The last several years have been one long blur for me and my family. One disaster after another popped up in a seemingly unending succession. I lost three close family members and several beloved pets to death in five short years. Still reeling from the last loss, I found myself suddenly and unexpectedly having to deal with a family member with an addiction and all the problems that go along with it, including taking in and caring for her children. If that wasn’t enough, my husband and I had health problems, some serious, that had to be attended to, leaving us feeling like we practically lived in waiting rooms of one sort or another.
Somewhere in the midst of all of this I stopped doing the things that I loved… the things that made me feel like me. Normally busy with a wide range of hobbies including writing, reading, drawing and painting, playing musical instruments and spending time with my pets, I now found myself being gradually consumed with the problems around me while time spent doing the things I enjoyed slowly disappeared. When that happened, I lost myself.
I believe it is perfectly understandable, even expected, that our normal routine would be interrupted when we are faced with a major life crisis. It can feel chaotic and we may find ourselves feeling shocked, overwhelmed and confused while having to attend to all the things that need done. However, it becomes a problem when that interruption goes on for too long.
The reasons for the delay in returning to normal activity are different for everyone. In my case I told myself that I should wait until things calmed down first, until I had no more problems to deal with, before trying to resume my hobbies. I even felt guilty for even thinking about taking time and energy to do things that I didn’t feel needed done when there were serious matters that needed my attention. However, even when there was a bit of a lull in the distractions, I still found myself making excuses for not doing what I had previously enjoyed doing. Instead, it seemed that I was sitting around waiting for the next phone call or knock at the door, announcing the arrival of the next disaster. I thought, “Why try to go back to normal if I’m just going to have to stop it all again?”. Sounds logical, doesn’t it? Problem is, I was getting more anxious, depressed and angry with each passing day because my life seemed filled with nothing but problems. No joy. No relaxation. Just stress and difficulties that I wasn’t dealing with very well.
With the help of both a good counselor and an excellent life coach, I eventually realized that this waiting game doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because I was waiting for something that was never going to happen. I was never going to be problem free. None of us are. We may have a bit of respite between problems but, rest assured, there is always another waiting around the corner. Please understand, I’m not trying to be fatalist or depressing, I’m just stating a fact of life. That being the situation, we can’t put our lives on hold and keep it there every time a crisis occurs (or while we are waiting for the next one to occur, which is a bad idea anyway) or we will do very little actual living during our lives.
I was also tired of being so miserable and problem consumed, so I knew things had to change. With the help and encouragement of my family, counselor and coach, I slowly started doing the things that gave me satisfaction and joy. My hobbies allowed me to escape the problems for a while as I being absorbed in fun yet challenging activities. I then found myself in a better mood throughout the day, which in turn made it easier for me to handle any problems that did arise. I no longer felt like there was nothing in my life but problems. I also had joy and fulfillment. I had found myself again.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, spending all of your time and physical/mental energy on problems, it’s time to reevaluate what you are doing. Worrying about something incessantly never solved or prevented problems, ever. On the other hand, I’m not advising you to ignore them either. If there is something you can reasonably do to help a situation or solve a problem, do so. That includes asking for help or advice from family, friends or the appropriate professional (doctor, attorney, therapist, etc). By all means, do what you can, but, while you are doing this, for your own wellbeing, try to do something you enjoy everyday, something that gives you a break from the stress, even if just for 15-20 minutes. For a lot of people like myself, that is participating in a hobby, but it could be anything: going for a walk, taking a bubble bath, watching your favorite comedy, praying, reading, meditating. Whatever YOU find soul restoring. The idea is to concentrate on YOU a little everyday so that you don’t get lost. Don’t feel guilty for doing it either. It’s not selfish to take care of yourself. In fact, I think you will find that if you do so, you will gain the added benefit of being better able to help others as well as deal with problems more easily.That benefits everyone.
(A note before I close: Once you have done all you can do to help/solve a problem, it’s time to let it go. If you are having difficulty doing that, especially when dealing with grief, depression, and trauma, please seek the help of a licensed mental health professional or call the local crises hotline.)
It’s understandable that a crisis would stop us in our tracks for a time. But, to avoid being lost in the chaos, we have to make sure we allow ourselves time to do what we love… what refreshes and renews us and makes us who we are. Only then, when we are restored and strengthened can we go on to meet the next challenge with success.