Finding Peace In An Outhouse (And Other Shitty Situations)


"Nobody can bring you peace but yourself." 
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

A few months ago, back when travel was still in the social lexicon, I pulled off the highway for a quick health break.  Imagine my disappointment when I discovered the available facility wasn’t a bathroom at all, but an outhouse. Gross!

I have specific protocols for outhouses:  close my eyes, hold my breath, sometimes even plug my ears.  And for the love of all that is good, control that imagination!   Focus only on the task.

These are natural instincts when we’re uncomfortable.  And although these strategies are perfect for a five-minute pit stop, they aren’t productive for long-term coping.

Whether we like it or not, COVID-19 has pushed us all into the outhouse.

Shitty circumstances – illness, job loss, travel upheaval, perceived supply shortages, limited freedoms and more – have been thrust upon us.  And our short-term coping strategies – disconnection, breath-holding, mindless action – won’t serve us for long.

Having recently come through an intensive period of healing and self-reflection, I humbly offer a few pointers on adjusting to our new circumstances:

1) Accept you are in an outhouse

Yep. It’s gross. Don’t panic; don’t judge. In this moment, it doesn’t matter why you’re here or who’s to blame.  Set all your feelings aside and simply exist here for a moment and get acquainted with your current reality. This will help you get where you need to go.

2) Practice breathing

Yep. It’s gross. Breathing powers our brains, helps us focus, and activates the calming activities of our nervous systems.  It is essential to finding that window of peace.

Start with a small shallow breath. Just one.  Once you’ve taken one shallow breath, take another. Take as many small shallow breaths as you need, and focus all your attention there.  Eventually you will acclimatize to the smell.

Your body – which thrives on oxygen – will realize what it’s missing.   You will want to breathe a little deeper.   Allow yourself this freedom. If you’re not there yet, work at building deeper breaths, a little at a time.

Celebrate incremental victories until you’re taking nice, full, deep breaths.  Take five in a row. Then take ten in a row.

I know you’re in an outhouse, but you’ve really gotta breathe.

3) Let it out

An outhouses is the perfect place to raise a stink.  Whatever funk is inside you – physical, spiritual or existential sadness/anger/anxiety/depression – work at releasing it.  Cry, bang on the walls, write ferociously, do pushups.  But be safe about it. This is not a license to inflict pain on yourself or anyone else. Definitely don’t tip the outhouse – EW! – or otherwise vandalize the space.

In and out; you got this.

4) Keep it in the can

This is a personal exercise. Complete it by yourself or with trusted loved ones. The trick is to release in the appropriate place. Fight the impulse to try to make yourself feel better by flinging, smearing or otherwise spreading your impatience, resentment and other toxic reactions to others.  It doesn’t work, and we’re all dealing with our own rubbish, thanks.

Keep breathing.

5) Seek help if needed

It can get pretty dark in an outhouse pretty quick.  Luckily, there are lots of trained guides to help us.

As a starting point, I like this column by Guy Winch, a psychologist and advocate for emotional hygiene. The column is aptly called: Dear Guy, I’m incredibly anxious about coronavirus. What can I do?

The Canada Mental Health Association also offers some useful resources specific to coping with COVID-19, and many counselors and psychologists are meeting virtually with clients. It’s not too late to set up an appointment.

In an emergency call 911.

Your mind and body will thank you for taking deep cleansing breaths.

6) Be deliberate about your interaction with the pit

As fascinating as it may be to take a peek, remember you cannot unsee what’s down there.  The decision is up to you.  If you aren’t ready, don’t let others change your mind by telling you it’s educational or that it’s your “responsibility” to look. Sure, there is much to learn in the pit, but there is also a high cost to wellness.  Definitely don’t stare into it all day!

As Nietzsche reminds us: “When you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”

Focus on your breath.

7) Leverage that imagination!

As much fun as it is to let our imaginations run wild, it’s important to remember there is no such thing as a scary sludge monster reaching out to grab us and drag us down into the pit where nobody can find us.

We create that monster in our mind.

Creativity is a powerful tool, and as much as it can create horrifying possibilities, it can also be used to imagine best-case scenarios, identify opportunities and connect with others.

Let’s wield our tools for good!

The outhouse may never become our favourite place to hang out, but with proper self-care and focus, we can at least make it a little more comfortable for ourselves.

Inhale. Exhale.

Leaf - Centrepiece Writing Studio - Shannon Marshall - Victoria, BC

Shannon Marshall

Hi - I’m Shannon, a speechwriter for all occasions, and owner of Centrepiece Writing Studio. I write heartfelt speeches, handcrafted just for you.

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Shannon Marshall - Centrepiece Writing Studio - Shannon Marshall - Victoria, BC

Centrepiece Writing Studio is grateful to operate on the traditional lands of the Lekwungen people, now represented by the Songhees and Xwsepsum (Esquimalt) nations...
The glorious land commonly known as Victoria, BC.

With great respect for the earliest residents of our shared coastal home, CWS strives to uphold our mutual values of storytelling and environmental stewardship.

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