A Usual Mistake

Last year at this time, I found myself moving to Costa Rica to become a whitewater raft guide to deal with my recurring desire to flee the country to a more exotic locale. Healthy reaction.

“Enough! enough! enough!
Somehow I have been stunn’d. Stand back!
Give me a little time beyond my cuff’d head, slumbers, dreams, gaping,
I discover myself on the verge of a usual mistake.”

Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

Wouldn’t you love to be able to say that to everyone around you when you’re feeling really overwhelmed? Imagine getting up out of your chair at work and standing on it, or standing on a seat on the bus, or running through the city streets or just standing still in a field, screaming, “I’ve been stunned! Stand back! Give me some time! Enough! I can’t take it anymore! I am about to make the same mistake I always make and I am so incredibly frustrated that I keep doing this!”

You might get some stares. Maybe some applause, who knows. Because we’re all thinking that, right? I know I am. I have spent much of my life feeling anxious and overwhelmed, mostly due to self-criticism and realizations like that one. Oh god, am I really considering moving to Australia AGAIN just because I think I need a change of pace? Dear lord, really, REALLY, I’m going to stuff my face with ANOTHER one of these donuts even though the last time (yesterday) I ate five of them and felt so guilty that I ate three more and then felt guiltier?

Happens to me all the time. And often I cave. But I’m getting better.

Last week I contemplated moving to Australia, but instead of reading articles about the Great Barrier Reef or looking at how much plane tickets cost, I instead just let the thought pass through my head and I nodded to myself and thought Hmmm that would be fun! But not today. And three days ago when there were these gorgeous and delicious chocolates just sitting on the counter right across from my desk, I of course ate three of them right away, but before going back for seven more, I thought, Hmmm, those were tasty, but will probably make me sick if I eat the rest of them, and also I saw sad Jenny eyeing them and I think those chocolates are the only good things going on in her life right now, so I’ll cede them to her. See? Self-control, non-anxious response, and empathy! I found myself on the verge of the usual mistake and took some steps back.

I’ll court the mistakes again tomorrow, be it the I’ll just spend five more minutes on Facebook – GOTCHA IT’S BEEN AN HOUR! Or the eternal Yeah I’ll just watch one episode of NCIS – PSYCH I’M WATCHING FIVE! It happens. And while it’s often socially inappropriate to yell 19th-century transcendentalist poetry at any passersby who happen to be around when I am on the verge of my mistakes, it does help for me to recite that verse in my head. It’s good to have some words on standby in your head that you can mantra when you’re getting riled up. For me, it’s a combo of Walt Whitman and Liz Lemon. Telling. You gotta do what works for you. I’m curious to know what words others use. I hope someone out there is quoting Melissa McCarthy’s character from Bridesmaids.

Megan: This is some classy sh-… [burp] I want to apologize. I’m not even confident on which end that came out of.

Melissa McCarthy’s Megan eyeing some man candy on an airplane in the movie Bridesmaids.

It’s happened to all of us at some point, right? Gotta roll with it.

I’ll leave you with Mr. Whitman’s response to his own encounters with his personal precipices.

“That I could forget the mockers and insults!
That I could forget the trickling tears and the blows
of the bludgeons and hammers!
That I could look with a separate look on my own crucifixion
and bloody crowning!

“I remember now,
I resume the overstaid fraction,
The grave of the rock multiplies what has been confided to it, or to any graves,
Corpses rise, gashes heal, fastenings roll from me.

“I troop forth replenish’d with supreme power, one of an average
unending procession,
Inland and sea-coast we go, and pass all boundary lines,
Our swift ordinances on their way over the whole earth,
The blossoms we wear in our hats the growth of thousands of years.

“Eleves, I salute you! come forward!
Continue your annotations, continue your questionings.”

On my honor, I will.

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