It occurred to me that my speech or my silence, indeed any action of mine, would be a mere futility. — Joseph Conrad
Warning: Reader discretion is advised.
I once composed a contumacious and facetious reggae song entitled “Fuck It All Man”—emphasizing the word man with an unmistakeable Jamaican accent—during the recklessness of my evanescent youth. This creative gesture of nihilistic heroism has since been replaced with more commercially accessible (and successful) counterparts, but I remain amused at my melodic efforts to capture the crux of futility and exasperation at a relatively young age. Nonetheless, I also realize this phenomenon continues to plague me whenever my capacity for distress tolerance reaches its breaking point—albeit more euphemistically. As the proverbial rubric would have us believe, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.
I’ve always been fascinated with individuals who can cope with a significant amount of stress from multiple domains while evoking an air of natural insouciance. Perhaps my genetic disposition loiters on the fringes of a Cluster C playground, but the overwhelming desire to “not give a shit anymore” will always be just below the surface whenever my potential for reaching maximum annoyance looms on the interpersonal horizon. I suppose the primary difference between then and now has been my ability to maintain composure in the midst of incredulous irritation. Granted, this hasn’t always been easy, and I remember a time when locating the quickest (and cheapest) escape hatch was more important than focusing on the gravity of obstacles in front of me.
Being a therapist requires observational tactics that demand conformity to the principles of emotional regulation and vigilance. Distress tolerance, by necessity, has to become a two-way street. The therapist must be just as willing to play ball with their client in the department of self-regulation if any therapeutic progress is to be achieved. Knowing what it feels like to be calm makes it easier way to return to that space if the fluctuation of circumstance tweaks the engine of anxiety. Relaxation via visualization or biofeedback can build dividends in the episodic memory bank of relative tranquility. However, if a refractory situation requires us to engage the sympathetic nervous system, it wouldn’t hurt to defuse these unavoidable confrontations with minimal damage. After all, biting your lip is better than grinding your teeth when it comes to enduring the liabilities of stress. There are few, if any, problems worth sustaining an indelible injury to one’s mental health.
Let’s not be mistaken, I reserve a special affinity for those who know exactly when to say quit. Eternally pushing on a door that says “pull” is tantamount to listening to Zac Efron on auto-repeat. Unable to lie to myself about all things sordid, I periodically espouse a brand of “neo-nihilism” that rivals Arthur Schopenhauer on a bad day. Sometimes the best thing to do requires letting go of preconceived outcomes—regardless of the emotional investment. Cutting losses and learning to consolidate can be skills that are undervalued in our search for unrestrained optimism. However, keeping things on a realistic continuum isn’t a mandate for card-carrying anarchy. Psychologically buffering the impact of losses and gains is more important than stubbornly anticipating either negative or positive results.
When the desire to reflexively say “fuck it” overrides our willingness to “deal with it,” the aftermath allows inertia and entropy to claim full sovereignty—which they will readily claim anyway (don’t give it away so soon). The art of recovering your motivation for living is to think of stressful situations as challenges rather than sources of devastation. Then again, sometimes you just have to say what you really feel.