Life’s Not Fair

10 September 2017

When the clock struck midnight on 31st December 2016, I know I was far from alone in saying goodbye to a pretty abominable year, in terms of not only world politics, but also personal loss and sadness. 2017 was going to be different, and my feeling of optimism was through the roof. The year got off to a great start, and it felt fantastic to finally get my blog up and running. I was feeling fit and healthy, my kids were well and happy (and still are, which is something I don’t ever ever take for granted), and I was ready to work hard and appreciate every minute.

As with all best-laid plans, there was always the potential for things to go awry, but just how awry surprised even my cynical little soul. The last six months have been like a succession of trapdoors opening under my feet at the most unexpected moments, and often in a rapid succession that has taken my breath away. Ill health, my own and that of people close to me, and nasty surprises of every flavour have started to feel like the norm. In fact, when our car was written off outside our home by a skidding driver (she was fine; the car was not) and the next day our shower sprung a leak all over our home office below, these felt like minor inconveniences in the grand scheme of things.

While you may be wondering if this is merely a long-winded version of those entirely infuriating Vaguebook status updates that are set out purely as an ‘Are you okay, hon?’ fishing expedition, the specifics of what has actually happened are not the point of this blog post – some things I may write about at a later stage in the hope that they might help others, but the rest you wouldn’t bloody believe anyway. Instead, the point is perfectly summed up by my seven-year-old when he petulantly retorts to my refusal to buy him an ice-cream with his favourite Swedish word – ‘orättvis’. Unfair. A little word that applies to so much in human existence, both good and bad. Because, hold onto your hats, life is not fair.

When children whine that something is not fair, they’re not wrong, but it’s something that most of us battle to get to grips with our whole lives. Of course, there are things that happen that fall under the heading of ‘so spectacularly unfair and unnecessary that justice must be sought’. We have had more than enough tragedies of this variety in very recent times to all acknowledge this, but it is the unfairness of the things that happen to seemingly sabotage our individual lives that we continuously battle with. Especially when these personal injustices have not happened as a result of anything we have actually done (or neglected to do), it can be hard to grasp why the universe has chosen to pick on us in this way when we were just going about our business, trying (even if sometimes failing) to be decent human beings. We’ve been seemingly thwarted, whether by illness, the actions of others, or the failure of an anticipated reward to materialise. The fact that a lot of good things may have happened to us in our lives without any particular adherence to the concept of ‘fairness’ is very easily forgotten, and we feel like stamping our feet much like a toddler in the sweetie aisle at the supermarket.

This is the moment when the importance of a well-timed pity party should not be overlooked. There is nothing wrong with feeling mightily pissed-off, and taking an hour or two (or even a day, if it’s a particularly disastrous situation) to feel properly bloody sorry for yourself. Fattening foods, wine, trash TV, and trolling of Donald Trump supporters are all perfectly acceptable additions to your pity party. Weeping, shouting, and sleeping are also good ingredients. If anything, I find that that a jolly good cry and a large cup of tea seem to focus my mind and allow me to take the next step towards accepting the situation as it is, and formulating a plan of action. And that’s the key in all good parties, especially pity ones - knowing when they should end. Wallowing for a limited time period is essential, but wallowing indefinitely is a guaranteed way to prolong your unhappiness, and render you incapable of any form of acceptance and constructive action.

There are a few important things to remember if you’re struggling with next steps after your pity party. The first can be summed up simply as ‘it is what it is’. Whether it’s something you’re going to be able to fix or not, accepting the reality of the situation is the only way to start. This may be a relatively quick process, or it may take months, but it’s a process you need to get underway as soon as possible. Pretending that it’s not happening, or lying to yourself about the scale of the problem (whether you feel inclined to blow it out of proportion, or indeed understate it) is not going to do you any favours. As a wise man once told my mother, and she then wisely passed on to me, ‘You need to make reality your friend’.

Secondly, acknowledge that it sucks, but that unfairness is an inevitable part of life. There will be many times in your life where ‘unfairness’, or the lack of exact equality in the natural order of things, will have benefitted you to a greater or lesser extent. You may not have asked for them, but circumstances have been in your favour. The fact that the pendulum then swings the other way should come as no surprise. Sometimes it swings so far and so consistently into the shit side of things that you struggle to understand when it might be kind enough to go in the other sodding direction, but investing too much negative energy into feeling wronged is only going to make you feel worse.

This is where the third, perhaps more positive, step comes in. Practise gratitude. When you are stuck in a mindset where everything seems to be against you, it is a powerful mental exercise to consider the things that you can actually be grateful for. They may be big things, like good health and a comfortable home, or they may only be the smallest things, like a hot cup of coffee or an afternoon nap, but the more things you can think of to stack in your gratitude pile, the more you might be able to diminish the unfair shit pile in your head. While I am still dealing with the various factors that have threatened to overwhelm me over the last six months, I am still so conscious of how enormously fortunate I am in big and small ways every single day. Sometimes it feels like no more than sprinkling glitter on a cowpat, but at least it’s something!

The fourth step is realise that often in life we have limited control over what happens to us, but we always have control over our response. Sometimes there will be someone to blame, and sometimes it is simply out of anyone’s hands, but the bottom line is that nothing we can do will ever immunise us against bad things happening. The entire concept of ‘justice’ is a far larger one than I can ever hope to tackle effectively, but a sense of injustice can absolutely cripple us mentally and emotionally, and that becomes an injustice in itself. Consciously deciding to reframe and respond to a situation in a positive, proactive way can do astonishing things to drag us out of a victim headpace. This may take days, weeks or years, but every step in this process is a step in the direction of a strength and resilience that will almost certainly surprise you.

It’s hard to exactly define and measure fairness, as so much of it is subjective. But all human beings, from a very young age, develop a very keen sense of what they feel it is, and when it’s been tipped against them. The ability to take charge of the narrative in your own mind will empower you to deal with just about anything life throws at you. No-one expects you to bounce back immediately, but you’ll only be able to do so if you’re not a victim in your own mind.

After all, life’s not fair, but that’s not the point.

C x