I have to admit, life has thrown me some curveballs. Sometimes it has been things working out differently than I had “planned” (and in truth, I don’t do change super well). The small ones are known as”bumps in the road”. I might throw a mini tantrum about the bumps, but then I pull up my big girl pants, make the needed adjustments to my attitude and my plans, and then I move on.
But sometimes, those things in the road aren’t bumps. They are freaking SINK HOLES! And you don’t see them coming. There you are, driving along the road of life, minding your own business, when right in front of you is an awful, black, endless hole. That hole might come in words like “I am leaving you” or “We think that lump might be cancer”. I know in my own life, I have faced that darkness when I had to deliver a beautiful baby boy, full term, with no heartbeat. I had to face it when my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer, which made itself know first in her brain. I faced it when I finally got diagnoses for my daughter, filling her future with pain and isolation. And I faced it again when we were told that my husband had a rare auto-immune disorder, which can be fatal, but more often just makes a person miserable for the rest of their life.
In an instant, life is different. BAM! What was reality 5 minutes ago, is not what is real now. You live in a blur, a cushion of numbness, for a bit. You exist on auto pilot, moving through tasks and conversations, without your brain really being engaged. Little by little, the fog clears and you try to get your head around your new reality. How did this happen? Have I done something to cause it? How will I function now? How will this affect the other people in my life? How do I adjust to my life looking differently from what I thought it would? How am I “supposed” to deal with (insert crisis, for example: Loss of a loved one, divorce, chronic illness, fatal illness, job loss, natural disaster, etc)?
There is shock. There is disbelief. There is anger. Lots of anger. There is bargaining. The Stages of Grief are more than a book you give someone when they have a death in the family. They are actual, psychological stages the heart and the mind must go through to get to something call “The New Normal.” We must, even if it is just for a little while, grieve that reality we thought we knew, the life we thought we had. It is part of “out with the old and in with the new.”
There are lots of things we can do though to go off course in getting to that acceptance of the new events in our lives. Instead of the Stage of Grief called anger, leading to acceptance, we can easily pitch a tent in that Stage and decide to make that our home. Anger is the easiest one in which to take up residence. It feels good to be angry and that anger seems to burn away at the sadness that consumes our hearts. And while it is healthy to visit this Stage on the path to New Normal, it is destructive to live there.
I wanted to share with you 4 things that I have learned while puttering on this path. Hopefully, when you encounter the next stinkin’ sink hole of your life, these few tips can help you.
This is a tricky step, albeit an important one. I am not saying you need to have a complete meltdown in the middle of Walmart, just because you feel like it. However, I am a huge advocate for not being fake. Pretending to have your act together when you are adjusting to a crisis, might make the circumstance at hand seem easier, but I believe it is harmful both to yourself and others. Let me explain why I feel this way. Pretending can have negative consequences on your heart and mind. You are communicating that you have your act together, you have things figured out and that you have already adjusted to your New Normal. I think that is detrimental to others around us as well, because we might have inadvertently communicated that this process of adjustment is quick and easy. Not only does that cause them to lose patience with you, when they encounter others who have had life change in an instant, they might erroneously believe they should be adjusted and moving on before the week is done.
So my definition of “being real” means doing the best you can for that day and communicating kindly, what things are keeping you from being your “old self” at that moment. For example, maybe saying, “I am sorry that I am not as bouncy as I used to be. This (insert the name of your sink hole) is making me struggle today. I am trying to adjust to the thought of (insert the part of the new reality you are struggling with at that moment). This is hard and it isn’t going to fast healing, but know that I AM working on it,” or “Thank you for being patient with me. I know it is hard for you that I can’t do such and such anymore. It makes me sad as well, but please know I am doing the best that I can.” This is a process. Remind yourself of that. Remind others of that. You will have to fake being ok sometimes, but take into consideration the stress it causes to your body and heart to pretend. Hopefully, we will all be more kind with each other on this giant, floating globe, when people know what suffering is really like, and are made aware of the healing they can bring when they chose to love or be compassionate, wherever a person is in the adjustment process.
