How do you bounce back when there’s no place to bounce back to?
That’s the dilemma we are all facing, in various ways, as the COVID-19 pandemic winds – or does not wind – down. The landscape has changed, and we have changed.
There we were happily, or at least comfortably pursuing our lives when disaster struck.
For me, I finished 2019 in a state of great enthusiasm: a book on introvert leadership I had spent two years writing was gaining attention at the corporate level, I had a coaching job with a major organization that paid all my business bills, I was looking forward to getting competent in-house help with all the technical issues in my office as I revved up for doing online training, and best of all, I had met the man of my dreams. I was starting 2020 in January with a vacation trip with my closest friend before returning to all these “goodies.”
I was, as the saying goes, “walking in high cotton.”
Oh, my vision was getting a little fuzzy, but nothing to worry about too much.
Enter 2020: In January 2020 the potential love of my life went back to his former girlfriend, my technical support proved to be someone with whom I could not work, my talk at the big conference at which I launched my book was interrupted – in the middle of my talk – by a call for all participants to return to their home countries immediately.
When I returned home I found I was “furloughed” from my coaching job.
But worst of all, I discovered I was going blind.
There I was, from a December 2019 high to a low spot where I was unemployed, unsupported, unloved, and alone in the increasing dark.
It’s enough to make you want to go to bed, pull the covers over your head, and cry yourself to sleep. I did that, sometimes.
Then I rallied. Here are some of the lessons I learned, lessons that have helped me return to living fully, making new friends, take up renewing activities, and live with happiness and even joy every day, as I create a new life.
Denial is one of our most useful defense mechanisms: it allows us to let “reality” trickle in slowly, at a rate we can handle.
At the same time, you can acknowledge that you have a challenge, and imagine what resources you have, or could rally, to meet that challenge in order to live the life you want to lead.
What are your resources? List them now and often. My favorite one was saying, “There is a solution. I just can’t see it right now.”
And to those dreadful people we all meet now and then, who insist we must “face facts” Right Now, we can say, “All the facts aren’t known yet!”
Organize your grieving:
Grieving is important and we need to recognize our need to do it.
You can set aside a time to cry and a time to put used glass containers into a paper bag, where you smash them with a hammer in a satisfying burst of energy.
Find someone who is a non-judgmental friend (NOT the Reality Facer above) on whose shoulder to cry every now and then. Hint: the best way to find this person is to start right now to build those kinds of relationships.
But don’t go on so long that it becomes a substitute for moving forward.
Cut out the middle man:
I found that, if I went to bed and wept, sooner or later I had to get up and cope. So I thought, why not cut to the end right away? Because that interlude of self-pity has undermined us in so many ways that it only makes our task harder. We will have released chemicals in our bodies that perpetuate despair and make it harder to see different paths, solutions, support, etc.* Worst of all, they undermine our immune systems and make us age faster.
Hey, aging rapidly doesn’t help the situation, does it?
That doesn’t make you very much fun to be around, either, if belonging is important to you.
Mentally rehearse the good stuff:
If you rehearse your own drama, you’ll just get better at feeling bad. And better and better.
A friend asked what it was like to lose my vision, and I replied that it was like starting at the top of the cellar stairs, with vivid sunlight behind you, and descending slowly, as that light fades at each step, knowing that at the bottom there will be complete darkness.
After I finished saying that we both looked somber.
That night, before I went to bed I decided to picture, instead, standing in a clean, dimly lighted cellar and slowly ascending the stairs to warmth and yes, light, the light of friendship and love.
The brain loves to set up familiar patterns to which it can return again and again, rapidly and easily. It’s what traps us in depression and despair. Don’t help your brain out in its dogged determination to keep you unhappy.
Focus on gratitude:
Gratitude, you might say – for what? For being robbed of a job, a loved one, an essential sense that helps you navigate the world?
Before going to sleep, make a small list of things for which you feel grateful: people, weather, music, anything that has given a brief flash of happiness during the day. It doesn’t have to be all day.
Gratitude breeds more and more things for which you can feel grateful.
Keep up the practice every night and be prepared for an avalanche of good stuff.
Harness the Power of “Yet”™:
Believe that other, better situations exist – you just haven’t found them yet. (You seldom find them in despair).
What power there is in those three little letters: Y-E-T
Finish the following sentences with them:
I haven’t found a job that excites me – – –
I don’t have a loving partner – – –
There is no cure for my medical condition – – –
Did you notice the difference in your energy from your first reading of those statements to the repeat with the simple addition of “yet”?
Resilience is not just about bouncing back, but of using the disruptions of life as spurs to continue to develop and to think creatively.
We are all in the process of becoming all the time, no more so than now, when we have been through the equivalent of a psychological earthquake.
But a lot of psychological clutter has been cleared out of the way, and we can, if we choose, see more clearly where we can go.
Here is one of my favorite inspirations, a poem by Sara Teasdale:
But the stars above my head
Burn in white and delicate red,
And beneath my feet the earth
Brings the sturdy grass to birth.
I who was content to be
But a silken-singing tree,
But a rustle of delight
In the wistful heart of night,
I have lost the leaves that knew
Touch of rain and weight of dew.
Blinded by a leafy crown
I looked neither up nor down—
But the little leaves that die
Have left me room to see the sky;
Now for the first time I know
Stars above and earth below.”
May we all “see,” in our own way, the potential we have to create a better world for ourselves.
If you want to explore ways in which you can become more resilient to the avalanche of change around us, and at the same time contribute to peace and serenity in our world, visit my Programs page.
With love and gratitude,
*If you have severe feelings of despair and/or depression, please do seek help from a therapist or other health professional. Don’t try to cope on your own if it’s just too much.
Lynette Crane is a speaker, coach, trainer, and author who specializes in resilience training and heart-brain connections. She holds a Master’s Degree in Psychology from the University of California and a life coach certification from Coach Training Alliance, and is a certified trainer and coach/mentor with HeartMath