“What screws us up most in life is the picture in our head of how it’s supposed to be”
and the more I thought about it, the more I realized how true it is. There is a certain stereotype, or mold, in our society in which we expect our lives to fit into. For example, over here in Utah a typical life goes something like this: you start out as a cute little kid, go to school, graduate high school, enroll in college, get married relatively young, have your own cute little kids, and get a job, if that’s what you want. Then the kids grow up, you grow old and eventually pass on. That’s the way life goes, is it not?
When I was a kid, I thought that’s exactly how my life would pan out–then reality caught up. It turns out, my life no longer fits in this pretty mold, and, once I get past the depth of it all, that can feel like a very scary thing. Suddenly, the world is unfamiliar, and you don’t feel like you have a place in it anymore.
Then, of course, there’s the denial that comes along with it, at least for the first little bit. After all, I’m supposed to have the normal life; the real disasters only happen to the other guy. I was supposed to have built a huge career doing what I love–I couldn’t have lost my job. I’m a mother of three; how could I have cancer? That can’t be me, battling depression. My kid can’t possibly have a disability. I thought my dad would be around forever. You see what I mean. Our realities morph into something we never saw coming as we’re fighting so desperately for the fake illusion, that picture in our heads, of the life we can no longer have.
This is exactly the problem that Arie faces in the next part of her story, Surviving through the Night. So many horrible things have happened to her, causing deep trauma and emotional scars, that up to this point she’s chosen to ignore. She’s been in denial, and that stage is rapidly coming to an end. Eventually you have to face the ugly changes in your life and figure out what you’re going to do with them. And that can be bloody. And really really hard.
However, I don’t think it’s as hard as we make it out to be. We place so much pressure on ourselves to be a certain person and to live a certain life, that we make it ten thousand times harder for ourselves to cope with what changes come. It’s okay to take time to adjust to what life throws at you. It’s okay to have issues and maybe even live in denial for a bit. But I think the most common idea that we overlook is that it’s okay not to have everything under control. It’s okay not to be okay.
Tony Stark was the first one who taught me this idea (if you don’t know by now, I tend to hang onto fictional characters a bit tighter than I should. Maybe it’s a writer thing). In his latest movie, Iron Man 3, we see the aftermath of the movie The Avengers. Tony–the “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist”–has just come back from saving New York from Loki’s alien army. He’s famous, admired, rich, strong, and finally has his girl–and he is not okay. He can’t sleep for days at a time, and when he does he has nightmares. When he thinks too hard or gets too close to something related to the battle in New York, he falls apart. But because of his “I’m better than every person on the planet” attitude, he won’t ask for help. He won’t admit he needs help, even to himself, until it’s almost too late.
I thought this was very interesting, because we rarely ever get to see this side of the story. Usually, the hero comes in, beats up a few bad guys, comes close to losing, saves the day, then walks away like a boss. You are left to assume that since they are the strong and brave hero, they’ll be okay. They’re heroes, after all. That’s just how it goes.
Tony Stark was the first to show that even Iron Man has problems. Even Iron Man feels small in the world. Even Iron Man can’t always cope. “You experience things and then they’re over and you still can’t explain ’em. Gods, aliens, other dimensions. I…I’m just a man in a can.”
That’s all any of us are, really: a man in a can, going through a bunch of crazy stuff that we can’t ever really explain. And people fail to mention that that’s what the real mold of life is. Hardly anybody will ever follow the cookie cutter path, the picture perfect life illusion. Sadly, as much as we hope it would, that just doesn’t happen.
And that’s the lesson that Arie has got to learn: she can’t be in control of everything 24/7, and she can’t keep pretending like things aren’t affecting her. I think that’s something we all could learn.
Unfortunately, that can take a long time to learn–maybe even a whole book 😉