A lot of things happen in life. Many good things, yes, but also nasty things, discouraging things. Recently, and by this I mean in the last three months or so, things have been going awry for me personally; I have been stymied, frustrated, knocked for a loop. Looking at the situation from the outside one might ask why. Nothing special set it off, but rather a series of events and mental processes like dominoes, one affecting another until the whole setup began tumbling down. It affected my work, my family, my own peace of mind. But what to do about it?
The first thing to understand when you experience discouragement or despair is that you can’t just think yourself out of it. Nor can you distract yourself out of it through drugs, or drink, or entertainment. It’s right there when you sober up, or step out of the movie theater, or come home from the party. It must be dealt with, somehow, but not by conventional means. Somehow that little voice inside that tells you to give in to all the negative must be silenced. I don’t know how it is with you, but with me that negative voice often comes in the guise of fantasy scenarios. What if this happens? What if that happens? What if it doesn’t work out? What if you fail? What if nobody you counted on comes through in your time of need? I have a vivid imagination – after all, I write science fiction stories – and these fantasies can get quite elaborate on occasion. And if you explore in detail all the things that can possibly go wrong in your life, it can really get you down. And if some of those things are in fact actually going wrong, that’s even worse. It’s like quicksand: the more you struggle the faster you go under.
Even during my recent trip to the States, which was supposed to be relaxing and therapeutic, I wrestled with this problem. I had good days and bad days. Mostly I had good days because I was visiting my sons, my brothers and sisters, my father, and we indulged in plenty of special activities, sightseeing, and so on. But when I got back here to Greece it was all waiting for me. As I said, distraction can only do so much, and cannot solve the core problem or problems. I pluralize it because most of us have a lot of problems and not just one which if solved would render life paradisiacal.
But life is good, or at least it can be, no matter what the circumstances. And I have a lot of good things going on in my life. I have a great wife and five sons. I have a day-job I’m good at, successful at, praised for. I have my writing, which affords me great satisfaction and a bit of income, and which is growing as a presence both on the Web and in print. I have good books to read. And it’s summer in Greece, and several times a week we go to the beach and swim in the warm, clear, clean Mediterranean waters.
So why the discontent? It should not be so.
What brought on the collapse of my mental and spiritual strength? I’m not sure. It may have been overwork. By the end of the school year I was carrying a terrific load, and every spare moment I had I was marking compositions. Maybe I just burned out. My defenses were down and those negative thoughts overwhelmed me. For weeks and months I reeled and staggered and tried to fight back, but made little headway.
Then, just recently, I came up with three little words that have turned the whole situation around: “I don’t care.”
How does it work? Well, most of those negative scenarios have to do with what might happen in the future. Not what will happen, but what might happen. Some are possible,
while others are far-fetched to say the least. But dwelling on these bleak possibilities brings on a sick feeling in the pit of the stomach and an inability to enjoy life as it is now. In addition, it does nothing to forestall or alleviate the problems. So, when one of
these fantasies pops up its ugly head, I think to myself, “I don’t care.” I can’t do anything about it, so why should I bother about it? Some of the negative thoughts are like little imps, easy to dismiss with one little statement: “I don’t care.” Others are bigger, nastier,
more serious, like ogres or monsters, and I have to chant it: “I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care…” and so on, as long as it takes to dispel the enemy, which is the negative thought. I want to enjoy the time with my family, or the work, or the writing, or the reading, or the swim at the beach, and not have it spoiled by an invading army of negative possibilities. Life is too short to dwell on what might be in the future. Far more important is to live life now, to seize what is true and good and honest and appealing now – to make an effort to forestall or prevent future problems, yes, but not to sink helplessly in a storm of angst.
This helps not only if you are going through a personal crisis like I was, but with other situations that may arise as well. “What if I don’t get the job?” “I don’t care.” “What if I don’t pass the test?” “I don’t care.” “What if she doesn’t want to go out with me?” “I
don’t care.” Now here’s the paradox: you really do care about all these things, and you try your best to make them happen. You fill out the application carefully, you shower and dress well for the interview; you study the subject you will be tested on; you do your best to make yourself attractive for your potential date. But when you have done all you can
and you approach the moment, dwelling on negative scenarios will do no good
whatsoever. It will only bring on anxiety which will hasten your downfall.
Instead, when all those negative possibilities erupt like the many-headed Hydra, cut them down with this weapon: “I don’t care.”
Of course you really do care. We all do, at least all of us who are sane. I care too much sometimes, so that it comes near to breaking my heart. Don’t stop caring for those you love, and for important work that you believe in.
But when it comes to doubt, disillusionment,discouragement, despondency, and despair:
I don’t care.