I thought I had everything figured out
When the life you planned spontaneously falls apart.
It’s a pretty universal experience: you plan out your whole life, everything’s on track to be what you’d imagined it’d be, and then seemingly out of nowhere, your whole life begins to unravel and your “perfect picture” falls apart. One moment you’re winning at the game of life: the career, the relationship, the paycheck, the “perfect future” . . . the next, you get fired, your partner dumps you, your bank account gets leveled–suddenly the path you saw before you evaporates and you feel like you have nothing at all.
Losing your “staples” in life–those things that defined the way you spent your time–forces you to look at EVERYTHING differently. The people you hang out with, the restaurants you go to, your living situation as a whole, down to the way you spend a Saturday night. It can make you feel “untethered” and just lost, unable to figure out which direction to go. Know that this is due to your perspective right now and your life is much more intact than it seems. If you’re suffering from shattered-future shell-shock and are not sure what to do, and you’re in pain, this is for you.
Firstly, I am so sorry you are suffering. I’m sure this is one of the toughest experiences you’ve had to endure and I want you to know–this pain will pass. Secondly, WOOOOOOT! I am STOKED for you. For real. Even though you can’t see it right now, know that this is probably the best thing that has ever happened to you. Your life just hit the reset button for a very good reason: you are destined for a life much greater than you could have dreamed up for yourself. One day you’ll look back at the “perfect life” you once envisioned, and be so grateful you didn’t end up living it.
What I am going to offer you is in three parts.
Part 1: You are here. I will try to give you perspective on the timeline of this process so you can know there’s an end in sight.
Part 2: Tools. I will cover the steps you need to take right now in order to take care of yourself and move through this time efficiently. I have more of them in my book, the Help Me Be Me toolkit, so if you want to read more that is on my website TeaspoonOfHappy.com
Part 3: The Good News. I will try to give you comfort and optimism, because I know that it’s a tough time to be in–and you’re mourning. Which, the pain can be unbearable. I do not discount that. This time in your life will pass and you will not feel this way anymore. The losses you are mourning were not meant to be–the universe has something much better in store for you and your life, but first, you’ve got to gather a few more facets of yourself. There is more you have to learn about who you are.
You might be thinking, “But I loved my life. I want it back, this is terrible and I am suffering. . .” I do not doubt that and I am not discounting that feeling. If you are suffering then I am so, so sorry and I want to offer you perspective and tools to help you manage the pain and move out of it. I will ask that you remain open to looking at your situation from another angle–and make aggressive steps at taking care of yourself despite how difficult it might feel. If you take the right steps–literally force yourself to take diligent self-care, then you will cut this time of pain in half. It will speed it along by an immense degree. So it’s worth it right now to push yourself and not allow yourself to wallow, no matter how good a reason you have in the eyes of the world.
Where you are right now: you are in shock over what you believed you had and in reality, did not. Specifically, stability, love, a predictable future. It is also the loss of routine and structure, which can be very painful and uprooting because it means we have nothing to hold onto.
Step 1: Build a support system
Get out your Facebook friend list and your phone. Start contacting people you know who could be with you during this window of time. If you don’t have family and friends who are supportive, you are going to reach out and build a network of new ones. Don’t roll your eyes about it–yes, it can be awkward but get over it! Like this:
“Hey, it’s Adam, from voice-over class.”
“Oh, right! Yes, hi. . .how are you?”
“Good. . . I just went through some big life changes, including a break-up, so I’m in that mode of reconnecting to friends I haven’t talked to in a while. I wanted to see if you had any interest in a seeing a movie this weekend or next?”
Force yourself to reach out to people and inform them of your situation and emotional state. As many people as possible, even if they have their own perfect relationships, their own problems, etc. Don’t give them an excuse. That’s not your right to speak for them. Ask for the help and support you need, ask them to hang out with you on the weekend when you would have otherwise been with your ex or simply ask if you can rely on them if you really need it. This process will actually reveal to you a lot about the people you have in your life, in a very good way. You might find the people who step forward in your time of need will be the ones you decide to grow closer to as you move through this stage. Don’t edit the list of people you call. Even if they’re “casual friends” your job is not to interpret what they’re willing to do. Your job is simply to reach out to as many possible supporters as you can. Get over looking lame. Throw that crap out the window.
If you find you cannot rely on anyone–enough to fill all of your time, get a book and practice going out by yourself. It’s not a big deal if you do it all the time, or to anyone else. It’s only a big deal in your mind.
Step 2: Build a routine
Replace the routine and fill the void in your life with new healthy habits and a supportive self-care safety net. Get a schedule of classes, plug-in your exercise, make sure to have one happiness-generating activity a day. Book up your weekends and nights as much as possible. Have options for the times you’re getting super low and force yourself to be around people. Also have a stack of comedies you can watch and positive podcasts you can listen to at the drop of a hat.
Step 3: Lovingly romance yourself
Right now, of all times, just go easy on yourself. All the pressure you put on yourself to “be something” or have certain things in life–put them aside. Allow yourself just to be wherever you are, right now.
Spend this time as a best friend to yourself and basically get to know yourself again, minus another person. Do things that make you happy, soothe your body, and enrich any and all tokens of your personality. For example, if you’ve always liked horror movies, buy a ticket to a horror convention. Get the dorky “Evil Dead the Musical” shirt you had your eye on but knew you’d be made fun of for wearing it. Be the most YOU you’ve ever been! Now’s the time to wear it loud.
