It’s no secret that this year didn’t start out well for me.
Even now—more than six weeks after contracting the stomach bug from hell in Malta—I’m still recovering. Still. And that’s been hard. Hard because feeling sick and weak is never fun, but also hard because sickness has this less-than-delightful habit of compounding itself. My original illness caused secondary problems. My fatigue and six weeks of not eating normally wore on me. I lost weight. I gained weight. And I felt constantly emotionally drained—irritable about little things, discouraged by small blows.
And this is how life sometimes is, isn’t it?
There are some things we can control: If you hate your job, start looking for a new one. If you are dying to start a business, take a class, write a business plan, or take another small first step. If you long for adventure, start saving and planning, or just buy the plane ticket. Change takes time, but we’re often more capable of changing our lives than we think.
Still, there are some things that are horribly, wildly outside our control. We can’t make people love us back, for instance. We can’t always prevent illness or injury—or make it go away as quickly as we want it to. We can’t control grief, corral depression, or will our way out of mental illness. If you think about the image, pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps is actually impossible. (Seriously, go try.)
Some things are decidedly and painfully out of our hands.
So, as my therapist asked recently, what if nothing changes? What do you do to keep moving forward even if the tunnel doesn’t seem to have a light at the end? What do you do when you realize that some of the hardest parts of life are things you can’t fix with hugs and positivity and spa days?
I’m too tired to pretend everything is great, to keep up some sort of false and constant optimism. And I have no interest in chastising myself for being sad and exhausted because of things outside my control. (And the next person who tells me I’m not thinking positive enough is going to kicked in the shins…and then I’m going to tell her it hurts because she’s not thinking positive enough.)
Instead, I’d rather practice some self-compassion, to say to myself the same thing I’d say to my best friends if they were sick and weak and contemplating their own aloneness in the world: “I’m so sorry that’s happening to you. I love you. It’s okay to be sad and tired and need to take care of yourself. It’s okay to go through those emotions. It is, in other words, okay not to be okay.”
And in the meantime, while I’m recovering, while I’m dealing, while I’m walking through the valley of the shadow of death, I am going to focus my energy not on being happy, which is sometimes an unattainable goal, but instead of having an interesting year.
I may not be able to control whether more of my friends die or how long my full recovery takes or how I feel about ending up in the hospital all alone. But you know what I can control? The stories I tell. The plans I make. The books I write. How interesting my life is.
This is why I’m currently in Rome with a handful of bloggers, riding Vespas through the busy streets and scouring my book for the best places to eat artichokes. It’s why I’m off to Spain in a few days to spend March finishing up my Switzerland book on a pretty Spanish beach. It’s why in April I’ll be going to circus school to learn aerial dancing…in Spanish. It’s why in September I’ll be taking an epic bicycle journey with Luna safely tucked into a bike trailer. And it’s why I’m going to keep going with the 100 Locals series—publishing two more books this year.
And so 2015 shifts and takes shape as I slowly crawl toward full physical recovery, not as a quest for happiness, but with something simpler—a quest for interestingness, for a life that’s worth telling stories about.
There’s something comforting in this forward motion—in planning for circus school and researching distance biking equipment and in accepting that there are some parts of life that I can let go of and that it’s okay to have and to face my negative emotions and intangible fears.
So, when you imagine me this year, imagine me slowly opening up my hands to let go of the things I can’t control—the ones I wanted so badly to hold onto. Imagine me dancing on the circus silks. Imagine me reading The Chronicles of Narnia in Spanish because I want to be fluent and searching for the perfect artichoke in Rome because Italy is a great place for food quests.
Imagine that even as I sort through illnesses and grief and all these unexpected emotions that came with turning 30 and still being alone, I’m still always and ever moving forward.
Lovely post, sounds like you have a fantastic year mapped out. I agree, aim for forward momentum, you might be surprised where it gets you in a year! I’ve got a big transition coming up (end of PhD studies) and am not yet sure where I am going to end up!
Blessings on your head, Gigi! An intelligent and practical way to approach difficulty, and I am confident it will reap great rewards. Your 2015 sounds WAY more interesting than mine, so I guess I better get busy! Thanks, and sending you good enery and light.
We haven’t ‘met’ but I’ve been following your blog for a bunch of months now – you’re a great virtual travel partner and I got a copy of your barcelona guide while I was there.
I was there because to take an aerial rope workshop with an awesome coach I know and I fell in love with the circus facilities – are you training in barcelona or madrid?
I think focusing on interesting when you can’t change the conditions of your life that cause sadness or frustration is pretty wise and I can’t wait to read how you tell it.
Thanks, Erin! I’ll be studying in Madrid and would love any thoughts you might have on which school to choose. There are two and both have space open, so I haven’t decided who to book with yet.
Hey sorry about the rough patches. It will get better. As for someone telling you to cheer up well I say aim higher than the shins. Just my personal opinion. Maybe this will help whatever your religious affiliation.
God grant me the serenity to change the things i can, to accept the things I cannot change and the wisdom to know the difference.
Take care and do not lose hope. I met my second husband when I was about your age. We were friends and then dated for a long while. We have been married for 7 years going on eight and now have a beautiful daughter who is almost 6. It was not easy our relationship none ever are easy but, it will happen.
Positive thinking as a *cure* for illness has always seemed dodgy to me. It’s just a way of victim blaming and that is not on. As a way to cope, I think it has merit.
We often forget that we are the only people in the world living our own personal story! We feel we need to ride on through the troughs and muddle around to get to the interesting parts. The truth is – it’s all interesting. Some bits we could do without – but it’s all part of our unique story. When I hit rough spots I try to remind myself of the saying “this too shall pass”. Onwards to the preferable interesting stuff and bon retablissement!
Well, I wouldn’t say that all of mine has been interesting. :) I can be a hermit at times and while I think I’m still an interesting person, there have definitely been months (and even years) that were fairly mundane.
Thank you for this post. It resonates.
What are some of the upcoming 100 locals cities slated for writing/publication? I’m going to Budapest and Berlin in April… :)
But, mostly, thank you. I really appreciate the honesty and the ideas that come from your blog, always.
Thank you! The next two are full country guides for Switzerland and France. But do have fun in Budapest and Berlin. And if you want a few recommendations, shoot me an email. Two of my good friends are Hungarian, so I can ask for a tip or two. :)
Me gusto mucho este articulo que escribiste. Me ayudo a motivarme!