The Answer Is Yes

Once upon a time long ago, I was married to a nice guy who was a distance runner. This person completed marathons at under-six-minute pace, which was highly competitive at the time. For a lark, he ran (and won, and set records for) the occasional 50-miler. He was not built like a gazelle, as most ultra runners tend to be.

But this guy gloried in fitness, found peace and tranquility in righteous sweat, delighted in the day-after aches and pains. While we were together, I did some running at the 5-10k fun run level, and hated every step of it. I simply could not get my mind off the misery of exertion, no matter how fit I became. My former spouse, by contrast, had solved that riddle. According to him, after a certain point in the training, the challenge became mental, not physical.

Gee, that’s kinda like enduring a pandemic, isn’t it? The challenge is to manage anxiety, boredom, Zoom-fatigue, political tensions, loneliness, monotony, and that nagging sense that the goal posts keep moving. We did spring lock down, we did the summer bump, we hit the fall surge in September, and now… what the heckin’ heck? Vaccines for most of us are months away, if they work, if people will get them, if we can make enough of them, if if if…

When I was hamster-wheeling on those gloomy thoughts, I came across this helpful post from creative thinker Austen Kleon, who points out that when he’s making his art, there is no finish line. He gets a project done, but six more are lined up behind that one. He learns a new skill, and there are eight others he really wants to master as well.

Parenting has an element of that no-finish-line. You get the kids raised and out of the house, but you never stop doing what you can for them, and then grandkids come along, and great-grands, and the caring never ends. Same–I hope–with education. We graduate with a degree, and also an awareness that our ignorance remains vast and learning is a life-long process.

And I am cheered to think, that if I approach my writing as a process without visible end, and my parenting as a process without visible end, then I probably have some pretty well developed reserves of mental and emotional stamina when it comes to other long-haul challenges. Right now, I am in good health (for me). I am earning enough. I am in comfortable enough surrounds, and I am happy (also cranky sometimes, but happy).

If I ask myself, not, “Is the world ever going to come right, and if so WHEN?” which has no solid, happy answer, but rather, “Am I managing well enough right now?” the answer is yes. That, I think is what my distancing-runner spouse learned to focus on. Lap by lap, mile by mile, I’m managing well enough right now that I can keep going.

Do that long enough, and the other questions will eventually take care of themselves. Do you have some mental tricks or tips for coping with life these days? For coping with life generally? To one commenter, I’ll send a $50 e-gift card.

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28 comments on “The Answer Is Yes

  1. 1
    Brenda U K. says:

    These last few months have been testing myself in many ways.My resolve my stamina and state of mind come into question.I am usually a good listener and observer and I find I get on with most people from different backgrounds.But lately people have taken on attitudes and outspoken opinions that are not helping the present situation one bit.Some of my neighbours and community around where I live have surprised and disappointed me with their comments.Is it self survival that makes them talk this way or is it that they are not the nice people I thought they were.My assessment of characters must be rubbish then.
    So in these troubled days I must stick to my own values and strengths and believe that together with like minded folks we beat this terrible pandemic.I will get over others negative behaviour and put it down to my own poor observation of characters.Lesson learned for me I suppose.Stay strong stay safe but most of all stay true to yourself.

    • 1.1
      Lacey says:

      It helps me to remember that a person’s character is not entirely reflected in a single opinion, or even in all their opinions. People are the product of their experiences, and so they are not easy to categorise a good or evil. Sometimes they don’t even know their own true beliefs. For example, My grandmother was at times very racist, particularly against Chinese people, but she also showed great kindness to her Chinese neighbour and they became close friends, remaining so for many years until her death. So was she racist, or kind? Or both, changing as she grew and learned?
      As many of the issues we face in the world today are not as simple as we wish them to be, people are also not as simple as we wish them to be.
      In other words, celebrate the good in people, and have patience, faith and wisdom in the face of their ignorance.
      🙂

      • 1.1.1
        Marianne says:

        As a US citizen living outside the states, people who would never consider themselves racist are derogatory, rude and discriminatory based on the stamp on your passport.

