A Case of the Shouldas

(By Corey Rotella, CNA Extraordinaire)

       I think I can’t. I think I can’t. I think I can’t…I’m not sure at what point this week I began to feel like the little engine that couldn’t. Maybe it was after a difficult conversation with my Grandma whose mental state is less than I had hoped. Maybe it was after arguing for an entire day with a variety of mechanics over car trouble. Maybe it was half way through a tough shift where my client was in a massive amount of pain and her husband’s mood was foul. Maybe it was having to have one too many adult conversations. At some point, my mind just shut down and my body went on auto pilot. I had checked out for a little while.

      Little did I know that I was suffering from a bad case of the “shouldas”…. I should have handled that better. I should have prepared for that possibility. I should have been able to articulate that idea more effectively. More often, the shouldas are accompanied with a horrible rash of “if only’s”…if only I was more organized. If only I finished college. If only I hadn’t eaten that entire box of hostess cupcakes. There isn’t much that causes more useless anxiety and stagnation than a bad case of the shouldas and if only’s.

       We all have those stretches where everything seems to fall apart at the same time. There is no wrong way to feel when those times hit. It’s important to recognize them for what they are though. I know that if I don’t pause and breathe, I start to think those moments will never pass and before I know it my attitude and behavior begins to mirror my feelings and thinking.

     It’s ok to have a bad day. It’s ok to have a bad week. It is an unreasonable expectation of myself to handle all difficulties with optimism as they are happening. Despite what my Wonder Woman coffee cup and matching underwear would have you believe, I am human. First world problems rarely feel that way when I am going through them and I have to learn to accept that and be patient.      

        So, I felt like the little engine that couldn’t this week. The first step on the path to feeling better was to accept it. Then I shared it with a friend (GASP! Expressing vulnerability in an open and honest way! That is top shelf adulting, right there!), and now I’m sharing it with you, readers, because maybe you are having a rough week too. And you know what? I feel much better. For me, the solution to negative emotions is positive action. It may not solve my problems instantly, but it always helps.

Corey Anne Rotella co-authored the book CNA Edge: Reflections from year one along with Bob Goddard and Hannah Hedges. It’s collection of essays from their blog CNA Edge: A Voice from the trenches of Long Term Care

 

Changing the Things I Can

(By Corey Rotella, CNA Extraordinaire)

I think the greatest lesson, the one that has served me the most is that life will never adapt to me. Life does not bend and twist itself to fit into my whims and desires and little plans. It’s just never worked that way. Years of futilely pounding my head against the wall and then resenting the headache has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that my life does not belong in a box; not even one of my own design.

      It is not the sort of lesson that I get to learn once and move on either. No, it seems I have to learn and re-learn it all the time. ALL. THE. TIME. I can be willful and stubborn, obstinately refusing to move. I bury my head in the sand like a good little ostrich and pretend everything is okay. I try to force pieces into the puzzle because I think I know how the big picture is supposed to look or in an honest attempt to help another I manufacture all sorts of misplaced “solutions”, as if I have all the answers to all the questions because I am so very smart. Good intentions are sometimes ego driven.

      My level of pain is directly related to my level of willingness to just let go and truth be told, there are times when I am not so willing. It is then that I become the master of my own misery. Misery is a funny thing. Despair, resentments, fear…all awful ways to feel and yet the familiarity of it brings the warped sense of comfort derived from not having to make decisions; not having to make healthy changes; not having to be accountable. The hell I know is better than the hell I don’t sort of thinking that keeps one sick, psychically crippled, emotionally stunted and easily manipulated by the inner demons we all carry within. Sometimes I chase those ghosts but never for any length of time. Today, I have far too much to lose.

      It took me a long time to learn that “the hell we don’t know” is rarely a hell at all. It can be uncomfortable. It involves me doing things I don’t want to do, feeling emotions that I don’t want to feel and facing fears I don’t want to face but I have found that 100% of the time if I walk through it, my life becomes enriched, I become empowered and I learn and grow as a person. 

       Life does not adapt to me. In order to live authentically and happily, I must adapt to life. I must let go of what I think it should look like. I must let go of my expectations of what things should be which in hindsight always fall so short of what manifests. I must consciously make the decision on a day by day basis to get out of my own way. 

      Here’s the interesting thing: when I climb down out of my head and realize that the only, the ONLY events over which I have any control are my own behaviors and choices, it frees me from the prison I created with its bars of self-doubt, self-destruction and over-thinking and allows me to make the choices necessary to become an active participant in my own life. In giving up my fight to control my circumstances, I gain my freedom. In giving up the fears and thoughts of the worst of me, I begin to get to know the best of me. In letting go of the reins that control life, I gain the ability to control myself.

Corey Anne Rotella co-authored the book CNA Edge: Reflections from year one along with Bob Goddard and Hannah Hedges. It’s collection of essays from their blog CNA Edge: A Voice from the trenches of Long Term Care

 

Create!

(By Corey Rotella, CNA Extraordinaire)  

   I looked up at the clock, surprised to see that four hours had passed. I had paint in my hair, under my nails and on my favorite jeans…and I felt much, much better. I looked at the explosion of colors and patterns on the canvas before me and as always I was surprised that it came from me; that I created it and with that awareness came the deep sense of peace and satisfaction.

     I didn’t know how to paint two years ago. I didn’t take a class and the best I can do at painting actual objects is easily outdone by a kindergartener. None of that stops me from hitting the canvas when the shit hits the fan. For me, creating something, ANYTHING, is a life affirming act that rejuvenates my spirit and reconnects me to my present. Maybe it’s because for so long I was an active participant in my own destruction. Maybe it’s because right now all the collective anger in society seems so toxic that I feel powerless over it. Whatever the cause, the very attempt to bring an idea or emotion to life through a creative outlet does more for my mental and spiritual well-being than a store of self-help books. I blast my music and lose myself in the process as my mind and emotions feel free from the cage of everyday worries and anxieties for just a little while.

       I’ll tell you something else! My best paintings, my most insightful writings occur when I am feeling my most uncomfortable, when I’m fleeing into that land in my mind full of abstract thoughts and colors. It really gives meaning to those awkward moments when I feel uncomfortable in my own skin. It puts it to good use.

        Creating is a cleansing, cathartic experience that enhances my life in a way I didn’t think possible. I keep trying new things! Some work and some don’t. I’ll spare you the details of my in the shower solitary naked dance. Suffice to say, it ended with a bruise on my head and water all over the floor. Even so! It was a new experience! 

       I implore you to give it a shot. Write sad poetry, sing off key, paint, collage, dance naked (or clothed)! Don’t let that little voice inside convince you that you’re not good enough to do it. The point is trying new things. The very attempt to do so is, in and of itself, the creation of a new experience. Shine on my friends!

Corey Anne Rotella co-authored the book CNA Edge: Reflections from year one along with Bob Goddard and Hannah Hedges. It’s collection of essays from their blog CNA Edge: A Voice from the trenches of Long Term Care