When life gives you lemons, do you make lemonade, or do you rub the fruit in your wounds?
There are days when life just feels hard, and even simple, day-to-day tasks weigh me down.
Case in point: this morning, making breakfast for my household felt like a Sisyphean task. Instead of being punished by the Greek gods to infinitely fulfill the futile task of rolling a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll down the other side, I made what felt like the millionth bowl of oatmeal in my lifetime. Like Sisyphus, ruefully watching that giant rock speed back down the hill, as breakfast was gobbled, I knew full-well that there will be no end to the bowls of oatmeal I’ll cook in the future.
Keep an eye on your inboxes folks, invitations to my pity party will be sent out soon.
“Life’s under no obligation to give us what we expect.”
― Margaret Mitchell
“It will never rain roses: when we want to have more roses, we must plant more roses.”
― George Eliot
Since trying to “think” myself out of uncomfortable, dark feelings is an invitation to fall further down the rabbit-hole, I’ve invested myself in a mood-altering writing exercise.
I set the timer for seven minutes and let my pencil fly. That’s right, I said pencil. I’m old school. I let myself bellyache and feel sorry for myself. I allow myself the indulgence of pointing fingers, and railing at the universe. Those thoughts that I’m embarrassed to share with other human beings? They go down on paper.
When the alarm goes off, I put down my pencil, and take a few deep breaths. Then, I reset the timer for fifteen minutes. When the clock starts ticking, I force myself to see the situation from another angle…from a more positive and hopeful POV. Sometimes it’s easy, and sometimes it’s like pulling teeth. Often, I have to fake it till I make it. No matter what my mood is when I begin to look for the silver lining, I find I am always able to “write my way into right thinking” to borrow (and clumsily adapt) a phrase.
Sure, I might cook breakfast every day, but stirring oatmeal on the stovetop is easier on the lower back than pushing a massive piece of granite up a hill. Sisyphus had to do the same exact action every single day, over and over again, ad nauseum. I have options! I can make toast, or better yet, toss a box of cold cereal on the table and call it a day. I help keep my family healthy by choosing the meal with which they start their day. I am lucky enough to start the day with the people I love.
This example is a bit trite, I know. Making breakfast is, of course, a surmountable hurdle. But I’ve found the exercise has also helped me through much more complicated challenges as well. It’s improved my outlook during moments of generalized ennui, and also throughout major life crises. There are definitely occasions when I have to repeat the exercise many days in a row until the pain eases, and other times, in just one run-through, my sense of humor re-appears and I see a light at the end of the tunnel.
“But you will admit that it is a very good thing to be alive.”
― L. Frank Baum, The Marvelous Land of Oz
I’m no Polyanna, and finding the silver lining isn’t naturally my first thought when faced with adversity. In fact, when I’m down in the dumps, I’d much rather pour myself into the negative writing, and I’m resistant to admitting there may be an upside. However, the proof is in the pudding* — the simple exercise I described gives me a rosier outlook, and injects my day with a much needed dose of optimism.
Give it a go. You can set your alarm for whatever amount of time works for you. A short, concise period suits me best, but you’ll find your own balance. Would you rather tell your story in photos? In poetry or song? The possibilities are truly endless.
Please let me know if and how you adapt the exercise, and how it impacts you.
The sun’ll come out
Bet your bottom dollar
There’ll be sun!
–“Tomorrow” from ANNIE, by Charles Strouse & Martin Charnin
*Or, more appropriately than pudding in this situation, the proof is in the oatmeal with blueberries and almonds.