Question Into the Abyss: Why Can’t I Gain Perspective Til Some Major Sh*t Goes Down? And Why Can’t I Hold onto It?

Well, friends, I just wrote a few days ago about how I was sick, tired, and couldn’t handle not getting the things on my lists done. Well, once I finally thought everything was back to normal, we had an emergency room visit which turned into an overnight in the hospital for my 8-month-old and myself. He is okay now, and hopefully we won’t have a repeat anytime soon, but what struck me was how differently I felt once we were released from hospital about… well, everything.

  • The houseguests who came over while the house was still a disaster? I would have felt embarrassment for the state of things on another day, but instead I just laughed it off.
  • The prep I hadn’t done for the holiday party we were supposed to be hosting that night? Normally, I would have considered cancelling rather than being ill-prepared, but now I figured nobody gives a fuck – I just wanted to see my friends.
  • The fact that my toddler was suddenly not able to go for a sleepover during said party because his arranged caregiver had come down with a cold? Would have usually been a trigger for some anxiety about noise level on my part, but now? Well, if he wakes up and joins the party, what do I care?!
  • The crappy naps R took once we got home all day? Whatever – at least he’s sleeping peacefully!
  • The tantrums A threw a few times the afternoon we got home? Normally it doesn’t take him long to push my buttons so far that I want to pull my hair out, but after the hospital – it’s just a normal part of toddler lifeI thought. He’ll get glad again.

This is nothing new, of course – major jolts to everyday reality commonly cause us to check that reality and consider things in a different light (especially when those jolts involve imminent danger to the health of a loved one and a rush to the emergency room!).

But my own recent experience is making me wonder, why does it HAVE to take something so major? And is there a way I can hold onto this perspective instead of reverting back to my old sweating-some-of-the-small-stuff routines?

I did a bit of research at this point to see if someone has answered this question a zillion times already on the interwebs. Carolyn Aldwin, the director of the Center for Healthy Aging Research at Oregon State University, noted in a recent study that “It’s not the number of hassles that does you in, it’s the perception of them being a big deal that causes problems,” in terms of the effect of stress on one’s well-being.

This explains my recent brush with child medical danger, and the similar experiences I’m sure most of us have had in various moments when shit hits the fan. Of course our usual, everyday stressors don’t seem like a big deal anymore – how can we perceive them that way when we’ve just faced something much bigger? They seem laughable at that point, and we feel so freed from the chains of our usual irritations and mire.

And I, as many people do, have these experiences over and over again in life. These little valleys where I really seem to “get it” because of the gravity of my reality check. These oases of post-disaster relief (disaster being a completely relative term to each person’s experiences, of course) where I can easily distinguish the “small stuff” from truly valid problems. I feel confident in this state that I won’t have to give two fucks about that trivial stuff EVER AGAIN – and it is blissful self-satisfaction.

Unfortunately, it always seems that as I move away in time from any such game-changing experience, it’s as if I move away from it in distance as well. That crisis looks smaller and smaller on the horizon of recent, and then distant, memory, while the irritations I found so trivial, almost irrelevant, continue to rise afresh each day. They follow me as I move, so that eventually they loom large compared to the memory of that actual danger or serious grief.

I want to teach my kids not to cry over spilled milk, or make a mountain out of a molehill, or sweat that small stuff. I’d like to teach myself not to do that, since I know modelling it is probably the best way to pass that skill on. And today, in the recent wake of crisis, I feel confident that I’ll be able to do that. But more realistically, I suspect this feeling will pass like any other time I’ve faced crises in the past, and I’ll be back to my old fretting ways sooner than I’d wish.

I’m curious to hear how other villagers feel about this, parents and non-parents alike. Do you get that sense of relief and confidence in a post-crisis reality check? Are you able to maintain that newfound perspective weeks or months into the future, or maybe even, for good? How do you do it!?

Anxiously (no, wait! not anxiously…) awaiting your thoughts…

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