None of it is as bad as it seems.
Q: What travels faster than the speed of light?
A: Bad news.
In a clinical study, 85% of what subjects worried about never occurred. Of the 15% that materialized, 79% of subjects discovered they could handle it well. The universe is on your side. But studies can be boring, and as Mark Twain is said to have said (he was said to have said a lot of things), “I’ve experienced many terrible things in my life, only a few of which actually happened.”
It seems that whenever I’ve experienced a hardy setback, it has occurred along with one or two other scrotal-kicks. For example, I concurrently went through my worst breakup at the same time as a 10th major shoulder surgery. I hit my low during that phase while sitting on my linoleum kitchen floor in a sling unable to tie my shoes with one hand. And, because I don’t yet wear Velcro shoes. I never felt so alone than in that moment, and I soon broke-down sobbing because I missed my ex and a practical arm.
The benefit to hitting rock bottom is that you can rebound. But, I was a medicine ball.
People often say, “bad things occur in three’s.” Bullshit. Good, bad, and neutral things occur in ones, threes, eights, and tens. There are no inevitable groupings. This is another instance where humans seek patterns – in this case quantifiable – to feel an element of control. No one suffering a divorce or layoff also wants to be scanning the vista for the other two predictable setbacks of the “bad things come in threes triad” hurtling towards them at the speed of fate.
But, so goes the wholly subversive aura of hearing bad news. It can permeate every cell in a cataclysmic upheaval of the sanities until you are reduced to basic survival with only the bleakest disposition left to guide you. It’s not uncommon to feel like you will lose everything – no matter the gravity of the situation, while what’s left won’t matter. This is why the notion of “perspective” is so crucial. Think of perspective as the measuring stick by which everything in your life is gauged, and whereby you determine the relativeness of anything against the ‘grand scheme’ of things.
Receiving bad news is always an unsettling event. But, is it getting caressed by your cellie while wrongly incarcerated for car masturbating in a school zone crappy? Of course not. Therein lies the indispensable potency of perspective.
There’s no disputing that a negative outcome sucks. But, measured against an episode of “Live PD” it often feels somewhat paltry. Just keep it appropriately stack-ranked against the litany of potentialities.
We tend to lose all perspective when life gets tough. Don’t give it anymore mojo than it already warrants by promoting it higher on the Wong Baker face pain scale, where “0” is getting dumped by a vegan at your BBQ, and “10” is seeing your spouse on an STD dating site, where s/he adds the caveat of being both HPV and HSV2 positive.
That said, perspective is an acquired benchmark. We measure things against that which we know. Your particular worry or woe may be the single worst incident you’ve encountered thus far. For better or worse, I’ve had a portfolio of colorful events against which to measure. Though, most of them weren’t quite grisly or within recent enough memory to provide a backdrop of genuine appreciation. There’s a statute of limitations on misery and perspective. Thankfully, I had cancer surgery not long ago, followed by regular chemo via catheter to keep me grounded in what truly matters.
This all followed the insight that something was egregiously wrong with me, while staunchly refusing medical testing. It takes copious amounts of denial to discount such an obvious ailment. For an anxious guy, I impressed myself with my ability to deny at such unprecedented levels.
Even though it was an obviously serious malady, I tried to will it away. I told myself it was probably a UTI, cystitis, kidney stones, or one of those asshole Amazonian Candiru fish that swim-up the penis and loiter in the cheap seats. *Though, the diabolical, urea-loving nature of this pest has since been debunked. Nevertheless, I continued to live life in denial as I was peeing out pieces of my insides. I implemented some self-triage in the form of cranberry juice, saw palmetto, and urinary probiotics, hoping I could homeopathically remedy whatever ailed me – unless it was indeed the jilted Candiru. Or, cancer.
As a gender, men avoid most timely medical care. It’s actually a large part of why men die much younger than women.
When I was initially diagnosed, I went through a two week period where I was livid at the unfairness of it all. I had never been a smoker, and I did four hours of hard cardio per week and daily veggie shakes. Meanwhile, people like my own brother shirk all forms of exercise, smoke a pack of Marlboro 100s per day, drink Winston Churchill-levels of whiskey, and eat charred meats.
But, that’s how life plays out. There are thousands of infants who unfairly suffer the consequences of leukemia and terminal illnesses. And, they haven’t been around long enough to chalk-up any bad karma. Life isn’t fair for any of us – which is why it’s fair for all of us. On the upside, I gained much needed, lifelong gratitude and perspective.
The media loves to trigger us. The Coronavirus coverage is their latest attempt to instill fear, anxiety, and panic into our psyches. But, like most other triggers, it lacks perspective. Consider, for example, that in the 2019-2020 season so far, at least 19 million people in the US have gotten the flu and 10,000 people have died from it – including at least 68 children (source: CDC). This is the virus we should be trying to avoid. No contagion spreads like fear. And, the media spreads it like butter so they can sell more ads and anti-anxiety pill commercials. Keeping us anxious is right where they want us.
What you think is going to kill you probably won’t. Whatever will, isn’t even on your radar.
That’s not an invite to immediately determine the source of your future demise. It’s a call to live your life fully. In the now.