Every now and then, bad things happen that fall outside of the scope of ‘normal’ experience. Suddenly, your life has become frightening and unrecognizable. You feel yourself spiralling into darkness and you are convinced that you’ll never find your way out.
Maybe the person who you love and imagined spending the rest of your life with, and who you believed to love you, has betrayed or rejected you. A family member has fallen critically ill. You’ve lost the opportunity upon which you had pinned all your hopes and dreams. Maybe you have fallen critically ill. Maybe it is just that you are inexpressibly lonely and you feel like you have no one to turn to. The you that you had known—all of the ‘truths’ and ‘realities’ upon which you had built your ego and your sense of self has been pulled out from under you. You don’t know how you’ll move past this. How do you get back to the way things were before your life fell apart?
There’s a good chance that the life you had inhabited before it was ripped apart by catastrophe no longer exists. You have changed irrevocably—there’s no going back. It’s possible you already know this and you are full of grief for a life and a self that can never be recovered.
These are tough times. I understand. Like most people who inhabit this earth, I am no stranger to tragedy. The resilience of the human spirit is truly awe-inspiring—all the people who you come across on the street, sitting around you right now on the bus or in the coffee shop—they have undergone or will undergo terrible, life-changing events. It’s easy to look around at your life, which you believe to be dissolving in front of you, and fall into the trap of “why me?”. You think of how unfair it all is, that everyone else is just going through their lives, perfectly content and comfortable, completely indifferent to your agony.
My intention is not to tell you to “just get over it already”; denying to yourself that you are hurt will often only result in disappointment and self-recrimination when you don’t immediately recover. But maybe you are looking for the light at the end of the tunnel—or at least some indication that, yes, the light is still there. Maybe you want to become a stronger and more peaceful person than the one you were before your life was so irrevocably altered. Below are some of the words of wisdom and compassion that have helped me to not only get through some of the most difficult and trying moments of my life, but which have made the happier and more grateful person that I am today. Hopefully, they will affect a similar change in your life.
“Change begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Roy T. Bennett
You’ve probably heard this before; you can find the phrase on mugs and notebooks and in store windows. It is easy to disregard something that is being shouted at you from every direction—after awhile, it becomes like so much white noise. But I urge you to take a moment to consider its message—that it is only through discomfort that one can develop. When your life is perfectly comfortable and acceptable, it can be difficult to motivate yourself to make necessary changes; you take what you do have for granted and you forget about developing or challenging yourself. Catastrophe has the gift of showing you what is absent and needs to be addressed in your life; and, even when the process is torturous, it forces you to adapt and become stronger.
“Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them.” – Leo Tolstoy
If you are grieving the loss of a person you loved and perhaps still love—either from death or a breakup or permanent separation—know that you are experiencing life to its fullest degree. The love that is torturing you now and that you regret ever letting into your life, so that you might escape this pain, will also be the love that heals you. This might frighten you…but I promise that you will love again and more. And your grief now is a reflection of your own capacity for connection and generosity. As Maya Angelou says, “Tears shed for another person are not a sign of weakness. They are a sign of a pure heart.”
“Try to be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.” – Maya Angelou
Of course, when you are struggling, it can be difficult to focus on anything beyond the scope of your own unhappiness; but I would urge you nonetheless to take a moment to acknowledge the people around you and the hardship that they too might be experiencing. By doing so, not only are you adding to the happiness of people whose lives touch your own, but you are taking a position of empowerment in your own life story: you become an active, engaged, and positive force in the world, not a victim of circumstances beyond your control. Reach out to a friend and ask them how they’re doing. Volunteer. Brighten someone else’s day through your kindness and attention.
“What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Nothing that has happened in the past, or that you fear will happen in the future, has the power to alter your experience of this moment—unless you allow it. Give your head and your heart a break and let yourself consider nothing beyond your experience of the now; thinking always about your pain often doesn’t do much to alleviate it—on the contrary, it can make it last forever. I’m not advocating repression or unhealthy methods of distraction like alcohol or drugs; it’s not about distraction, but about bringing yourself back into the present and yourself—you already have all you need inside of you now—not in the future or the past. So let yourself surrender, if only for a moment, to what is. Meditate. Or listen to loud music. Dance. Bake a cake. Do what you can to get out of your head and into yourself and into the moment as it is happening right now.
Perhaps an inevitable reality of life is that bad things happen. You will feel hurt and sad and angry and hopeless. Perhaps you will begin to think that you will never experience happiness again. And it’s hard to imagine happiness when you are completely miserable and overwhelmed; but when you are ready, remember that the situation that you consider impossible and overwhelming at this moment has the potential to make for a stronger and more peaceful you.
Author: Theresa Faulder
Theresa Faulder is a recent graduate student of the Masters English program at the University of Victoria. She was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, but currently lives in Vancouver, BC. She is a personal trainer, an illustrator, and magazine editor and writer. She enjoys baking, drawing, writing, and adventuring with friends, old and new. If you are interested in contacting Theresa, she would love to hear from you! You can reach her at her email address, firstname.lastname@example.org