It’s human nature, and it is especially American nature, to constantly have something to look forward to.
It’s engrained in us as children; we look forward to the weekends, to vacations, to holidays, and to summer vacation. Meanwhile, we create anticipatory terror in our own little undeveloped brains as we fret over upcoming tests and quizzes, scary doctor and dentist appointments, and having to go to our first school dance. We look forward to playing with our friends after school, our little league games and dance recitals on the weekends, and grandma and grandpa coming over, as ways to forget that today we’re doing chores we hate, or confronting the bully that won’t leave us alone, or having people come over to the house that we don’t like.
Being a child is a never-ending indoctrination of learning how to not live in the moment. Don’t get me wrong; kids have an innate ability to make the best of almost every situation and truly enjoy what they’re doing without being distracted by what’s happening next; the problem is that we don’t stay children, and as we grow, we live less and less in the moment, and instead live our lives in a constant push-pull between dread and joyful anticipation, as that’s what we’ve taught ourselves to do.
By definition, growing up is an eye-opening and painful experience, and even the most precocious amongst us; those who literally want to be adults as children (turns mirror towards himself) learn quickly that life is a lot harder than it looks when you’re a kid.
And so, we revert to type. As we grow into adulthood and begin to dread new found terrors like dating, making money, paying bills, STD’s, workplace drama, losing and making new friends, marriage, kids, higher bills and the need to make more money, in-laws, and the sudden lack of any time to have any fun anymore, we demand and create goal posts. Again, it’s completely normal; the problem is that it’s not very healthy. In 2019, it was a recipe for endless anxiety. In 2020, it’s a figurative emotional death sentence.
Before we destroyed the world this year with our asinine reaction to Covid-19, most of us used events as goal posts. We’d plan and/or look forward to things as simple as weeks off of work to just unwind and “get things done,” to more glamorous things like weeklong vacations to Hawaii, New York, or abroad. Even without the ability to schedule such things, we’d have other goal posts ranging from the next big holiday, to some near-future milestone like a birthday or anniversary. Heck, date-nights, concerts, and even just watching a game that upcoming weekend were goal posts that got us through the week.
All of that has been taken away from us. Six months into the pandemic, almost none of those things exist, and those that do, are irreparably changed for the worse…and for the foreseeable future.
It took some of you longer to realize this reality than others, and sadly, too many of you still haven’t. Yet, you desperately need to realize it, in order to save your very sanity.
When it became clear, in April, that we were in for a longer journey than “2 weeks to flatten the curve,” most of us reached into our childhood bag of tricks and told ourselves that “everything was ok,” because we had things to look forward to like our summer vacations, and upcoming concerts. And gee whiz, we can use this time to bond with one another, get healthier, and do all of those things we’ve been wanting to do around the house!
By the end of April, alcohol consumption had sky-rocketed, the divorce rate and reports of domestic violence were through the roof, we were already joking about gaining the “quarantine 15,” and our daily walks had turned into binge watching shows we just “never got around to.” Oh sure, we all had new gardens and Home Depot induced chicken cages in our backyards, but those were never on our “to do” list in the first place.
And with each passing day, more and more of our goal posts were ripped away from us. Concerts were cancelled or postponed further and further into the future, the return of any spectator sports continued to be pushed back, and Hawaii kept extending it’s “don’t bother to visit us” order as endless vacation plans were ruined.
By mid-May, people had gone through the first of many stages of stir-crazy, yet remained convinced that it would all be over soon. While many had accepted that most summer vacations had been cancelled, still more were hell-bent on Memorial Day being the unofficial return to normal; all the while insisting that things like the Aftershock Concert in October and the Reno Rodeo in June would, of course, still go on. Christ, in May people were still asking how soon Disneyland would be up and running.
Memorial Day weekend came and went and the damndest thing happened; Americans left their houses en masse…and hated every minute of it. Don’t get me wrong; lots of us had fun, but it was fleeting…and we were forced to quickly recognize that we were living in a country we didn’t recognize. In addition to the Covid Craziness, we now had a nation further torn apart by the George Floyd video and ensuing protests, riots, and general unrest. “That’s ok!” we said, it will all be back to normal by the 4th of July!
Within a month after that, the entire nation had covered its’ collective face in a mask and the hysteria of a virus spreading (as it should) had truly crippled the nation far beyond earlier months. With the pent up frustration of all that had happened, Americans once again ventured out for a few weeks in the summer, and again hated it beyond belief; either because they didn’t have any fun wearing masks in the Las Vegas heat, or because they did have fun wherever they went, and then returned to what they now had truly accepted was the living hell of 2020 with no promised end in sight.
