April 24, 2014

This Didn’t Just Happen to Me: Taking Responsibility for My Life. ~ Stephanee Killen

Photo: Caleb Roenigk

I am a mess.

How do I know this? Exhibit one: around midnight last night, I burst out of my front door in search of the source of the music rattling my windows—and my precariously upheld sense of calm.

I’m in Mickey Mouse pajama bottoms and a thin, sagging t-shirt shouting, “What the Fu**?” And there’s my new neighbor, sitting on his front step smoking a cigarette. “Have I been rockin’ too loud?” he asks, coming over.

I take a breath, put on a smile, try to act like I wasn’t just about to have an apoplectic fit on my front porch. Also, try to act like I’m not wearing Mickey Mouse pajama bottoms, my hair sticking up every which way, tugging at the shirt that’s really not appropriate for out-of-house wear. But I’m honest. “Yeah, a little.” (Okay, I am mostly honest, because the whole truth would have been, “Sir, I am currently having a nervous breakdown set to your thoughtfully provided soundtrack of Foreigner’s Hot Blooded.)

These days, I’m on edge.

Every little thing feels like too much to handle. That includes Foreigner. And those little plastic bags of sales circulars the anonymous junk fairy leaves scattered about my front porch. Also, the guy driving ten miles an hour in front of me because he’s busy devouring what appears to be a waffle taco.

The weight of my responsibilities has been steadily increasing, and I can feel myself collapsing beneath the pressure.

Money, health, work, the complete absence of creativity, the urgency of needing to find a new place to live, cutting expenses, the logistics of making this all happen—in my head I imagine this enormous mountain, and beneath it? Little ol’ me: all alone, a teeny tiny girl against the big bad world.

When I picture it like this, the result is me yelling on my front porch at midnight, fighting for a sense of control.

Everything feels overwhelming, and instead of making progress toward solving my problems, I freeze. I sit on my couch in a fuzzy bathrobe staring out the window thinking about all the things that need to be done while absolutely nothing gets done.

Also, I have a movie marathon weekend, starting with There Will Be Blood, followed by U-571, and ending with No Country for Old Men. I notice a theme emerging. I am trying to channel the no-nonsense attitude of men who do what needs to be done.

All this feeling helpless means an attitude that suggests I’m a victim of circumstance.

It seems like things keep happening to me, and woe is me, why god, it’s useless and so on and so forth.

I’m not taking responsibility for my actions or the consequences of past actions. I feel out of control with this mindset because I’m telling myself that I have no control. I might as well let Anton Chigurh flip a coin and resign myself to my fate.

The reality is that there are plenty of things beyond my control, but that doesn’t mean I’m helpless. It also doesn’t mean I’m a victim of circumstance.

My actions have led me to this place, which suggests that other actions might lead me out of it. (Probably better ones than sitting in my bathrobe.)

If I can stop feeling like a victim for one moment, I can start looking at the larger picture.

I can examine where it is I want to get to and begin charting a course. If all I see is where I am now, and I get bogged down by the feelings this particular location engenders, then I lose my ability to take proactive steps towards reaching some place new.

But hey, the journey out of the mire might be unpleasant. I might have to take steps that initially feel uncomfortable to get to that new place, and who wants to do that? That’s where it helps to take the long view. I can be the girl beneath that mountain, which I have to say, falls terribly short of being an ideal retirement spot, or I can take on a different sort of discomfort—one that is meant to be temporary—in order to get out from under it. That’s doing what needs to be done, regardless of my short-term feelings about it.

Aron Ralston, who wrote Between a Rock and a Hard Place (which was later made into the movie 127 Hours) was trapped by a boulder in an isolated slot canyon in southeastern Utah. After being stuck for five days, near death, he freed himself by breaking the bones in his forearm and then severing that arm with a dull multi-tool knife. It doesn’t get any more “do what has to be done” and “let’s look at the big picture” than that.

So, yeah, right now I’m a mess. But that mess didn’t just happen to me—and since that’s the case, then I’m going to make something not a mess happen to me as well.


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 Editorial Apprentice: Terri Tremblett / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Flickr

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