How To Kick Adversity In The Butt
This is a guest post by Brixton Key, author of the novel, “Charlie Six.”
If you live long enough, chances are there will be a time in your life when no matter how hard you strive, you worry about going under. Many people feel that way in today’s tough economic times because of job loss, investment setbacks–or both.
For me, the really rough period began in the spring of 1998 after I suffered two burst aneurysms, requiring hours of brain surgery to repair, 16 days in intensive care, and months of recuperation. It didn’t help that my house was being renovated at the time and draining my bank account. My partner and I were always arguing. She saw a changed man. I was angry about the constant pain in my head that lasted for months.
Finally, I moved out into a loft on my own. Three months later a disc slipped and ruptured in my spine requiring another surgery. Then the day after Christmas I broke my right big toe playing soccer with my friend’s children. (Yes, that required another surgery.)
I’m an optimist but by then I wrung my hands in despair. To dull the pain, I turned to heroin. It was easy to score. I rang a pager and the dealer rang my door. My bank account dwindled. I became suicidal.
Today I’m back on my feet, living in San Francisco and writing novels. Here’s what I learned along the way about coping with adversity.
Don’t be a wimp–turn to professional help. There’s an answer to every problem. I was born in Isleworth, England during the 1950s and like the character, Charlie, in my novel Charlie Six, grew up in what we now call a dysfunctional family. I lived with a single mother after my father ran away from his creditors and the law when I seven. She was a fun lady, who liked to party and to have a good time, but Mum realized my education was paramount to my success in life.
As I was running wild, she took advice from my grandmother, a tavern owner, who told Mum that through her trade association I qualified for a Guinness scholarship to a boarding school on the outskirts of London. Being banished from home when you’re young is frankly horrid, especially since my working class Cockney background set me apart from the other middle class children at school.
I can’t say I liked boarding school, but it taught me an important life lesson: Always ask for advice from those experienced enough to help you. Events leading up to it may seem shocking today. I told a teacher, who asked me why I was crying, that two older boys were bullying me. She told me to bash them in the nose. They never messed with me again.
Years later, when I woke up in an emergency room bed from an overdose, detained as a danger to myself, I asked for a counselor. He was a smart man from Catholic Charities. He placed me in a rehab program sponsored by the city of San Francisco. Best yet, he said the resident therapist’s door was always open.
I spent hours in her office, but was amazed at how many of the residents didn’t seek her help. When I left the facility, she gave me a stray cat to look after. The cat, Emmylou, kept me company while I wrote my first novel.
In times of stress, always obey the “walk” signal. I learned this in rehab and still adhere to it. In times of stress, we panic. It’s natural to run. Instead, we should slow down. It takes a steady mind to overcome adversity. Don’t rush decisions. Does it really matter that you can cross the street when there are no cars approaching?
It’s amazing the clarity that floods your mind while you are patiently waiting at a crosswalk. Like grandmother taught you, patience is a virtue. As an author I try to stay clear of clichés. However, I cherish this one. You can see it in action every week during the football season. It’s what makes a great quarterback able to come back against all odds in the fourth quarter.
Take a breather and go for a stroll. I’ve read that Steve Jobs often walked for miles, letting his mind float free of encumbrances to solve problems, and I expect finding new ones to surmount. I’m not one for exercising at the gym. I don’t enjoy the rush of endorphins from running on a treadmill, but I do enjoy the steady release of them walking the streets in San Francisco, where I live. I’ve solved more problems with plot, or character development strolling deep in thought than I ever have fretting over them at my computer.
Don’t wallow in regrets. We’re told that everything happens for a reason, but that’s a simplistic and magical view of life. None of us has enough time to fully enjoy our family and our friends, a good meal, a great conversation or a good book. Life’s fleeting. We must teach ourselves to enjoy every moment. I don’t like casting my spiritual views, but I’ve never met anyone who’s come back from the dead.
I certainly came close to meeting death while my neurologist mended my brain. After a recent book reading , I noticed the disapproval in his eyes when I smoked a cigarette outside. I don’t regret ever having lit a cigarette. I don’t regret the bad decisions I made when I started working in the music business as a teenager. They were guiding lights later when I managed Chris Isaak’s career to hit records.
Bad decisions are perceptive teachers. They demand from you deeper thinking later on. They’ve helped me as an author to glimpse into human nature. As Edith Piaf sang, “Non, je ne regrette rien” — It is what it is: “I don’t feel sorry about nothing, because my life, my joys, today they begin with you.”
Never chase the blues away with mind-altering substances. The blues are life’s zingers. They’re are a reminder of how glorious yesterday was and how great tomorrow will be. The British songstress Adele seized upon hers to make a captivating CD. On Sunday, she stole the show at the 54th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, winning all six categories for which she was nominated.
Don’t kid yourself that drinking or drugs will pick you up when you’re down. They only gloss over your problems. You make rotten decisions when your faculties are impaired.
Instead, take a walk when you’re overloaded, or sit in the kitchen with a cup of a tea and talk to a good friend. No matter how dark the skies get when adversity visits, I’ve learnt to love that old maxim that trouble comes in threes. “Good,” I now say to myself when bad things happen. “It will get better from here.”