We’ve all been to Struggle Town at some point, whether we want to admit it or not. Even the most resilient of us have bad days, bad weeks, even bad months and years. Sometimes it’s for obvious reasons like major losses, clear stressors, and significant changes. Other times, there’s no real explanation for why you feel so shit. Yep, that’s right, I said shit. Sorry for those delicate flowers reading this, but there’s no other way to put it which does the state justice.
I find it a bit easier to cope with those recognizable times, because at least I know why it’s challenging. Not only that, but understanding the cause makes it easier to take action – there’s an obvious target. If there’s a big presentation at work and you hate public speaking, at least you can practice your talk as much as you need to so you feel more comfortable on the day. Plus, the culprit will likely have an expiration date, which means you have a goal to aim for. Most things can be tolerated for a finite period of time. Somehow our brains know we can’t tackle the whole thing, so it segments a task into pieces which are just small enough to endure, before it reminds you there’s another one to follow. Clever, tricksy grey matter!
For the reasons above, I’d say most planners, like myself, can plan their way through identifiable trials. It’s the reason-free detours to that place of torment which really frost my cookies. It’s as if you start out on the freeway, cruising along your merry way at 100km/hr, when you come across a road closure and have to swerve off onto the nearby exit… which leads straight to Struggle Town. Well, crap. Not this place again! It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve visited and left, or how you ended up there last time, that sneaky bastard will just up and move itself to a whole new spot and catch you out again. It’s a mobile, filthy shanty town full of willpower-dissolving, mood-souring fog which sucks you in, until you’re enveloped, and you can no longer see the way out.
I imagine it as one long, damp, dirty street lined with bleak, dilapidated concrete buildings. The telltale blue light of endless Netflix binges filters through the broken windows, the occupants’ minds sufficiently numbed by the distraction. If they’re particularly longstanding residents, they probably also have their vice of choice on speed dial – food, booze, drugs, control, sex, or any other addiction you can think of – Struggle Town really caters for everyone. With the combination of diversion, dopamine hits to trick the mind into temporary happiness, and the motivation-sapping fog, you have a veritable Hotel California.
Thankfully, not every slump is an unwanted trip to our least favourite fictional place. The cranky-pants mood of mine which inspired this post was due to a discrete set of circumstances, and I’ve since rearranged a few things to help me work through it. However, not everyone is so fortunate in avoiding a visit to Struggle Town, whether it be due to circumstance, environment, genetics, finance, support… the list goes on. I think we’re a devastatingly long way from understanding why some people keep returning time after time, while others are able to forge a permanent bypass. For everyone in the former group, I truly hope I’m wrong.
The only good thing about Struggle Town is where it differs from the Eagles classic – you CAN leave. No matter what the community announcements echoing down that murky street say, it is not your forever home and you are not the only inhabitant! In fact, I guarantee you know A LOT of your neighbours. There will come a day when you have a flicker of hope or motivation – no matter how small, make sure you seize it! Walk outside and see who’s in the crappy room next door; your visit might be the push you both need. Maybe you’ll find a temporary tourist passing through the haze who can share some of their momentum. Whatever your impetus, the trail back out into the real world can be just as unpredictable as the one which landed you in Struggle Town to begin with, so please, be brave. And write down directions, you never know who might need them.