‘How You Doing?’

“How you doing?”

I asked my Mom this question at the beginning of almost every call, or visit, and her answer was always the same.

“I’m fine,” even in her final days.

This was not a conversation, it was a pattern, our pattern. I knew she was not fine. She knew she was not fine. This was how we showed our defiance. The only thing doing well was the cancer.

So when I ask you today, “how you doing?” I think the same is true. One study claims one out of three of us are depressed, anxiety is skyrocketing, panic attacks are on the rise. I don’t know about you but I’m inordinately confused (and ornery). Can I, or can I not get a haircut, a pedicure, or my teeth cleaned? Can I go out to eat, get my dog groomed, or walk on the beach? I’m fine, but not good. The only thing doing well is COVID19.

Anne Lamott says, “my automatic response to overwhelming situations is to try to organize everyone into small functioning groups. This usually requires a clipboard and Post-its.”

I’m not into post-its or clipboards, when my illusion of control is challenged, anger tends to rear its ugly head. Do you know what I mean? This seems to be happening to all of us (I did a casual survey for those of you into fact-checking), I’m seeing an increase in fits of pique across the board, as the coronavirus saunters merrily along disrupting just about everything we’ve come to rely on.

I need some new skills to up my game.

How about you?

And by new skills, I mean a new mindset, something I can get my hands around. (I don’t know why but that reminded me of a scrawny neck?) But I digress…

I need a Bootcamp designed to strengthen my ability to remain tranquil and at peace especially when chaos ensues. Can you imagine? A morning routine that increases one’s flexibility of mind, strengthens our hearts, expands our ability to look at the bigger picture. I read somewhere that suffering occurs when we seek to protect our own agenda above all else. Sort of like I am my own worst enemy. Maybe this Bootcamp should include training in adaptability and letting go of rigid patterns of thinking?

Let’s not get too crazy.

  • No one can make smart choices when they are in the grips of strong emotions, it’s irrefutable, walk away. I go to my sisters, you are welcome to join us, I’m sure she won’t mind.
  • Stimulating my own twisted thoughts is self-serving, as one would expect, culminating in an eruptive response of disordered thinking, not helpful in most situations, unless something is on fire.
  • Shifting my thinking is possible, but I might need to recuse myself, throw socks around my room for a couple of years. As my Mom always counseled, “come out when you’re in a good mood.” I hated that.
  • I’ll just say it, “I need to chill,” and yes, I want to throw a sock at that one too, because it’s easier said than done.
  • If I must communicate my frustrations I need to stick to the facts, no judgment, or worse demoralizing your actions over my own. I realize this is borderline instinctual, but according to Darwin, some of us have evolved.
  • I could go for a walk and I don’t mean to the refrigerator and back.
  • Admit that I have triggers and try to avoid them. Bahaha.
  • Maybe I should heed the advice of the wise ones who stress acceptance (Budda), or turning the other cheek (Jesus), along with being quiet, and staying calm (Muhammad).
  • I suppose I could consider the possibility that unwanted adjustments can have unrealized benefits? Like more time to evolve because no one is going to the office!
  • If it won’t matter in five years don’t waste your time getting your panties in a wad (or boxers if that’s your thing).
  • When my mouth works faster than my mind that’s a problem.

Let’s consider a recent row between Looney and myself.

Cheryl whines, “We planned on going to the lake this morning!” Standing forlornly in the hall carrying my duffle.

Looney says, “I changed my mind.” He may have elevated his voice but I don’t want to exaggerate.

“You have changed your mind? You’re out of your mind. I’m going today.” I definitely raised my voice.

“No, you’re not.” I wanted to do the Cher thing, “snap out of it,” but I showed enormous restraint and superior character.

“I’ll do whatever the hell I want.” That was helpful.

“We’re going tomorrow.” He was not social distancing.

“Too damn bad, it’s my birthday month.” I drove to my sisters.

And may I just add aggressive responses from the opposing party are not only manipulative, anger evoking, but extremely ineffective when dealing with Swedes. Okay, I agree, there’s room for improvement, let’s move on.

Anger management is actually possible, and I have my go-to favorites, which might need a little dusting off under the current circumstances. Humor is a good tool for releasing tension, but not always possible in the heat of the moment, something like, “I’m going to use your toothbrush to scrub out the lakehouse toilets.” I think that’s funny but I realize we’re not all gifted with a funny bone.

Speak when you are angry and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret warns Ambrose Brierce. Timeouts are a good strategy but he refuses to go to his room? Many experts stress sticking with “I” statements, such as “I feel extraordinary displeasure when plans change last minute.” Yeah, no.

Identifying alternative solutions is good if it can be done calmly, or just accepting the idea you were holding in your head is no longer happening, and move the hell on. What I’ve learned from decades of doing it wrong is that most of the time things work out, not the way I planned, but it wasn’t the end of the world.

With Corona on the loose, it is the end of the world as we know it, and I think this is taking a collective toll on our ability to continually adjust our plans and expectations, so when some little change occurs (we’re not going to the lake today) I find my reaction to be ever so slightly overblown.

It’s helpful to know if it’s a person or a problem? Does my anger prevent the problem from repeating? No, it certainly does not. So it could be me, I didn’t think so either, so it’s definitely him. Glad we got that resolved. Buddha said, “holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Exactly.

The truth is there are some people who love to provoke others, they can’t help themselves, but I can control my reaction to ridiculous provocations. Right? If the goal is to cause contention, I don’t have to attend every argument I’m invited to, I can go to Nancy’s!

It’s self-preservation to brush up on our skills because when we get frustrated, our bodies release negative hormones, and this not only affects our health, it compounds the problem. Confucius said, “only when a mosquito lands on your testicles, you will truly learn that there is always a way to solve problems without using anger and violence.” I can only imagine?

So here’s what I learned from my wise son-in-law Nic who says, “it’s going to be okay, scan for the positives, because they are hiding in every situation. It’s all fine, and best of all you’re surrounded by the people you love, can I pour you a glass of wine?” He says these things with the sweetest smile, exudes saintly calm, and when he throws an arm around my shoulders I know I’m not alone. Love him.

I have to share this Indian tale with you, I tell my students every year, it claims, “there is a fight going on inside of everyone, it’s a terrible fight and it’s between two wolves. One is evil. He is anger, envy, regret, sorrow, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, superiority, false pride, lies, and ego. The other one is good. He is joy, peace, love, humility, kindness, benevolence, generosity, empathy, truth, faith, and compassion. This fight is in all of us. Who wins you might ask? The one you feed.”

We don’t need to save the world, we just need to ask, “How you doing,” and consider how our actions affect the hearts of others says Pema Chodron.

Previously Published on cheryloreglia.com

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