Like most families, mine has gotten the celebration of holidays down to a science. Most of the time the dinner table overflows with food, laughs and surrounding family members, but this year my Christmas came with a side of dysfunction next to the gravy boat.
One family member, who will remain nameless (a girl never reveals her sources), has a difficult time getting through the holidays because of a recent loss. But rather than sharing the burden with all of us in a healthy way, the individual chose to nitpick and yell at virtually everyone at the table, all in front of my poor grandfather, who by the end of it looked like he was one short breath away from a coronary.
And I can’t say I blame him. Nor do I particularly harbor resentment toward the family member – loss affects us all in different ways. But nobody expects such behavior over turkey and stuffing, and on days like these I find myself wishing people who act in such a way did not exist.
In my short lifetime, I’ve encountered many people like this. I’d venture to say we all have. The Debbie Downers. The Negative Nancies. Those people whose mere presence is so toxic it sucks all the air out of the room and replaces it with anxiety and contempt. And at a time where my life has endured such tumultuous change, I find myself still navigating healthy ways to confront the negativity knocking at my door without inviting it in for dinner and a movie.
A majority of the time, my life as a 22-year-old feels like this: a struggle between the reserve to stay positive and the urge to let myself give up, just for one day. During the two week break from work I’ve experienced both: I’ve shooed away the self-critiques that tell me I’ll never amount to anything, encouraging myself to keep pushing for another semester of all 4.0s (I didn’t mean for that to be a humble brag, but hell, I worked hard for these grades and I’m gonna brag about ‘em).
But there have been a couple days where I’ve felt so discouraged it rendered me frozen in bed, absentminded and at a loss. We’ve all had those days – we scroll through social media sites endlessly, reading the same status eight times because we just can’t retain any more information in our tired brains. And what we do retain is typically the positive things our Facebook “friends” are doing with their lives, which really just translates to a comparison pity party. We watch Netflix until our brains go blank, numbing ourselves enough to get through the day without a legitimate thought. Because thoughts about our future mean we have to consider taking risks, and risks can mean failure.
So how do we, as newly-functioning young adults, begin to tackle these feelings? How can I, a person who has never been comfortable settling academically or professionally, let go of all that negative, toxic mojo and focus on all the positives on the flip side?
Thus far, I’ve found the true power comes from recognizing that the coping mechanisms I’d previously used in times of trouble simply weren’t cutting it anymore. I used to go to family and close friends often for advice, but as the only person in both groups pursuing post-graduate studies I’ve found they often can’t relate to what I’m going through. This in turn makes me compare my struggles to theirs, which never bodes well amongst other 22-year-olds who already have full-time careers (*cries*). Or even worse, there are times where they throw up their hands, sigh and say “I don’t know what else to tell you.” Those eight words translate to “I give up,” which then makes me want to give up as well.
So rather than overwhelming my closest loved ones with problems they can’t relate to, I have found myself confiding in some acquaintances and friends I’ve met at school. They can all relate to my struggles – always being broke, family/relationship stress – and nothing has made me feel better than realizing I’m not alone. When in doubt, it helps to surround myself with people who are as passionate about social work as I am to push me further.
Another avenue of positive reinforcement is a friendly trip to the online classifieds for jobs in my field. When dozens of openings fly down my screen, I heave a sigh of relief: “There are jobs!” Although I can’t have any of them yet (God willing), it’s extremely encouraging to know I’ll also be compensated relatively well for all my trouble.
If the aforementioned methods just aren’t cutting it, I take a slightly simpler psychological approach: working my butt off at the gym. Whether it’s an hour of yoga or some intense cardio, it typically does the trick. On mornings where I don’t have work or class until later in the day, I love nothing more than spending an hour kicking my own ass to the beat of Missy Elliott or Britney Spears, then coming home and making my favorite post-workout meal: 2 eggs, a bagel and a banana. Don’t ask me why, but the routine found within the little moments makes life seem less abysmal for the day.
At this point, I want what every 22-year-old wants: a great job with sizable benefits, a pretty apartment and a car that came off the assembly line some time after the new millennium. But until all of the items on my ultimate wish list fall into place, I’m just going to have to find ways to keep myself upbeat and positive. Really, it’s what we all want: something to pass the time until the “next big thing” comes along.
But my needs are deeper than that. I refuse to live my life believing that the next promotion, or a big happy wedding, or another degree will make me happy. The cheesiest fortune cookie scripts and dial-a-minute mediums tell us to be happy in the moment, and it might make me a Pollyanna to believe it but if it gets me through, then I can’t apologize for that.