So I know that my whistle in the dark is inappropriate sometimes, but sometimes pain and trials ARE kind of funny. They're serious, but they're also silly. Positive thinking is about as silly as someone cheering you on at how great you are at desperately clawing for breath. When that kind of thing is made silly to me, I can usually swallow it. It's when I stop laughing at it or try to ignore it that it sticks in my throat. Then I become someone I don't like much.

Oh boy, here comes another big me stick out my tongue at it as I go under!

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