In a world of “How To, For Dummies”, Web MD, and the ease of Google search, we are accustomed to finding fast solutions to problems we encounter. With a quick search on You Tube, one can find tutorials on everything from “how to create perfect curls” to “how to pick a lock”. There are books that range from “How to Run a Successful Business” to “How to Find Inner Peace”. Information, guidance, and insight are at the tip of our fingers in our fast paced, highly connected society. When tragedy strikes, we often have the same urge to find a solution, some guidance, or at least some insight into what steps we should take next. Working in the field of therapy, this is something I see often. “What should I do?” “How long will this feeling last?” “How long does it take to recover?” “Will things ever feel normal?” “What do other parents do?” “Am I taking the right steps?”
My answer is never a simple one, and never a popular one. In fact, that actual thought of one person having an “answer” to such problems, is ridiculous. My reaction, instead, is this: If there was a “How To” book on what to do and how to cope when tragedy strikes, everyone would read it front to back, ten times over. The book would be an instant best seller, but unfortunately, such a book does not exist.
There is no easy way to cope when tragedy strikes, and there is no easy answer on how to react. What I can suggest, however, is helpful hints on how to make coping easier, and how to find solace in your own way.
Whether you have just been given a life-altering diagnosis, or experiencing another relapse through the course of a current condition, it is important not to panic. It is easy to let our thoughts run wild, and sometimes when we are delivered what seems like unimaginable, out-of-this world news, our thoughts tend to drift into the unimaginable as well. It is easy to instantly think of the worst that can happen, and get lost in a tumbling avalanche of fear and panic.
Although it is important not to panic, this does not mean you shouldn’t be experiencing feelings of sadness, shock, and fear. All those reactions and emotions are normal to experience.
Give yourself time to cope:
This is a continuation of what I said above under “don’t panic”. Disbelief, depression, anger, fear, and even euphoria are all emotions that can occur when tragedy arrives. The different emotional states can occur in any order, and occur many times, or some not at all. No matter what card you just been dealt, life continues to move at its normal lightening-fast speed. It’s important to put take some time to yourself. Put the breaks on when needed, and make sure to give yourself plenty of time during the day to just, simply, breathe. Once you allow yourself to experience these emotions, you can start to reflect on the deeper meaning behind what is going on.
Don’t let shock and disbelief leave you helpless. Educate yourself the best you can on what you are dealing with. Information can help empower, thus leaving us to make better decisions that will lead us to more positive outcomes for ourselves. Our bodies and our lives are as intricate as the ecosystem. Making small, minor adjustments can create surprisingly large changes in how we feel.
Education can help us better understand the course of a disease, what the future may look like, common symptoms, and helpful ways to lessen or deal with side effects. Education can tell us about what treatment is available, what treatment is not available, and what others in our position have encountered.
Education is similar to solving a Sudoku puzzle. The more numbers that are available, the easier the puzzle is to solve. Granted, this is a very simple metaphor, and “solve” is a very concrete and loaded word when dealing with tragedy, the point is to emphasize the importance of knowledge. The more you know, the more control you can gain on the situation.
Now, here is the catch: it is also important not to obsess over information. Moderation is key here. Have you ever made a list for a list? (Guilty here.) Make sure that this stays helpful, and doesn’t lead to more stress. Determine what would be helpful to know, and what you are content about leaving alone.
Self-reflection: What does this mean for you?
Find some time for self-reflection, grab a soothing cup of tea (or any thing that helps you relax), grab a notebook, and find a comfortable spot in your favorite room.
Take some time to think about these questions, how you would answer them, and actually jot them down in a notebook. Physically writing down your answers will help give these answers weight.
1. How is this event going to change my life?
2. How have these changes altered my identify?
3. How did I define myself prior to this event, and how do I define myself now?
4. What does this situation mean to me?
Whether you are experiencing an actual loss, or experiencing the loss of ability or lifestyle, these losses can be disorienting and alter our sense of identity. Finding meaning in who we are and understanding how the changes in our life will redefine us will aid in the coping process. It may take a while to feel content about our answers. It is the process that is important.
Vanessa Lemminger, M.A., LMFT 53937
Marriage and Family Therapist
This article can also be found on the R.A.R.E. Project’s blog! Check out link and learn more about the R.A.R.E. project!
© Vanessa Lemminger, M.A. Marriage and Family Therapist 53937, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vanessa Lemminger, Marriage and Family Therapist 53937 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.