This week in Sunday Life I simply get stopped

by jamie nelson

During the week there was a moment – a very brief one – in which I was flying through the air, superman-style, and cruising towards a pile of rocks, when it occurred to me, “this is going to be majorly inconvenient”.

I landed on all fours, putting out my neck, and gouging a neat, golf ball-sized chunk of me-ness from my knee. But, in that brief moment, all I could think was, “Goddamn, this is totally putting a stop to my plans – three months in the making – to go surfing for four days with my best mate who’s just flown in and has three kids and so never, ever gets four days to surf with a friend”.

Then, splat.

Indeed, I spent the next four days, after a stint in emergency, shuffling about like Gumby. (Have you ever tried going to the toilet without bending your knees? Definitely funny, in a Gumby kinda way).

Quite obviously I was stopped. In my tracks, unable to do any activity as every limb was accounted for with stitches or gashes. (And it was definitely funny that it was specifically every corporeal surface required for surfing – feet, palms and knees.) This is my idea of purgatory and it’s happened many times over, and always just prior to Big Plans for Something Important. Yeah, you too?

We used to call it Murphy’s Law and move on. But these days we see it as “a sign” of “the universe trying to tell us something”, which was pretty much everyone’s response to my accident during the week. “Ooooh, you’re being told to slow down!” or “Ooooh, you’re not meant to be running”, and from one unhelpful unsolicited advice peddler, “You’ve definitely got some bad karma going on.”

No I don’t. I can be quite sympathetic to this kind of woo-woo speak normally. But in this case I think the matter is more straightforward: I was simply stopped. And the other simple thing is this: we don’t get stopped often enough these days. So when we do, we get really put out and put it down to something really freakin’ supernatural and ominous. Rather than simply being stopped.

I’m sure you’re the same – we don’t accept stoppages these days because we think everything is fixable and reversible. We don’t have to wait for anything. Ergo, we shouldn’t have to wait for anything! Our flight gets delayed, we stroppily demand to speak to someone more senior who can get us on the next flight. We get a cold, we take drugs. Our phone carrier is having issues, we name and shame on Twitter. I think being stopped causes us more pain and anger and frustration than just about any other life circumstance these days. Think about the disproportionate angst a slow internet or a driver who stalls when the light turns green can cause.

Previously, coping with adversity was aligned with tenacity. Optimism was about an ability to push on, barge through barriers, despite the circumstances. But I find it interesting this week to notice more recent research finds tenacity can actually hinder us. A dogged belief you can always fix things sees the tenacious come undone when they simply can’t. Because sometimes you simply can’t. One study has found this style of optimism can suppress the immune system and make us sicker.

Jonathan Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis, found optimism now also requires the ability to reframe and to refocus. We’re not talking blind optimism, but switching goals quickly, like taking up music when you’re prevented from walking. It’s also about accepting. In one study, diabetics taught techniques for accepting their condition were able to stabilize glucose levels. The researchers add that optimism isn’t ingrained, it’s practiced. It’s a muscle that gets stronger when flexed.

So being stopped, what can we make of it? Well, it’s certainly an opportunity to flex the optimism muscle. And to practice accepting that we are simply stopped sometimes. That we don’t have to read too much more into it, nor do we have to do anything about it. We have a leave pass! Hoorah!

It’s also an opportunity, as I found this week, to practice humility. To realize not every occurrence in my life is so damn special. And to just get over it.

PS my knee is still healing…I’ve learned a lot of healing tricks along the way: Vitamin E or Roesehip Oil on the new skin to stop it from scaring, jelinet on the open wound to heal it faster, using a sanitary pad as a bandage (much cheaper), Arnica once the wound has healed over (the jar always says not to apply to open wounds…someone told me this is simply because it heals skin so fast that it can heal over a wound that is still ejecting muck; it becomes infected if it heals over too fast)….you got any tricks??? I’m still open to them because my knee split again after the stitches were taken out!

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