How to Live

What if everything didn’t happen for a reason?

It’s odd to be at a loss of words when you’re a writer. Verbally, I hardly ever know what to say, I stumble over sentences, can’t pronounce things correctly, but kinesthetically, I can always communicate. I don’t believe writer’s block is a thing; it’s an affliction we create as an excuse when we feel insecure or suffer from imposter syndrome. But sometimes life is so difficult the words aren’t at the tip of my fingers, they’re not even swirling in my mind as they usually do, jumping over each other to be first in line. Everything feels more hollow than a blank page. But that’s not an affliction, that’s allowing myself to be in the moment, to feel the pain, and for me that is new.

I have been a master of disguise most of my life, not allowing people around me to fully know what is going on inside. I used to think it was a weakness to cry, immature to be angry, foolish to have my feelings hurt. And if others knew I felt that way, then they’d know too much. It was always easier to smile and roll things off my shoulders and move on. Some say that’s “living positively”. But living like this brought me to the brink of death. Today when people use platitudes like “think positive” or “everything happens for a reason” I kinda want to rip their hair out. Kidding. If you say that, I won’t rip your hair out.

But I will urge you to think differently.

Sometimes life is not positive. Sometimes life is very, intensely negative. Shit happens to us that is completely beyond our control. Some people like to write it off as the will of God or like there’s some kind of karmic balance behind our pain. But there is not. Sometimes things happen without reason, other than cause and effect, and you know what? That is okay. It doesn’t feel okay, it feels wrong. And that’s okay too. Acknowledging that something is painful, wrong, and you don’t know what to do next is the first step in taking the first step. I wish I had understood this many years ago. I wish young people, in particular, could understand this better, to know that the period of suck they might be in is not reflective of the world or their lives as a whole.

When you’re in the dark, though, it’s really, really hard to see even a flicker of light. I have had several times in my life where the most extreme decision felt like the right decision. Fortunately, I’ve been able to convince myself to wait for one more sunrise before I made that decision. And then I’d tell myself the same thing the next night. And the next, if need be. I’ve let the reason I get out of bed be that I had to let my dog out, or go make lattes at work, or get my kids on the bus, or write a paragraph. And then eventually I’d be back in a stable place where life makes more sense.

This isn’t about thinking positively, or writing it off as God’s plan. It’s about thinking small picture, tiny detail stuff. One sunrise at a time. Maybe one hour at a time. We must reign ourselves in and stop focusing on the huge, indeterminable future. At least, in order to live, I must.

I think back 20 years ago to my youthful, relentless energy. A young mom of 2 by age 24, bulldozing through my days trying to be the best mother ever. In my mind then, that meant being all things to my children. I tried to be. I did all the normal mommy things. And then I went above and beyond. I taught my oldest how to read, write and do math before kindergarten. I supplied my daughter with endless art supplies and opportunity when she turned her nose up at the lessons her brother absorbed. I never once asked my husband to get up in the middle of the night with either one of them. I never once asked him to stay home when they were sick or even take them to the to doctor. They were only a year apart — there were a lot of middle of the nights. A lot of illness. And I hadn’t even had my third child yet…

I thought I was doing everything right. During the day I was all GO. But I quickly began to have mini-breakdowns at night. Between the post-partum depression I was ignoring, and the sleepless nights for years, I think I damaged my psyche. I didn’t take care of myself at all — physically, yes, because people would SEE that. But mentally and emotionally — zilch. Although I was doing all things for my kids, I often wasn’t fully present. Unable to accept a simple frustration for what it was during the day, they would pile up and assault me at night. I would lie sobbing in torment on the couch thinking I was an awful person for whatever reason I was telling myself that week. And I never told a single soul because this would mean I was doing something wrong, that I wasn’t a good mom, that I was weak. I knew I should be able to do it all by myself.

But you already know the next thing I’m going to say — I could not.

Thinking positively, or in any other platitudinal way, would not have gotten me through this. I tried, honestly, for many years to believe God had a plan instead of simply understanding I wasn’t alone, that this is motherhood and accepting it’s full of joys AND struggles. If I’d been able to reign myself in a bit, remind myself that those days were temporary, ask for help, focus on the immediate and not the fear that I might mess up my children for life…those things would have helped me. But I plowed on for years, refusing to accept I couldn’t do it all by myself. I hadn’t had close friends since middle school, I wasn’t close to my family or my married family, and most of all I didn’t want to admit I was drowning. So I continued to tread and take on water until I almost did.

Life gets harder as you age. I’m still pretty energetic, but sometimes I wonder if I wasted most of my energy treading water for years. I don’t live that way anymore, I could never go back to that way of thinking or surviving. I’m too exhausted. And I value the people in my life too much to pretend I have it all figured out. Besides, why choose to go, go, go, when you can be. Here. Right now. I’ve come to see the value in “right now” over 5 years from now, 10 years from now. I see the value in allowing sadness and pain to be accepted and felt. I don’t know what’s over the ridge. I don’t care — I’ll figure that out when I get there. But right now I can continue to build myself and my relationships, my work, and even my play. Because now I know these are the things that will carry me through difficult times, not my own over-inflated sense of strength and independence. Not handing everything over to some divinity as though it’s actually gone.

Not thinking positively. Thinking presently.

It seems I found the words after all. I have to say I am grateful for this outlet. I suppose, writing, for me, is like prayer for others. Maybe that’s the trade off — I don’t give anything to God. But I do give it to language, expression, and communication. I give it to paper, or screen. I let it go, sometimes into the interwebs, where maybe, just maybe, it will do just a little more good than in heaven.




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Jess Rinker

Jess Rinker

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