Life seems full of peaks and valleys. Incalculable dips and rises, mostly navigable, but often unexpected.
[Disclaimer: I’m not a mental health professional, I just make witty and often obtuse observations for the internet. This blog is not about having wild mood swings, which is something entirely different from this subject. Exaggerated feelings, moods and emotions that are unmanageable or disruptive to normal life require the assistance of medical or mental health professionals.]
The peaks are usually easier to manage, but they can be hypnotic and sometimes false. Peaks are normally a good thing, but can disorient us. Like a glass of fine wine, they are a pleasant and refreshing experience, too many and you’re drunk on your own press clippings. Don’t we deserve a lot of peaks? Sure, but in moderation, grasshopper. Just remember, you can not see the stars without the dark.
We all know people who have that perfect life. Naturally, we hate them. They keep bowling strikes and finding the pot of gold. We get the used spittoons. Those perfect life people always get three cherries. Maybe they don’t, it just seems like they do. It’s possible they sit at home, envious of people they think have the perfect lives. Wouldn’t that be ironic!
Like most other people, I dislike valleys, but they are part of life’s terrain. You might feel they are only terrible things. Mostly they are. The valleys are humbling experiences, bringing us to our knees, testing our strength, faith, resolve, and sometimes, leaving us changed. Valleys are also emotional pits; draining and weighing us down.
When something goes south, that disappointment or frustration, is hard for that not to spill over into other areas of life. It took me a long time to learn how to compartmentalize that feeling. It’s not magic, just hard work and resolve. There’s no guarantee that it won’t overflow the compartment, like what happened to the Titanic. To make ourselves water-tight, you have to be disciplined and work to keep the proper balance.
In the film Everything Must Go, Will Farrell has a really bad day. Lost his job, discovered his wife left him, had his bank account frozen, was locked out of his house, and the company reclaimed their car. So he camped in his front yard with all of his possessions, deciding to have an official yard sale, which allowed him under city ordinance to temporarily stay on his lawn.
In a mostly dramatic performance, the pain and frustration expressed by Farrell felt real. He had fallen far; he had no safety net or Plan B. He had zero self-awareness so he was blind to the oncoming problems. To make things worse, these were problems of his own making. He created highs that were just facades, guaranteeing his downward journey would be steep and ultimately, life changing. In life, how many people are their own worst enemies? Farrell played a benign character who was upset with his new situation, but was able to keep maintain his sanity as his world seemed to dissolve around him. In real life, people come unglued as much less, so keep in mind, this is a fictional story, and Farrell’s character is only used as an example of someone who designed their own road to failure.
Wouldn’t be nice to always have a roadmap showing not just the route, but the topology and elevation. Even with self-awareness, you cannot always see the oncoming train and avoid it. Farrell’s character thought the world had crapped on him. A roadmap would not have helped him.
Want a shorter distance between your peak and valley, or crest and trough? We are going to change our metaphor from roads to water. How about we only have crests and calm seas? Great, sign me up for that. For most of us, that is not reality. We get hammered with problems and even if we live right; left field will still send us disappointments, calamities and errors.
So, if we are smart, we do what we can to minimize the troughs. We eat our vegetables, don’t step on cracks, say our prayers, pay our insurance premiums and try and be decent human beings. Still, we must contend with things we cannot control and that includes the troughs. Will Farrell spent a lot of time in a trough, it was long and deep.
Mostly, we can ride them out and bail water from the boat. There is skill in navigating the troughs and experience helps us the next time. Don’t tell that to the Skipper and Gilligan.
We can do certain things to minimize the distance between the wave crest height and the bottom of the trough, but we will never reach the still water level permanently, nor do we want to. Life without highs and lows, peaks or valleys feels like idling. We want the excitement and risk that comes with taking chances and climbing out on the limb where the sweetest fruit is found – just not like the Will Farrell character.
Do we just accept that peaks and valleys are part of life and practice better piloting skills to minimize bad things that can happen along the way? I mentioned compartmentalizing as a strategy: to contain and maintain. We can practice forgiveness; of ourselves and others. Negativity will eat your lunch and stick you with the check. Carrying around anger, grief, victimization, fear, regret and other emotions are all corrosive. These might be natural reactions, but they can sink you. Can you waterproof your emotional heath? I am not sure that is possible. You can maintain a healthy outlook and practice good coping skills, and learn to bail effectively when the storm surges.
Certainly faith is a great resource for many people, holding onto your beliefs, prayer and outreach to others. A person’s belief system, core values and family all play a role in our inner emotional wiring and our ability to navigate tough terrain.
Life, at its strongest point, is still unpredictable. Instead of hoping for a guarantee, work on your navigation and learn to trust yourself. The trough is not usually bottomless and you can harness your strengths to rebound.