This is the story of a mild setback.
Or really, a week of mild setbacks, each of them so inconsequential that to share them all in turn would be unutterably dull.
But in spite of how small and stupid they are, they add up. We all know this. We all have bad days and bad weeks where everything makes us glum and irascible, and because we know we’re out of sorts we feel intensely guilty about almost every interaction we have with the people around us, and that makes us feel unpleasant to be around, so we avoid people and end up more glum than before. And because we feel that way, doing the good things we intended to do that day or that week feel somehow insurmountable, which makes us especially less likely to do them, and then the bad feeling of having been lazy and lethargic makes us even more pissy, and the whole thing turns into this massive downward spiral from which usually the only escape is talking some hard sense into yourself about how you’re letting dumb things make you depressed, which is in truth only partially successful and only in the short term, because the reality is that a significant portion of these small things are important, even when they are little, and by dismissing them and beating yourself up about how “dumb” and “stupid” you’re being rather than addressing it, you’re actually letting that little thing fester and infect otherwise healthy areas of your life.
I’m trying to work on this, but the truth is that only perfect people never suffer from this problem. Which, at the same time, isn’t to say I’m helpless or without choice in these scenarios. Instead, I’d like to become better at recognizing the spiral early, of short-circuiting the gloom not by dismissing it or shoving it aside, but by confronting it head-on.
I’m writing this at the train station in Madrid. I came here this morning to make a day trip to Toledo, which is only about a half-hour away. I was tired this morning, as I have been all week, so I got out the door late and missed the train I’d meant to take. They leave every hour, so I simply bought the next available ticket and went to grab a coffee. It wasn’t till I’d gone through security and went to board the train that I realized the ticket I’d bought wasn’t for yet another hour: the current train had already been sold out when I’d purchased my ticket.
Unlike many other train stations, the one here in Madrid doesn’t feel very welcoming. The outside is nice, but the inside feels more like an airport, with a security check point, and check-in desks, and little departure screens that you have to keep in sight as you wait for them to finally announce your platform number. If I could pick a place to spend an hour, I’d much rather do so outside, where the weather is fine and the city beautiful. But now that I’ve gone through security I feel I can’t leave.
I went back to the waiting area and sat down. The bright green linoleum irritated me. I wanted to be sure of my departure platform, so that I could stay close to it, but it hadn’t been announced. I wanted to relax, but everything was just so slightly off that I couldn’t. Gloom. Doom.
I checked Facebook: a post of mine from a year ago popped up. I had written:
I had a moment this evening where I thought “I could do that aspirational thing that will make me happy in the long run.
But I bet I could also find a way to waste time on the Internet.”
Guess I’ll have to live with that for today.
I have choices. Sometimes I make the ones I’m not proud of.
Environment is important. It does impact your mood, your ability to concentrate, your productivity. It’s also true that an increased sense of anxiety impairs your memory, making it more difficult to recall information and to retain whatever it is you’re studying. It’s why I rarely work when I travel.
Those factors are real, but at the end of the day, making the most of your situation means finding a way to deal with them. Today, my solution was to write this blog.
There is no lesson here—or at least not one I’ve learned. Bad feelings are hard to shake, and I will still have days when I can’t focus, when I’m tired, when some minor problem is nagging at the back of my mind, when I make the choice I’m not proud of.
And I’ll likely still feel guilty for allowing these things to throw me off when so many other people struggle with much greater problems and somehow still keep going. This is just a small reminder that even when you can’t control everything, you don’t have to be helpless.
And things do turn around, sometimes quite quickly. I made a choice I’m proud of today. And I’m in Spain, on a train bound for Toledo.
It’s a fine day. I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow.