Be aware of which applies to you, and you can choose to change.
John Walter ⭐Jan 18 · 5 min read [First published in The Ascent on Medium]
Are you living a life you love?
Looking back over 65 years, I have had long periods when I have lived a life I love. Other times it has felt like I am merely coping with the circumstances that life throws at me.
I lived a life I loved by bringing up my two daughters. I live a life I love by being in a 40 yr long relationship. My working life has fluctuated. Thirteen years running my own music business precisely the way I wanted to was a high point. Struggling to make ends meet by being a supply teacher was the low point.
Are you coping with circumstances?
Recently I have been coping with two significant traumas.
- I had a brain tumour which knocked out my hearing in one ear.
- My youngest daughter took her own life.
If I look back further, I can see that my period of coping with circumstances, actually began several years ago.
My business collapsed. After a couple of years trying to keep it running while losing money, I folded it up.
Losing my business pointed me back to using my teaching qualification. It didn’t feel like a great choice, but I had to keep the money coming in.
I hated it. The Education system had changed beyond recognition. If I voiced my feelings and opinions, I fell out with management. It was a relief when my hearing was knocked out by a brain tumour. I had the excuse I needed. I retired from teaching.
When coping wasn’t enough
My first reaction to my daughter taking her life was to cope in the best way I could. I stayed in London for two weeks. I met with distraught friends and family members. I spoke to the officials. I even managed to go for a swim most days just like I did at home. Once they released her body, I took a role in organising the funeral.
As soon as the rituals were complete, I signed up to a three year Counselling Diploma. I had to create something meaningful in my life. The training course has been a safe place for me to explore my feelings and experiences. Partly it was an extension of my coping mechanisms, but it also prompted me to search beyond that.
I have discovered that the majority of NHS and voluntary bereavement services are limited to giving you coping strategies. They deal with the symptoms but ignore any reference to the root cause of your distress.
Twelve months after my daughter died, I signed up to receive several weeks of bereavement counselling. The first thing they presented me with was a questionnaire, a quantitative survey. It was asking me on a scale of 1–10 how I was coping. I gave myself a 7 for everything. Then I ripped it up.
This questionnaire was there because it helped the agency to get funding. If six weeks later, I gave everything an eight they would have succeeded in their mission to help me cope better.
That is not what I needed! I was coping fine!
That was not my motivation for coming to counselling. I wanted to look behind the facade and explore the emotions that would otherwise fester inside of me and probably make me physically or mentally ill. Not just learn some tricks to help me to stagger from one day to the next with a smile on my face.
I know what it is like to live a life I love. I am looking to move beyond coping to a life which inspires me daily.
Luckily my counsellor understood. She accepted that after a few weeks, I may well be coping less well than I was now. My mission was to uncover my emotions. I wanted to explore my passions and the frustrations related to them. I needed to open the can of worms, sift through them all, explore and try to understand them.
If coping went out of the window in the process, that was a price I was willing to pay.
What is on the other side of coping?
The first thing I noticed was that I was not engaging fully in certain activities. I had kept them going as a way of maintaining routines, filling time, or because I thought I should. I was not authentic in them. I was using them as familiar props.
I dropped them.
Vast amounts of time opened up.
That was scary.
Recreating a life you love
The first thing I understood was that you have to let go of a lot of routine time-filling activities. Time opens up, and you can choose other things. One of the things I decided on was writing.
First, I had a little bit of encouragement. I tested the water and found that I could be my authentic self through writing.
Writing also helps me to explore all sides of my self, mind, body spirit and emotions.
I have been moving into new social situations, feeling able to be my true self and not plaster on that false facade. Sometimes I feel uncomfortable. Rather than find ways of coping, I either express my discomfort or leave the situation.
I have started to cook and bake again. Not for any functional reason. I end up giving away most of what I bake. I love the process, and I love cooking for others and accepting appreciation. I enjoy setting personal standards and rules. There is no outside interference in this.
Finding a new direction
A life where you are coping with circumstances feels linear. You plan to walk down a path, and you meet an obstacle, you find a way to overcome that obstacle and move on.
Living a life you love is quite different, and it takes some getting used to. It is not likely to feel linear. It feels more like you are merely dwelling in a space rather than moving from one place to another.
We are not used to this. Society trains us to live a linear life. We progress from one school system to the next, and then we move with promotion through jobs. Every part of life has some predictable path to follow.
So the new direction for me is not a new direction at all. It is a willingness to experience life in all its rawness and spectacular beauty.
What opens up is scary. You are no longer safe. You will be taking risks. You will be accessing emotions you have squashed down for years. You will be facing fears you have so far managed to avoid or deny.
If living a life where you cope feels like enough for you, then I recommend you stick with that.
If like me, you want to live a life you love. Climb aboard, buckle up and join all the other free souls on this roller coaster of a life.