Monday Musings....If You Can Wait and Not Be Tired By Waiting
In 1895, British author Rudyard Kipling penned his famous poem "If". Instructional in nature, his words serve as both a compass and a time piece.
Kipling postulates that life will take your mind in all kinds of directions. There will be changes and challenges, often revolving around the people in your life. Many situations will feel unfair or unjust. And it may feel like you're perpetually waiting for it all to make sense. Days and months and years may go by and the battle rages on.
Life is all about waiting. You wait for your baby to be born – if you haven't had the experience, just ask a woman who's overdue, what it's like to wait. Once the child is born, you wait for them to walk and talk, then mature, and eventually leave the nest. You wait for other things too, like standing in line at the grocery store, or waiting for the train. You've tried to speed things up by ordering items online or taking an Uber, but you still have to wait. you just ordered to speed up the waiting. Every Day involves some kind of wait.
With mental health, the waiting is even more apparent. You wait to see how long the symptoms will go on. You wait for doctor’s appointments. You wait for a diagnosis... for medication to work... for the symptoms to subside... and you wait fearing those symptoms are going to come back. The Day drags on into the darkness of night, as sleep evades and dawn breaks.
Rudyard Kipling understood well the burden that seems too heavy to bear at times, and like a good parent, he wanted to help his child build a mental fortress to face the Enemy from without and within,and so he wrote:
If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you; If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too; If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, Or being lied about, don't deal in lies, Or being hated, don't give way to hating, And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise
Kipling is giving you a primer on how to deal with the difficult people that are sure to come your way at some point. He remarks that the world is full of liars, haters, doubters, and those who like to deflect the blame. Some of you feel like you are a target for these people, and it's hard not to stoop to their level and retaliate. Kipling knows that may be your default so he begins with the foundational exercise: " to keep your head when all about you are losing theirs" . Your mental health will be affected by these people, if you let them. Don't counterattack with the same tactic as the oppressor. Stand firm. Know your truth. Wait it out. Seize the Day.
If you can dream, and not make dreams your master; If you can think, and not make thoughts your aim; If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two imposters just the same; If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools
Kipling encourages you to continue to dream and to think, but to be a realist, being prepared for both victory and defeat in the battles of life. You may be hit with the artillery of your words been twisted by the enemy, or their obliterating your successes in a single shot. But don't give up and don't give in. When all has been taken away from you, because of illness, because friends have left you, because family does not understand you, he tells you to bend down and pick up the broken pieces that are scattered all around. It will seem impossible but you've got some worn-out tools (because this is not your first time you've struggled) so start that rebuild...again...as you wait for that better Day to come.
If you can make one heap of all your winnings And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, And lose, and start again at your beginnings And never breathe a word about your loss; If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"
This is so incredibly powerful. What are you doing while you wait as the enemy attacks? You may not be able to change your circumstance but you can change what's going on in your head space. Kipling tells you to take stock of your life, to believe and dream of what could be possible, to take risks in anticipation of what could be, and that even if it doesn’t work out, well...start over...keep pushing forward even if it feels like everything is against you and you want to give up. BUT, if you fall, don’t breathe a word about the loss. Don't stay stuck in 'what could have been'. He commands you to be silent and not reinforce those negative memories by verbalizing them. Even when your dilemma or diagnosis threatens to steal your strength, sabotage your sleep, or confuse your consciousness, Kipling tells you that you have one thing left, that can never be taken anyway by anyone or any illness, and that is your will to hold on. Today is your Day! What are you waiting for?
His final stanza takes you to victory! Even in the waiting for circumstance to change, you can do this:
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with kings, nor lose the common touch, If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, If all men count with you, but none too much; If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds' worth of distance run, Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, And, which is more, you'll be a Man, my son!
He tells you to Be True, not wavering from your values. Be Mindful, remembering others are struggling too. Be Careful who you trust. Be able to Stand Alone and not grow weary. And lastly, Be Prepared with an exit strategy when circumstances or people threaten to overtake you.
Life is not easy. This is a reality for everyone but especially when you struggle with mental health. It feels like perpetually waiting for the Day when you'll feel well, or 'normal' again, when people or situations won't taunt you and drag you down. So when you are tired of waiting, ask yourself if you have 60 seconds. That's enough time to pause, reconsider, and board the thought train to a better destination.
If you are worn out from waiting, take those 60 seconds and listen to this:
Postscript: 'Rudyard Kipling struggled with depression throughout his life, and this was compounded by the death of his son John, who died at the age of 18, fighting in WWI at the Battle of Loos.