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One day at a time

There is no such thing as a slow news day anymore, something momentous is always happening. Every day there appears to be a reason to run to the family room and turn on the radio or the telly to hear yet another breathless journalist describe the unbelievable.


In years to come, when we are asked where we were when Trump’s supporters invaded Capitol Hill and occupied the houses of Congress, we might remember it was the same night the third Covid lock-down was announced and not quite a week after the UK left the European Union.


We are just a few days into 2021 and already so much has happened. We thought 2020 was a year like no other but it is beginning to appear as if we are half way through a two-year period like no other.


If we are not careful we will run out of superlatives; infections are higher than they have ever been, hospitals more crowded than they have ever been and there are more people on social welfare than ever before. Everything seems to be over the top, and there’s a whole eleven and a half months of 2021 left.


Will we be able for it? It is easy to become overwhelmed, or to allow oneself to be overwhelmed. I have a friend who suffers from a mild form of depression that occasionally takes a severe turn. It usually begins with something simple, like an unpaid bill he has let sit there for weeks, an item that would have been easy to attend to had he dealt with it at the time. Procrastination heaps itself on procrastination and demand notes build up and he conflates the failure to pay the bill with other failures and disappointments that have marked his life. Eventually he takes to the bed.


Then the dishes pile up in the sink, on the coffee table and on the bedside locker. The bin is overflowing with take-away cartons, the post piles up in the hall blocking the front door and, before he knows it, everything from his laundry basket to his is lawn is in absolute chaos. He buries himself under a heap of blankets, burrowing into the mattress hoping it will all go away.


His road to recovery begins the day he turns towards the kitchen on his way back from the bathroom, stands at the sink and washes the first cup. Slowly and incrementally small achievements build on one another until he is back to himself, having rediscovered his capacity for making decisions and following through on them.


Even though he is not an alcoholic his motto for recovery is the motto of Alcoholics Anonymous, ‘one day at a time.’ In fact ‘one step at a time’ might more accurately describe the journey back to wellness and his escape from what Churchill used to call, ‘the black dog’.


In the cool of his good times he can clearly describe his descent into the abyss of lethargy and despondence. It begins with what he calls ‘a niggle’ -an issue or a negative memory that gets under his skin. Unchecked, this leads to ‘a gathering of the unresolved issues of his life’ until he becomes overwhelmed and takes to the bed.


He is now well able to recognise the signs of impending trouble. He knows when to reach out for a shoulder to lean on as he seeks to avoid the whirlpool of negativity that threatens to draw him in and drag him down.


January is a month that can be overwhelming, the weather doesn’t inspire, there is no season of tinsel and trinkets to look forward to and there will be many a cold breeze and bitter shower between it and the laughing yellows of April. With the addition of a mutating virus the month has a mean and a deadly streak.


In days like this it can be hard to fight the downward thrust of doom-striking superlatives. It is hard not be overwhelmed. My friend has learned how to manage by keeping his eyes on the nearest horizon, the one he knows he can get to if he takes it one day at a time.


‘Today’ is all that is real, and the demands of today are all he needs to manage. If the floor is covered in discarded clothes, picking up the first sock changes all that. If the bills are in a mound behind the door, opening the first envelope and making the first phone call changes everything. If the sink is heaped with dirty delph, washing the first cup breaks the downward momentum and marks a new beginning.


Be it in breakdown or lock-down, embracing one day at a time will eventually bring us to April and its bright promise.



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© 2020 by Jim O'Brien

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