Personal catastrophe can teach us, or damage us. when your world falls apart, it seems like there is no getting through it. But there are ways.
The first time this hit me was after my second son was born. As he grew, those first few weeks, I was falling apart. I dragged myself around, cried many times a day, and felt my world turn grey and heavy. Normal sleepless stupor became a postpartum depression. As I felt myself bursting into tears without warning in the grocery store, I knew something was wrong. But how could it be that I couldn’t handle having two children? Women all over the world did it, just fine. What kind of a failure, a wimp, must I be? It took weeks for me to accept that I was in real trouble.
Once I took that in, I asked for help from those around me. Not everyone responded. When my closest friend didn’t seem to get what I was going through, I thought, Okay I’ll take care of myself another way. I started therapy, went on medication, and gradually emerged from that bleakest place. But I didn’t know if I ever would feel like myself again—until I did.
Most of us see ourselves as competent and normal, so accepting that something big and hard is happening can be tricky.
Our first impulse is often denial. This can’t be happening, it’s not that bad. I’ll binge watch/run more miles/work harder. Denial can buy us time, but it’s a terrible long-term strategy. What we don’t accept CAN hurt us. We can spiral into a vortex of avoidance that harms our health and our livelihood.
We beat ourselves up when we don’t meet our own expectations. It can take great courage to let in the possibility that we’re not doing okay in something fundamental—whether it’s parenting, a relationship, or a job.
What helps us deal with denial is being willing to talk about what’s happening. Instead of having our fear, confusion, and pain bouncing around inside our skulls, we can let it out it in manageable doses to a trusted confidant. Releasing a scrap of our truth eases pressure and enables us to look straight at our situation.
2. Tell someone what’s happening
We spend significant energy on appearing whole to those around us. In order to share our experience with another, we risk judgment. It’s a chance that must be taken to move forward. Remember we are often harder on ourselves than anyone else will be.
Choose who to tell with care: someone trustworthy and kind. Include what is happening, and how you are feeling. Both are important. Because, of course, a big part of denial is avoiding feeling shame.
3. Feel and reframe
Once we accept our situation, we need to pause and feel whatever arises. If it is shame—that sense that we are fundamentally not okay—we need to tackle that feeling with words. Remind ourselves of the many ways we have been okay and successful, large or small. Reframe this as a point in time that we need to survive, not a forever condition. “I can get through this. I will get through this.”
4. Identify your needs
Figure out what you need. Information, financial, legal or otherwise? Hugs? Someone to walk with? Childcare so you can nap or get out of the house? (That was a big one for me.) A place to live? Think short-term, first. What do you need for today and this week? Then look a bit further ahead—a few weeks or months. What else will you need?
5. Decide how to get what you need
When you have a list, plan how to approach others and ask for help. I know, asking for help can be uncomfortable. I squirm every time I do it. You may be surprised at how helpful others will be, once they hear what’s going on. If you let your situation be known, you may receive offers of support without even asking. People feel good when they help others, and that includes you.
6. Make your own plan
Sort out what you will do for the short term. What actions will you take today? Tomorrow? Write it down. In times of crisis, a concrete list of things to do can be wonderfully anchoring.
7. Nourish yourself
What can you do, each day, that will help you feel a bit of solid ground under you? Is it walking? Watching a favorite show? Playing with your dog? Writing in a journal? Make this a priority.
8. Be strong, but not every minute
There is a place for strength, no doubt. You need to formulate plans and do something. There is also a need to let yourself feel and express those feelings—cry, throw things (at something safe), curl up in a ball around your cat and hide. Don’t go on social media and rant, that’s not a smart outlet for your feelings.
Those around you
So far we have been focusing on you. If you have children, it’s even more important that you get yourself together. Look as calm and confident in front of them as you can. They are having their own uncertainties, and need whatever reassurance you can give them.
Why this is worth it
This all may sound difficult, and it is. Two things make it worthwhile.
First, it will get you through this hard and scary place, which is what you need.
Second, you will build strength and resilience that will be part of you for the rest of your life. When your world falls apart, and whatever challenges life brings, you will have deeper confidence and greater coping abilities. You will be better able to help others, too. And that’s gold, for all of us.
Karen Kristjanson is a life coach and author of Co-Parenting from the Inside Out: Voices of Moms and Dads. www.beyondlimitscoaching.com