Are you an over achiever? This can complicate the process of adjusting to a New Normal. It might cause you to have impatience with yourself as to why you aren’t back to the way you used to be (Here is a secret: You aren’t going to be the same, and that is OK!) or why you don’t have this figured out by now. My propensity is to be pretty manic when health crises arise in my loved ones. I squeeze into my Supermom (or wife) costume and come at the situation like I am wrestling a bear. When we found out that my daughter had like 75 food allergies and intolerances, and it looked like she would have to subsist on crickets and dandelions from the back yard, I got myself into a fervor. I WOULD figure out all the things she could eat, I WOULD create a rotation diet and I WOULD come up with all the meals she would need, THIS WEEK! I ended up so overwhelming my mind, that I could think of nothing, much less a complex rotation diet, and I just ended up doing a lot of crying. What that did is exhaust and overwhelm me and then I was not ready for any of the hard things the New Normal demanded.
I needed to be realistic. I am learning, in life, to do a lot of self-talk, reminding myself to eat the elephant one bite at a time. Small, attainable steps, do so much benefit to this part of the adjustment process. You can make progress and you don’t accidently add overwhelm to the list of uncomfortable emotions you are feeling. To be honest, at some Stages of the grief process, your goal may just be “Get Out of Bed.” And that is ok. After my baby was born stillborn, I literally had to make goals for myself like that. If I had gotten through the day with a shower and my 3 year old fed, that was a successful day. The importance of this tip is that it keeps you moving forward in the process. Friends, that sink hole of a situation would like nothing better than to swallow you up, in your entirety! When we are unrealistic about the process of adjusting to the New Normal, we spin and spin emotionally, which tightens the grip on depression. Time is our greatest asset when it comes to adjusting, but we have to be careful not to set ourselves up to fail.
There must be Releasing:
No matter what “experts” might say, I do not believe that there is a prescribed time frame for “letting go and moving on.” There are too many things to factor in: support system or lack there of, your chemical make up, what other stressors you are dealing with, and so on. I had a “friend” and mentor tell me, two weeks after I delivered my dead child, that I needed to be done grieving and back to my old self. Two weeks! There WILL be grief over the fact that your life will never be the way it was, or what you thought, or how you have planned. And it is a tragedy to step into someone else’s pain and tell them it is time to be done. But…
At a time that is right for you, there must be releasing of the old reality, to be able to make room in your heart and in your head for the new one. No, you will not be the healthy person you were before. No, your child will not wake up and their special needs have disappeared. No, your husband is not going to walk through the door and your marriage put together. We can dislike this all we want, but it will not change our reality. If we don’t keep on moving through the process though, we will miss so many important things. There are blessings in the New Normal! I promise you there are, but the old reality clouds our perspective and keeps us from seeing the blessings. At some point, we have to say to ourselves, “This is my new life now. It isn’t what I expected or even what I wanted, but it is what I have. I will CHOSE to redefine things so that I can make the best of the life that I have. I will bloom where I have been planted.”
This will build Resilience:
Gonna be real with you here. A lot of times the saying “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” makes me want to scream at the top of my lungs. Often, the sink hole on the path of my life FEELS like it is full of quick sand. It FEELS like it is going to kill me. And I can’t tell you the number of mornings I have woken up and thought, “I can’t believe it! I made it through yesterday!” And truly, when we look back on all the hard things we have encountered in our lives, it can be sobering to see all we have been through and survived. But I believe, with all my heart, that God uses our past experiences to strengthen us and get us ready for challenges in our future. Romans 5:3 says, “Not only that, but we can have joy that we have suffered, because that suffering produced perseverance.” We have the choice to be better from our trials or to be bitter. If we chose to be better, at some point, what we are going through now can make us better able to think through crisis situations, enable us to pace ourselves in the process of adjusting and be more patient with ourselves and others on the path to finding peace with a “New Normal.”