I hate to be a downer. With the new year upon us, cutesy Valentine’s Day coming, and sweet little pink and yellow Easter Peeps hitting the shelves soon, I should be writing something about hope and new beginnings and love.
But I am tired, and a lot of people I have been talking with are having a tough time, and I worry that a lot of you who are reading this are not blissfully in love. So for all of you who are healthy, and happy in your relationships, and have great jobs, and are enjoying everything about your life, I encourage you to read another article. There are a lot of good ones in this issue for you.
For the rest of you, make yourself a cup of tea, put on your stretchy pants, and let’s talk about how to get through it when things totally, irrevocably, undeniably fall apart.
First, try not to panic. That always makes things worse. Oh, you are going to feel terrible; there is no question about that. If your partner has left, if you lost your job, if you or a loved one just got a terrible diagnosis, if someone beat you up because you are “a fag,” then you are supposed to feel like your chest is going to explode. You are supposed to cry in the grocery store. You are supposed lose your car keys in the freezer and forget to feed the cat and not shower for five days and not sleep at all and then sleep all the time. But try not to panic, as that will only increase your suffering.
Second, let people help you. A lot. But be really strategic about that if you can. I know that’s hard when you feel like death, but try. By strategic, I mean that you have to be in charge of knowing who will be most helpful and how and when they can help. For example, if you are harmed because you are queer, let us help you. Oh my goodness, you can have the support of the whole LGBTQ community in minutes! But if you are in the middle of some terrible relationship drama, and loyalties are split, and you can’t figure out who is your friend anymore, maybe you need a big hug from your mom. Or whoever is the most mom-ish person you know. Call that person right now and tell them that you need a hug, OK?
That brings up number three. Try not to be resentful when people don’t know how to help you, or try to be helpful in ways that don’t work for you, or just disappear on you. Just let that go; you need to put all of your energy toward getting better. Try to assume that people are well meaning, even if their attempts are somewhat misguided. Know that some people are quite trainable and will help if you can tell them exactly what you need. Some people you thought were friends will probably just disappear during your darkest days. I don’t know why either, so try to not spend too much energy on that. It might be best to channel the Dalai Lama on that one, otherwise it will really add to your hurt. I think he’d say something like, “Cultivate extra compassion for that person. They are just a human being seeking happiness like you. They may be dealing with their own dark times. They may be too scared to help you. Wish them peace.”
Smile. It is physically impossible for me to picture the impish smile of the Dalai Lama and simultaneously feel resentment toward anybody. Let’s make that number four. If you aren’t into the Dalai Lama, think about kittens or something. This is a great mind trick to use when you feel like death. Your mind can actually only focus on one thing at a time, so if it’s thinking about the Dalai Lama or kittens, it cannot focus on how terrible you feel. It might only be able to stay there for a second, but that is a second of not thinking about the terribleness. Try it again in another second. And another.
Let go. There is a word for this in psychology, but I can’t think of it right now, and I’m too tired to look it up. Here I am demonstrating number five. When things are falling apart, please stop worrying about stuff that doesn’t matter. Of the top ten things you have to do, I promise that your life will be just fine if you skip five of them. You are welcome to do 50 things that don’t matter if it will help you get through a day where your bones hurt, but it’s equally OK to just stay in bed some days.
Remember that when things totally, irrevocably, undeniably fall apart, your main job is to just get through it. Most things get better in one way or another. You will find a new kind of normal for those things that won’t get better. So just get through today the best that you can. n
Sue and her partner Sheri have lived in Madison since 2000. They keep busy with their two dogs, Frankie and Maslow. Sue is a psychologist in private practice and can be found online at www.madisontherapy.com.