Being an adult is about acknowledging the ways you are still a child…
I am an inertial being. I hate doing things. Given no push, I will do nothing all the time. One of my recurring dreams is having a magical blanket that allows me to hide from the world. When choosing super powers, I don’t go for flight or super-strength; I go for intangibility. I want to be Kitty Pryde, hibernating inside of rock below the earth’s surface. If I can disappear, I can hide from anyone having expectations of me.
But not doing anything is horrible for me. Hiding doesn’t feel good—it’s just my default. If I don‘t force myself to do things, I’ll feel worse and worse about myself until I get to the event horizon of the depression singularity and can’t feel better about myself.1
When presented with a thing to do, I will imagine all of the ways it will be bad and unpleasant. In the moment of the thing, I will be anxious about any new stimuli that shows that it could go wrong. Is traffic heavier than I expected? Is a glass near the edge of a table? Lexapro helps me temper the anxiety to reasonable levels so I’m not overwhelmed, but it does not go away completely.
When it comes down to it, I behave like a two-year-old. If I am tired, or hungry, or sick, I will be a grump. I will see the worst in whatever I’m doing. My lack of a pokerface will show my discomfort and will bring everyone else down too. No one is responsible for me having a good time but me. Me being grumpy doesn’t make other people feel sorry for me; it just makes them grumpy too.
So, I have to do things, even things I might not think I want to do. Do I want to drive through traffic, figure out where to park the car, and walk with the kids several blocks to watch a Christmas Parade? Not really, but I’m going to do it anyway. The kids will have a great time, and it won’t be as horrible as I imagine. Yes, I will be cold, and we won’t be able to pee, and I will probably have to carry the three-year-old on the way back, but the kids will have smiles on their faces and I might be pleasantly surprised.2
Lately I’ve been forcing myself to like things. Not in a Holden Caulfield “phony” way, but rather a combination of “fake it ’til you make it” and ”if I’m going to do this thing anyway, I might as well enjoy myself as much as possible.” If we are going to carve jack o’ lanterns at Halloween, I can either be (unreasonably) nervous about the carving knife and wig everyone out, or I can dip my hand in cold pumpkin guts and enjoy it. If it’s time to decorate the Christmas tree, I can stop worrying about my excited girls breaking all of the ornaments and soak in the yule magic.
More often than not, I actually have a good time. One Sunday this fall we took a family drive out to Charlottesville for lunch and then to Carter Mountain Orchard to pick apples. Things went wrong, and it was still fun. The restaurant we planned on was not open on Sundays. Two children getting were hungrier and hungrier, and we had no idea of where we would feed them. Instead of going full-on-grump, I sucked it up, and we went to a restaurant across the street, not knowing if the kids would eat anything—they did.
After lunch, we went up the mountain. We didn’t have a specific plan–just to pick some apples. We asked how to pick apples. We walked up a hill and picked apples. We paid for the apples. It was delightful.
Then a strange thing happened: my wife Kat asked me if I wanted to go on a hay ride, and I didn’t say no or make a face. Normally I would think about how a hay ride is paying a lot of money to wait in line to sit on the back of a truck, where, while inhaling diesel exhaust, I will worry about my family falling off. But this time, I didn’t think those things—I just got on the truck and enjoyed the view around the mountain. It was a nice way to wind down our adventure.
Being an adult is about acknowledging the ways you are still a child and then making the best of it. I fail at this more often than I succeed, but it feels like I’m getting better at it.
Photo by: Scott Beale
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