Life is unpredictable. You’ll be plugging along just fine and then “bam!”…
· Your spouse asks for a divorce.
· You get in a car accident.
· Your company fires you.
· Your doctor says, “I’ve got some bad news for you.”
And suddenly, everything falls apart and you’re left wondering, “What am I suppose to do now?”
For me, that moment happened in 2007 when my spine ripped open after years of trauma, combined with an inherited degenerative disease.
One day I was a parent of an active toddler, a second degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and a small business owner. The next, I was a disabled person in intense chronic pain that lasted for years and took over my life.
To be totally honest, I handled my crisis badly — which is to say I didn’t handle it at all. I ignored my pain. I tried desperately to keep up appearances and scrambled to keep my clients happy. I acted as if my world wasn’t falling apart. Quite frankly, those decisions came back to bite me in the ass and caused even more pain and suffering.
I learned the hard way that I should have done the following five things instead.
1. Start a daily gratitude practice
This may seem counterintuitive, but now is the perfect time to start appreciating the little things in your life.
Yes, you may have to set the bar quite low at first. Maybe all you write down is stuff like…
· I have a working toilet
· Only one person in my house is dying of cancer right now
· I don’t have the Ebola virus
That’s okay, as long as you try to make this a daily practice.
A gratitude practice will be helpful for two reasons. First, it will remind you that, even if your life is awful right now, there is still someone else out there who would kill to have it because theirs is even worse. Secondly, the practice will subtly program your mind to keep thinking positively during the tough times ahead.
2. Eliminate anything unnecessary
Ruthlessly cut anything from your life that does not either bring you happiness OR support you financially/emotionally.
Now is not the time to get bogged down thinking about what you “should” be doing. You know, like…
· “I really should keep volunteering at the homeless shelter. Those people are way worse off than me.”
· “I really should plan a spectacular birthday party for my son. He’s probably feeling pretty neglected with all that’s going on.”
· I really should have drinks with my co-worker. He’s having a hard time with his mom’s death, too.”
Those “shoulds” are your perceptions of reality. Not reality itself.
Your reality is you have a limited bandwidth of time and energy right now. If you give it away to all of your “shoulds” you’re going to have nothing left to give to yourself. And, right now you need all of the time and energy you can get.
Instead, make self-care paramount — and the care of the people closest to you — your primary focus. Everything else should be expendable for the time being.
3. Assemble your army
Likely all you want to do right now is climb under the covers and hide and maybe just vaugebook about your problems on Facebook.
But you need to do the opposite and start pulling people to your side who can support you through the battles ahead.
They may not be the people you’d naturally gravitate towards. You might need different people in your life right now — people who have very specific skill-sets like…
· Planners: people who are super organized and can help you formulate a game plan for moving forward. (What projects need to be completed? How many pairs of extra hands will you need to get them done? Who has the connections to find those people?)
· People with open schedules: retirees, stay at home parents and the self-employed can be a great resource when you are in crisis since they may have the flexibility to help you at odd times of day when the rest of your support network may be unavailable.
· Emotional supporters: you may simply need some people on whose shoulders you can cry right now. These people may not be able to do much for you, (other than be there) and that’s okay. Even if they’re not someone you normally think of as your friend, these “crises friends” (perhaps someone who’s been through the same experience) can provide the emotional support you need.
4. Address your mental health
If you have pre-existing mental health issues, it’s critical to proactively address them right now.
Check in with your mental health care providers (doctors, therapists, psychiatrists, etc.) and give them a heads-up that things have gotten (or are about to get) bad. See if you need to schedule some appointments or adjust/change medications in order to help you weather the coming storm. If you don’t have any mental health care providers, now is the time to look for some.
If you are lucky enough not to have preexisting mental health issues, then this is a time when it might be helpful to check in with your friends who do. Let them know you’re going through a hard time and ask them to keep an eye on you.
While the people closest to you may miss warning signs (things are falling apart you’re supposed to be sad all the time, right?) a friend with depression might be better equipped to see more subtle clues and help you take action to proactively address them. They can also help recommend therapists, medications and strategies to maintain your sanity when times are tough.
5. Go for a walk (preferably in nature)
When you’re under a lot of stress, three things can be helpful: regular exercise, some alone time to clear your head, and exposure to sunlight. A daily walk is an easy way to cross all three things off your list.
No need to join a gym or launch a big fitness campaign right now. Just try to start getting in some regular walks and use that meditative time to ground yourself each day and remind yourself that you CAN and WILL get through this.
If the thing that is falling apart is your body (like me) adjust your walking distance and pace, but don’t give up the practice. Even a slow stroll up and down the block will be better for your physical and mental health than nothing at all.
Just remember, regardless of what terrible thing has happened to you and made your world fall apart, the nature of life is CHANGE. A crisis today will look and feel very different a year from now.
Until then, hang in there, my friends. You will pull it back together.
Interested in this topic? Please follow me on Medium to read more posts about chronic pain and my new book, Chronic Pain Recovery: A Practical Guide to Putting Your Life Back Together After Everything Has Fallen Apart, now available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, Google Play and Kobo.