Tools for dealing with the day-to-day when you're an emotional mess
If you prefer to listen, this is the podcast version of the post.
This is for anyone who has had something take the wind out of them lately and maybe you’re hurting pretty bad. The super-deep gut pain that makes you want to curl up in a ball in your bed. It’s for the moments you have to enter into the world and step back into your routine, in places that make you feel even more broken and exposed. At a time like this, you are likely feeling more than the pain of your trauma – you’re feeling the pain of pure vulnerability.
After a blow, your heart is as fragile as a china figurine of a fawn: just about anything from anyone could take you down. When you are in the initial stage of healing and in a lot of pain, it can be difficult to retain a tether to stability when in particularly unsupportive environments. That is the result of being exposed and also in pain management and it’s disorienting to say the least, because you feel so incapable of normalcy. It can be hard to keep a straight face to the world, and really, really hard to keep your eyes from welling up.
The pain, when it’s extreme, comes in waves. It’s hard to manage when you’re in the most supportive environment — doubly so, when you’re trying to hide it and take care of everyday tasks amongst others who don’t know or support you. Whatever the wound and wherever you have to go, this is for you, to hopefully ground you in those moments. To help you manage “normal.” Because right now, you just have to traverse the time.
I will go through where you are, and provide perspective from outside of your pain to, hopefully, ground you. I will also cover what to expect moving forward and some tools to use in the moment.
Part 1: What your life looks like from the outside of your state of mind.
When you are raw, you will be completely aware of your vulnerability in the world — how fragile you feel emotionally, plus the deep bruise of whatever you have recently gone through. It can induce waves of gut-wrenching agony, causing you to perceive your life as if it’s in total shambles. You might see everyone around you as cruel, or yourself as a mess, or your future as dim. It makes sense that you would see what you feel on the inside. The good news is, that is not an accurate portrayal of the world or you.
You are in the very early stages of a healing process and suffering from a chemical low. You are likely reeling in panic over a new reality, and that, in itself, is a lot to manage. In short, your life is a projection of very extreme pain.
On the outside, everything in your life is much more OK than it feels like it is. You have much more to rely on than you think, and you are stronger than you feel. You must move through this time as consistently as possible. Stick to the routine and don’t stop to dwell or panic. Keep moving and be productive. It’s the chemicals of your current emotional state that are making you feel as though you are doomed or that you are going to fall apart. Think of it as a very dark cloud that is obscuring your vision.
There is some work you can do to manage the emotions you are feeling, and that’s just basic self-care. Make sure you get enough sleep, make sure you eat balanced meals, reach out to as many stabilizing friends and family members as possible, and pour your attention into things that you can focus on — projects are helpful and classes that involve exercise.
What you should know and remind yourself when you get panicky: Your life will be a totally different world in six months, or probably, three months. You cannot tell right now because you’re in the thick of it. Don’t ask more of yourself or think about the future — or what if, or why me, or what’s wrong with me — all that crap is the voice of pain and suffering and it’s because right now you’re inside the dark cloud. Now you need to heal, become balanced, and do not give any of that muttering any weight at all.
Consistency is key to this healing going quickly. The better you can be about moving through the motions — taking breaks when you need to and making sure you get enough exercise and eat a stable diet, the faster you will gain a more rational perspective.
Everything in your life is actually completely OK. So if you feel like you’re going to lose it, know that you can cry and let it out, and then you need to get right back up again. If you need help, you need to ask for it. Be aggressive about self-care. Keep moving. Go through the motions. Stop overthinking this place in your life. It’s one big stage of healing and you are going to have to move through it. Once you are past this week, you will have a bit more perspective. And the next week, you’ll have even more perspective than you had before. You will grow much stronger as result of this and you will change for the better as a result. Just be very kind and gentle with yourself.
Part 2: What to expect moving forward
Each day will get easier and you will grow stronger. Your life will become clearer to you. You will remember how strong you actually are, and then you’ll pick up speed. Depending on the person, it can take different amounts of time to process different kinds of pain. If you feel you need help, I recommend speaking with a therapist. If you can’t do that for some reason, then create a routine for yourself that fills you with support. That means positive resources like films, friends, books, soothing, calming activities and very consistent self-care.
This is just my guess, but I would say in about 3 months you will feel like a totally different person and you will have a different perspective on your life. You just have to keep moving through the motions and healing yourself until you can break through the clouds.
Whatever you do, don’t analyze the painful mutterings of your bruised mind. You are in pain and everything you think is going to be a reflection of that. I recommend you spend time with someone who can calm and sooth you. You just need time to rebuild your skin. Know that everything in your life will become brighter, more manageable, and clearer once this rawness and pain is over. How you view your world is a reflection of what you feel on the inside. So you need to remember that, if you’re not thinking rationally.
Part 3: Tools to help you manage the pain in the day-to-day
The most important thing I want to tell you is to take care of yourself, first and foremost. By that I mean, make sure you are there for yourself when you need a break from the environment you’re in. I know it’s tough if you’re in a place that doesn’t like you to leave for 10 minutes — but taking a break would be ideal. Make up an excuse and leave when you need to. If that’s just not possible, I am going to give you some tools to use to mentally provide yourself with relief. The most important part of healing is that you really respect your own protection as a priority. Your job is to keep yourself safe and loved. There’s no, “But I have to go — they are expecting me,” or “I can’t keep going to the bathroom, they’ll think I’m weird.” No. You are more important than what other people think. Demonstrate that with your actions and be good about taking time to protect yourself. That’s an order — from me!
Tool #1: The magic button
This is a tool for situations you are in where you feel exposed and you can’t get away.
