Living in the Grey: A Survival Guide

February 21, 2017

“If you can keep your head when all about you
are losing theirs and blaming it on you…”

From the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling

Stress, Sadness, Stillness, and Patience

In a very short span of time, a number of people in my life have done or said things that have caused me to see them in a new light and it’s not a very attractive one, I’m sorry to say. My reaction to these things has been really interesting to me: I’ve let the fallout happen without any of my input or normal defensiveness. If you want to judge me harshly, I’m letting you. If you want to be unreasonable, I will let you persist in your unreasonableness. I will not defend myself against assumptions you’ve made, or argue as to why I feel offended—and I do feel offended. But strangely, I am just watching what happens, and I am deciding how I feel about your occupying space in my life going forward. These are the lessons I’m learning.

It is okay if people don’t like me

Not everyone is going to like me. I am not going to like everyone—in fact, I already know I don’t like everyone. So what is it about someone not liking me, or thinking I’m a bad person that bothers me so much? Is some of it about evolution and being afraid that I’ll be shunned from the society I rely on to keep me safe? Some of the visceral reactions I’m having make me think yes. The anxiety I feel does indeed feel disproportionate to what is going on. I can’t please everyone. There will be people who don’t understand me and who don’t even want to try to understand me. There will be people who need to feel superior and make me the bad guy. I will have to look at whether I’m the one doing some of this yucky crap to other people too. So now, in addition to observing others in this conflict, I get to observe my own physiological and emotional response: Discomfort. Sit with it.

Stop Trying to Swim Upstream

There are several people inside this body and some of them are different ages.  There are different voices and impulses and sometimes it’s hard to hear the voice of the wise woman who lives in the stillness and gives good advice on what to do next.  I think it was the wise woman who told me amidst all this conflict just to watch.  To let these things fall apart.  I’ve spent much of my life trying to hold tattered things together because the sadness of their falling apart felt more than I could bear.  If it wants to fall apart, let it.  Let it.  Let go.  Cry over it, feel sad, scream.  But if its own stitching can’t hold it together, maybe it’s supposed to come apart.

Keeping My Word

I’m all right keeping the promises I made to you.  What about the ones I made to myself?  I used to feel as if these weren’t as meaningful or important as promises I made to others.  They are.  Breaking my word erodes the trust I have in myself.  My relationship with me is a real thing.  And it feels so much better to do what I said I’d do.  To hold myself accountable to myself.  It’s making me feel sturdier and more solid in a world with no guarantees.

What tools are in my toolbox

I’ve got Holy Basil for unbearable anxiety, Valerian for an inability to sleep due to unbearable anxiety–there’s a hole in the bucket. Here is where I regret my neglect of consistent meditation. I meditate, yes. And now would be the time to lean on a practice that I have cultivated and built, but I seem to have built my house from straw. I get to build it stronger now in the face of the high wind blown by the wolf to knock my house down. Okay, kid. Get to work. It is harder to find stillness when you’re being pitched about by the storm, but we grow through challenge and difficulty. It’s time to find all the silver linings I can. Exercise. Good nutrition. I’m taking stock of what tools need sharpening and then I’m sharpening them. These conflicts I’m in make me sad. I begin to feel bad and lose some confidence. Positive self-talk? That’s another one that needs to be sharpened. Taking care of myself is my responsibility. My resilience lies in my problem solving.

Who do I love

I am engaging with people who add value to my life as much as possible. I’m going to all the things. I’m meeting all the people. This is beneficial for a number of reasons. Yes, it’s distracting, okay. But people are interesting. Really interesting. The best parts of the people I’m surrounding myself with are reminding me of the best parts of myself. These people are also leading me back into the light, where the world is a curious and fascinating place full of things I’ve never seen. I don’t know if there’s a planet in retrograde or if I’m paying for something karmically or if I’m just due for the life lessons I’m learning right now. Life can be uncomfortable and sometimes when it rains, it pours. And pours. And keeps pouring. What will keep me warm? The love I have for other people and feeling the love they have for me.

What do I love

I am carving out time to engage with it.  Archery? Check.  Yoga? Check. That book I’ve been putting off reading?  Check.  Oh!  And that book that talks all about what I’m going through right now?  Sign me up, get it at the library, listen to it in the car, listen to the podcast.  Expand my life.  People do come and go.  Sometimes, out of the blue, someone you’ve been friends with for years decides to bring your friendship to an end.  Or you decide to bring it to an end.  Things end.  What are the things I can begin?  What are the things that will support me and will help to balance some of this out?

Therapy is not overrated

At least not by me.  It may take time to find the right person and this can be taxing, but…when you’ve got someone good in your corner, it’s worth it.  Friends are not therapy.  Family is not therapy.  Someone whose job it is to not judge me is exactly what I need right now.  I love the friends and family who are indignant on my behalf in these situations, but it is not the same as clear-eyed perspective.  It is not the same as a consistent outlet where time is carved out for my stressed-out psyche to be gentle with itself and speak honestly about how I feel and why I do the things I do.

This Too Shall Pass

Annoying?  Did I lose you?  Keep reading. You’re probably old enough to know that everything changes.  I remember the long-ago realization that, ironically, the only constant in life was the dependability of change. I think a lot about kids in school who are being bullied, and I worry about them.  They don’t have the life experience to know that things can get better.  Will get better.  That time changes everything.  I think about people I’ve lost and I wonder if they’d held on longer, that this or that form of treatment would have been developed and maybe it would have helped them.  We’re not alone even when we feel alone.  This rough patch will eventually be over, I just have to ride it out and live in the grey for a while.

Maybe this is the round where I learn to live in the grey well…

“Scaling the wall for a loose stone,
To let a little light in,
And when the whole thing comes down,
I’m gonna grow a garden…”

Lyrics from “Grow a Garden” by Kesang Marstrand

CREDITS// Article & Photos: Melissa Collins.

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1 Comment

  • Reply Ryan February 21, 2017 at 7:35 pm

    Without knowing the details, I will simply say it amazes how high school bullshit occasionally persists into adulthood. It can be difficult, even when we know we are right, to not try and fix relationships. Some people only bring drama and negativity, and our lives are better without them. It’s still difficult to let them go. Particularly when they are still in our circle of friends and family. On the few occasions I’ve been through this crap it sucked at the time, but ultimately I’m happier without them in my life. When this passes and the emotions aren’t so raw you’ll see more clearly that they caused more drama than they were worth, and their absence has made room in your life for positive people and experiences.

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