You work in a difficult profession — long-term care. We all know that. I’m not even going to list the myriad challenges again, for fear of manifesting them into permanence. 

And yet, if your existence is anything like mine, when you leave that difficult profession to go home at night, things don’t always get much better. Because difficult life stuff just keeps on happening. 

For example, I recently spilled wine on a dog. Through a cataclysmic combination of clumsiness and bad decisions, I doused the poor creature with at least six ounces of pristine pinot noir. It was an expensive bottle, so naturally I wrung it out of his fur and back into my glass, as any sophisticated oenophile would do. But I still suffer merciless mockery from its owner, along with debilitating private shame.  

Even when the wine had dried, the dog observed me with disappointment. Or was it contempt?

Zooming out a bit, before and after work every day we’re beset by a buffet of frightening situations far beyond our control, pesky little challenges like a disintegrating banking system, a pandemic that never seems to really go away, a grotesquely divided nation and the prospect of global nuclear war. Or most unimaginable of all, we might lose TikTok.   

Bigger picture still, you should probably also be aware that the Earth’s inner core is spinning slower than it used to. A mere 3,000 miles below your feet, that scorching-hot ball of iron slightly smaller than the moon apparently isn’t turning quite as fast as the surface, which seems bad. Even though scientists claim this doesn’t signal a near-term end of the world, I’m not buying it, and will be keeping my seatbelt on until the planet has come to a full stop at the gate. 

My point with all this is to say that when long-term care and life gets frustrating and uncertain, when perfectly good wine is spilled on a dog, when catastrophe lurks around every corner and the earth’s molten core is poised to spin us all off into oblivion, I’m glad I’ve found a pen I like. 

It has a needle tip, feels good in the hand. Has some heft, without being clunky. The ink flows evenly and smoothly, making a bold line, but one that’s not too full of itself. With this pen between my fingers, even while journaling my greatest anxieties I feel a little more calm and centered. It pulls me into the present, and reminds me that not everything’s out of control. It’s not just a trivial utensil, it’s an instrument of meditation.

Perhaps you have something like that, a seemingly insignificant tool or practice that gives you at least a small respite in the daily storm. A rehab therapist I know feels the same way about a cup of coffee with just the right amount of hazelnut creamer. Another colleague is calmed by the feeling of her feet on the ground on an afternoon walk. 

Anything that pulls the mind out of the swirling cacophony of existence and points to the beauty of whatever moment we’re in should be treasured and preserved.

Whenever life gets frustrating and overwhelming, in long-term care and beyond, find yourself a good pen and hold it tight. 

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a two-time national Silver Medalist and three-time regional Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program, as well as an Award of Excellence honoree in the APEX Awards. He’s been amusing, inspiring, informing and sometimes befuddling long-term care readers worldwide since the end of a previous century. He is a writer and video producer for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.