Disrupt yourself or be disrupted. This is something I think about all the time. It’s probably more obvious, after this year of grace 2020, that it really does apply to everyone.
Whatever you’re doing, whatever your default mode is, something about it may be permanently affected by external circumstances.
This can be good or bad.
The same event may devastate one person, and it may be the making of someone else.
I’ll use myself as an example. I got COVID-19 early, before the shutdown, and it ruined my life. I’m still having heart arrhythmia and shortness of breath eight months later. On the other hand, I applied for my dream job while I was still sick, and now I’m making 50% more than I did at my last job.
There is something about feeling your life force draining away, feeling like you will probably be dead within two days, that has a tendency to reset your attitude toward life.
Not that this was a good thing, not at all. Being that ill was profoundly depressing. I felt that my death would be a sad and pointless waste, that I would leave my husband a widower for the dumbest possible reason. I went to brunch and then I died at age 44.
The world would simply go on without me and my existence would barely have mattered.
That was when I started wondering what I would do differently if I managed to survive. If I got up out of the bed and started feeling healthy again, what would I do?
Would I just forget it had ever happened?
Or would I use this terrible experience as some kind of pivot point?
The same can be true of anyone, about any awful thing.
We all have the power to determine our own attitude.
We don’t have the power to prevent terrible events. We can’t stop tornados or landslides or earthquakes or volcanos or hurricanes. We’re all, in some ways, at the mercy of economic, political and cultural forces.
For instance, nothing in my power was able to prevent the advent of leggings worn as pants.
I can’t do much about my slow healing process, either. I have spent most of this year trying to get better, resting and eating lots of cruciferous vegetables. It’s taking the time that it takes.
What I did was to ask myself, Can I handle working while I don’t feel very good?
If I felt tired and low-energy for the rest of my career, could I still do it?
It feels unfair to me to be in this position, but the answer is, Yes. I can get through a workday even if my energy level is like a 4 out of 10.
What changed after my brush with death is that I understood, in a deep way, how much more useful I am than a dead person. As a cadaver, I could not update spreadsheets or help people edit their technical papers. As a living person, even a low-energy living person, there were things I could DO. That was what I wanted for myself, to contribute in a way that a corpse could not.
See, I’m a whole body donor? But after COVID my poor organs are probably too chewed up and drooled on to be suitable as a gift to someone else. I didn’t have the consolation of feeling that my corneas might live on.
My mind would have to live on instead.
Not everyone will have my reaction, of course. By the end of this, probably at least two million people will have died of coronavirus around the world. Others have had limbs amputated, lost their hearing, had psychotic breaks, and all sorts of other side effects that are far worse than mine.
Arguably there are all sorts of things that are worse than being deathly ill for a month. I would never contest that.
For me, the perspective is, it’s bad enough that the terrible event happened. I had to give it what it demanded. After that, I’m reclaiming my time. It’s up to me to do whatever I can now.
Nothing specific about that word “do.”
Not “doing whatever I can” about my health, or converting COVID skeptics, or anything else specific. My position is simply to DO. To do anything a living person can do that a dead person cannot do any longer.
When I lay in my sickbed, I fantasized about being able to stand up and take a shower every day without leaning on the tiles. I fantasized about being able to get dressed and put on my socks without having to rest and catch my breath for two hours afterward. I fantasized about being able to make myself a sandwich.
I’m there now. I have those victories.
It’s a surprisingly cheerful place to be.
The novelty has not worn off yet. I’m still grateful to be able to shower and dress and make my own lunch.
I never thought I would be grateful about logging in to work and doing projects on a deadline. But I see it differently now. I still see it as my ability to contribute something and help other people get things done. Whenever someone thanks me for doing even a minor thing, there is still that little sparkle, that I did something a ghost could not.
Other people have had terrible experiences during this sad and terrible year. Others have lost close family members. Others have lost their jobs. Others have been evicted. Others are homeless. I would hesitate to give advice to anyone in one of those circumstances, but I would not hesitate to hear them out if they wanted to talk.
I’m also not sure if this would be helpful to anyone who is going through a hard time, even the same hard time that I had, because we all have different perspectives and different moods and different emotional settings. I would say, though, that it’s helpful to me to remind myself of all the problems I do not have.
In comparison, I have never managed to think of a hard circumstance that I would choose over my own hard circumstance.
I guess all I really wanted to say is that hard times don’t have the right to destroy us.
There’s got to be at least a little small part of a person that can remain bright and untouched, no matter what happens.
For me, that was the desire to be of service, to feel that I had done something to contribute to something larger than myself. I wanted to be back in the game and be a part of something. COVID-19 tried to take that away from me, but it failed.
What is that thing for you?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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