Last week I lost someone I loved dearly to cancer -- she's been one of the most important people in the world to me since I was 15 -- and I have never been good at managing loss.
AND, we got hit with a hurricane, AND I put my back out for almost a week AND my car had to go back into the garage for the second time this month and I don't even know when I'm getting it back... and my kid's car also ended up in the shop while she's going to college that an hour's drive away... and, and, and...
It's been... uuugh. :(
And I am in a spot that does not feel very good.
It's this uncomfortable place of trying to process the loss, allowing myself to feel the pain, realizing the pain is too painful to bear so burying my head in the sand and completely distracting myself from it. Aaaand, repeat.
I feel numb and my energy is soo low.
I feel super fragile -- like I could fall apart at the smallest, stupidest thing... and mostly I am tired of feeling this way.
And I feel like I'm failing everyone.
I reached out to her family, but I didn't do enough. I know she loved me, got me and would understand but it's hard not to feel guilty for not doing more. My heart aches for them.
I also haven't created any new content or contributed anything useful for work in what feels like forever. Perhaps I'm deluding myself to think that I ever really do on a good day anyway, who knows. ;) *smirk
If you're new here and haven't already noticed, I tend to have a bit of a savior complex. That is, I always feel like I have to be saving everyone to be useful.
It's ridiculous, I know. I'm working on changing it.
But in the meantime, I feel a little guilty when I'm not contributing and/or doing something everyday to actively help others.
So, every day recently, I go through this process in my brain of trying to come up with something to write about, or some way to reach out, or something that I "should" be doing... like being active on Facebook for example.
Facebook is usually the first thing I bail on when I'm struggling with something because, well frankly, I hate Facebook and any excuse to avoid it is a valid one for me, I suppose. But I digress...
Basically, every day... I got nothing. My brain is like... nope, not today.
I'm sucking at work because I haven't been writing, I haven't been on social media, I haven't, I haven't, I haven't... I have a list a mile long of things I haven't done.
And in some ways, I feel myself purposefully isolating myself again - like by avoiding social media.
See, that's been my go-to response for as long as I can remember whenever life got unmanageable or anything happened to cause me pain or distress.
I retreat into my own little world.
That's my well worn path of coping because in my brain, isolation equals safety.
"The world is scary, people cause pain... and so, I'm safest alone."
"You're strong. You don't need anyone. You can, and have to, do everything alone. And don't ever let anyone think otherwise or see you struggling."
Those have been the stories I've been telling myself for as long as I can remember -- but like most stories that we tell ourselves, they're not only untrue, they don't make for a very full life.
Slowly, I'm learning the value and importance of connection. And I've become acutely aware that it takes significantly more strength to admit our weaknesses -- they are, after all, part of our shared humanity -- and to be vulnerable when we're hurting, even if it's all still scary for me when I'm hurting the most.
The thing is though, now that I know those things and have been trying to forge a new path, it's really easy to let the ego expect or demand that I just throw a gate up across the old path and never wander down it again. Ever.
"You know better. You said you weren't doing this anymore. Why are you going down that way again?"
And I see this expectation in clients often, as well.
We expect to instantly just change because we decide we want to -- or we get angry and frustrated with ourselves if we manage to settle into a good groove with new habits, only to get derailed easily at the smallest little thing.
But this is why understanding the way our brains work is so important.
Think of your brain like a super thick forest. On the other side of the trees and thick brush, is safety. It's a never ending series of responses you could have to a never ending amount of different things that happen on this side -- because on this side of the forest, where you're standing, are all the possible triggers one can experience in life (triggers = things that happen).
Let's make this super visual by using an actual trigger as an example -- so let's say you're on this side of the forest and a gun goes off. There's you, a super thick forest, and safety from that gun that's being shot in your direction, is on the other side of all those trees and all that brush.
Your first reaction is to what? MOVE. You start running towards the forest -- to find your way to the safety on the other side.
But how? There's nothing but a super thick forest in front of you. This is where your brain would be searching frantically for ways to get to the other side of the forest as quickly and easily as possible.
It finds its way. You're safe. And there's a small, barely visible little path through the forest where some of the brush got displaced as you ran to get to safety.
Then instantly, you're back at the trigger side of the forest again... because guess what? That's what life is, a series of never ending triggers.
AND another gun shot goes off. Your brain immediately searches for the quickest and easy way to get back to the safe side. It sees the displaced brush from where you ran earlier and it runs through there again because it looks like the easiest way.
