We all have different thresholds for what moves an inconvenience into the struggle category. And, because words have different meanings for each of us, to acknowledge struggle doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone – anyone for that matter.
Some define struggle as “work hard to deal with or overcome a difficulty or challenge.” Notice this is written in the singular, which implies that we perhaps “struggle” with one thing at a time. But wait! It has been my experience that when one thing stands apart from the many, I am more easily able to marshal my energies to focus on a solution or best choice scenario. In fact, I am often energized in this case because most everything else is in synchrony, relative harmony, and in alignment. I have the luxury of allowing an unrelenting focus on my issue. Yum! Nope, that doesn’t define struggle for me.
For the purpose of this post, I need to pluralize the definition to include the feeling of being bombarded by multiple difficulties and challenges for a significant period of time. Add yet another factor of not always being able to clearly identify all of the assailing projectiles, and you might better understand where I’m coming from when I say, I’m struggling. And now add the component that there is no convincing evidence to support an end-date by which most of these trials will resolve. Ugh!
I recently went for my physical exam. Prior to and throughout the process, I was asked as a matter of a new standard protocol, if I was feeling depressed. Is this not a sign of that many of us are struggling during these times?
It’s one thing to know about struggle and how to address it. It’s another thing to be able to step back to see yourself more objectively as others may see you. But it’s an entirely different thing to be able to apply what you know and what you’ve learned to move forward toward improvement and out of that almost seductive black hole that spirals downward into an emotional abyss of despair.
Throughout my life I’ve ridden the roller coaster of good and bad, happy and sad, fulfillment and desire, success and failure. When I look back though, I realize how thrilling it has been, how much joy I’ve felt, and how many people I’ve interacted with and with whom I’ve influenced and been influenced by. The bumps and bruises of the wildest part of the ride have left scars, yes. But they also taught me when to pull the seat belt tighter and when to loosen it, when to hang on tight and when to weave and bob and be more flexible. Each incident gave me more reason to keep at it. It always, always, got better.
If you asked me last week, I would have told you the current events in my life during these extraordinary times have given me good cause to say I’m struggling. Today I would say I’m not! Not so much has changed since last week. But the few simple things that did, allowed me to remember to have faith, that life is good, it all works out, and the struggle makes me stronger.
Some things that help me with struggle:
- Reach out to friends, especially those who know how to listen.
- Nature heals, even when it’s too damn hot to feel it.
- Exercise, keep moving, motion is lotion (for my old achy joints)
- Hug – thank goodness for my dog Duke. (He’s much softer than the trees.)
- Get back up – every time
- Keep an attitude of gratitude, even when you’re not feeling it.
- Drink chocolate ice-cream sodas with whipped cream. (My two secret ingredients are a splash of heavy cream and a squirt of raspberry syrup.)
- Be helpful to someone other than yourself.
- Life is uncertain so eat dessert first. (Did that last week with George and Wal!)
- Let go
A Struggle Snuggle
I’m glad Henry raised this topic. I’ve struggled my entire life for all kinds of things, mostly trying to hide who I really was. That was a struggle that took somewhere upwards of 40 years to resolve. It was a struggle I had to manage all alone and without help, advice, or encouragement from anyone. That’s probably why it took so long!
Historically, I have always had trouble asking for help from anyone. For most of my life there have been unresolved issues that were easier to let sit and fester than to resolve by asking for help. Simple kinds of things, decisions about career and family, daily life stuff. Just let time pass, they will work themselves out. Of course my internal worry system would have time to kick in and often built the struggle way out of proportion from what could have easily been resolved yesterday.
But I notice now we all seem to be struggling. Not just from the virus and the quarantine but the news cycle as well. The struggle is an internal struggle. How do I deal with the loneliness, the isolation, the news of hardship and pain, the inertia that months of separation have allowed to set in? Things are easing a little and I find it becoming an effort to get out of my chair and do things. I miss people and touch. Reaching out isn’t easy. Each evening as I climb into bed I have an overwhelming feeling of sadness oftentimes driving me to tears. The sadness is sometimes brought on by something I saw or read about someone else’s misfortune but sometimes it is just a heavy dark sheet that covers me in self pity! The cause undetermined other than these crazy times in which we live and the lack of knowing if letting time pass will bring back NORMAL!
Things are so strange. The other day my neighbor introduced me to someone who was working on his house. I reached out automatically and we shook hands. Immediately we both apologized but it was automatic, sincere and comforting to do it. Something so natural has become another struggle. Common daily practices become part of the problem.
Living alone now has intensified my struggles. Not because I would have asked for advice or help but because my struggling is always easier with a snuggle when someone just understands you are going through something that a hug, cuddle, or pat on the back could help. I, like Henry, have a dog to hug who isn’t a bad snuggler and seems to have a sixth sense about when the dark sheet starts to cover me. We are all dealing with our own demons, and I’m afraid each of us has to find our own way to slay them!
Struggle — whether you oppose, contest, fight, endeavor or find yourself in a conflict, encounter, or skirmish – means you are rubbing against the grain.
I admire Hen’s ability to profit from a struggle involving multiple and/or serial difficulties, but I can’t seem to embrace a positive position on this subject. Mandy Kloppers writes: ”With struggle there is no joy and rarely any reward. In fact, for some people struggle is the reward. They are a little lost without it. There is comfort in what you know.”(mentalhealthnet).
Perhaps that better describes my position – I expect to struggle, so I do. I expect to contest, churn, and endeavor – but not to enjoy it. When it seems like a flight of arrows forces you to tuck and roll – my primary focus is simply to survive. Generally, I put my head down and grind through it. When it’s over, the overwhelming feeling I have is relief – and the satisfaction of remaining somewhat intact. And perhaps a little lingering adrenaline high.
Hen says what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. The Jamaican version goes ‘what doesn’t kill you, just gives you gas’. Struggle is a case of indigestion with a heartburn topping. Struggle is roadwork on your metaphysical highway. Struggle of any kind looks just fine in the rearview mirror, but there are plenty more visible in the road ahead. What’s to like?
I suppose I’m a big fan of inertia in the sense of moving in a straight line at a constant speed, unimpeded. Inertia isn’t laziness – it’s the need to channel energy to stay on track to reach a targeted goal. George is right: most of our struggles are internal. My guess is that many internal struggles are manufactured distractions. Perhaps that’s why Matthew Wilder’s anthem sings:
Ain’t nothin’ gonna break-a my stride
Nobody gonna slow me down, oh no
I got to keep on movin’
Ain’t nothin’ gonna break-a my stride
I’m running and I won’t touch ground
Oh no, I got to keep on movin’
Granted that presumes a limited amount of self-reflection. But I can identify with the aspect of powering through some internal doubts or struggles in order to face the basic conditions of life: we do our best in the moment, understanding that we have limited control of all the variables and we may not make all the right choices, but we move on and hopefully live to fight another day. In the end, it is not clear that ‘struggling’ improves the choices that we do make. And yet, I’ll likely continue to struggle with this concept.