Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Problem solving (or not)

I was at the dental clinic last week, willing myself not to be aggravated by the long wait for the dentist (aggravation is a choice, though habit makes it feel it isn't), so I lay back on the examination chair and closed my eyes and listened to myself breathe. I've recently discovered that the best way to breathe for relaxation is to lie on my stomach on the floor, since it forces my body to use stomach breathing. But since I couldn't lie on the floor of the clinic without creating a non-restful scene, I did what I could. (I also find that when I'm trying to talk sense into myself it really helps to close my eyes. I hear my calm voice better that way. Just sayin'.)

I promptly fell asleep. Or I fell almost-asleep; it didn't really matter, because I'd slept only four hours the night before, and any rest was better than nothing. You know how it is: even when you're no longer a preschooler, life always looks better after a nap. I take'em when I can.

No sooner had I drifted off than the dentist arrived. He had what he thought was bad news, but since he'd told it to me the week before I did some more deep breathing, did some more waiting, and was eventually told to go for one of those panoramic x-rays, as prep for oral surgery. (The surgery, which was Monday, was successful but painful.)

While I was waiting for the x-ray I thought, You will always do something. This was comforting. You see, when I feel panicky or on the edge of despair the real issue often isn't whatever it is I'm worried about. The real issue is that my head is screaming I don't know what to do! It took me a number of years to figure out that what panics me is not knowing what to do. It makes me feel trapped, as if there's a cliff mere inches away and a tiger is approaching.

But not knowing what to do is usually not deadly. And most of the difficulties that come my way are not tigers. I do face difficult and unpleasant situations which involve major unknowns and logistical impossibilities; there is no certainty that things will work out; I have limited time and energy and money. And yet none of that means that if I tumble off what feels like a cliff, I will tumble into helpless oblivion. I am not helpless. And unpleasant change (or enduring unpleasant circumstances) does not equal oblivion... unless I let it.

The response to I don't know what to do! is to remind myself that no matter what happens, I will do something. Even if I don't currently know what that something is.

*        *        *         *

If I were to ask people to provide three words that describe me, I would guess (I could be wrong) that they would say I am resourceful and resilient and well-grounded. I am a practical person, a problem solver. I have taught myself to assume one can make progress on almost anything.

That attitude works well 99% of the time, maybe more. But once in a while I encounter a problem that doesn't have a solution. I try plan A, then B, then C, and then I head on to D-E-F and G-H-I and so on. I tend to be a little slow on the uptake when it comes to problems that can't be solved.

When I finally admit that I'm dealing with an unsolvable (or something for which progress is so glacial as to have the appearance of being unsolvable), I have one of two reactions. The first is to shrug and say, "Eh -- can't be solved! Oh well!" That's my go-to response when I'm dealing with logistics or planning.

My other response is an aghast, "But I can't live with that!" followed by several rounds of running in increasingly panicky mental circles. Eventually I realize I can't sustain that level of hysteria (what I really can't do is live in a state of persistent anxiety) and I correct my thoughts. This often requires an addendum to my recurrent But I can't live with that! thought: I can't live with that with my current mindset.

There are other options besides letting something make me crazy.

There are other ways to respond.

There are other possibilities for how to look at a situation.

to be continued....


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I'd offer up resilient, resourceful, smart, and empathetic. It's four words. So be it.