I acquired a new coping mechanism recently. It's a change of heart that only became possible when I tried thinking about things differently and realized I felt a ton better. I can only explain it by telling how I started trying it. Otherwise I end up sounding all pompous and fatheaded.
What happened was, I had to work over the weekend recently, a very unusual thing in my job, and not only did I have to work the weekend, I had to pull an all-nighter. I worked Saturday, and then I ended up working from Sunday morning at 11:30 till Monday afternoon at 4:30. Straight through. And I knew it was going to be hard, and I was kind of dreading it, but I knew this project needed to get done, and there was no other way.
That Sunday morning I spent some time meditating, during which (counterproductively) I found myself fretting about having to work that weekend and wondering how I was going to get through it. All of a sudden the thought flashed through my mind that, instead of wondering what was in it for me (I already knew I wasn't getting anything out of it -- I had been beating that dead horse in my head for weeks), I could go to work with the approach, "What can I contribute here? How can I help out?"
As I considered the prospect of working with this new attitude, it threw my concerns into a whole new light. I suddenly stopped comparing how much they were asking me to do with how much I was getting paid, and I also felt better -- much better -- instantly. This feeling was so encouraging that I knew I was on to something. So I decided to try doing this day of work with that approach in my mind, and it turned the whole experience around for me. I was able to work without having to complain, and had only minor skirmishes with difficult people, and actually enjoyed myself generally, throughout the whole 29 hours.
So after I had that initial success I began trying to apply this new coping strategy in other situations. Friendships, for instance. Other work situations. The subway. I found that whenever I was able to do this I could stop panicking about whether I was going to be okay -- I could just relax about my own worries. It was such a pleasure to forget about my own picayune concerns that the experience grew on me.
There's other versions of this coping mechanism, such as the one a friend of mine uses on the street, where he consciously defers to every single person who comes within secondary personal space; he stays out of confrontations. Or the one where you consider yourself here (on the earth) on a purely custodial basis; it changes how you look at the things you do -- from the macro level (what you do with your life) down to the micro (whether you litter).
The point of all of these exercises or mental stratagems is to acquire some perspective on things. I think I know what's best for me, but since I am so subjective, I get stuck on an idea that later turns out not to be the right choice for me. Then what happens is I don't get something I wanted, or some project I was working on falls apart, and I have to find a way to deal with the disappointment. Without a clear recognition of my limitations, some sense that I don't (and never will) have all the facts at hand, I can easily beat my head against the wall trying to get what I want when it just isn't forthcoming.
At my college everybody had to do a thesis paper or project in their senior year. (Since I studied art I got to do a nonverbal project, which, since I was a drunk, seemed like a massive reprieve because I didn't have to be sober to work on it.) We all worked hard -- there was no way to do it without some kind of protracted, consistent, daily effort. But eventually the time came in the spring when each of us finished and handed it in (or, in my case, exhibited the work and invited people in to look at it). There was a time eventually when the work was done. And each of us flipped out, in our own way; each of us went through what we dubbed "post-partum depression."
At this stage of my life, I am going through something very similar to that "post-partum," post-thesis depression. Because I'm trying to go to medical school, I'm in a holding pattern that is going to persist in some forms until very late this year. I've applied to and am waiting to hear from medical schools all over the country; if I am accepted by more than one I will have to decide which one I want to attend; if I leave New York City I will have to pack up my stuff this summer and buy a car and get an apartment in a new city; I will have to leave my job, where I have worked for five years; and I will have to begin school full-time, for the first time in ten years.
At this moment, however, it is too early for me to take on those projects. Right now, I am simply waiting to hear from medical schools. I work at my job until 6 pm, leave and take the subway home, go directly to the mailbox, open it, and curse when there's nothing in it, or sweat when there's a slim envelope. (I'll let you know how I react when I get a large heavy envelope, if that happens.) So the moment when I open the mailbox is the moment I look forward to all day, and then after I'm done opening the mailbox, I'm left with this feeling of letdown and ennui.
I feel like I have nothing to do with my hands. I am no longer in pre-med courses preparing for med school; I'm no longer studying for the MCAT (the standardized medical school entrance test); I'm not writing applications; I'm not doing anything. I'm up at school one night a week as a teaching assistant in a bio lab, for fun mostly, but it doesn't take up my time the way these other endeavors did. I am, for lack of a better word, bored.
Bored, but also dread-filled at the prospect of leaving here, and worried about not being able to handle medical school, and terrified at having to make new friends. It's a bad time for me to be bored, therefore. I need activity, a lot of it, to drown out the sounds of these demons.
Last night I finally received an "answer" from the only school where I have interviewed yet. The letter said: "Although impressed with your credentials," and I actually had to explain to someone that that statement doesn't mean much ("But look, it says so here," they said) "the Committee has elected to defer consideration at this time. Your file will, therefore, be placed in a 'Hold' category for further comparison against the applicant pool." So they didn't say no, but they didn't say yes: they said WAIT. Fucking WAIT.
I said to someone today, the drag about this is, I need to know. Or at least, I think I need to know. Evidence suggests that I do not, in fact, need to know. If I needed to know I would know. (I come from the school of thought that says you do get what you need, at least, if not what you want necessarily.) Okay, so I don't need to know, but I want to know. I'm tired of all the uncertainty.
In this context my new coping mechanism is coming in handy. The only way to handle all the rejections, and this "Hold" letter too, is to think I am needed elsewhere at this time. Whatever I may bring to a medical school, I'll be bringing it later. Evidence suggests I have more to do here, first.