Denying reality is far more exhausting than accepting it: A birthday lesson.

Denying reality is far more exhausting than accepting it: A birthday lesson.

Denial is far more exhausting than acceptance. It’s only taken me nearly 40 years of living and two years of being in a pandemic, but finally, the message is starting to get through.

I thought of this newly acquired life lesson over the weekend as I prepared to see one of my favorite musicians, Corinne Bailey Rae, perform on my birthday. I had been pinching myself for my good fortune; she rarely tours, and she was going to be in Dallas on my birthday. It seemed like Black Jesus himself had aligned the stars just for me. But as I looked up directions to the performance venue, I learned that the concert was canceled. For some reason, I started laughing hysterically. I laughed again when the massage I booked to console myself got canceled, too. Of course, I said to myself. You don’t control the world, remember?

Oh, how I have changed.

I remember the first time I stepped into a grocery store during the pandemic. It was a few weeks after the lockdown, and I wore a painter’s mask – the only mask I could find in our house – calculating the impossibility of passing through the store while staying six feet away from everyone. I remember feeling my heartbeat rise and my breathing quicken as I struggled to avoid having a meltdown in the produce section. When I got home, I cried real tears and lay in bed, exhausted from the emotional exertion.

Later, I mulled over why I had been so upset. I realized that there, surrounded by zucchini and broccoli, it had dawned on me how much was outside of my control: pretty much everything. Then I realized that while the world was scary and unpredictable in a new way, it had always been scary and unpredictable. A car crash, an injury, a death always could have upended everything. For the most part, I had ignored this reality. But the pandemic placed precariousness before me in a way that was impossible to ignore. 

Plans kept changing. Events got canceled. Cases and deaths kept rising even as the science kept evolving. We all puzzled over how a virus could come seemingly out of nowhere and spread such devastation. Daily, we were reminded that the Earth is not a place of stagnancy but of constant change. 

About a year and half in, I got tired of battling against this reality. This may sound like I had some sort of emotional breakthrough, but I was literally just tired of resisting. I mean, like, physically fatigued. Without really meaning to, I started to accept the things I couldn’t change and place more focus on the things I could.

In the past, I would have taken my cancelled birthday festivities as a personal affront from the universe. This was partially because I believed on some level that my failure to prevent disappointment was because I wasn’t kind, selfless, or generous enough. Because I wanted to deny this possibility, I wanted to deny reality, too. It was exhausting.

Not that there wasn’t plenty I wanted to change. Last fall, when I fell down the stairs, got a concussion, and experienced several weeks of post-concussion syndrome, I wanted to turn back time and tread a little more carefully down those steps. But denying my injury only led to more frustration that I was just a regular old fragile human being who couldn’t do the things I could before I fell. I began to accept my mortality, and then my physical and mental limitations. 

And this year, when my daughter broke her leg, I wished that the traumatic event never happened and that she could have lived her whole life without knowing such pain. But sitting in the hospital, I had to remind myself:This is happening. I can’t do anything to change the fact that it is happening. All I can do is be present

While I was in the hospital with my daughter, I got a phone call; my father was experiencing some trouble breathing and had gone to the doctor. He tested positive for Covid shortly thereafter. I thought of the nearly 900,000 people who had died from Covid – 38% of them people of color – and felt my stomach sink into the floor. As my mind played out all the scenarios of how wrong everything could go, I tried to reel my thoughts back in.

I took some deep breaths. I remembered the Buddhist phrase that my friend, yoga and mindfulness teacher Lauren Wessinger, often says in times of tumult: Right now, it’s like this. When I was in a tunnel of worry and grief, I remembered that it wouldn’t always be this way. And though my mind toggled back and forth between my daughter and my father, I did my best to accept reality, to take one moment at time, and to trust that the present moments wouldn’t last forever. I was too tired to fight it anyway.

By fighting reality, I would deny myself the opportunity to work toward changing it and to let it change me. Besides, I am finding that denial is far more exhausting than acceptance.

That doesn’t mean I don’t get angry, sad, or disappointed. I do. But the unrelenting uncertainty of the last two years has proven that time is both fleeting and unpredictable. Joyful moments bleed into heartbreaking ones and then into joyful ones again. I’m trying to let myself feel it all.

In the past, I would have taken my cancelled birthday festivities as a personal affront from the universe. This was partially because I believed on some level that my failure to prevent disappointment was because I wasn’t kind, selfless, or generous enough. Because I wanted to deny this possibility, I wanted to deny reality, too. It was exhausting.

But this weekend, I kept laughing as I checked and rechecked the cancellations. I couldn’t control any of it, and I knew I’d be a fool to try.

Besides, I’d also be missing out if I failed to accept the good things that life had brought over the last year: A healed brain. A daughter’s mended leg. A father’s recovery from Covid. Another birthday. A little less struggling against what is and a little more hope for what could be.

2 responses to “Denying reality is far more exhausting than accepting it: A birthday lesson.”

  1. Excellent insight. As I have aged, knowing what I have control over has helped immensely. Everyone has the right to live their choices in spite of my opinion. I love the saying this is it right now. Thank you and happy birthday.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: