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In the last few months, a trio of challenges have landed in my life. These things all converged on a single day. I had taken off from work to attend a conference ironically titled, “The Habits of Happy People”. As I was calling to cancel my reservation in the class, with tears in my eyes and sky high anxiety, my dog projectile vomited in a perfect arch that landed on my bare feet and I could not help but smile at what a mess I was. Humor. I thought, hang on to your humor.

Since then, if I relay the story of the trio of challenges, I am often offered, “Well, everything happens for a reason”.

But really does it? And how helpful is THAT? I don’t believe terrible/hard things happen for a reason. That feels as if there is some kind of elaborate system of punishments. The same is true with the adage “What goes around, comes around”. That would leave me trying to figure out what I had done to deserve this onslaught of difficult challenges. These platitudes infer that “life is fair”. Beyond fairy tales where the good princess always triumphs over the evil witch (or flying monkey, troll,…), I absolutely do not ascribe to the notion that life is fair.

“Everything happens for a reason” keeps our focus on “Why did this happen? What’s did I do wrong?” as opposed to “How do I get through this?” It keeps our focus on the past, not on moving forward and through. I like to think there is a more helpful way to think of crisis.

What crisis does do is it moves you- it moves you into action, it challenges you emotionally, it shakes up everything in your life from the most miniscule to the most important. It causes you to face your deepest fears, ask for help, and garner new information. It challenges your belief system, your relationships not just with family and friends but your relationship to how you see yourself in the world. It changes your perspective. And none of these happen by choice.

We can resent it, ignore it, deny it or simply exhale and just try to get through it. Sometimes resistance is not only painful but detrimental. In those minutes of sheer panic and distress, we need to take a moment and remember to ask ourselves, “What do I need to get through this the best way I can?”

Because getting through it is the goal. There is this notion that we need to maintain “dignity and grace”. BLAH. Pain, death, worry, illness, loss, betrayal and anxiety are all messy and chaotic. Grace and dignity are often just another burden we put upon ourselves; we think we need to be a good patient, have a stiff upper lip, maintain appearances, and be strong. C’mon, this stuff is messy. Get through it anyway you can and if it isn’t pretty that’s okay-just try not to hurt anyone along the way-including yourself.

So, while I reject the notion that everything happens for a reason, I absolutely believe everything “bad” that happens has the opportunity to teach us more about ourselves, to help us confront our fears, find our strengths and deepen our understanding and meaning of our lives.

Often our response to crisis in the age of technology is to go to the internet for information. Yes, knowledge is power, but it also can be inaccurate, irrelevant and trigger crippling anxiety. We erroneously believe the more information we can absorb, the better prepared we can be. However, like chocolate, too much of a good thing stops being effective and can even be detrimental. Reading about medical procedures can raise our anxiety and keep our mind focused on the negative rather than the positive. Too much time spent on any problem, becomes a problem itself; it edges out all the good things in our life that are continuing, even as crisis and pain are present.

Keeping the balance, meeting the challenge while holding onto the positive, soul soothing aspects of life is difficult, but it is one of the lessons we can garner from the mess of crisis. Life continues to have its moments of wonder and joy, even when it is throwing a whole lot of s…t our way. What we choose on focus will determine a lot of how we feel.

 

Here’s a couple of things you might find helpful as you struggle with crisis.

  1. Get enough sleep.
  2. Cry- As much as you want, whenever you can. Shirley MacLaine once said “Crying is like giving yourself a massage from the inside out.”
  3. Access help-not just for the “issue itself” but for your emotional well-being. Friends, support groups, a therapist, bodywork, yoga class, spiritual counsel, hypnosis. Whatever works for you!
  4. Continue as much as possible to do what you love. If you love to read, do it. Garden? Go for it! Shop? Exercise? Do it. Even if you have some limitations, do it. Make sure each day is dedicated to the joy in your life.
  5. Be with those you love. Sometimes in our greatest pain we are open to really feeling the deep connection of those we love the most. Don’t forget to tell them how much you love and appreciate them.
  6. Do not surrender the best parts of yourself. If you are sick, grieving, ailing, distraught you are still a mother, a sister, a daughter, a best friend. Continue to make room for all of these relationships you value. Do not abdicate your great relationships to your problems.
  7. Try to keep as normal a schedule as possible. Routine anchors us. If you can, go to work, socialize, eat healthy. We may want to crawl up in to a ball, but that only encourages obsessive thoughts, negativity, depression and anxiety. You will find time to “fall apart” but then get up and carry on with renewed hope and energy.
  8. Bring humor into your life. Avoid depressing media/TV/movies. Replace with comedy, silliness, and “brain fluff”.
  9. Try something new. Often crisis challenges us to face situations that are frightening for us. We wonder if we “have what it takes”. Try new things or work on things you have let go…study your French, try new recipes, consider taking a workshop-either in person or on line. Get your first massage or join your first support group. The experience of trying new things gives us a sense of mastery and courage. These small victories can bolter our confidence as we move through difficult challenges.
  10. Keep a journal of your journey. If you don’t like to write-do this in drawings, collage, or even in a collections of wise sayings or jokes.
  11. Try meditation. Always been intimidated or not sure how to start? Try headspace.com. Download the app and you will be gently guided through the process. Ten minutes a day CAN make a difference!
  12.  Finally, recognizing what pieces we are in control of and which ones we aren’t, can help alleviate our anxiety. Simply releasing the burden of trying to control what is beyond your control can lighten your spirit not only during these difficult times but as you move forward in your life.

 

 

© 2014 Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC is a psychotherapist in private practice in Farmington, CT since 1986.

5 Comments

  1. Anonymous on the 17. Aug, 2014 remarked #

    Having encountered some serious health challenges I totally agree with your thoughts about comments “everything happens for a reason”. I live your tips and have found meditation to be very helpful.

  2. Bailey on the 17. Aug, 2014 remarked #

    Excellent suggestions and great perspective – that expression drives me crazy!

  3. Barbara FM on the 17. Aug, 2014 remarked #

    Your comments on how “Everything happens for a reason” eventually ties us to the past as we search for our responsibility for our current circumstances gives great food for thought. Such stagnation in the past, it is true, is so counter productive. I will no longer look at that expression the same way again. Being one who as a habit always strived to understand the “why?”, I have learned from you that the “How?” referring to moving forward, is the more vital question in many situations. Sometimes it is better to just say, “It is what it is”, so what can take from it that is useful; the rest I will leave behind. :- )

    • Donna Ferber on the 17. Aug, 2014 remarked #

      Thanks, Barbara. I like the idea that it all begins with shifting the question from “why” to “how”.

  4. CJ on the 18. Aug, 2014 remarked #

    Very timely on so many levels as i am now caring about a friend who suddenly went blind in her right eye with a fairly good chance it will happen in the other;caring about a good friend who woke up the other morning and was paralyzed on her left side – head to toe – due to a stroke during the night.
    This stuff is awful and to say that it happens for a reason is painful.
    But hopefully they each will learn to cope with these difficult transitions and continue on their paths as best as possible.

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