Repeat that cycle every single day for a decade and imagine how worn down that path would become if you'd spent every day running it several times a day in response to certain triggers.
Now imagine if you're on the trigger side and you decide that the next time a gun shot goes off you don't want to use the old path anymore. You want to run down a new path.
A gun shot goes off, your brain immediately starts running toward the old path and in this moment you have two choices -- you can, without even thinking or working at it, run down the path that's well worn, the one you can run down blindfolded by now ...or you can stop, plot out a new direction and start clearing trees to build the new path.
That's exactly what happens when we're working on changing something in our lives.
We usually have years or decades worth of these paths created in our brains -- paths of responses, habits, and coping strategies that carry us through our every day activities without much effort or thought -- whether or not they're destructive -- they're easy because our brains learned them years ago, they're well worn, deeply ingrained and we don't even have to think about them.
Creating new paths (habits, responses, copying strategies) requires recognizing triggers, stopping when they occur and actively working to build a new path. It's 100% possible but takes significantly more effort.
And whatever, that's cool. You don't mind effort. You're putting in the work, making the effort, building the new path. Maybe it's even starting to get a little worn down and easier.
But then one day the trigger is different. It's bigger. It's not something you normally face every day. It knocks you down hard and in your fight to get up... which path feels easiest to run down on that day? The one you've known for decades or the one that's still not completely clear?
You run down the old path because you just need to feel safe as quickly as possible.
That's why it can be so hard to change and why even when we feel like we might be starting to, it's so easy to get derailed -- because that's what's happening with the wiring in our brains a million times a day without our even knowing.
The wiring in our brains is just like those paths.
I mean obviously that's an overly simplistic analogy of a super complex series of reactions but it can be helpful to think about your habits and coping strategies in this way because it gives a clear visual to something we don't normally even recognize is happening. And by not understanding what's going on behind the scenes in our brains that send us down those well worn paths, we often end up blaming ourselves for being weak failures.
How many times have you "started fresh" on another diet attempt only to find yourself at the other end of an empty bag of potato chips before you even realized what was happening... and then wondered how you got there? That's a path your brain has wired, a path that made potato chips your safe place reaction for a trigger you probably don't even yet know exists.
How many times have you stood in the mirror hating the image reflecting back at you only to hours later find yourself throwing out a candy bar wrapper without even really remembering eating it? Another path your brain has wired to manage feeling badly about yourself, with comfort foods.
Our brains create "paths" that cause it to associate certain triggers with certain responses. The more we respond to certain triggers in certain ways, the more worn down and often used those paths become.
Changing them requires learning about them, pausing to notice when they're happening, and making a decision about which path you're going to take -- the old one? Or work to build a new one?
And it requires patience because while you're working on building the new one, you'll still find yourself wandering down the old one from time to time. It's not like just because you decide to create a new path, a gate goes up over the old one that makes it impassable.
That's not how it works.
The old path will always be there, the goal just becomes to purposefully, with intention, use it less and less until the new path becomes the one that's more worn down.
So, my own new path has gotten fairly worn down but during an extra challenging time, I still find myself wandering around a little bit on the old one.
Which is okay because it's normal.
And I'm so unbelievably grateful for my growth because I haven't completely gone alllll the way down my old path and most of my other, even more destructive, old paths are completely grown over now.
I'm struggling the last couple weeks but I'm managing. I never could have managed my way through this, this well, a few years ago. I've made purposeful efforts to continue taking care of myself and haven't slipped back into depression. I'm not overeating or relying on food to cope. I'm not overexercising or relying on endorphins for emotional survival. I'm not completely isolating because I'm still reaching out to friends.. and I'm writing this. Those things are huge and I'm profoundly grateful.
So, if you're reading this and in a spot that's making life hard to manage right now too, the biggest things I've been focusing on that have been helping a lot have been: gratitude, distraction, perspective and staying present in the moment rather than allowing myself to remunerate on thoughts and feelings of loss or worry.
And those things are hard work. So for now, I still just feel numb. I feel tired. I feel fragile. I wish I was moving through it faster but I'm light years away from where I used to be.
Those annoying little feelings of guilt and thoughts of, "you should be doing..." or "today you have to..." start seeping their way in to my head every once in awhile but that's where they stop and get redirected.
I know that I cannot expect to save the world when I'm going through stuff myself -- and FYI, this is your reminder that neither can you.
See, sometimes we have to be our own priority long enough to participate in our own rescue -- and then we can go back to saving the rest of the world.