Answer by Marcus Geduld:
Did I write this question? I certainly could have. 2014 has been a catastrophe so far. The foundations of my life are cracking faster than I can fix them.
What's helped me is taking control. I don't mean of the stuff that's going wrong. Most of that is uncontrollable.
I think that's where people go wrong: they recognize that all the calamities are destroying their sense of agency, making them feel like pinballs, and they realize that they'd feel better if they have some control over their fates. But then they think, "How can I control the uncontrollable? I can't make my ex-wife marry me again. I can't force my boss not to fire me. I can't magic my cancer away…"
They also realize they can't just hop from hell into heaven: "You know what would make me feel better about losing my job? Getting a better one. But I don't know how to do that, so I guess I'm screwed."
At this point, they are out of ideas: "I can't fix the stuff that's gone wrong, and I can't make different stuff go right… I have no control at all. I'm just a victim of the whims of the Universe." That is the worst feeling. Your humanity drains away and you become a puppet of shitty randomness.
I used to think that way. Then, one week, right in the middle of all the shit, I said to my wife, "Let's go to Boston and see the giant turtles!" We both love aquatic animals, and there's a great aquarium in Boston.
Part of our problem right now is financial, so the trip had to be cheap. We found cheap lodging on airbnb, picked up some discount bus tickets, and left for the weekend. Just one weekend. But we planned everything we wanted to do and we did it.
The turtles were great, but what was even better was taking over one small aspect of my life. And that little win gave me a an ounce of new strength.
I'm not going to lie to you and claim I've solved all my problems. It's going to take me a few years to dig myself out of the hole I'm in. But each time I "take the wheel" in a small way, things get better.
Here's the recipe:
1. Take control over some small aspect of your life, one that isn't related to the problems you're going through. If you can't afford to go to Boston (or aren't a fan of sea turtles), have a movie night at your house or apartment and invite some friends over; take a Thai cooking class; start jogging and work up to the point where you can run five miles… Whatever.
2. No escapism! Watching hours of reality-TV may divert you from your problems, but only while you're watching. They'll all come rushing back when you switch off. You don't get the affirmation of control by engaging in passive activities. (Drugs and alcohol are also not substitutes for taking control, and they create additional catastrophes if you're not careful.)
3. Don't expect this to solve your problems. It's not going to do that. What it may do is restore some control to your life. That's step one in solving your problems. But it's not the other nine steps. Don't expect it to be.
Here's a photo of my wife during one of the worse months of the last ten years: