This side of the dirt

If you’re reading these words, you have the luxury of being alive. If you’re this side of the dirt, everything is pretty good. You have what it takes to get through this.

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“As long as there is breath in my body and I wake up on this side of the dirt, everything is pretty good.”

I love these words from the excellent Nile Rodgers (of Chic Fame). I first heard him speak them a few years back in a BBC Four documentary on his life and music. But they must be favourite words of his, as I’ve heard him roll out this exact same phrase in other interviews since. If this is a mantra for Mr Rodgers, then it is a good one by which to live.

This is a perfect (and perfectly simple) reminder to appreciate the fact you’re alive while you’re lucky enough to be so. It is a privilege, no matter what is happening to you in the moment. This too shall pass. You’re still breathing.

But sometimes, the stress of the moment can feel so overwhelming that it can be hard to maintain the perspective necessary to appreciate the gift of life.

Lizard brain beats rational brain

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What can you do when you completely lose sight of what it is to be on this side of the dirt?

There is still hope. There are things you can do to regain perspective or to help yourself through the illusion that this awful moment is without end.

The middle of this month felt like no picnic to me. I had the most stressful few days that I have had to endure in many years. I might one day write about exactly what happened. But if I ever do, it will not be any time soon.

For days on end, I felt lost in the intensity of the moment. Even though I knew at the back of my mind that this was temporary, my thoughts were swamped by the stresses of the moment. Eventually, the adrenaline started to subside and life began to start to look and feel normal again. I kicked myself (metaphorically) for failing to recall some wonderful words from my good friend Heather Bussing when they would have helped me the most. I am going to include them in this post in the hope that:

a) I might remember them next time I feel overwhelmed; and
b) they might offer some help or some comfort to anyone who might chance upon them here.

Some years back, Heather wrote a wonderful piece setting out her advice on how best to make through tough times. Heather generously shares a lifetime’s worth of sage advice here. This is hard-won wisdom, earned through “going to hell and back a couple times”. I particularly like her advice not to fix anything when you feel as if you are losing it:

“The temptation is always to make a decision, take an action, walk out, blow up – anything to bring the situation to a close, so you don’t have to deal with it. But when you are charged up on adrenaline from fear or anger, or in shock from grief, or exhausted and depressed, the decision you make is going to suck.

“Some of my fixes have been way worse than my f*ckups.

“Get present. Take a nice deep breath. Go for a walk around the block. Know that waiting until you move through the feelings is in the best interest of everyone, especially you.

“This takes practice. Nobody ever gets it right completely. But if you can stop, count 5 things in the room in front of you and pause, you will discover that you are actually safe, and loved, and everything is okay in this moment. Even when things are crazy and falling apart, you can still be okay.

“If you can’t stop and breathe, then your lizard brain has kicked in, and your entire system is in survival mode. There is no override for this. So just get somewhere you feel safe with as much grace as you can muster. Then be very gentle with yourself until you recover. Lizard brain beats rational brain every time. Lizard brain also thinks lots of things are really scary. It’s a total drama queen.”

Be very gentle with yourself until you recover. These are exactly the words I needed to hear when things felt at their worst the other day. These will be exactly the words I need to hear the next time I feel overwhelmed. And the time after that, and so on.

If you’re reading these words, you have the luxury of being alive. If you’re this side of the dirt, everything is pretty good. You have what it takes to get through this.

May today be nothing but kind to you and yours.

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