Dear Carolyn • How do I stop feeling so sorry for myself that things don't seem to go well? Or rather, that they start to go well and inevitably something ruins it? I live paycheck-to-paycheck after a year of unemployment. I'm one car payment away from owning my car outright, and that extra $300 per month would go a long way toward paying down my personal debt, but my car is now making a new clunking noise and will take hundreds to fix. My workplace is moving within biking distance to my apartment in two months, so I have been looking forward to riding my bike to save money and wear-and-tear on my car, and last night, after working both my full-time and part-time jobs, I find someone had cut the lock and stolen it. It has been this way my whole life. I get a glimmer of hope that my circumstances are getting better, but something comes along to mess it up. I'm at the point of wallowing, and after 27 years, I just don't see an end. How do I break out of this funk? It's hard to live every day waiting for the other (millionth) shoe to drop.
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
Dear One Step Forward • I appreciate how hard it is to be knocked back just as you're getting close to some relief but you're actually making it harder on yourself by seeing it all as part of a larger narrative. You know there isn't some specter hovering over you and stealing your bike just as your workplace is about to move closer, and you know the bank didn't notify the engine gremlins that you were down to your last car payment. It all just broke that way. It's also convenient, since it internalizes randomness making you the sun in your larger universe and externalizes fault. And that's where you can help yourself the most. Tell yourself that things really don't work this way and you aren't starring in the Cosmic-Conspiracy Show. What you're dealing with are just bummers, which are not only better than catastrophes, but they also make you tougher, more resourceful, funnier, more empathetic, and more grateful for the good things that come your way like, say, having your job relocate nearby. Neither good things nor bad things are permanent, only change is.
Carolyn Hax's column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.