It’s been a matter of recovering from a bout of a garden variety contagious virus this weekend. I became physically active a day before I should have done so. I just don’t like to lay around in bed all day. So, the relapse happened, now it’s time to dust myself off and resume normal life once again.
The cycle of getting out and about too soon at the tail end of an illness or injury seems to happen to me most of the time. I know better, but I ignore the lessons of past experiences. Many people greatly underestimate the importance of rest. Especially sleep and recovery. I’m part of that crowd. All things considered, this personal issue surrounding recovering from physical setbacks is minor in comparison with people recovering from serious injuries, chronic illnesses, emotional setbacks, or addictions.
Some family members and friends have encountered very serious, life-changing situations. In most cases, recovery has been an ongoing process that is an integral part of their lives. I’m thinking of two friends in particular. One of them identifies himself as an alcoholic and the other one became ensnared in opioids. Both of them have had to become much more mindful of their states of mind, especially those times when they could be tempted to relapse.
My last major encounter with recovery happened a decade ago during America’s economic crisis at that time. I was “downsized” from the company that had employed me for over 30-years. It was a major blow to my self-esteem and to my financial situation. I had to scramble to find new sources of income. A temporary job as an enumerator for the Census Bureau helped to get me back on my feet emotionally and financially.
That job required full-immersion into the public sphere. Each day, I knocked on dozens of doors in order to interview people for the Census. The job description was contrary to the urge to shut myself up in the house and wallow in self-pity. In a sense, I was being paid to act like an extrovert. The level of difficulty was exactly what was needed at the time. Being an enumerator jump-started my emotional and financial recovery.
During the span of time between the downsizing and the Census Bureau job, I experienced my most serious existential crisis. In other words, I questioned whether or not my life had any real-world value, meaning, and purpose.
It was not a time of clinical depression nor sadness. The crisis was more like a mental earthquake that required my full attention. There was a lot of introspection, reading, philosophizing, and meditation. In many ways, the existential crisis was a “growing pain” on the path to more maturity. It was largely a process of letting go of old habits and letting go of outmoded beliefs.
When the Census job ended the existential crisis relapsed in a minor form. I decided to face it head-on. I revisited the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche and took long walks in the darkness of night. I remembered that life is short and fleeting. Even if life does not have an ultimate purpose, life is valuable because it is personally worth living. It’s OK to be honest about this absurd, pointless Universe.
It’s OK to contemplate the starry sky at night and feel tiny and insignificant. There’s a real beauty in anonymity. I feel wonder about the fact that I’m one person out of billions of other people who exist on this insignificant planet that orbits an unremarkable star that exists in a normal spiral galaxy. Just being aware of this unremarkable set of facts makes humanity rather remarkable. The acceptance of this set of facts was important in recovering from the existential crisis. That and the acceptance of the mystery that my life might or might not have meaning and purpose beyond what I give it myself.
The heart of recovery seems to be focus on the big picture. Focus on what is worthwhile to oneself. Work on something profound but don’t forget the mundane aspects of life. I like to learn about different cultures, types of people, animals, plants, and philosophies. I want to understand lots of things without becoming a dilettante. Is this possible? I hope to find out.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Pulitzer Prize winning author Frank McCourt. “When I first went up to see my editor, I was with my agent, and my editor said, ‘Well, what have you been doing all these years?’ And my agent said, ‘He’s been in recovery. From his childhood.'”