Halloween Party Parking Hell
Last October, Rayla and I were going to a Halloween party at a friend's apartment complex. I had gotten there before her and went outside to help her park when she called to let me know that she had arrived. I got into her car and we drove around for a couple of minutes trying to find a parking spot. Then we drove around for a couple more minutes.
Then we drove around for a couple more.
Then we drove around for about 20 more, we even drove around in the side streets within a 10 minute walk from our friend's apartment.
The apartment complex and surrounding streets were completely full because it was the Saturday before Halloween. Rayla had just gotten off of a 10 hour shift and neither of us had eaten much that day. It is a particularly huge, maze like apartment complex and it wasn’t long before we were both feeling a little frustrated and car sick. To top it all off, there was one empty, but reserved, parking spot right in front of our friend's apartment. We ended up driving around looking for parking for thirty minutes—it was unreal.
And that’s when it hit me: we were in some sort of terrible, mundane hell.
Imagine it--you really want to relax and have a good time with friends after a long day of work and the only thing stopping you is something as silly and miniscule as a parking lot. Driving endlessly, you are hungry and carsick with no end in sight AND there is a reserved parking spot taunting you every time you make a lap around the lot.
This was a ridiculous torture devised by the engineers in the most trivial circle of hell.
Seeing it this way made the experience a whole lot better.
If this was the great pain that we would have to handle for the rest of eternity, we were gonna be alright. When this experience was simply a mundane frustration, it was a little overwhelming. But when we conceptualized it as the ultimate pain—Sartre's “No Exit” came to mind—it became underwhelmingly funny.
Of course, we weren’t in any sort of literary or literal hell; we don’t believe in that sort of thing. We simply reframed a slightly frustrating experience as the worst thing we would ever have to endure and made it quite a bit funnier and easier to face by doing so. Reframing helped us to recognize how incredibly privileged we are. Taking such a silly, non-harmful experience and calling it hell—it really let us put things in perspective.
Fast forward to last night. I get out of the shower and go into our bedroom. I am naked and a little wet and bend over to dig through our newly clean pile of laundry. Two minutes later, I am still digging through the laundry.
This is very frustrating. I know that I just washed like six pairs of underwear and yet turning the entire contents of the basket upside down six times doesn’t sift up even one! Not only do I hate digging through the laundry to find underwear while wet and naked and a little cold, I fucking know I hate doing this. I have hated having to do this since middle school.
And last night, after two minutes of this frustrating task, I burst out laughing. I realized that I have been having this experience for at least two minutes, three days a week, for the last ten years. (I promise I wear clean underwear everyday, I simply have a hard time finding a pair about a third of the days of the week.) I’ll save you the math. This means that I have spent at least two days in the last ten years just searching for my fucking underwear in my fucking laundry. I have spent two full days in underwear hell. Six consecutive eight hour work days looking for my underwear (thank the underwear hell union for fighting for eight hour days, six days a week maximum).
Now, seeing this as hell is what made me laugh. This isn’t so bad. There are far worse things that I could have to do for two days straight. Seeing it this way made it feel much better in the moment. But it also made me realize that my near refusal to put laundry away has carried with it a direct and grave consequence.
Rayla and I are fairly busy people, and aside from the clothes that get hung straight from the washer, we frequently leave this clean bin of laundry for our t-shirts, underwear, socks...etc. It’s not that we prefer this, it’s just that we often get carried away with other obligations and the basket remains, leaving us to do the tiny daily chore of digging around in our basket for clothes. BUT by not sorting and putting away our laundry as soon as it's dry, we have been creating daily strife for ourselves.
Unlike the Halloween party parking hell from earlier, this hell is entirely avoidable. All that is needed to end the “torture” is one of us (or both) taking a little time out of our week to hang up laundry. It is possible that some weeks it would take us more time to hang up clothes than it would to search through the basket. But I don’t actually dislike putting away laundry (and neither does Rayla), so we would be trading a task we despise for one that we both find to be relatively meditative.
The joke that this is my hell did make the experience more bearable, but in this particularly solvable situation, the better course of action would be to stop the hell from having to happen in the first place.
The spray bottle and the fire extinguisher
There is a growing body of research that suggests that small, regular stressors (like picking through your clothes for underwear, trying to park in a packed parking lot, getting stuck in traffic, having your phone die when trying to make a phone call...etc) are just as harmful for our health as big stressors (like the death of a loved one, a major breakup, losing your job, making a terrible mistake on a huge project...etc).
The Washington Post published an article that referenced many studies and notably quoted Carolyn Aldwin, director of the Center for Healthy Aging Research at Oregon State University, in saying that “Chronic daily hassles can lead to increased blood pressure, which puts you at risk for heart disease. It can also raise the levels of our stress hormones, a process that affects our immune system, and can lead to chronic inflammation, a condition associated with a host of serious illnesses.”
In a study called Let it Go, researchers examined how daily stressors, and the way we respond to them, have strong implications for our physical health. They aimed to test the advice of “just letting it go” after a negative interaction or situation. Participants were asked to take an eight day survey that recorded their daily negative emotions and the stressors that triggered them. Ten years later, the same participants were asked to report whether or not they had developed any chronic illnesses or other chronic health issues that made their daily lives more difficult. The researchers found that participants who were unable to let go of negative emotions caused by daily stressors tended to experience more chronic illnesses and health issues that impacted their daily lives.
There are completely mundane things that each of us deals with on a day to day basis, that make our lives a little more hellish, and can even harm us in the long run. If we wish to decrease the silly, potentially life-threatening, and often unnecessary suffering from these sorts of banal experiences, there are two tools that often come in handy.
The first tool is framing. In the context of the hell metaphor, think of it as a spray bottle. The aim isn’t to change hell, but to make yourself feel a bit more comfortable experiencing hell.
The second tool is refusal (to accept the current circumstances). In the context of the hell metaphor, think of it as a fire extinguisher. The aim is to decrease your suffering by eliminating the circumstances that created this hell in the first place.
These tools are extremely effective for dealing with the more mundane types of hell that pop up in our lives. But they are the some of the same tools that we have available to us for dealing with the more monumental types of hell too.
When faced with hell, this is the first question: which tool is better suited for the job?
***We think it's important to acknowledge that there are many devastating issues that billions of people face everyday and that there is a high degree of privilege in our lives that lets us think about solving small issues like our underwear hell. That being said, we think that many people experience a similar pattern of making small inconveniences into larger issues that both cause stress and use up valuable cognitive power. We hope that if we can help people who have to deal primarily with mundane hells both reframe their experiences and take steps to change their little hells, maybe they will have the capacity to be more fully devoted to working on the much larger and truly terrible hells faced by so many people on our planet. ***