I, somehow, am frequently met with this question. Usually it is in regard to a spouse being away, but it also pops up for long seasons of misery. At first, it seemed a bit absurd for anyone to ask me, let alone expect an answer packed with wisdom. Yes, I have encountered some nasty times, some impossible periods…but could I mete out advice on the matter?
Maybe, maybe not.
I perceive all of this. I know I am not an expert. I don’t have every answer. But I have pushed through some madness. I have endured and learned ways to cope.
That is something.
So with that, take what helps and ignore the rest. I merely offer you the small truths that I have benefited from, hoping that something can also help you.
I expect insane amounts from myself, and I push myself doggedly to achieve it all. Then… well, then when I inevitably fail, I name myself as a failure. And swim in shame.
It is a really fun cycle.
But I’ve started, during difficult periods, to try to look at my life from the outside.
I try to offer myself the same amount of understanding I would grant to another in my shoes. Sometimes I ask myself, “How would I treat my sister if she were in the middle of this mess that I am?” Then, I can breathe a bit more.. Because I would never expect perfection from a mother of three children, husband usually away on work, moving to a new city and friendless every two years. I wouldn’t get on her case because her house is a mess and her kids are eating lunch meat and toast for dinner. I would offer her compassion. I would offer her help. I would make her cookies and tell her she is rocking life.
To some, this is as simple as a daily shower, to another it is a coffee with a book, to yet another, it is a walk. The important thing is that it rejuvenates, or at least grants a breath in the chaos.
I spend 20 minutes every day praying. It is non-negotiable. If I don’t get this silent alone time I am a beast. I also try to get some reading and a nice walk in, but the minimum is prayer.
It isn’t selfish to need something for myself. It isn’t selfish to carve out time and stick to it. I am happier and end up being a kinder person all around because of it.
I am not Susie Workout, but there is certainly something about getting my body moving. I can't run anymore after a foot injury, but I've found that even a 20 minute walk can turn my whole day right.
4. Weekly fun thing
A massage, a movie, plopping down in a coffee shop with a magazine, strolling downtown.
To each of us it is something different. I once made a list of things I enjoy so that I could just glance at a few options and see what was feasible with my time and budget. It doesn't have to even cost anything. I've had some lovely jaunts with a beloved book I opted to re-read on a sunny bench at the park.
When I am having a difficult season, the last thing I need is busyness and extra work. There is a time for volunteering for a class field trip. There is a time for signing up to host the neighborhood for Christmas festivities at your house. There is a time to be the secretary of the golf club. It ain’t now, at least if it is going to leave me strained and not able to focus on my own family.
There is an element of helping others that can center a person, but if it is just adding more to an already heaping plate? Nope, shut it down.
When it all really seems to be hitting the fan, I pull out any and everything that I can to elicit laughter. I will watch funny shows, browse for funny memes, read hilarious novels, snuggle up with some Calvin & Hobbes, listen to Jim Gaffigan on YouTube. The trick is just to get humor back in the picture. If I can laugh my way through one night, the morning often proves to be much brighter.
Water, sleep, food.
Dehydration, too much caffeine, eating junk, burning the candle at both ends—all of these things make me feel like a monster. I’ve found that simple self-care is huge, and can be the deciding point for if I'm winning or the Out-To-Get-Me-Universe is.
8. Relishing the silver linings
When Edward is gone, I hate it… but there are small positive things. I sleep in the center of the bed, I leave the toothbrush head on the electric brush, I don’t cook as much, I certainly don’t do as much laundry, I watch whatever dumb thing on Netflix piques my interest. So while I would prefer him, I can still smile at my small pleasantries.
There is a strange societal stigma with seeing a counselor. I think it's bunk. I wouldn’t refuse to see a medical doctor if I needed antibiotics. It is equally as silly to avoid a therapist when I have death/depression/whatever to work through. I've seen a handful over the last fifteen years for varying reasons. Each has been transforming.
About three years ago, a friend mentioned that her entire family changed when her mother decided to start seeing a counselor. There was suddenly joy, peace, health.
At the time I was in a terrible rut of depression, and this snapped me awake. I took a deep breath, pulled on my big girl panties, and began counseling. I continued for about 6 months. It was difficult, but the best choice for me—and my family. Taking care of my stuff helped me to be a better mother, friend, sister, you name it.
This is a bit more unusual.
There is a threshold in dealing with life. After so much, I am angry, irritable, overeating, snapping at people. I've found that the simplest way for me to let go of some of the junk I encounter is by writing it down.
I sit, pen and paper, and jot down anything in my head. I don't censor, I just let it all come out. And it is messy and mean and terrible... yet somewhere in the process of throwing it onto paper, I find that resolutions come, peace is made, understanding is found.
If you have any other suggestions, please share! I am always ready to learn new ways to make it to the other side.
And if you are suffering right now, I'm sending a good thought your way.
If it means anything, I am thankful for every single season of suffering. I am more joyful and alive now because of them. They've deepened me. They've matured me. Suffering, strangely, has made me more human. And I don't believe that this is a circumstance limited only to myself