  2. 2
    Teenie Marie says:

    My ONE coping strategy (and this is after nine/ten months)is I live for the moment and the next few days and plan not too far into the future. When I TRY to plan (and a big part of my profession is planning), things get canceled and when I try to re-schedule, they get canceled. After MONTHS of that, I finally realized my mental health was going to heck. Only planning for the coming week and MAYBE the following week is the way to keep what shred of sanity I have and to control what I CAN, MYSELF, control.

    Christmas? Don’t know because our state is back to Phase 3 and we haven’t hit the Thanksgiving backlash surge. I AM decorating, dragging out things I haven’t for years. I WILL start baking cookies after Son #3’s birthday next Thursday and, while I can get to the store, picking up any special ingredients.

    Taking it one day at a time and controlling what I can control and letting the rest go has helped. Wish I had started having this attitude in March!

  3. 3
    Susan G says:

    I am trying to take each day one step at a time.

    It’s difficult sometimes. I need to plan to go out of the house; make a list of errands and coordinate with family members. I am trying to meal plan – 3 or 4 days a week. Meal planning helps me stay on my diet and my husband and daughter fed. Cookies keep them happy.

    A lot of events that I was looking forward to have been cancelled. I am ok with it. I think my health or a dog show? My health or going out to dinner with friends? I can reschedule a visit with my mom or sister.
    Walking the dogs in the morning reminds me of the simple pleasures. I forget about the endless laundry, the vacuuming, the bills and work pressures. Greg and Rose love their walk and I am glad I have the time to enjoy them. I treasure each day with Rose and I admire her determination to walk and follow me around the house.

    The morning dog walk has taught me to look at each day as a new beginning, This helps me feel less overwhelmed and to appreciate what I have. I have realized that there’s a lot I can do, that I can enjoy and keep that in mind each day.

  4. 4
    Barb Hoffarth says:

    During this pandemic time, I’ve went back to starting my day as its the first day of week.

    Working retail at a grocery store its stressful and a struggle because of how the economy is right now

    Truly living one day at a time. Making the most of my time and keeping in touch in touch with the people who matter in my life.

    Distancing myself from the negative in the world.

    Praying for hope and Thanksgiving for what we have.

    Barb

  5. 5
    Tina Armato says:

    My husband and I are retired, him having left his occupational therapy assistant position voluntarily a few years ago and me having been “Covid-retired” from my part time job in March. We are fortunate in that we can easily quarantine, having nowhere urgent to be. We use grocery and restaurant delivery services when the need or desire arises, and make a few masked and sanitized early morning runs to the few stores which don’t deliver to our neck of the woods. The thing that has kept us both sane is our connection to a couple of friends who we join for lunch and a stroll about once a week, meeting virtually in between. We gather at opposite ends of a large table set up outside on the most sunny day of the week, with a fire pit providing a small amount of heat. When it inevitably gets too cold to sit in one place even for the amount of time it takes to scarf down a sandwich, we will just go for walks in the local state parks. My husband also plays in a Ukulele group that meets twice a week: once in a member’s very large and open garage and once virtually. We are grateful for the friends we have with whom we can commiserate over our common grief at the life we used to live, and share our hopes for the future. We also appreciate that we are doing well, in a country filled with people who are having a tougher time than we are. We are both healthy, financially secure, and still (after 42 years of marriage!) blissfully happy to be in each other’s company. Life could certainly be better, but I trust that one day it will be. Hope keeps me going.

  6. 6
    Beth says:

    I’m slogging my way through assorted medical procedures, so I’m isolated beyond belief & rehabbing. In a way it’s easier as my life is reduced to survival mode. My calendar is marked by events like first shower after the stem cell (knee), first half hour sitting, first trek to the mail box, etc. I’m focused on a list of things like rescheduling an ultrasound, whether 10 days on blood thinner impacts when that happens, slotting in the cataract after the stem cell but before the vascular… It actually keeps my life on track as I always know when the next event on my checklist will be as, even if something shuffles, there’s always another past it to tick off.

    Maybe because I used to be on multiple swim teams in my youth, I learned to count off the monotony of laps, while letting my mind soar free to ponder all sorts of other things. And I’ve endured enough painful recoveries to know when to postpone planned things & hunker down into rest with distractions mode to make that which must be endured pass as swiftly as possible.

