Over spring break, I picked up a book of stereograms from the library. Remember those weird Magic Eye books from the 90s? You just can’t fake the enthusiasm they express when they have their “eureka” moment, especially when contrasted by the frustration they feel while they are learning to see through the pages and it just isn’t working for them. ZoomIan was thrilled when he saw his first 3D image. “I can see the penguins!! Can they see me? I just love this book, can we buy it from the library”.
I had to do some research to answer their questions about how they work. I liked the explanation on this site: “Magic Eye…works by manipulating a repeating pattern to control the perceived depth and hide a three dimensional image in a two dimensional pattern.”
Children’s reactions to the Magic-Eye puzzles bear a lot of resemblance to how we as adults try to figure out what I’m going to call the “Magic Why.”
Like stereographic illusions, life seems to be composed largely of repeated monotonous patterns that often make no sense when examined at face value. The tasks of life are often tedious and unrelenting. They wear us down and leave us vulnerable to discouragement. Motherhood is particularly full of them: the mind-numbing pattern of morning sickness, the round-the-clock newborn feeding pattern, the week-in-week-out work pattern, and, for some, the depressive thought pattern, and this is just the tip of the iceberg when you have littles ones underfoot.
I have recently found myself asking a lot of “why” questions: why am I doing this? Why is this so hard? Why? Why? Why?
Life can and will throw you a crisis or two that will leave you reeling in whys. Some of my whys have been: why did I lose a sister and both parents before I was 30? Why is there so much suffering in the world? Why is anxiety and depression so prevalent in society (and in my own family)?
These are hard questions. Some of which may never be answered, but sometimes seeing the answer is just a matter of changing your focal point.
My experience with mental health (which is limited to people in my family, as I am not a professional) seems to be one of those very challenging repeated patterns that make no sense on the surface. Destructive thought patterns, emotional outbursts, fear, doubt, and confusion seem to rob you of life’s lustre. They are scary and exhausting, and often can’t be “fixed.” They leave you reeling in the “why me?” or “why my child?” kind of questions.
Through it all, I have found some hope and relief by manipulating the pattern. Talking to professionals and experimenting with a lot of trail and error (another one of those repeating, grinding patterns of life), and being very, very patient has given me a glimpse of the true depth of the underlying image. Learning to fight and overcome these issues makes for stronger individuals and families. I’m starting to realize that I actually wouldn’t want my loved-ones to be “normal” functioning after all, as they bring so much colour to the table just the way they are.
One example of a real-life “Magic Why” for me was when one of our children had a classmate whose family was going through some challenges and needed some assistance with childcare for a few weeks so that the mother didn’t have to take a leave from work which they could not afford. I offered to help. Before I committed, the mother apprehensively told me that this child suffered from an anxiety disorder and sometimes had big emotional meltdowns. I think she expected me to back out of my offer. My mind flashed to all of the emotional meltdowns I have had to calm over the years, and I reassured her that I was pretty sure we could manage. We did manage, and it was a great fit. While the service I provided took very little effort on my part, I believe the reason I was able to help was thanks to my familiarity with challenges like anxiety and depression.
The relentless pattern of dealing with my family members’ meltdowns, phobias and challenging behaviours melted away, and by setting my sights on a new focal point I could see that I had been able to help someone else. But even more, I realized that I had changed. The hidden 3D image I discovered was a new me, and I could see a whole new set of skills I had developed without even realizing it. I’m nowhere near done my learning journey with this issue and I expect many more whys.
What stereogram image are you staring at? What in your life seems to make no sense? While you may not be able to make it go away, I know you can benefit from manipulating those repeating patterns in life, to find new meaning and realizations. Some of the hardest patterns to change are thoughts. Channeling your thoughts to the right focal point can reveal a beautiful three-dimensional image hidden in what you thought was plain, ugly, frustrating, and two-dimensional.
So stop, a couple times a day, and reflect on something you have done well, or on something you are grateful for. Write a personal mission statement to give you clarity and direction. Pick three words you want to have describe you as a person, and check-in with yourself every day to see if you are becoming that person (you can thank my Dad for that tip). You have so much power to change your thoughts and thus change your life. Pay someone a compliment. Perhaps you’ll be the one to break a negative thought pattern they were struggling with. Most of all, never give up hope that there is a “why,” a beautiful “why.” There is an “ah-ha” moment waiting for you somewhere.