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.