And yet, that didn’t deter us from repeating the same insanity-defining behavior of creating new goal posts. People were still confidently demanding that Aftershock would triumphantly go forward, despite their trusted favorite radio host (turns mirror once again towards himself) having told them way back in May that it would not…and 20 days after the nation “celebrated” its’ independence, Aftershock was postponed for a year. We were also told emphatically that there was no scheduled reopening date for Disneyland, and Hawaii announced that they were closed for the entire summer.
Oh sure, we got some professional sports back, albeit differently, and that was neat…until it wasn’t. And it just led us to assume that everything would find its’ way back. And thus, people were crushed yet again, when schools either weren’t opened, or were opened in horrifying ways, and youth sports were either cancelled or postponed or made horrible.
Those who thought that they were being pragmatic had, by now, just written off the entire year as memes and GIFS abound about how great it will be when it’s 2021; as if the flip of a calendar will somehow undo all of the damage we’ve done to our very way of life.
As we near fall, people are once again writhing in despair as they realize that Halloween is going to be marred by all of this lunacy and as we read endless fear-mongering articles about the terrible onslaught of the flu amidst Covid, and how all holiday travel should be rethought and/or cancelled altogether. In other words, we are constantly told to stop having hope, stop looking for the light at the end of the tunnel, and stop thinking we’ll get our lives back anytime soon. And the worst part is that we have literally no legitimate reason to believe that we will get our lives back anytime…soon or otherwise, in some cases.
The most insane amongst us are clinging to the hope that the results of the election will somehow bring an end to all of this, ignoring both all evidence to the contrary, and the inevitable chaos that the election itself is going to unleash on our more and more fragile nation, plunging us further into the never-ending hell on Earth that is 2020.
I am here to plead with you, for your own good, to stop this insanity. And with my plea comes the brief story of perhaps my greatest leap forward as an adult. It was a moment that took me from unrecognized (on my part) anxiety to total calm. I spent my first 35 years of life constantly striving towards the next thing…which, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. That mindset absolutely helped me succeed professionally in ways that even I never thought would happen. And, to be clear, I had more amazing moments of fun getting to that point, than most people enjoy in a lifetime. The problem was that deep inside myself, I was an endless boiling cauldron of angst. I’d have a legitimately great time at, for example, a Metallica concert, or during a weeklong cruise to Alaska, but the minute the event was “over” my mind would immediately shift to “what’s next?” Good or bad, I had to focus on the next “event.” Whether it be it a horrible business meeting I didn’t want to attend, or a stupid wedding of people I didn’t even like. Either way, I’d obsess over just wanting to get it over with…and I’d stay in that space until it was past me, and then, “what’s next?” OH GREAT! Just 3 weeks until our weekend in Napa! And for 3 weeks, I’d place myself in Napa mentally to numb myself to day-to-day life…only to have Napa not be the panacea I built it up to be. It would be great, but life would still be there when I was done.
Sound like 2020 at all to you? Endless fretting, and creating phony ways out of it all, only to have reality body slam you back to Earth?
I’ve lived this movie…and I’m here to tell you that there’s a happy ending (giggity) if you write it. But, sadly, it really is up to you.
Many of you enjoy Dawn’s endless frustrations with me on-air at seemingly never really getting upset at almost anything. On behalf of my wife I say, “imagine being married to me.”
People across my spectrum bring me endless issues, concerns, and problems that are of the “utmost importance,” only to have me blithely react with something somewhere between a shrug and a solution. On one level, I feel bad because I don’t fuel the fire of their flames, but on the other hand, I turned in my gas can 12-15 years ago.
Don’t misunderstand; I’m far from perfect (again, on behalf of my wife I’ll simply say “you can say that again!”), but I know this process all too well; and I know the devastating physical, emotional, and mental effects of constantly looking forward, whether for better or for worse. In the psychological world, they call the solution “being present,” as in, living in the moment you’re living. It sounds somewhere between great and much easier said than done, and it’s both. A therapist I saw for 5 years finally got me to understand and alter my way of thinking to finally adopt, to the best of my ability, being present. With complete candor and no melodrama at all I can say with 100% certainty that had I not learned this truth so long ago, 2020 would have ruined me. The only question in my mind is whether I would have drunk myself to death, had a heart attack, imploded my career, or all three.
We will get our lives back; of this I am certain. They may look slightly altered when this is all completely over, but we won’t live forever in masks and wondering which city will burn next. What I cannot say with any certainty at all is when that will happen. It won’t be tomorrow, this year, or even on January 1, 2021. And it may not be for literally years. So, stop with the goal posts and the endless lying to yourself. I promise you that you’ll emerge a better person on the other side of all of this…whenever the hell that is.