In the alone time, have lots of activities planned for your self. Things like YouTube lessons, Podcasts on educational and inspirational topics, personal grooming, anything that focuses on making yourself think good, feel good and look good. If you don’t already have one, I highly recommend getting a journal. Write to yourself about what you love about yourself. Try to have fun talking to yourself out loud. Listen to songs that you love, get comfortable in your own skin. Eat foods that are good for you–this is a big one, because things that are processed can induce depression–and also anxiety. Right now, it’s vital that you keep your chemicals balanced. I recommend taking a listen to “The Mind Body Connection” if you would like to know more about this. Once you get happy being just “you” solo, you will start to hit a high of sorts. That’s when the life you’re destined to have will just “find you” and you’ll almost miss when it was just you–being you–alone.
How am I going to deal with the holidays?
All that stuff about a significant other at holidays, it’s mostly coming from an idea we have about what we’re “supposed” to be like during holidays. Not to discount that it is sad when you are apart from someone you loved for many years. But don’t get caught up with the should’s of couples and a successful life, because there’s no such thing and there’s nothing weird or lesser about going to a holiday thing solo. You’re the one who has that filter on right now. If this is something coming from family–that’s different. I know that can be rougher than your own disappointment. There’s no “should” about your life–so don’t fall into the habit of looking down on yourself. All the “stuff” is a cultural creation and it all washes away with the rain. All the “things” that mean you’re a success in this life change with fashion and culture and religion–in other words, they’re not real–they’re made up.
That said, the pressure often comes from outside of us, so if you have relatives that like to make you feel that way, here’s one way to take it:
“So when are you going to get married?”
“I am single actually–so not any time soon!”
“Ohh, no. What about that nice boy? What happened?”
“Oh, you know–typical grownup stuff. But I am doing well, thank you! And, I am taking a new pottery class! I made a coaster last week. It’s blue. Here’s a photo— ”
Acknowledging that you don’t want to talk about something can make you wear that pain even more, so as an alternative, use simple redirection. Have a prop or a story in your mind ready before you walk in the door. For example:
“Hi Sarah, where’s your lovely other half?”
“He couldn’t make it–such a bummer. Oh, by the way! I forgot to ask about your surgery. I hear it went well? I watched a documentary about that recently, medicine today is amazing–how are you feeling?”
And if too much talking is tough, then a good standby is always:
“I’m sorry–I am expecting a call from a friend who’s going through some stuff–I have to take this. So, so sorry.”
And then simply walk out of the room. If you feel weird about all this theater, come on, let that crap go. Put yourself out there, for you. Know that you are allowed to take care of yourself, at all costs. Let go of what people think of you. In other words, put yourself first. Protect yourself and demonstrate–to you–that you are loved and your feelings are important. Do not subject yourself to emotional torture and don’t allow yourself to feel anything you don’t want to feel that comes from anyone else. That’s what a good friend would do–that’s what you need to do for you.
The Good News. . .
Use this as a chapter marker in your life, like an incubation period for the best you yet. Grow close with yourself again and grow who you are in all ways–professionally, spiritually, socially, creatively. Say “Yes!” to all fun and newness. If you start to feel yourself floating back to the sadness, stop and distract your attention. Instead, look ahead at what is new and exciting and inspiring in your life. Allow yourself to cry and mourn when you need to, and feel good about that. Know it’s wonderful to have pain because it means you feel the fullness of love and happiness. Your pain is in proportion to your capacity to love and feel joy–so that’s just the other side of the coin, but it is a gift you possess, and not a curse.
This moment in your life is a gift. You have been given an amazing opportunity to grow. Do not look at this as a failure of any sort because it has nothing to do with being good at something–it has to do with something–just being right. And that is something you cannot see or know from this point in your life. Right now, you have to gather a few more pieces of the “real you” before you reach personal awesomeness 5000. Embrace that it is unknown, know you cannot know or control the future and celebrate that fact-this is gonna be the best thing that ever happened to you, one day, when you look back on it.
When we control our lives and decide the future, we can only do so based on our past learning and our limited vision. We cannot imagine something so outside of our realm, something so grand or perfect, because it is at this stage, still incomprehensible to us. Once we grow and change and open up to anything and everything, the universe delivers to us a much better fate–one we could have never anticipated or envisioned, because it was too incredible–too improbable or too outside us, at this point, right now. If you got to decide everything that happened in your life, you’d get shorthanded. So go easy on yourself, pass the time with as much grace as you can muster, and take everything a little bit at a time. You don’t have to tackle the future, just tackle today.
I truly believe you are in for so much more happiness and right now there’s something in you that is waking up, there’s a shift of perspective happening, and that’s stirring the mud at the bottom of your crystal clear pond. It’s all a bit murky right now, so you can’t tell quite which direction to go. Just wait it out and trust that you will–and for now, work on “being” with yourself, exactly where you are right now-without hating on it or pushing yourself to solve it. You’ve just got to have time to let that mud settle. And then you’ll forget you ever felt this pain, you’ll be amazed at how awesome your life is, and you will be happy.
I hope this helped. I will be thinking of you–I am sending my love to you, and I feel for you–I know you will get through this. So push yourself hard to take care of yourself. For more on similar topics, you can check out my writing on the Teaspoon site. If you want to get my Sunday newsletter you can subscribe there too. And most importantly, please smile.
Sending you much love and support!
This is for Asha! Thanks for writing me and I hope it helps. xox