    Additionally, my life has been so isolated the last few decades that I hardly notice any change with plague restrictions beyond postponing appointments & additional difficulties acquiring meds & supplies. There are nuns in convents with far busier social schedules than mine.

    • 6.1
      Beth says:

      And SCORE! Paying attention to the newsletters & just placed my order for the print copy of Truly Beloved! Whoo-HOO!!!

      I’d do my boogie of victory only the knee isn’t up to it, so I’ll settle for squealing loud enough to set my neighbor’s dog barking frantically.

  7. 7
    Make Kay says:

    I learned a great tip from my meditation app. When you’re worrying, ask yourself, “Is this worry useful?” Not to say that some worry isn’t helpful, like if you’re figuring out how to deal with your flight being canceled or what to do about the fact that you just burnt your dinner. But if one is perseverating about something, one can ask, is this useful? The answer is almost certainly NO, and this question can help break the cycle of repetitive anxiety.
    It’s been enormously used to me.
    If anyone reading this post is interested, here’s a blog about it:
    https://medium.com/inspired-writer/ask-yourself-this-question-to-let-go-of-worry-68a7f9d006fc

  8. 8
    Mary T says:

    As I have mentioned before, I was pretty much house-bound even before the pandemic appeared. So my personal life doesn’t seem that different. What is most difficult for me is witnessing how difficult this has become for my loved ones. I have five close relatives who have medical conditions serious enough to put them in a dangerous territory. And then there are four of us who are in that territory just by virtue of our age.

    It’s the lack of control and the feeling of helplessness that is hardest to deal with. But I do what I have done all my life and just keep pushing through. I don’t think of deadlines or timelines. My only weapons are prayer, laughter, and doing my best to maintain a positive attitude.

  9. 9
    Beth Lisk says:

    To get through…whatever needs getting through: I pray. I keep my little area of the world neat and straight and organized (I can’t fix everything, but I can organize my own little area and have a calm, pleasing place to sleep). I make lists of things (on paper) to get done in the near future and feel good when I get to mark something off the list. I thank God for good things. I ask God for help with the hard things. I call/text/email folks who are good for me to check in on them and dump some of my stuff to get it out of my system. I try to find ways to help others, because we all have stuff to deal with. I try to take things a day at a time, an hour at time, a minute at a time if it gets down to it. Just have to get through a minute at a time. Then the next minute. Then remember to breathe and drink my water. Make myself smile and the rest of me feels better, too. Take time to read a book set in a different place and time to escape for awhile (thank you for your contributions!).

  10. 10

    The thing that help me get through sounds like Pollyanna-ish nonsense, but really helps. (There is psychological research backing it up, too.) Every night before I go to sleep, I write down 3 things that went well that day. This isn’t a gratitude list. These can be as petty as I need them to be, like making my partner laugh or seeing a really cute dog on a walk. I won’t lie: Picking out even three bright spots during these doom-filled and monotonous days can be challenging. I often struggle to think of a third one. But I manage it every day, and though it doesn’t bring total serenity (what would?), it does act as a psychological counterbalance to my gloom. It gives me written proof that good things still happen, each and every day, no matter how minor they may feel with everything else in the world. I’m still a pessimist, I’m still anxious. But I’m coping better than I ever expected I could under stress like this.

  11. 11
    bn100 says:

    exercise a little every day

  12. 12
    Pam says:

    I only have one trick. There’s a big difference between ‘I have the flu! I can’t go to the wedding!’ and ‘I have the flu. I can’t go to the wedding.’ It’s about accepting and going on.

  13. 13

    I’ve always hated exercise for the sake of exercise. Running would fit that definition lol. I’ve given it a try every once in a while but I felt that it just made everything hurt. As to staying sane – it’s always been reading from a very early age (see spot run). It is the only thing that takes me away from my worries. I found when my work was closed for 6 weeks that I was more afraid of COVID and I went nowhere. I’m back to work, although limited hours, but seeing other people does make things better most of the time. Interaction and discussions with others helps you understand the world (as does reading). Covid complicates it but it doesn’t define me. I’ve given up most everything else. But my other joy is being able to still vist with my 3 yr. old grandson. Seeing the world through their eyes is a miracle and makes it all worthwhile.

