“I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.” ~Stephen Covey
In August 2019, I was sitting in my therapist’s office with my head in my hands. I was heartbroken over a recently ended relationship, stuck working a job I wasn’t excited about, and I was living across the country from my closest friends and family. I felt like I couldn’t do much to change my situation because I was about to enter my final year of university, and I needed to stay put.
“Sometimes, life is a logjam,” my therapist said. I visualized giant, sliced-up oak trees floating on a river, stacked up on top of each other.
“You’ll be done university by April next year, then you’ll be free to do what you like,” she said. I don’t think my therapist intended for me to interpret her message this way, but at that moment, I dubbed my life the “logjam.” I accepted that life would be hard for me until graduation in April 2020.
It was easy for me to feel sorry for myself. First thing in the morning, I would roll over to my phone and scroll mindlessly. I started each day by looking at people online: people in happy relationships, traveling freely, eating fancy food at fancy places. I started to notice that this action was causing me to suffer.
One morning, I decided I wouldn’t start my day like that. Instead, I’d leave the phone where it was and go for a walk. I began my days by heading out for a thirty-minute walk, rain or shine. The boost of exercise endorphins paired with distance from my smartphone felt great.
As I walked, I fantasized about April 2020—the month when I’d be able to take a trip somewhere to celebrate my graduation, I’d find a new job, I could move to a new city, and without being in school… I’d have time for dating again! The countdown was on. In April, I’d finally be able to enjoy my life again.
When my university closed down in March due to COVID-19, I thought for sure it would reopen by graduation in April.
We all know where this is going.
April 2020 came and went, and the pandemic spread across North America. As Canada implemented more and more restrictions, I realized that I had spent the better part of a year counting down the days until my circumstance would change. I thought that if I could make it to April, all my freedom and happiness would be restored. But April came, I lost my job, I moved back into my mom’s house, and activities like travel and dating were off the table.
The pandemic has thrown a lot of our lives into a logjam. A lot of us feel stuck. A lot of us have our eyes set on the future, when the logs will begin rolling again. Maybe you’re thinking, “Everything will be back to normal by the winter.” Of course, it might be, and I hope so. But it also very well might not be back to normal by then.
Take this advice from someone who spent the better part of last year counting down the days until I could enjoy my life: the logjam is in our mind, and it will last as long as we believe it’s there.
My morning walks are different now. Instead of thinking about all the things I’m going to do in the future, I think about what’s happening right now. How can I be a better daughter, sister, friend? What will I do to take care of myself today? What am I grateful for at this moment?
Incredible growth comes from learning how to adjust and survive in undesirable conditions. Sometimes life requires us to keep our head down and focus on one foot in front of the other. Life can’t always be pure joy and lots of fun. Life can’t always be a happy relationship, vacations to amazing destinations, or fancy foods at fancy restaurants. Sometimes life is harder than that.
Many people in the world right now are experiencing much worse than a mental logjam—loss, illness, financial hardship, violence, and discrimination have been the reality for many in 2020. A lot of people are struggling to pay their bills, overwhelmed by work or unemployment, unpredictability of childcare and healthcare, dealing with sick relatives, etc. Maybe you’re one of them.
But if, like me, you’re blessed enough to have most of your needs met right now, keeping things in perspective can make this slow and sticky time a little more bearable. And it can also help prepare you for times when things are far harder. The better we can cope with moments when we feel stuck, the better equipped we’ll be to deal with life’s most heartbreaking challenges.
It’s a skill to be able to feel content when things around us look bleak. I’m not going to pretend that living with a parent and losing my job is where I pictured myself this summer. And I won’t pretend that every day has been really easy simply because of a morning walk. But the mindfulness I’ve practiced over the last year has helped me to see the glass as half-full.
This summer I’ve spent every single day swimming in a lake. I’ve reconnected with childhood friends. I’ve been able to help my mom raise a new puppy. I’ve been able to write articles like this one, without the stress of grades and a timeline. While it isn’t what I imagined my summer looking like after finishing university, it’s wonderful in its own way.
Instead of criticizing ourselves, our lives, or each other during these unprecedented times, try to take a full-bodied breath, put your feet on the ground, and feel the life that’s still happening all around you. You may have a lot of responsibilities and be facing major challenges, but if your circumstances allow it… I challenge you to start making the best of this unpredictable year.
Choose to see the logs rolling down the river, untethered by each other, moving forward toward everything that’s coming next.