I am finally at a place where I can draw breath. Our much anticipated Christmas has come and gone, Boxing Day is almost over and we are pretty much packed for our beach holiday.
2017 has been a big year. A year full of good stuff, peppered by moments of struggle. I have watched a few of my nearest and dearest go through a tough year. Some have coped better than others, some have made it through to the other side, others are still living with the aftershocks of their unexpected things. We all now count down to heralding in 2018.
All of this has made me reflect – and ask the question: How do you react when the unexpected happens?
Whenever I have had curveballs fly in, my two instincts are to get out of the way to avoid being hit or line myself up to catch the sucker so I can work out how to respond as I take the force of the ball’s momentum.
Now let’s get one thing straight before I get too far in on the curveball analogies – I am no good at sport. I have what can at best be described as “ordinary” ball skills. I manage to catch most objects I thrown towards me, but that process usually involves flailing arms and some weird facial grimacing rather than any display of cool ease that others, with greater sporting prowess, demonstrate. Hitting a ball with a bat in an intentional and directional way – requires way more skill than I posses.
So, bear that in mind as I list out the 7 things I have found most helpful in dealing with the stuff life has thrown at me!
1.The shock can be the jolt you needed
Obviously when the proverbial rug is pulled from underneath you, the furthest thought from your mind is “Yey, I needed that!” but I have found that once I make it to the other side and look back, I can see how the shock of the unexpected gave me the slap in the face I needed to change my life. We may never understand “why” something happened, but if we can find the strength to react and respond with dignity and grace, we might see how all things (even the unexpected) can change the course of our life in a positive way.
2. It’s ok to feel the pain
There will be tears. There will be nights you go to sleep hoping to wake from a bad dream. You will stare at your red-rimmed eyes in the mirror and wonder what you did to deserve this. You might want to curl up and be alone. You might need to be held, and looked after. You might get angry. You might need to scream or physically punch something. And that is all ok. It is part of the grieving process that comes when you lose something or worse still someone. The important thing to remember is that your life is not over. You have not struck out, you just need to work out how to get back in the game even if it is not the game you envisaged.
3. Well-meaning people will say dumb things
Be prepared for this! The fact is not many people know how to help others when their world has been rocked. Most will mask their relief that the “unmentionable thing” has not happened to them by rolling out the standard platitudes about how everything happens for a reason and how you must be some kind of special person to have been dealt these cards. I know I have had to resist the urge to forehead slap quite a few of those well-meaning souls. It pays to remember that they are at least trying to reach out in support, which is a damn sight better than avoiding you because they don’t know what to say.
4. Focus on what you can control
For me the worst part of the curveball is the fact that I have no control. I am a self-confessed control freak! So, focusing on what I can control is key for me. I instinctively look for ways to solve the problem. I look for what I can do to make the best of a bad situation. It might be something little – like taking time out to take a few deep breaths, or making sure I get sleep, or eating properly while coping with a tough situation, or it might be something bigger like choosing to take the “high road” even though it is the last thing I feel like doing. Often one of the only things you can control is how you will react to the curveball – so focus on that.
5. Look for the positives
When we received our son’s Down Syndrome diagnosis 8 days after he was born we knew nothing about his condition save for what our prejudiced views led us to believe. Dr. Google just scared the pants off us both, with all the statistics of everything that could go wrong. After opting to get investigations done to eliminate some of the “big risk” items I remember distinctly announcing to my husband (who is my rock – but who by his own admission, has a tendency to worry that the worst will happen) that my plan was to ignore the “what ifs” until (if ever) they were something we had to face. We both then just decided to “unsee” Zigi’s disability and to treat him like a “normal” child. I wondered then if I was in some form of denial, but I know now, that I was focused on the positives. We both simply chose to see our son as he was – a happy, thriving, “normal” child. We haven’t looked back!
6. Take steps no matter how small
I distinctly remember attending our son’s Special School fundraiser, listening to Matt Golinski’s story – as a father who lost his whole family to a tragic house fire on Boxing Day in 2011. Matt got burned so badly trying to save his wife and their three daughters, that he had to spend months in hospital in an induced coma. He told his harrowing story to us all that night, and he pre-empted the question we were all silently asking ourselves – how did he find the strength to go on? He explained it so simply – “I just put my legs on the floor each day, I stood up and started to walk”. He actually ended up running marathons. He returned to his love, his career as a chef, and since speaking to us, he has found love again with his fiancé, welcoming their daughter just months ago.
His story is the truth we need to hear. We overcome by putting our feet on the ground, standing up and taking steps. We start by doing something – whether it be taking a walk or a run, starting a new course, moving into a new home, using our experience to help others. Doing something – leads us out of the valley and to the other side.
7. With acceptance you lift your eyes to the horizon
Letting go and being still, helps us find our centre again. For me my faith is what steadies me, calms me and gives me the strength to move forward. Taking time to reflect and meditate, gives me a new perspective if ever my mind gets too hung up on the “why” of circumstances and things. Instead I try to understand what I can learn from the circumstance I am dealing with.
When we finally reach the point of acceptance we can get to a place of making peace with what has happened. It is then we can lift our eyes to the horizon to survey what this new life might hold for us.
So, there you have it. These are the 7 things that have helped me cope when my world has been turned upside down. I am sure others who have coped with circumstances different to mine, will have other gems to add. What has helped you to cope with curveballs when they have come your way?