Six months into our marriage I was freaking out because my wife was absolutely miserable.
She hurt herniated a disk trying to move our coffee table. It was pretty bad. She could barely stand up and walk far enough to make it to the bathroom. She ended up bedridden for a solid 2 months.
She spent much of her days laying in bed mindlessly scrolling on Facebook, then Instagram, then Reddit, then back to Facebook. She binge watched half-a-dozen Netflix shows. On most days she slept in, then couldn’t fall asleep at night.
Then the worrying started...
She worried more than any person should worry. Every day felt like she was careening into an endless black pit of despair. “What if the pain in my back never leaves? How am I going to take care of kids when we have them? Will we even be able to have kids? What if this affects my ability to bear children? What if I have to stop being a nurse because my back won’t hold up? I was born to be a nurse! What if I can never walk again? What if I spend the rest of my life in this bed? Will you stop loving me? Are we going to get divorced? MY LIFE IS OVER!”
I had a hard time not getting sucked into her downward spiral. If I’m honest, I even started to resent her a little.
The hardest thing for me to witness was how mean she was to herself about the entire situation. She talked about how “unproductive” her days were, how she felt “useless” and like a “failure of a wife.”
Watching her go through this tore me apart inside. My wife is not useless or a failure! And if anyone else had said those things about her, I would have straight up punched them in the face.
One day a video popped up on my phone called “7 Ways to Maximize Misery.” My wife just happened to be sitting next to me when I clicked on it.
CGP Grey (the creator of the video) cynically dives into a list of things many of us do that only contribute to our misery and unhappiness. Here's a summary of his points:
- Be a human pile of laundry - Stay in the same room when you sleep, when you eat, and when you work. Move as little as possible. Don’t exercise. Don’t shower. Just… exist… but only barely.
- Screw with your sleep schedule - Vary your sleep and wake up time. A regular sleep cycle takes at least 3 days to establish. If you have irregular sleep you’ll feel terrible when you wake up early AND when you wake up late. Lie to yourself when you sleep in and tell yourself you’re just catching up on lost Z’s.
- Get as much screen time as possible - Grab your phone and make sure it’s the first thing you look at when you wake up. Stare into it as you fall asleep at night. Just don’t drop it on your face. Check your screen 150 times per day. (Yup, that’s a real stat.) Maintain your friendships and relationships over chat and text, not face-to-face contact.
- Use your screen to stoke your emotions - Be well-informed… while doing nothing. Focus on the horrible things happening in the world to fuel your rage and upset. Then, only contribute in meaningless, token ways (like changing your Facebook photo or using a trendy hashtag) to make a difference. Don’t leave your room (Point #1) to actually get out and do something that makes a difference.
- Set unrealistic, unachievable and unclear goals - Set ridiculously high expectations for yourself. Don’t give yourself credit for accomplishing small things. Focus on goals that are after the thing you want to achieve like how to sell a business before you’ve even started one. Make sure you only take action on important things when you feel like it… which means never.
- Pursue happiness directly - If happiness is your goal, you will achieve the opposite. If you believe happiness is a destination you can arrive at - a destination other people have already arrived at, and built a permanent residence upon - you’ll find yourself to be incredibly disappointed. Happiness most often shows up in your life when you’re not actively pursuing it as a goal.
- Follow your instincts - Listen to the voice that wants to keep you comfortable and complacent. It’s the voice that tells you not to go to the gym because it will hurt, to watch just one more episode, not to call the friend and invite them to dinner… they probably already have plans, and not to put the candybar down.
The video ended and my wife got salty with me.
“You pulled that up on purpose to make me feel bad, didn’t you?!”
“No, I did not. I’ve honestly never seen it before.”
“Really. I promise.”
She teared up. “I do all those things.”
I didn’t dare respond. I was scared I’d say the wrong thing. I just opened up my arms and held her.
She began to cry. “I have been making myself so miserable. It wasn’t my back ruining my life, it was me. I’m so sorry. I can be better.”
Over the next few weeks, my wife transformed.
We took the TV out of our bedroom. She deleted social media from her phone. She spent her afternoons outside laying on a blanket in the sun reading books instead of in our dingy bedroom. She started going to physical therapy. She researched new cooking and baking recipes, and as her back healed she fell in love with making delicious foods that resulted in me losing 25 pounds. (Win for me!)
The misery faded. She regained her identity. She found hope and joy and fulfillment again. And now she’s back at work healing people as a nurse.
Her downtime ended up being a transformational time in our marriage and a huge blessing to me that I’ll always be grateful for.
It was during one of Ang’s lowest of lows that she learned one of life’s most important lessons.
You can’t choose what happens to you in life, but you can choose how you respond.
Or to quote one of my favorite poems, Invictus by William Ernest Henley:
“I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”
You will never be able to control which storms rage in your life. Maybe you’re plagued with sickness. Maybe your debt is kicking you in the nuts. Maybe you have in-laws that are about as fun as preparing for a colonoscopy. Maybe you have a kid that derives some sort of sick pleasure from waking you up every night at 2:00 am for no apparent reason whatsoever. Maybe you have a partner that is overworked and overstressed and doesn’t pay attention to you like you want them to.
None of these things are fun or easy to deal with. None of them.
But you have a choice!
You can either surrender to the storm and let the waves of misery drag you into the eternal abyss of hopeless sadness, or you can choose to adjust your rudder, and set your sales toward warmer, calmer, happier waters.
You can spend more time with people who encourage you. Exercise. Eat healthily. Put your phone away. Read a good book. Say “no” to things that drain your life away. Breathe. Stretch. Move. Laugh. Ask for help. Discover a new hobby, or rediscover an old one. Make small, attainable goals for yourself, and crush them every single day.
Doing these things doesn’t get rid of your problems. But it does shine a little sunlight on them, and helps you fill your tank so you can rev up your engine and gain some forward momentum.
The trick isn't to avoid misery. It's to stop making yourself unnecessarily miserable! Do this and suddenly life’s biggest trials will become manageable.
Remember, you are the master of your fate. You are the captain of your soul.
If you feel like you’re in the pit, look at your life and determine how much of your misery is outside your control (it's likely less than you think), then take a deep breath and grab the stuff that you can change by the cojones and start to do something about it!
If you’re feeling stuck, that’s why I’m here. Shoot me an email. I will help you to help you take the next step, whatever that step might be.
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