I have a lot of friends who are going through hard stuff, or have been in the last few months. Folks challenged by illness and job loss, others whose worlds have been torn apart by bereavement. People facing all kinds of practical difficulties and personal challenges. We swap notes. Not to compete, not to say ‘my problem is worse than yours’ but because telling tales from the edge makes it easier not to fall over it. Talking about what’s happening is a way of coping and surviving.
And there’s a thing we do, all of us, which I wanted to share because it helps. We point out each other’s successes. Often those are not big achievements by the standards of those involved. There are days when just doing your regular job in a passable way is a challenge of epic proportions, when giving your family something like a normal day is a heroic achievement. So we help each other recognise that, and take pride in what we’re managing to do despite what we’re up against. Sometimes that means going “but hey, you’re still here, still fighting, you got through today, well done.” There are days when not being beaten, dead or incapacitated by the end of it is pretty impressive. Today I did not actually go mad. Today I broke and wept and did nothing but weep, but I am still here. Today I did not walk into the sea, even though I thought about it. There are times, in extremis, when this too is achievement.
There are times when, through no choice of our own, life just swamps us. It piles on more than we can bear, demands more than we know how to do, takes more than we had to spare, and then you get up the next day and it starts again. No amount of saying “please stop I can’t take any more” makes the blindest bit of odds. What do you do when you have to endure more than it is possible to endure? When you have to bear more weight than your shoulders can take? What happens when failure isn’t an option but you can’t see any way out that doesn’t in fact look like fail? Day after day after day…
Some people give up, sliding into absolute despair and inaction. Some people kill themselves, or break down mentally such that they can no longer function.
And some people get through it, crawling where they have to, howling frequently, barely functional, but somehow still moving, still alive. Not successful by any regular measurement, not ‘achieving’ but holding together enough to get through, keeping going enough that there’s just a flicker of hope things might improve. How? Because today, they did not give up. Today, when it all seemed impossible and too painful to bear, they crawled out to face the day anyway, and they tried. Today, they did not commit suicide or admit defeat.
That refusal to give up is the only difference between absolute total defeat, and the chance to make things better. And if that’s all you have left to hang onto, it is both everything, and terrifyingly flimsy.
So if you’re having a hard time, or you know someone who is, remember this. There are days when getting through and surviving is win. It is heroic success and inspirational levels of achievement and needs treating as such. Every small thing you do is a thing to celebrate.
Today I wrote a blog post. Today perhaps I asked the right person for help. Today I did not give up.