“It doesn’t feel fair!” I hear this so often it really p*sses me off. There’s a new season of My 600 lb Life on TLC right now and (as usual) I feel compelled to respond to these patients, mainly because even though it’s one patient on the show, there are hundreds of people who are in similar situations, whether they weigh 600 lbs or not. This is the excuse that all kinds of people use to shift responsibility to someone or something else about their living circumstances: “XYZ happened to me, and it’s not fair!”; “If it weren’t for ‘insert life event here,’ I’d be thin/ rich/ employed/ not an addict!”
I have to tell you, life can really suck! I’m sure this is a shock to all of you out there and that you didn’t know that life can really sucker-punch you and put you down for the count. You’re clicking right along, and then whammo! life smacks you upside the head with something bad. All of a sudden, there you are on the floor wondering how the hell this happened and dammit, it’s not fair! Now you have to start all over again or at the very least deal with whatever happened to you! Not fair- you had plans!
About 25 years ago, I planned a trip to New Zealand. Whenever anyone asks me where my dream vacation is, it’s always New Zealand; exotic islands at the bottom of the world full of exciting things to see and do. I’ve wanted to go there since I started college and I began saving up to go, and about 25 years ago, the fund was big enough that I started getting guide books and planning out my trip: how long, what islands, how I was going to travel, all of the fun stuff that goes with setting up the trip of a lifetime. And then….. I got laid off. For a couple of years! Even working part-time, the money was short and eventually, my vacation fund dried up. So much for that trip! It really hurt, especially since I still want to go and I’ve not been able to get that close again. As bad life experiences go, that one is pretty minor. I’ve had far worse before and since, and there are days when I listen to friends and others talk about the fabulous trips they’ve taken to far off places and feel a little bit envious: I could have gone to New Zealand. So, I remind myself that I may get there yet!
If I were like those who whine about life being unfair, I could cry and pout and say that life robbed me of a life’s dream vacation, or that I gained weight because of some of the horrible experiences I had as a child, and I’ve never married or had kids because of those same horrible experiences. (I know throughout my 30’s & 40’s, my mom made sure to let me know what a disappointment I was for not giving her grandkids and I just bit my tongue.) We all know that whining, crying, pouting, blaming life, God or fate for the bad things that happen isn’t very productive, but let’s leave productivity out of this discussion and get to the real question: does it make you feel any better? Does it make the situation any better? In my experience, no.
I think what irritates me the most about listening to people complain about how unfairly life has treated them is the idea that life/ fate/ God owes them. I’m going to be a real b*tch here: life/ fate/ God doesn’t owe them, me or anyone ANYTHING! Seriously, you are alive and that is a tremendous chance to do amazing things (how much can you do once you’re dead?) Whether you are born into wealth or poverty, neither is a guarantee of fame or failure. Plenty of those who started poor ended up doing wonders and some who had all the money and status anyone could want ended up failures. We get to make our own decisions and our own lives. One of my favorite quotes is from Thomas Edison (another self-made individual): “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Too many people think and act as if the things we want, either health, wealth or happiness, are guaranteed by life and that if XYZ hadn’t happened, they would have had those things already. Even the authors of the US Constitution recognized that we are born with the rights only to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, meaning that we have the right to chase it down; whether we catch it or not is another matter entirely.
Happiness, too, is a matter of perspective. Some people who seem to have everything are horribly unhappy (it’s the whole point of Citizen Kane) and those who seem to have nothing live happy and fulfilled lives. For better or worse, we are all self-made individuals. Yes, there are good things and bad things that happen to us as we go through life, but how we deal with them is up to us. Some of us become embittered and some of us accept these things as lessons and learn from them. That doesn’t mean that we have to be glad when something bad happens to us, but we don’t have to let it define us either.
So many of the patients on My 600 lb Life were victims of abuse (emotional, physical and/ or sexual) and for the most part, they dealt with the trauma by eating. That abuse has defined them and everything about them through their eating and the subsequent problems that arise from their obesity. Their triumph is when they choose to reject that definition and re-define themselves. This is something else that most of us forget because we are too busy dealing with every day life and whatever stones it’s thrown at us: we can change our direction and re-invent ourselves. Just because you start down one road doesn’t mean your path is now set in stone and you can’t deviate from it. This isn’t the Middle Ages where those born into serfdom are stuck as peasants until the day they die and the second son of the lord of the manor is destined to go into the clergy. You are who you decide to be.
I repeat this one to myself a few times a week, because it’s so easy to forget. We get buried with every day tasks and we let life (and everyone else) push us into a little box of who they think we should be, and when we realize we are unhappy, we blame life and everyone/ everything else. What we don’t see, probably because we are too close to our situations, is that we choose to get pushed into that little box. Life and everything pushes us and we don’t push back! In 1990 or so, my sister came home from college to visit for the weekend, and she brought the book that was making the rounds at her dorm: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (great book, so-so movie). She told me it was great and she was almost done with it but she had to bring it back with her or she’d let me borrow it. She finished it Saturday afternoon and was driving back to the Bay on Sunday, so she said I could read it until she left. I stayed up and read the whole thing that Saturday night. Boiled down, it’s about two women, Evelyn and Idgie (Imogene), who get pushed around by life, but the difference is that Idgie pushes back and doesn’t let life tell her who she is supposed to be: she is the person she wants to be, even if it’s not easy. Evelyn is overweight and unhappy because she hasn’t learned to push back. If Evelyn sounds a little familiar, it’s because most of us are in this situation. We ‘go along to get along’ because it’s less hassle than standing there and saying no, but when we realize we are unhappy, rather than saying “yeah, it’s my fault for going along,” we blame life: it’s not fair!
I’m not telling you everything that’s happened to you is your fault, but there are instances where we can choose, even if it’s just choosing how to react to something bad that happened. We can focus on the hurt, the disappointment or the injury, or we can focus on what we’ve learned from it or how to make the best of it. It has to do with attitude and, I think, resilience. Life can knock you down: whether you decide to get up again is up to you.
Yes, sometimes life can really suck, but sometimes it can be really awesome too. You can focus on all the bad things that can and have happened to you, or you can focus on all the great things that have come your way. I can tell you from personal experience that when you get back up, you not only have a much better view of the world, you can see a whole lot farther.