A few years ago, I had a period of exhausting confusion, a kind of general malaise that was dreary and slow but punctuated by these terrible migraines and even more terrible panic attacks. Everything felt overwhelming. The future seemed like this murky, gloomy thing. A fear monster. A poisoned well. A shadow place. In short, it sucked.
I’m not, like, over it by any means. I’m still an angsty person. I’m still prone to freak outs and night sweats. But slowly I’m coming together.
Anyway, during this shitty time, I went on a “how should a person be?” tour of my friends and colleagues. I asked basically everyone intrusive questions like, how should I exist in the world? how do you live in this universe without going crazy? how do you keep bad thoughts from taking over your life? who should I be and why and how? I got a variety of answers. Some of the best answers came from my friend Sophie. Other good thoughts came from a former professor, who had clearly been in that weird disorienting mental space before. He told me to ride it out, expect bad times, keep the faith that nothing ever stays for long.
But if I could send an email back in time to reach previous-Katy, I would send her two quotes. They’re both pretty much the same idea, just articulated differently.
First, via Brain Pickings, here is Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s advice on how to be grateful:
When I am feeling dreary, annoyed, and generally unimpressed by life, I imagine what it would be like to come back to this world for just a day after having been dead. I imagine how sentimental I would feel about the very things I once found stupid, hateful, or mundane. Oh, there’s a light switch! I haven’t seen a light switch in so long! I didn’t realize how much I missed light switches! Oh! Oh! And look — the stairs up to our front porch are still completely cracked! Hello cracks! Let me get a good look at you. And there’s my neighbor, standing there, fantastically alive, just the same, still punctuating her sentences with you know what I’m saying? Why did that bother me? It’s so… endearing.
Similar, but not quite, is this bit from Department of Speculation author Jenny Offil:
A thought experiment courtesy of the Stoics. If you are tired of everything you possess, imagine that you have lost all these things.
I’m going to hold onto these techniques for the next time I find myself feeling generally unimpressed by my life. I struggle to just “be grateful” for what I have. But I have no problem imagining the worst case scenario, the loss of everything, the complete and utter demolition of my own life. I’m great at that! This is positive thinking via negative imagining, and I can lean into it.
Image by Polish photographer Kaja Rata, part of a project about space exploration, Sputnik, and Eastern European culture. All her photographs are phenomenal, but this series just blows me away.