Why the Worst Days are Actually the Best

It’s been one of those weeks.

I started the week off with a tough discussion with my daughter about fighting with a school friend. Two of my kids stayed came home sick from school on two different days, so in a week that was already pretty full we threw in some additional doctor’s appointments and time off. I’m trying to navigate a complicated project for work that I’ve never worked with before while trying to teach classes. I completed about 40 pages worth of paperwork completely incorrectly and now get the pleasure of starting over. Some appointments I have had scheduled for weeks were suddenly rearranged for new times, throwing my careful planning into a tailspin, and yesterday on the way to an appointment, my car decided it wouldn’t start.

I was stuck in a store full of sweet little old ladies without a jumper cable in sight and it took almost an hour to finally track down a manager who was willing to let me borrow hers. The only caveat was she wouldn’t let me hold them, but if I could manage to find someone to pull their car next to mine, I could run in and get them from her at the counter. This was definitely progress, except there were already people parked all around me. After prowling the parking lot for another half hour in 90 degree heat (complete with work clothes and high heels), finally the shopper parked next to me came out and agreed to let me use her car to start mine. By the time I finally got my car started, I was hot, miserable, and had completely missed my appointment. I dropped my car off with the dealership and got a loaner vehicle, which I was super thankful for.

And then, this morning my daughter missed the bus. My morning schedule doesn’t leave much wiggle room and today it was especially important because I had one additional meeting to squeeze in. However, time (and the school bus) waits for no man, so we jumped in the car and hit the road. l stopped to grab breakfast on the way to work only to discover that I had left my wallet at home, but luckily found a few dollars to pay for my meal. As I fished out my keys to unlock the office, I realized I had somehow ended up with my husband’s set of keys as well as my own, meaning he would be stranded at home for the day unless I went back to deliver them.

I realized we were beginning to stray into ridiculous territory, but I sighed, grabbed my breakfast, and jumped back in my car to head home and give him his keys only to discover that the café had given me the wrong breakfast. At this point I gave up on breakfast. We live in a strict gated community which usually poses no problem for entry because my car is equipped with a transmitter, but of course, I was in a loaner vehicle with no transmitter. Without the transmitter, you must show your ID to the guard to prove your name is on the list, so I got in line for the guard and began giggling to myself as I realized I had also left my wallet at home. In the mornings, the guard gate is quite busy, and naturally the gate was manned by a guard I had never met before today. I tried to explain the situation simply, but he was understandably suspicious. He initially said no, forcing me to explain the day’s events in greater detail, and finally he laughed and waved me through.

I’m usually a bit of a perfectionist. My life is laid out with meticulous to do lists and calendars, and even just a few years ago any of the events this week (but certainly all of them together) would have put me well past the point of overwhelm. The events of the entire week were beginning to bump against the borders of my sanity and a tickle of righteous frustration was slowly creeping in. I knew I was headed straight for the “I can’t take it anymore” boundary line which borders the “I’m going to call in sick to my life and binge Netflix all day” zone.

Fortunately for me, I’ve been studying the human condition for a few years now and learning about myself in the process. What once seemed like a really concrete limit to my ability to handle things in my life, I now knew was completely made up by my own thoughts of what I imagined I could handle. My “stress threshold” was entirely imaginary, and remembering that even in moments where I’d love to check out for the day helps me see that boundary line for the mirage that it is. On top of that, what I thought about the things that happened to me this week: this was okay, this was funny, this was definitely miserable, 10/10 would not try again — all of those thoughts perfectly illuminate my own ideas about how things should be in a way that is never as obvious as when you’re sweating in really uncomfortable dress shoes. Those events reveal me and my thinking to myself, and how adorable it is that I think I shouldn’t have to jump start my own car if I’m wearing nice clothes. They show me where my temper comes up, what I’m attached to, and what I can easily let go of. These are all lessons that aren’t so obvious when you’re able to breeze through your week without a hiccup.

Eckhart Tolle says, “(Thinking) only becomes problematic and a source of suffering when you confuse thinking with who you are.” Particularly when we feel strong emotions like overwhelm of any kind, we can innocently get caught up in that thinking and assume it must be us…after all, we feel it so strongly. With my boundary line seemingly approaching at mach speeds, I took a quick breath and laughed at what I was creating for myself. Even though I hadn’t created the circumstances I was dealing with (okay, not all of them), I was definitely creating the thinking that it was all I could handle, that I couldn’t be okay for much longer. Remembering that was all it took to release the tension, the imaginary strain against what was happening, and I was once more back to center.

And it was a great day.