Have you ever felt like your whole life is falling apart, and that you are losing everything and everyone that matters to you?
I have. A few times now.
In 2016 my mom committed suicide a month after I was fired from what I believed to be my dream job. My family was in shambles, I had no backup plan, I could barely pay rent.
I bounced back from that.
In 2018 I was lost my house, was kicked out of an organization I had founded, and lost nearly my entire support system — including my best friend. I was attacked on the street by people who hated me. I wanted to just disappear.
I bounced back from this, too.
Now, a year after that, everything is up in the air again. I was fired from the first stable job I’ve ever had, deplatformed from multiple conferences for my political views, and people who swore they were my friends turned their backs on me.
Three days later, I’m already bouncing back.
The first time you go through a traumatic life event it’s hard to see yourself on the other side. It’s impossible to imagine what life will look like when everything is different, all the things you expected to be there are gone. I’ve gone through this feeling enough times now that I’ve learned some strategies to cope. For someone who might be experiencing this for the first time, here’s the recipe I’ve developed for bouncing back when everything has fallen apart:
(*results may vary; you should probably see a mental health professional)
- Find who is left of your support system, and tell them you’re going to be needing them a lot for a bit. Although it may feel like everyone has left you, there’s probably a few people who can still help get you through this transition. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people you’ve lost touch with if necessary. This is no time for pride. Find who you’ve got left, whether family, friends, or colleauges, and do what it takes to be near them. Be honest with them that you need their support right now. If you have access to professional mental health care — use it.
- Immediately start limiting your alcohol, drug, and/or caffeine use. If you have anxiety like me, these times are prone to bouts of addiction, panic attacks, and a general mental health decline. Ask your support system to help hold you accountable. If that means giving up drinking or coffee entirely until you are more stable — do it. The less your brain is influenced by drugs, the easier it will be for it to heal. If you have an addictive relationship with social media, this would also be the time to shut that off. Put your phone in a drawer if you have to.
- Allow yourself a few “trash days.” Trash days are what I call those days where you feel like garbage, and probably look and smell like it too. While you are coming to terms with the loss you’ve experienced, don’t feel obligated to jump right into solving the problems. If you can afford it, take a couple days to just survive. Making it to the next day is hard enough, and you should reward yourself for doing whatever it takes to make it to tomorrow. If for you that looks like binging a tv show while eating vegan ice cream, do it. If it looks like sleeping all day, do it. If it’s playing video games with your friends, do it. Trash days let your brain catch up to your new reality without the pressure of “doing things.” Depending on the severity of the loss you experienced, you may need more or fewer trash days.
- Find something small and productive to do. When you feel like you are ready to come out of the trash heap, you need to find something productive to do. You probably have a lot on your plate, like job hunting or dealing with paperwork for whatever just happened — but don’t feel obligated to do those things yet. Find an easier thing to do, like cleaning your bathtub or tending to your garden. Start getting your brain and body used to accomplishing tasks again. Ask your support person to do something with you if this step feels too hard alone.
- When you feel the momentum return — get to work. Once you’ve allowed yourself trash days and gotten over the hump of rejoining the productive world, it’s time to do The Thing. Yes, the thing that you are scared to do and that you’ve been putting off because it means the loss was real and everything is terrifying. Feel free to ask your support person to sit with you while you do it, or reward yourself for accomplishing small parts of it. When you’ve actually done The Thing — celebrate! You survived!
These steps may be easier or harder depending on your situation, and sometimes it will be more of a back-and-forth than a linear progression. Eventually life does start to feel normal again, and you can congratulate yourself for making through another one of life’s rough patches. Next time (and there will be a next time), you’ll be even more of a pro.
If you are feeling suicidal, call or chat with the Suicide Prevention LifeLine at:
1-800-273-8255 or www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org