When Things Get Dark, How Do You Respond?

a barbed wire fence against a black background
Image by lesmana_andry / CC BY

The past few weeks have been absolutely hectic, and there’s no end in sight.

Essentially, I’ve been tasked with packing, cleaning, and prepping a house for sale with only about a month to work with.

And it’s a house I’ve lived in for nearly a decade.

I’m not used to staying in one place for very long. This is the longest I’ve lived in a house since my very early childhood.

But when I moved in with Justin, I could feel a palpable difference. “I want to give you security and make you feel safe,” he told me early on in our relationship.

After I recovered from basically melting from this, I began to nest. To let myself settle in.

Now, I always knew this would never be a forever home. He bought it at the bottom of the market with the intention to live in it for a while and then sell it in a better market. It was always intended as an investment.

This day was always coming. I just didn’t know when. And I didn’t know it would be on such short notice. Neither of us did. But that’s what happens when a dream job emerges, and you need to suddenly relocate cross country.

I have a lot to do. There are renovations that need to be done that I’m helping with. Most walls in our house need a fresh coat of paint. And of course, I’m going to have to deep clean every inch of this place in just a little while.

But there’s a lot of work I’ve had to do first. I’ve been sorting through our possessions, packing what we want to keep; selling, donating, or giving the rest away to friends.

As I’ve been bopping around the house, I’ve been playing music or streaming TV on my phone. Kind of like a babysitter. Something to trick me into thinking I’m not working hard but instead just soaking in entertainment.

I’ve Been Watching Naked and Afraid

I’ve been watching (or half-watching) a new-to-me show lately called Naked and Afraid on Hulu. For those who haven’t watched it, the basic premise is that two people are dropped in an inhospitable environment literally naked and tasked with surviving there for 21 days (about the time a human body can last without food before dying).

It’s a hardcore survival challenge. Things get really terrible and dark as a matter of course:

  • When someone takes a risk and ends up drinking tainted water and gets sick
  • When the contestants are shivering in a hastily built shelter battling hypothermia as water leaks in through the roof
  • When their feet can’t get dry and they get trenchfoot (since they don’t have shoes unless they find stuff to fashion them from)
  • When there’s nothing to eat for days
  • When the camp fire goes out AGAIN, the mosquitos come in, they can’t cook their hunted kill (that’s sitting there spoiling), and they’re cold AF

The lows on this show are pretty damn low  and — in the reality show edit at least — pretty damn frequent.

I like the show because it puts things into perspective. I spend a lot of time feeling sorry for myself and like I’m up against an insurmountable challenge (I’m working at a breakneck pace through everything, and it’s looking like it’ll be just fast enough — but that I’m going to be down to the wire)… but it isn’t like I haven’t eaten anything in six days. I don’t have hypothermia. Hyenas aren’t trying to eat me.

And I’ve noticed something interesting now that I’ve seen a bunch of episodes. Succeeding in survival is not just about wilderness skills. Clearly, you need that. And there’s some luck involved: If the weather cooperates with your plans, things go better. Whether you can catch food or not can depend on what happens across your path.

And perhaps most importantly, the attitude of the people who are trying to survive can make or break things. It’s interesting to watch. Some participants have all the skills in the world, but their attitudes are shit, so if they do go the distance, they’re fucking miserable. And many of them end up tapping out early.

Conversely, there are contestants who are relentlessly positive. They recognize obstacles and will plan how to overcome them, but some of them nonetheless remain fairly upbeat, even as they’re starving half to death, getting bitten on their tender bits (yes, those areas) by Amazonian mosquitos, are suffering a fever, or have gashed their leg open with a botched swing of their machete (and have fashioned together a makeshift bandage from freaking leaves).

For real.

When Things Get Dark, How Do You Respond?

All of this has led me to ask myself, When things get dark, how do you respond? 

Of course, with any self-assessment, it’s tough to pin down an honest answer. I know what I think, but just like anyone else, when it comes to me, I’m hopelessly biased.

I do know I try to maintain a positive attitude, but one that’s based in reality. When things get dark, I’ve always found that a shitty attitude just makes things worse. True, you need to acknowledge reality. You can’t delude yourself into thinking everything’s alright. Truly resilient people aren’t always positive. But just because things are falling apart, it doesn’t mean you need to spiral into a dark place. Mindfulness seems to be key here — you simply acknowledge reality without wishing it were different. And instead of thrashing about emotionally, you go to work instead on the parts of the problem that you can improve.

Do I always do this perfectly? No. I’m human. I have brain weasels just like everyone else.

And even the most positive Naked and Afraid contestants have moments where they’ll cry or break down or succumb to the darker sides of their suffering. But these upbeat survivalists don’t wallow in it. They’re always future focused. Pragmatic, not self-pitying.

I figure if they can do it — in circumstances that are far more extreme than I will probably ever have to deal with — then there’s hope for me.

*

My new book is out!

Dealing with Difficult Metamours, the first book devoted solely to metamour relationships, full of strategies to help you get along better with your partners’ other partner(s).

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