One of my close friends is going through a divorce right now and as we were talking this week, I felt like it was time to share some how-to’s for the tough parts of our journeys. I have a heart to help those who find themselves facing hard things in life…things that are difficult to prepare for in advance. For example, I’m not aware of a class that gets people ready for the potential of divorce, or talks about the possibility of parents not seeing their kids half the time. No, we don’t sign up for those kinds of classes until after the bomb hits. I’m going to do a few posts on some of the things I learned in counseling about how to function in a healthy but honest way when life gets really hard. To my wonderful counselor, Erin, these next few posts are dedicated to you.
Even after healing has taken place, there are still tough days. As I optimistically move forward in my efforts to heal and grow, I have days that set me back.
I liken emotional surgery of the heart to that of a physical surgery; after a few days of recovery in the hospital the patient is discharged, often with orders to “take it easy,” to let the body rest and heal. Instructions for not lifting anything over five pounds, no physical activity for a certain amount of time, bed rest, time off work, etc. are part of the process. As our minds and hearts heal, it is important we also give them rest and time to recover.
Early in my journey as I was processing all that was happening I realized that I not only needed the professional help of a counselor, I also needed practical help from family and friends. As I sat and talked with Erin about my struggles, she encouraged me that it was going to take awhile for me to bounce back to the functionality I was used to prior to this new chapter in my life. I remember asking her if she felt I should talk to my family and co-workers about it and of course, she said yes.
I went home and really thought about our conversation. I realized that I was functioning at about 50% of my normal capacity. Phone calls were not being returned in a timely manner, e-mails were read and then forgotten. I was constantly apologizing to my clients, co-workers and family for oversights and mistakes. For someone with a Type A personality who was used to juggling several balls, dropping them time and time again was both embarrassing and inexcusable. Yet I realized this was my new reality—albeit probably temporary—but reality nonetheless.
I first had a candid conversation with my mom. Throughout this process she has loved me with grace, compassion and truth. One of the things she said to me that I will never forget is that I may never bounce back to the exact place where I had once functioned, and that I needed to be okay with that. She was basically telling me that she loved and accepted me where I was in that moment, and that I needed to do the same.
What a powerful word.
I started to have conversations with my family members, friends and co-workers and explained where I was in my journey. I asked for forgiveness and grace, but I also asked for help. I needed extra support.
During this time I realized that I was withdrawing from people who were outside of my inner circle, and I had very little to give to those who were close to me. I shared openly and honestly with my closest friends and family, I explained that I might have to take more than I can give for awhile and asked for their empathy and understanding.
I noticed that I could only go to coffee or for a walk with one friend every couple of weeks. When I realized this I shared that I was in a place where I didn’t have much to give. I let my closest people hold me up and love on me, I told others that I didn’t have anything to give at the moment.
Looking back, I was hanging on by a thread. I was not capable of much. I could only do a few work tasks each day. Some days I opened mail and returned phone calls, other days I responded to e-mails and paid bills. I slowly moved through my days, often feeling I was in a constant fog. But I got up each day and took a step forward.
No one wants to function or live like this. If I could have willed this chapter of my journey away, I would have. But I was being honest with myself and after all the years of existing and going through the motions, I was being real. This was the new me. I moved slowly. I was low functioning. I had to write everything down in order to remember. I had to apologize to people on a daily basis for being forgetful or making mistakes. But as I put one foot in front of the other and moved forward, I slowly got stronger. I slowly built up stamina and prepared myself for the next day. I was moving in a positive direction.
I realize that in the world we live in today, it’s not necesarily realistic to show up to work and say, “I’m having some personal problems right now. I’m going to need you all to pick up the slack.” What I am saying is that it’s okay to ask for grace, just use discretion in choosing whom to ask. To give an example, years ago a dear friend of mine was fighting cancer. Her chemo treatments were excruciating. Those in her inner circle expected and wanted her to reach out when she needed help. She was really good about communicating when she was struggling, and we all wanted and desired to pick up the slack. She needed meals and helping taking her kids to and from school. She needed rest. She embraced the offers of rides to chemo and the gift of a friend sitting next to her during her appointments. Her tribe knew what needed to be done and was honored to support her in those ways. Humans don’t always like to ask for help but she did. And because of that, we knew what to do.
If you’re going through one of these chapters in your life, you need to ask yourself, “what do I need help with right now?” Make a list of the things that are overwhelming you and note what would make you feel supported. Sometimes support comes through the offer of a friend but it can also come by hiring help, restructuring your schedule or dummying down your commitments. (I call this survival prioritization!)
I think it’s so important to pause and really evaluate our emotional well-being, then give an honest assessment of where things stand. This is a very humbling experience, yet it’s vital for our mental health and growth. If we brush over this part of the process, we stuff everything down and it will come up again. And when stuffed things come to the surface, they don’t just gently float to the top, they explode with a vengeance.
I believe a mental breakdown is the build-up of feelings and emotions that haven’t been dealt with and eventually find their way to the surface. We can stuff for so long, then there has to be a release. I have felt like I have been on the verge of a breakdown so many times but as I slowly and methodically gave my feelings, emotions and mental anguish God, He truly touched me in a powerful way and gently took my hand to walk me through yet another day. Some of you reading this have experienced a mental breakdown and I want to encourage you that God is capable of slowly pulling you up from that experience as you allow Him to mend your heart and mind.
Assess where you are, share openly with your inner circle, and politely bow out of situations that are just too much to bear. Position your body in the direction you want to go. And be gentle and gracious to yourself. Things won’t always be this hard but while they are, take care of yourself the best you can. Let God and others remind you how much you are loved.
If you know someone who could benefit from this post, please share. God carved out a path of intense healing for me and I would like to share it with as many people who need or want to hear.