I have had a head cold for three weeks and counting now. I’m not even disgusted by going around the house, picking up my used tissues, or scooping up the pile of snotty toilet paper that’s inevitably accrued next to my bed each morning. I just do it. I’m tired of it, sure, and I cry with frustration sometimes when I just want to take a short walk without feeling exhausted or blowing my nose in the cold again, but whatever. I’ll get better eventually. (I’ve been to a doctor and there really is nothing serious wrong with me. Don’t worry.)
In an attempt to self-medicate against the discouragement of feeling like crap all the time, I’ve been binging good books, listening to all the podcasts, and enjoying conversations even though they kill my already-sore throat. But none of those things have had the substance I’m looking for. No matter which encouraging thing I listen to or what lovely ideas and lives I read about, they don’t really cheer me up. Because I start to get jealous. Even in the little conversations, envy of my friends’ non-congested voices and un-achy throats starts to creep in. I don’t like jealousy, and here it is even in the moments when I’m just trying to find a little courage.
I’ve never cemented the habit of simply not comparing myself to others. It’s ugly, written that bald-faced and plain, but it’s true. I compare my voice, my figure, my writing style, my perceived success to how I perceive theirs. I even compare the things I like doing to the things others like doing. Do I host like she does, do I have a vision like that, have I written anything that motivating, will I ever be able to publish as much as her?
I could, and should, ruminate instead on how full and beautiful my own life really is. I tend to forget that my own story is the one that matters most to me – not in a selfish way, but in a centering way, a way that recognizes the influence each of us has and uses it. I think when we pay too much attention to the stories we aren’t living, we make our own lives less effective, less deep and true. It’s like cleaning your house while you’re mentally planning a menu, and interrupting yourself to add to the grocery list. Nothing will get done the same way it will if, while you clean, you plan and focus and strategize how you intend to clean the house to your best ability. Not that our lives are really much like a house, but I think you can picture the difference between a clean house with the dishes drying on the counter, and a clean house with the counters bare and flowers arranged on the kitchen table.
We’ve got to come back to our own stories. I am realizing how imperative it is to really see our own lives, begin to recount the story of ourselves. Knowing where we are and where we came from is crucial if we want to see the beauty in where we are going. I know this all sounds vague, but I think acting on it is simple. Start noticing. See the people in your life, see the patterns, see the joy and the pain. Some of it needs changing, sure, but a lot of it is just good stuff, even if it’s hard good stuff. And be thankful, too. Recognize what is good and cling to that – write it down or photograph it or get a tattoo or throw a dinner party. Remind yourself where you fit in the grand scheme of humanity, of the Church; in your community, your family, your own house. Give yourself an orientation tour of this life you live, and then use your one sweet life to make that space beautiful.
And sure, it’s good to draw inspiration from the stories other people are living. Perhaps they’ve had ideas that sparked your own. Perhaps their story was the courage you needed one day. But don’t settle into comparison. Take that courage and turn it into something difference-making.
I’ve never experienced the spring rush of allergies like so many others, but that’s what the doctor thought my head cold was. I protested, informed him I wasn’t allergic to anything. He smiled, and reiterated, “We see a lot of allergy cases this time of year. You’re not alone; you’re in good company.” That statement somehow gave me a bit of hope, even though it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. Allergies, good company – hearing that give me the framework in which to set the story of being sick for three whole weeks. It’s a grounding piece of information. And even if I still think that the snotty nose my toddler had three weeks ago is part of this, or the sinus infection I just fought off, or the lowered immune system that pregnancy brings – at least I have a framework.
On my way home from urgent care, I was listening to a podcast by Christie Purifoy and Lisa-Jo Baker. The more I listen to their podcast, the more I usually compare – the more I wish my story was similar to one of theirs. But today even while I listened, I came to a reminder: my story is my own. I can’t exchange it for Lisa Jo’s or Christie’s, but I shouldn’t want to either. If I could, I’d miss out on all that was meant for me. Allergies or no allergies, I don’t want to go along so envious that I miss my own life; do you?