Margin is the space you have in life before things are about you. When things are at their worst everything seems to be about me.
In the last months I have had many times of little margin.
I think a lot of things affect margin. A lot of things put us close to the edge.
Routine and order matter. The more things are automatic and the less they have to be reinvented the less things are about me. When nothing is automatic, when life has no energy or momentum of its own other than what you provide it is exhausting and fatiguing. When everything is a big deal you feel overwhelmed and attacked and stuck and captured. At its worst you have a day where everything from getting up in the morning on has to be decided. And sometimes when you are just exhausted and burnt out it is not that you want to feel better. You don’t want to feel.
You must have things that take care of themselves or everything is a challenge and a test and a threat. And no one can do that for long.
Pain and trauma matter. The harder things have been the harder I often expect them to be. When you are dodging bullets everything is about you.
It helps to be connected to other people. The stronger my connection with people that care about me the more empowered, the more capable I feel to deal with hard things. The higher my ceiling to threat.
It helps to have a sense of purpose, to feel like there is a reason for what I do and who I am. It helps me to keep perspective and remember what is important and make sure that urgency doesn’t rob me or diminish my ability to deal with the important things in my life.
Hope matters. It makes a difference to know things are not settled or decided.
Memory helps me to have perspective. It helps to remind that things that feel the most horrible, the most forever, the most condemning are not.
When I have no margin everything is hard. Everything is a cliff and everything is the next push– or so it seems. Vigilance interrupts and focuses attention and threat defines what I think is important and needs to be attended to. When there is no margin people consistently make bad situations worse. You tend to have high anxiety, high irritability. You take everything personal and you live on guard. Life becomes what you do while you wait for the next bad news.
You need some margin in your life. You need some free space. You need a place to see the wonder around you. You need something that tells you that life is more than what is hard or difficult for you. Sometimes it is a very hard space to find.
I don’t know answer that works for everyone. Everyone knows what it is like to have margin in their life. Everyone knows what it is like to have little or none. Maybe it is as simple as doing what works on purpose. Don’t hope things get better. As much as you can do the things that make it better. Memorize what makes days better and make better days.
And sometimes nothing works. Life is often not simple or clear. For me it is do the best I can that day and give myself grace for that. No that this day is not everyday and this space is not every space. And know that surviving terrible no good awful days is the first step towards finding better ones.