Undaunted in 2018: my word for the New Year

Definition of undaunted: undismayed; not discouraged; not forced to abandon purpose or effort.

2017 was the worst year of my life.

Not all of it…some of it was normal, even joyful, fun, adventurous. There was travel, and there were milestones. There was love. There was a lot of work, with effort spent toward family needs, clinic responsibilities, and the daily stuff of life.

And there was shock, tragedy, and devastation.

2017 brought the loss of my son, and with him, something I can’t really define. I’ve written about his death on Facebook, and here on my blog…it’s pretty much all I’ve written about in recent months…talked about it with family and friends. But regardless of the words I use, or how much I say, I’m not satisfied. I can’t really explain the impact, or the sadness.

At 57, I don’t think it was loss of illusion, or naive expectation of life. I’ve been around the block, and I know about hard times, the reality that life hands out surprises, some of them fierce and awful. Some that take your breath.

But losing Alex…I just can’t describe it. It’s a reality I can’t deny. But I haven’t grasped it either.

I can’t fathom that 2018 will dawn, and the only imprint of him on the new year, and the years to come, will be from memories. How is that even possible?

We were supposed to be with him for New Years. Instead, we’re mourning him.

I replay, in my mind, talks we had when he was strong, and determined, and driving toward his goals with purpose. He was undaunted.

And I want to claim that for myself. Not in denial that Alex is gone, nor in expectation of getting over his loss. Some things you don’t get over.

But I ask myself, what would his words be? He’d be philosophical, and tell me that he made the choice he felt was right for him.

Though I can’t see that point of view, there’s no doubt he believed that.

And believing that, he would expect the people who love him to be accepting. We didn’t always agree, but now, there’s no opportunity for argument, or changing his mind. Now, the only option is to accept.

I think about the year ahead, and I know I want to approach it with grace and love, appreciation for what we had, and looking toward the future.

The future with Alex will be in another time and place. But the future with others is here and now, in 2018.

I have a responsibility to the ones I love, and the ones who loved Alex, to be here for them. And that means more than being just physically present. It means being engaged, and connected, not lost in a fog of grief.

It’s only been three months, and to be honest, some days I’m shocked I’m upright, and forming coherent sentences. And to be honest, not all my sentences are coherent.

Other days, I glimpse the future. The ache is in my heart, but I gather myself to do more than mourn. I gather myself to do, and to mourn.

Neither death, nor life, can be ignored.

When I was thinking about my word for 2018, I knew it had to be a word of strength, and determination. Like Alex, I want to be undaunted.

Some would view his final choice as anything but undaunted. Some would see defeat. Or loss of determination, even weakness. But I see someone who believed he had reached the end, and was undaunted by the decision he faced.

I wish I could talk him out of it…help him see a different path, and a different way to live undaunted. But I can’t. I believe he died that way. Undaunted, and making the choice he believed was best. Even if it was a choice that broke hearts.

My choice is to live undaunted. It’s easy to say, and so challenging to confront. What does that even mean? And how will that look, in the coming year, when I’m still raw and walking wounded?

I think it means learning to live with loss, and grief, in ways that both honor Alex, and honor the lives around me. It means being the best I can be, in the midst of mourning. That’s what I’m learning. I’m not just mourning. And I’m not resuming life as though this never happened. I’m combining these realities, and my responses to both.

Spending the last week with Riley and Jack shows me how important this is. We talked about Alex, cried over him, missed his laugh and presence, shared some stories. But we also opened gifts, and played games, and celebrated the here and now.

If I sound like I know what I’m doing, like I’ve figured this out…well, that’s just me telling myself this is what I have to do, rehearsing it out loud, and in print. This is my choice, based on Alex’s choice.

I wish I could continue living the life I had before October, but that’s not an option. So, my word for 2018 is undaunted, the only way forward.

fullsizeoutput_21fd

Alex Gibson, April 2017

Version 2

Last family vacation in Hawaii, April 2017

 

 

 

SaveSave

Advertisements

Revise your story

I’ve written about finding myself in a hole, here, feeling the darkness, and climbing out, step by step. Some of the progress was circumstantial: my situation changed, and with those changes, my outlook looked up.

But it wasn’t all that tidy. Long before the big changes occurred, I began stepping toward righting myself. Why? Because at the time, I didn’t know how, or if, life would hand me the turnaround I wanted, needed.

And if not? Then what?

I couldn’t stay where I was. I began the trip back to normal without knowing what life would look like. I just knew I couldn’t stay in the hole, in the dark.

These are the next things I did, after recognizing I had to begin the climb on my own. If you find yourself in a similar hole, maybe some of these steps will help. Nothing here is magic, or ground-breaking. But when I’m struggling, it helps to have a path laid in front of me. That’s all I’m offering here…just outlining steps so you don’t have to do it yourself. No right, no wrong, just suggestions.

