Sometimes things fall apart.
It happens to everyone–or at least most people–at some point. And recently, things fell apart for me. Without getting into too many details, through no fault of our own, we have been forced to leave our home for an indefinite amount of time (at least several months). The emergency happened in the middle of the night: Scott and I picked up our baby, grabbed the carrier and a blanket, and left. We called my parents, who had just moved into their new place (which was, of course, a cardboard canyon of moving boxes) and joined them. To make things worse, we were also in the midst of moving. In fact, our offer on a new place had been accepted that very day and we were in a celebratory mood.
The days that followed were filled with emotional lows and uncertainty. We lost the purchase of the new place. Our baby was also sick, which meant several sleepless nights in an unfamiliar place.
I was in a devastated daze. I kept thinking: that was the last time I put my baby down to sleep in his room–the nursery I had spent months planning and decorating. We’d never again go back to live in the home that was our first home as a family of three. I missed my home, my space, and my everyday objects–my mug, my comfy spot on the couch, my baby’s highchair. The worst might have been the uncertainty. I thrive in a controlled environment that I can plan. I love routine and organization. If I have a problem, I look to solve it right away. But here, there was nothing I could do but wait.
I struggled so much with negativity. I thought it was bad karma. I thought I was being tested. I wondered what I had done wrong.
And then, a few weeks into the situation, I just got tired of it. It takes so much energy to stay upset. If you clench your fists with rage, it feels good in the angry moment. But you can’t hold it: your muscles tense up and it starts to hurt more than it helps. It’s time to let go, shake it out, and take a deep breath.
I heard once that everyone has a set point of happiness. I’m not talking about true tragedies here like death or serious illness, but for the most part, not much can be done to change our baseline mood. Going on vacation or winning the lottery or getting a raise can make us happier for a bit, but then things go back to normal.
It seemed to be the case here for me. All of a sudden I was done. I decided that I was going to get something out of this experience. No matter what happened, I was going to leave this experience a better person.
Now, I’m not an expert in mindfulness, gratitude, cognitive behavioural therapy, or happiness by any means, but here’s what has been working for me.
- Practise gratitude. Count your blessings. Ask, “what am I thankful for today?” My family and husband, my group of mom friends, the fact that I have access to good food and clean water.
- Give yourself happiness through simple pleasures. It’s all about enjoying the little things. Sometimes they’re really little. Regular small joys for me are going to a coffee shop or watching a TV show before bed. The worse things get, I’ve found, the smaller the joys. But that’s why I try to enjoy the heck out of them. Applying my favourite hand cream, drinking a cup of hot tea, feeling a cool morning breeze. Use all of your senses and take time to really enjoy them.
- Come up with a mantra, and repeat it. Personally, I love “Choose positivity.” It’s simple and it works. It reminds me that positivity is a choice that I need to make. Every day. Multiple times a day. Over and over and over again.
- Realize what positivity is–and what it is not. I am not the sort of person who is flowers and rainbows every day. I don’t tend to jump for joy. I don’t believe that being positive has to mean being permanently happy, or even permanently upbeat. It’s not about ignoring real emotions. For me, positivity is:
- allowing myself to feel upset when bad things happen
- knowing that hard times will pass
- trying to solve problems, when possible
- learning to be at peace with uncertainty
- being openhearted about the future
- deciding that the problems of today will not consume me
- Don’t accept negativity from others. Emotions are contagious. Positivity feeds positivity, but the same goes for negativity. When someone radiates happiness, it’s easy to pick up on their vibes. But when you’re carefully tending to your small spark of positivity, one person’s negativity can feel like a downpour putting out your tiny flame. This is a tricky one. I’d love to hear your tips!
- Find lessons. I’m doing my very best to grow from this, and emerge a better person. Here are a few lessons I’ve already taken from it.
- I’m shifting even more toward minimalism. When I thought all of our possessions were destroyed, I was devastated. I went through all of my things in my head, and my reaction to the possibility of losing each showed me what I truly valued. The things that hurt the most were some childhood writing, photos, and keepsakes. Interestingly, the few pieces of clothing, shoes, and jewellery I’m wearing these days were what I’d wear regardless of a full closet at home. I just don’t have all the extra clutter here! How’s that for a forced capsule wardrobe?
- I’m valuing time with family. Family has always been important to me. This situation has shown me just how important. Watching our baby play every day with his grandparents (and their dog) reminds me that he’s not suffering, even without his perfect nursery. He’s thriving!
- I’m learning to live with uncertainty. Being forced to sit with uncertainty is uncomfortable. Not knowing the shape of my future–where we’ll live or when we’ll be in a place of our own again–and not being able to do anything about it is incredibly challenging. But I’m reminded of the Fiona Apple song “Extraordinary Machine,” where she talks about how being good at being uncomfortable helps you grow and change.
A note about comparison
You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned anything about feeling grateful that things aren’t worse. Although I can’t find the original source for it, I once read that denying your own pain because someone else has it worse is ultimately unhelpful. Someone always has it worse, and the one person who has it the worst of all is not the only one who is allowed to feel upset. It’s okay to feel your pain and acknowledge your hard times. Brushing it aside doesn’t make it go away. Plus, comparing hardships is a lose-lose situation.
A great article
Are you dealing with difficult times? I loved this beautifully written article by Tova Payne (nice last name!) published in the Huffington Post, “4 Things to Do When Things Fall Apart” and found myself nodding along to every point. She says, “Let the pieces fall. Let it fall apart. Then you can sweep it up, throw it away, and in that emptiness you have the possibility for the miracle you’ve been hoping for.” Yes. So much yes.
Leave a comment
Have you gone through hard times recently? Do you have advice to share? I’d love to hear your thoughts.