  14. 14
    Glenda M says:

    I have to say that I used to be a bit of a gym rat and I NEVER hit ‘the plateau’ or whatever your choice description is of the mental vs physical, or state some of my friends talked of about being above the physical work. Nope. Not me at all.

    As far as coping these days, I guess I just remember that: It could be a lot worse. We are lucky that so far no family members who have caught Covid have died from it or have contracted the long term version. My husband and I both love and like each other and being at home together hasn’t changed that fact. We have a large enough back yard for socially distanced get togethers with small groups – and most of our friends are all about wearing masks and not doing anything with anyone if they are sick or have been near someone who has potentially been exposed. I also have a rather large TBR pile as well as books from many wonderful authors that I am happy to reread – Thank you, Grace.

  15. 15
    Elaine says:

    Zooming with friends and family, whether near or far, really helps! Regular walks outdoors and yoga are great, too. And books — too many to read and so little time! Hang in there, everyone. This, too, shall pass!

  16. 16
    Patricia Carothers says:

    Life is air like a rooer coaster…or perhaps more like a long train journey with ever changing landscapes. Hills, sometimes mountains, valleys, and plateaus. Each one has its challenges, its rewards, and its learnings, not mutually exclusive.
    Taking care of my mother for 3.5 years before she died, I experienced all three levels. Painful as she deteriorated, pleasure in sharing together, peaceful surroundings in nature to calm the spirit, eruptions of caring with sorrow, in anger, in apologies, with love, learning, riding the waves of it all while we both moved toward her eventual death. Giving permission for her to leave us. Healing afterwards – another process of life filled with hills and valleys and plateaus. It’s never ending until we end.
    During whichever process we go through, we learn, we experience, we reflect, we change, we accept, we modify. It’s joyful, it’s painful, it’s challenging, it’s moving through, it’s moving forward physically, mentally, spiritually. It’s like Grace Burrowes novels. It’s life.

  17. 17
    Tammy says:

    I read! It lets me escape from my normal life and I get to be ten or fifteen other people a week! I also have a sweet pup that ensures that I get out and exercise and see people in a safe socially-distanced way. I think readers and dog people are some of the nicest people.

  18. 18
    KarenM6 says:

    When thoughts are keeping me up at night, I tell myself (as often as it takes) that I don’t have to deal with the problem right then and there… that I can deal with it in the morning. That things will look different (and potentially better) in the morning.
    I tell myself (as others have mentioned) that this is just one moment in time and to not think this one moment will be my life for the rest of it.
    And, like others, I read to relax and take my mind off of the world for just a little while!!

  19. 19
    Sarah Kubinski says:

    Reading your books helps a ton. Doing something crafty that requires I be in the moment helps, too 🙂 I get something at the end and I got off the anxiety hamster wheel for a little bit.

  20. 20
    Sarah says:

    Taking a walk everyday through quarantine has helped a lot. The cold has shortened the walks, no longer the long rambling hour and a half, but being able to be outside exercising has been good for the whole family and doubly important to see whatever sun shows itself during these short days.

  21. 21
    KD Eller says:

    First of all, I wanted to say thank you for posting this. Throughout this entire pandemic, I have not heard or read one thought that includes endurance through difficult situations like this for the world. I didn’t know I needed to hear this until I read it. I have been thinking so much about that finish line that I haven’t been paying much attention to what is happening now. What has been helpful for me when it’s a particularly rough day, or when everything going on seems like a little too much, is looking forward to the ‘small things’ in day to day life. Going to lunch with my Mom, playing with my dog Molly, going for a short drive, cooking a fabulous meal are all things that I love despite there simplicity. I only recently realized that I don’t actually consider them ‘small things’ anymore, because they mean more to me than they did before. They help bring me up when like they never did before, and keep me sane when I feel like I’m going to lose it. I hope this helps and that you are all doing as well as you can be!

  22. 22
    Violet says:

    I was a worrier already before all this happened (employment situation, caring for an elderly family member, etc.); the pandemic just makes it easier to fall into the rabbit hole of “what happens if if if.” I find one thing that helps when I start down a what-happens-if scenario is to ask myself, “And what happens if it DOESN’T?”

