Last Sunday something scary happened to me that hasn’t happened in a long time—I had the blue thought: “What’s the point of my life? Maybe I should just leave.”
It’s a familiar thought from when I was a teenager, when it came almost every day for more than a year. The thought has revisited periodically throughout my life but hasn’t for maybe a decade. When it came back, grinning like an old friend, it frightened me.
I have rules for myself that guide me when my emotions have bad plans. One of my rules is: “I cannot kill myself because if I do, then I will miss all the good things coming my way that I don’t know about yet.”
Another rule is: “I am not allowed to question my life if I’ve had chocolate in the last three days.”
I don’t know what it is with me and chocolate, but it messes me up. If I’ve been eating a lot of chocolate and don’t get that choc-o-thing I want, I have a form of withdrawal symptoms: Anxiety. Irritability. Dysphoria.
During the coronavirus stay-at-home, I had let some good habits slip. It was time to reinstitute those self-safety protective measures. Here’s what I did:
- Threw away the two zip lock bags of chocolate chip cookie dough from the freezer. (There were no baked cookies to throw away because I had already eaten them all.)
- Make sure I had a call with one or more friends every day for the next week.
- Restart my morning meditation.
- Restart my evening prayers.
- Take one longer walk with Leda every day.
All those things helped. I feel good today, and I felt good yesterday and the day before that. I look back at my desperate Sunday and those thoughts of meaninglessness seem so far away that it is hard to relate to them.
And something else happened.
On Tuesday night I talked with one of my friends who is in The Hard. The pile of sticks on her back is high and from multiple sources. She is somehow managing to persevere.
On Wednesday morning, as I was coming in the back door of my condo building with Leda, I burst into tears. It was a wild mix of emotions—sorrow for my friend, gratefulness that it wasn’t me, guilt that it wasn’t me.
I reminded myself that I can have empathy* for a friend—listening to her and letting her know that I care about her—without taking on any feelings from her situation as my own.
It’s okay if my life is soft while hers is hard.
Leda and I came home. I had breakfast. I fed her. And then I walked downtown to tend to something. Instead of going out the front door as I usually do when I walk downtown, I went out the back door by mistake, which puts me on a path to go under the overpass rather than on the bridge over it. I thought about turning around and going the way I like better but didn’t.
As I approached the underpass, I could see some things ahead on the sidewalk, small and white. They were all over the sidewalk with some on the road and a few on the parking lot on the other side.
I got closer, curious. Bent down and looked.
They were marshmallows, the big size, fresh and bright.
I picked up one, put it in my pocket, and walked on. Then I turned around and picked up two more. On my way back from downtown, I picked up another.
It’s okay for my life to be soft while others have it hard.
It’s okay for me to have a marshmallow life.
*Animated video with Brené Brown on the difference between empathy and sympathy.
A free course from Yale University via Coursera on The Science of Well-Being.
Dr. Laurie Santos, the instructor of the Yale course, in a half-hour Facebook Live Q&A session on handling the emotional challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.
Chewing the Cud of Good
Thankful for a friend who stood with me in a place that frightened me, so that I wouldn’t be alone in that place.
Thankful for the man trimming shrubs, who gave me a bouquet of trimmings.