Find a button or a stone — I also dig smooth crystals — or a ring, or charm on a bracelet. Spend some time selecting it when you’re at home: something with significance that makes you feel reminded of ritual or some kind of nostalgia — something with importance. Whatever it is, it should be something that feels good in your hand. Now sit with this item, while you are at home in your most comforting space. You can even light a candle to add to this ritual. Look in the mirror. Hold the item and say aloud to yourself, “Nothing can hurt me. I am safe. I am OK. This time will very soon pass.” Keep this item with you in your pocket or in your purse as you go through your day. You can also keep it right in front of you on your desk but I recommend keeping it in your pocket, somewhere close to you. Periodically hold onto it and focus on that meaning — what it symbolizes and what it grounds you to, in your home.
Pull it out when you feel overwhelmed and overcome and refocus on the place in your home. Remind yourself that you are safe, you will take care of yourself, that this time is passing quickly, and you will be OK.
An alternative to this is a coat with very fine stitching — or an over-shirt — something with delicate detail that you can examine in secret, for example, a coat with silky pockets, or a fluffy sweater — something with padding that you can focus on as a large protective life vest. Choose whichever you prefer. I like keeping a button with me because it’s so different to carry around, it can become more sacred or magical.
Tool #2: Mini-Break Intervals
If you’re suffering, moving through time can feel just overwhelming in how endless it is, so this is a tool to allow you to break up your day and redirect your focus. I know that it’s a bit sneaky, but it’s kind of better because of that. This is a tool made to support you.
Set an alarm on your phone every 45 minutes and create a sound that’s similar to a phone ring. Each time you hear the alarm ring, you are going to take your phone for a “private call” and basically go outside, go in the bathroom, and listen to a podcast for five minutes. Alternatively, you are going to call yourself and leave a voicemail or a voice-memo. Basically, leave a message saying words of support and also calling out what is happening today. You can almost commiserate with yourself. “Hey there, so this is the first of the five calls. This is going OK, a little tough, but whatevs. I feel like I can do it. When I get home I think I am going to cook myself some grilled Brussels sprouts. And have that yummy new cheese.”
When you get overwhelmed you are going to check your phone and really just focus on the next interval. That is what your schedule is about today. Not the rest of the environment. You have safety appointments to look forward to. And during those appointments you are going to leave — and spend some time with yourself. You’d be surprised at how comforting the sound of your own voice can be.
Tool #3: Emergency Chord
I think this is something everyone should have: it’s for emergency moments of overwhelming pain where you really feel like you’re sitting in a fire. It’s a list of the different steps that you can take, that you know will work for you. A lot of the time when you’re in excruciating pain, it feels so foreign because it’s so overwhelming that you think you might literally lose your mind. You’re probably a lot more ok than you think, but that said — when you hit that threshold you pull out your phone and jump into one of these actions immediately.
Create a list for yourself to have on your person at all times, either on your phone or in your wallet. Your list should include 5-10 things that you can do when you really need help or relief. The more the better, so try to have at least eight action items on your list. These items should be listed in order of how affective they will be. That includes accessibility. Throw in at least one phone call and one class or 12-step group meeting or supportive social location.
For example, my list is:
1. Call Adam or my mom or dad or sister
2. Go for a hike
3. Yoga class
4. Handstand in my office or forward fold breathing for 5 minutes
5. Hand-over heart breathing in the car
6. Hang-loose breathing meditation wherever I am sitting
7. Watch Ratatouille at home on a loop
8. Listen to an inspiring podcast and take a walk
9. Go to the beach and write to myself on my phone, like journal.
10. Read from one of the many educational inspirational books I have on my phone and take a walk on a fake phone call—with headphones on.
So if you are really suffering — go to that first item on your list. Call that person. Make SURE to abide this list as it’s important to demonstrate to yourself that you are going to show up for yourself. That is a very important bond to keep strong, right now. Like, if you are not feeling up to going out, don’t go out! You are not going to cater to the expectations of others, especially at a time like this.
Tool #4: You’re in it right now and it hurts.
This is a little narration from me to you. It’s for you to read if you’re in the moment and really suffering. Sometimes it helps to hear it from an outside source. Put it on your phone or email it to yourself. 🙂
“Firstly, can you get to somewhere safe? Somewhere where you are secure? If not, just keep acting like you’re doing whatever you’re supposed to be doing. No biggie. No one can tell.
Firstly I am so sorry you are in pain. This is a tough spot. And you have been through a lot. This is a hard place to be in, but it’s going to end very soon. It’s super uncomfortable right now, but you are very strong.
You are doing all the things you need to right now, by taking care of yourself and protecting yourself. Just by reading this right now—that shows you are very capable and very strong, and that you will absolutely move through this time, and heal. And your life will be totally different.
Take some deep slow breaths. Take your right hand and hold onto your left forearm. Give it a squeeze. This is you — taking care of you. You are OK, and you will always be OK, because you have you, and you are wonderful. You are so worth taking care of, and loving and protecting. And you’re so far along in your path of healing, but you can’t tell how far yet.
Keep your eye on the next best step you can take. Just keep passing the time, going through the motions. Keep your focus on the practical physical execution, and do not invest in anything emotionally. You are protected and safe inside of yourself. No one can make you feel anything you don’t decide to feel.
Your life is going to be so much different in the near future. You will laugh and be happy and sassy and silly and full of so much awesome new stuff! The range of your lifetime will be so vast and wonderful — and you will be in love. You will be your best self and you will love that self — and that’s because you are great at taking care of yourself and soothing yourself, which is what you’re doing a great job of, right now.
Don’t jump past today. Just be very, very gentle with yourself and move through this time. This too shall pass. Know that I will be thinking of you, and that I am rooting for you. I am placing an imaginary bubble of protection around you right now, so that nothing can hurt you. I wish you my love and send you vibes of positivity. Imagine I am seeing your face right now — and smile!
Featured image via Flickr