When I first started college, I had a mantra: deal with it now, worry about it later. The short form was, “Just deal with it.” Of course, if I dealt with whatever I needed to at the time, the occasion to worry about it later was simply not there. It was like a mode of operation, a subroutine that blurred out all extraneous information and allowed for only the components of a problem to be in focus. It was almost like a game: animated by panic-feeding adrenalin and looking for how to chip away at the monolithic, wicked dragon in sight. How to prioritize on the fly what I needed to do or could do first; postponing until later things that might somehow be solved while dealing with the earlier.
Externally, it could be invoked by someone asking me: “Can ya deal?”
I write this now because I have a dear friend in the dregs, trapped by circumstances that leave her feeling self-defeating and defeated. And I write this because writing for me, as for her, is a way to explore the world, a way to think.
I don’t know how to reach her because an emotional filter seems to have short-circuited her reasoning processor. She hears advice, but it passes through her mind untapped of nutrients, being swept away by diuretic feelings of having “fucked up.” She is caught up in well of despair and thinking she is helpless or too inept to find a way out without all the expected tools at her fingertips. She doesn’t realize that she will survive, so she thinks that giving up would be easier.
How am I supposed to…
An interesting thing I have noticed in her and in others is a tendency to see big problems as undecomposable — the problem looks insurmountable because the perspective is that it has to be solved all at one time. Related to this is when the appearance of a single logistical component gets construed as a hurtle the same size as the problem itself. They don’t take the problem apart, identify its components, knock them down as they can.
If I don’t have a car, should that, right there and then, prevent me of considering jobs beyond the fence of my yard? How am I supposed to [fill in the blank].
A story I always like to tell is the one where, one day I was coming out of the field I was irrigating and there my in-law uncle was waiting for me in front of the barn. He said, “Ron, I want you make this [barn] door 2 feet higher and 4 feet wider.” I replied, “How am I supposed to do that?” He said: “That’s the wrong question. You need ask yourself, ‘what do I need to know to get this done’.” How-am-I-supposed-to clauses presuppose a self-applied wall that, a priori, precludes view of the actual problem at hand.
Problem is, she has no tools. She has had no instruction and no decent role models in her formative years. She has only the scraped and broken yardstick of a crappy childhood with which to evaluate the world around her. Jumping into the water to learn to swim is not effective if you have only a buoy as an instructor. The universe of options appears to her very small; and venturing outside the universe is the stuff of science fiction, requiring special space suits, oxygen gear, transwarp transportation, food/object replicators, or even teleportation.
The things you learn as a child, even unconsciously, are like muscle memory you gain when training your body rigorously in, say, Kung Fu. You just seem to “know” how to deal with new situations without knowing where the spring is that provides you the ability. And providing her now with advice is not a substitute for good ol’ fashioned demonstration or learning by doing with a safety net. It’s just so much theory. Even saying, “I’ve been there” does not make possible solutions or tactics real for her. Commisery does not cut it.
What is she to do?
I honestly do not know where what my parents taught me leaves off and where the attitude of “just deal with it” begins. I remember at an early age having responsibilities. And I knew that I could make a mistake and recover because I had support relative to the thing attempted. Of course, I made mistakes that I had to chalk up to experience and move on, vowing to do better next time. My world did not end, but it may have changed drastically. Or maybe the “world” as I had it defined at the time did end! Yet at most every point, I realized that while a mistake might mean the end of a certain path or specific objective, it was never the end of the world. End of the world is “giving up.”
I’d like to give myself credit for developing some of my own skills somewhere along the timeline to where I am now. But, oddly … or coincidentally … I left home and entered college with the “just deal with it” attitude. I believe it came from a close family friend (‘sister’) who is the one who’d ask, “Can ya deal?” How the thought managed to penetrate so deeply as to create a functional attitude, I’m not sure except that maybe it was easy to do, or that it made sense? In any case, it was a handy attitude to adopt. Attitude can be its own source of strength and perspective, as well as a detriment if you’re trapped within them.
What are you, really?
Most humans simply do not realize that what they consider their “selves” really are only a collection of ideas they have attached to themselves. People say you’re a product of your experiences. I say that you’re currently a product of the decisions you made during the experiences. You can be a completely genuine you by making a collection and series of other decisions.
When people say, “that’s just not me.” I think to myself, “that’s not you because you have decided that’s not you.” Of course, we … er, I … have propensities and things that I truly enjoy about myself. But that begs the question (yes, the tautological kind): do I like what I like because I already do? Yet I know that I can “give up” on some part of me that I think is me and be another me, with time and perseverance to dissolve years of feeding a tendency. A lot of the “me” problem is the metaphor (ex: Commodity Thinking as Habit) one uses to identify either himself or whatever is appearing as a problem at the moment. You are capable of reformulation, unless you are willingly enslaved to your previous choices.
When we feel like “giving up,” give up what exactly? There is a type of “giving up” that could mean “give up” on something. Give up on worrying for now and focus on the immediate with an eye toward the future. Give up on holding onto a perspective that you know isn’t serving you, and reach for another. If you give up on yourself, only then have you truly failed — failed yourself by not giving yourself enough credit to simply live.
Net of Surety
Knowing that you will survive … somehow … is, to me, a type of safety net. Knowing that there are always options. I always cringe when I hear someone say s/he did not have any options, that there were no alternative courses of action. The reason I believe that is because each problem is composed of elements: actors/agents, things, circumstances, etc. If you look at a problem as a single monlith, then you will only see options when they appear of equal size as the problem. The part that makes decomposing a problem remarkably effective is that, when you attack a single, small component, doing so may immediately change the whole nature of the problem, making the rest of the components fall like dominoes.
Does this solve the problem of feeling low? Of course not. But you can intend to delay it. I would rather feel afraid than hopeless. But even in the dregs, you can find both integrity and self-esteem.
There was a time when I was without a home, living in my car (which the bank was intent on reposessing), and at the mercy of people who might help me. I wrote about this in Soul of Happiness. The point here, though, is that I discovered some truthes about me that I really like and that served me well, once I got out of my own way. I had no idea whether I was going to find love or become better employed. But I knew that, at that moment in time, I could be happy enough to take the next step toward something “better.”
Deal with it
I have no advice for her except this: forego what you think you want, and dive at what you need.
Make this your mantra: just deal with it. Tell yourself this when you’re feeling trapped and low. And get out of your own way.