  23. 23
    Lynn says:

    Thank you! This message (from you and Austen Kleon) sparked a great shift in me. Like a weight lifted off my shoulders. I often feel anxiety about all the things I know I need to (or could) deal with to move forward, but that I’m not doing from either resentment because “my life wasn’t supposed to be like this”, or fear of what *else* could go wrong. Now, I suddenly remember I don’t have to think this way even tho it’s been my pattern. Rather, I can renounce the unhelpful analogy of where I sometimes feel I am –reluctantly plodding without momentum in the final third of a tumultuous energy-consuming marathon–, and instead just consider one next situation that needs my energy now as a unique new loop, this one next loop. Just those WORDS give me energy.

    I was surprised into the power of this attitude the other day when I took a good look at my chimney (via my amazing new cell phone camera!) and realize it’s in dire need of re-pointing or rebuilding. Last week, this discovery would have been overwhelming. But before any anxiety took hold, I just immediately saw this as a new loop! I LAUGHED that I felt fine! And I sighed and swore, but still!!

    Changing ways of thought isn’t even easy when one is open to the possibility that their way may not be appropriate. I’m grateful for the loop notion, and I know it will help me.

    I forwarded this post to my therapist (!).

  24. 24
    Margaret Kincaid says:

    I have found working outside eases the fears and frustrations of the pandemic. I live in New Hampshire which is the Granite State. That means if you put a shovel in the ground. You hit a granite boulder.. If the boulder is small, I dig it up, if it is more than two feet across I design a garden around it. After digging out the boulders, I fill the hole up with composted organic cow manure. This summer, I put in 120 cubic feet of cow manure one bag at a time.
    This property is about 160 acres which is designated for forestry. My house was built by a Revolutionary War soldier on his land grant on the side of Rowe Mountain.After Mom died, I did serious renovations so the place would be comfortable. When the North wind blows in the winter it is -17 degrees outside.
    During the summer, I worked on the flower and vegetable gardens, but now I’m working on clearing the fields. My father died at age 54 in May 1970. My mother cleared a 3 acre field that summer. Over the years, Mother and I revisited the field trying to keep it clear. She died in 2009 at age 94 and now clearing the field is my responsibility. I want to plant an apple orchard in the spring.
    At age 73, I was feeling that the job is beyond me. Down the road we have a large beaver pond. The beavers have several magnificent houses worthy of a Narnia movie set. The piles of sticks are 8 feet tall. I decided that if a beaver who is only knee high can build such house, at six feet tall, I should be able to do as well.
    By now, I have 4 beaver houses stacked up and probably an equal number to go. In New Hampshire, trees grow rapidly and enthusiastically. Tree seedlings which are 6 inches high this summer are 3 feet tall next summer. The summers after they are 8 feet and then 15 feet tall. If the trees are too close together they stunt each other’s growth. Much of the wood in my piles are tree seedlings, cut off at ground level; so I can mow next spring.
    The larger wood is fallen debris from a cut two years ago. I had the wood cut to open up the three acre field again. The lumbermen leave the debris which is supposed to decay back into the soil. With climate change New Hampshire is drying out and the wood does not decay, but becomes bone dry making perfect tinder for fire.
    When we have good snow cover, I can burn the piles of wood. My neighbors all want to join me for a party in the field with marshmallows and hotdogs. We will remain socially distanced with masks on. Depending on the snow, it may be the Solstice, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Years or Inauguration Day. For added fun I have fireworks to set off at dark. Dark comes at 4 o’clock in the afternoon in winter. Working on the land, I have lost weight and feel great. The mountains and woods do not change in a pandemic.

  25. 25
    Diane Sallans says:

    I was a bit down this past week – perhaps at least partially due to the gloomy weather. I had to pull back on watching the news – both the political kind and the coverage of Covid. Tho I do see hope in the future, it will still be a while. So I read – a lot – first three books in Catherine Coulter’s Brit in the FBI series and now Sabrina Jeffries School for Heiresses series (I had read a few of the books and will now finish the rest). Got my Christmas cards out of the attic, so have to get some written and in the mail – perhaps bring a smile to some people.