What to Do When You are Feeling Fragile and Broken

How to Walk on Eggshells Around Yourself

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

I remember a time when I was highly triggered, and had been for days. Another school shooting set it off; my grief over the event and my anger at the lack of answers mingled with my fear that my daughter was growing up in a world where schools were not safe, and shootings are just a price we pay to attend one. World events and conversations online heightened my emotions to the point of painfulness.

I was wound up so tight that the sound of my daughter’s laugh, her pure joy and silliness and joking around, were like nails on a chalkboard for me. I repeatedly caught myself snapping at her to knock it off, which only increased my guilt, sadness, and irritation, in a cycle I couldn’t seem to pause.

Life was simply overwhelming me. In that moment, I was completely broken.

This used to be how I lived my life, almost all the time, without reprieve. Rare moments of peace were glaring moments that induced shock and awe, even though they were often comprised of the simplest, smallest things, like reading a book outside, or eating dinner on a patio. They were unique because of the calm I found in them, so completely absent in my life, and therefore were memories that stood out vividly, years later.

I had worked hard to move away from that life, and out of a constant state of trauma and stress. By the time this trigger came up about the school shooting, the boat I navigated through life moved ahead through calm waters most of the time. For that reason, this made those feelings that much harder to take.

I was not used to hanging on for dear life anymore. It was not my daily existence.

I was pissed that once again I was living in a world of stress and anxiety that I couldn’t seem to step out of, and I had no idea what to do to fix it.

I tried tools I had used in my previous, hectic, storm-ridden life. I tried to shove the emotions deep, deep inside myself; no dice. I tried to outrun the emotions by piling a million to-do tasks on my plate and working non-stop; I only got more irritated, my temper even shorter. I tried to smother the emotions under really great whiskey, Ben and Jerry’s, and Netflix binges; I woke up feeling worse.

Clearly, my previous life had been a mess for a lot of reasons, one of which being that I had no valid, healthy coping mechanisms to deal with negative emotions.

Now that this state of being was no longer my status quo, now that I was aware of how damaging all my unhealthy ways of dealing with unhappiness were, and now that I was no longer okay with living in such a state for weeks or months until some sunshine broke through, I found myself rather lost.

How can I deal with the moments when life gets the best of me?

One day, after being in this highly-triggered emotional upheaval state for a week, I got out of bed and just…stopped. Like, literally, just stopped, and stood very, very still.

I was exhausted. I wasn’t sure I could move through another day feeling the way I was feeling. So, even though it was very hard for me, I paused. I took a couple of deep breaths. And in that moment, I consciously decided to spend the entire day walking on eggshells around myself.

We all know this feeling. We’ve all done it with a loved one at one point in time or another, and in general, it’s not any fun. It’s the feeling that you have to be so careful with what you say to someone, or how you act around them, what you ask of them, what emotions you show, that you feel as if you are walking on eggshells in order to not trigger them, to not start a fight, to not upset the waters and get drawn into the drama. When this act is done in order to not upset someone else, it often feels draining, and frustrating, and like an intense burden that unless you are much a better person than I am you resent having to carry.

It seems like an odd tool to use against yourself, and I’m not at all sure why I did it or what made me think it would help. But in that moment, it felt right, and I was too exhausted to fight the idea. I went with it. What I found when I did felt like a miraculous discovery.

But first, let’s talk about what it looks like to walk on eggshells around yourself (or what it looked like for me):

  1. Hit Pause. Give yourself permission to not get anything at all done for the next hour, or day, or week even. Allow a complete and total break from your to-do list.
  2. Slow Down, Literally and Metaphorically. Move very carefully, and very slowly. Do this as a physical practice. Stay conscious of every single step you take, and physically move very, very slowly.
  3. Ask Yourself, “Will this make me happy?” Ask yourself this for every single tiny thing you think to do. Before you turn on the tv, before you walk to the mailbox, before you put on clothes, as you pick out clothes if you decide to put them on, before you put any food into your body, before you move a muscle in your body, ask yourself, “Will this make me happy? Is this going to make things better for me? Is this something I truly want to do, right now, in this moment?” If the answer to any of these questions is no, don’t do it. Go back to steps one and two until you find an impulse where you can answer all those questions with a yes. Then go do that, immediately.
  4. No Guilt Allowed. Commit to only moving toward the things that you truly want to do and that would bring you a sense of calm, peace, happiness, or joy, and then let absolutely everything else go. No second guessing. No “should”, and no guilt allowed.

We could just call this mindfulness, or really good self-care. And to an extent, it is an extremely heightened version of self-care combined with mindfulness.

I call it walking on eggshells, because that is what it felt like to me.

It saved me. By the end of the day, I found that all the weight I had been carrying had lifted. Where all my problems solved? All my sadness gone? No. But everything was manageable again.

I was able to listen to my daughter, watch her be silly, hear her laugh, and not snap at her. I was able to see the beauty around me. I stopped crying (so much). I was able to find gratitude again. I had given myself the space to grieve, to process, to start to move forward, and in that space I was able to see the light breaking through the clouds.

By barely moving at all, I was able to start to move forward.

This realization stayed with me, and I’ve used it many times since that day. Walking on eggshells does not always mean staying home, or hiding from the world. It can mean different things on any given day.

What walking on eggshells always means, though, is a conscious slowing down to figure out what it is that you actually want, in that moment, and then a permission to do exactly that. No guilt, no questioning, no beating yourself up. It is a beautiful oasis of taking care of you in the most gentle and kind way you can, when you find myself in the most fragile and broken places.

The next time you notice yourself feeling as if the world is spinning out of control, or find yourself bristling with irritation, or drowning in sadness, I urge you to take a moment, and pause. Even if you cannot carve out an entire day, just carve out an hour, or even a few minutes, and walk on eggshells.

See the places that are tender within you, and move carefully around them. Show them love and kindness. Erase the judgment. And move very, very slowly. You might just find that in walking on eggshells around the tender places inside you, you start to find the healing you’ve been searching for.

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