Living One Day at a Time
So much negativity swirls around us these days. First there’s Covid and sheltering in place, which not only creates an atmosphere of threat weighing on each of us individually and all of us collectively, but severely limits our activities. Even a trip to the grocery store, the most mundane of outings, we now have to weigh seriously in terms of risks and benefits. I might be dying to prepare a new pasta sauce for dinner but have no fennel on hand. Do I grab my mask and head out the door, or do I think better of it and prepare my usual marinara sauce?
Added to the Covid threat, for the last four years most of the headlines and news have been unpleasant. So much so that I, along with quite a few of my friends, have stopped reading newspapers and listening to the radio in an effort to maintain our sanity. The leadup to the election intensified the negativity and raised the stakes for the outcome to what many of us perceived as life or death. And waiting for the results to be tallied the days following the voting, the pressure built to an explosive level.
For the moment, we’ve been given a reprieve. Biden and Harris have won and we don’t yet have to wring our hands about the difficulties that await the administration and our country. But all of us know that the blue skies are temporary, and that political hurricanes and tsunamis most likely lie ahead.
If I’ve been able to navigate these tumultuous times, live contentedly with the restrictions and threat of Covid, and keep the frightening abuses of power from making my heart and brain explode, it’s thanks to living one day at a time.
I first put this MO into practice nearly two years ago, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. After the initial diagnosis, I quickly shifted into worry and anxiety mode, imagining every possible what if. After a few days of hand wringing and rapid breathing, I realized that I had to find a different way to live through this diagnosis. If I continued allowing myself to swirl in anxiety and what if’s, the rich life I did have would be in ruins.
The solution, I decided, was to live one appointment at a time. A bit of rational thinking helped me realize that once I had received my diagnosis, there wasn’t anything I needed—or could–do about my cancer, until my appointment with my surgeon, two weeks in the future. With this realization, every time I remembered that I had cancer and felt a shot of adrenaline course through me, I reminded myself, You don’t need to do anything until you see your surgeon. Just live your life. Then once I had seen my surgeon, I reminded myself that I had nothing to do or think about for my cancer until after my surgery, which was two weeks away.
Dealing with my cancer I became an expert at limiting the time span of my thinking, so that by the time I was in the middle of my month-long radiation treatment, and becoming more and more depressed and exhausted, I had learned to think only of the day ahead of me. And when I thought no further than the day ahead, I could always conclude that no matter how awful I felt, I was still O.K.
By the time Covid arrived, about a year and a half after my cancer diagnosis, I knew immediately that, if I didn’t want to feel beset with deprivations and fears, once again, I needed to live one day at a time. What if and how frightening would do nothing to help combat the virus. Instead, thinking only about the day ahead, my hopes and plans for that day and that day only, would be my best weapon against the disease.
While I miss France, unlike Stephen, I do not grieve over not being able to travel. While I love theatre and dinner with friends, I do not think about what I am missing. Instead, I concentrate on the police procedurals I look forward to each night. Because I am as careful as I can be, I do not feel anxious about coming down with Covid. While I do miss spending intimate physical time with my grandchildren, I remind myself to be grateful that they live nearby and I am able to spend time with them outdoors..
Two years ago, I could never have remained so calm and sanguine through months of sheltering in place. But thanks to surviving my cancer diagnosis by ultimately thinking one day at a time, I have been able to focus on—and enjoy–each day of the past seven months. What am I doing today? I ask myself each morning when I wake up. And then, as my day unfolds, I am able to immerse myself in whatever it is I am involved in, investing myself 100 percent in the moment. It’s a fine recipe for happiness.