  • Make a plan, whether big or small. To come out of the darkest time, I had to have a plan. I couldn’t be sure what I would do eventually, but I had to start working toward next. And that’s what I would suggest for anyone trying to see daylight. Whether you’re between jobs, relationships, coming out of depression, trying to adjust to a new place or time in life…make a plan.

But be easy on yourself. Recognize that when you’re in flux, a lot of what you’re working with may change. Will change.

When I find myself in disarray, I need to rebuild structure and order in my life. I like to set goals for myself, targets that are reachable, but nothing that demands action tomorrow. Time pressure isn’t helpful in a vulnerable state.

There are reasons for this. Setting goals that are a few weeks, or even months, in the distance, gives me something to work toward and plan for. But if you’re in a fragile place, you don’t need the pressure of immediacy. I’ve found this type of medium-range goal planning is comforting.

By putting my goals a few weeks out…or even a little longer, if that’s feasible…I give myself something positive to work toward, without stressing myself in the moment.

This type of planning allows time for other events/forces to unfold.

The last time I found myself in limbo, I did exactly this. I put some targets on a calendar and made a tentative plan, based on what I would do if…

If certain things worked out this way, then….

If things worked out that way, then….

By thinking through options and possibilities, I worked through scenarios that helped me plan.

  • Share your plans with a person or two you trust. Ask for feedback. Having someone think with you is helpful…helps you see possibilities you may be missing, and can be a reality check. This is especially important if you’re in unfamiliar life territory.
  • Write your goals. Make lists, keep a journal. Writing is good therapy, and putting plans down on paper or on screen will help you focus. It’s also useful to be able to look back, to see progress, or to remind yourself of thoughts or plans you lose sight of.
  • Mark any significant dates for the next year on your calendar, and use those as sign posts for progress, for interaction, for incentive. When you see a date on your calendar a couple of months out for meeting family, for attending a special event, for something you can be excited about, the calendar gives you hope. Don’t discount this as reason to get through the day, week, or month. Let your calendar be a daily reminder that life is happening all around you, and you have a part to play.
  • Decide what you want to change, and what you can change. Is it location? Job? Habits? Name the goals, then put realistic dates on your calendar…when will you achieve your goals? Or what stages will you mark as advancements? Or achievements?
  • Learn a new skill. Nothing boosts the ego and wakes up the mind like a challenge. This is a great way, and a focused way, to work toward life goals. Learning a new skill can help you step toward your goals. Join a class if possible. Leaning with a group is a good way to connect with kindred spirits, and can give you new sources of support.
  • I am sold on the power of doing something for someone less fortunate, or for a good cause. Nothing makes you feel better than contributing. Again, this will work only if you’re healthy enough in mind and body to get out and connect with others. Take this slow. Don’t overcommit your time, money, or self. If you have healing/growing/recovering to do, you need to protect yourself.
  • Find outlets for creativity, and for physical activity. You need to nurture your body and your spirit. Don’t neglect your need to be active, and to exercise your creativity. Whether you’re inspired to create, or driven to release your energy, you’ll benefit from movement and stimulus. Nothing is more deadly than sitting still and drowning in despair.
  • Find someone to be accountable to. You could make this a mutual thing, or just ask someone to provide this for you. Knowing that you’ve committed to sharing your progress will give you another incentive to make progress. Decide how often you’ll connect, and any other parameters you want to set. Be serious about accountability; it can be a wonderful aid to get you through difficult tasks.
  • If you can afford it, work with a life coach. Life coaches are not therapists. The function of a life coach is to help you find your voice and motivation, and to hold you accountable to the goals you set. In my opinion, you want someone who will hold a mirror to your life, and be a voice of encouragement. I would stay away from the drill sergeant type. You want someone who will be honest and firm with you, but you don’t need someone who will use guilt or other negative styles of communication.

I didn’t suffer with clinical depression, and I can’t address that condition. Clearly, individuals with mental health issues need more than a list of helpful suggestions to right themselves. 

But you don’t have to be clinically depressed to struggle, to feel lost, to feel stuck, and sad, and down. That’s the mindset I’m addressing.

Even if you seek help from a coach or counselor, you have to begin with yourself. Recognizing you have to do something different, then taking the first small steps to begin…that’s the hardest part. Finding your resolve, getting off the sofa or out of the bed, beginning

You can do it. Only you can do it.

I’m not a counselor, but I’ve been there, in the hole. I know what it’s like to sleep poorly, waking up with thoughts racing every hour or two, to dread going to work or getting out of the house because you feel like you have to put on “the face” of normalcy. I know finding the desire to do anything can seem like a mountain.

It is a mountain. But you can climb it. If you can’t find the heart to do it for yourself, find someone else who inspires you, or choose someone you want to inspire. Do it for your spouse, your kids, your legacy, if you can’t do it for yourself.

Sooner or later, you will be doing it for yourself. You will be inspired, and inspiring. You’ll have a story to share, a success to celebrate, and a renewed life.

No one can predict your outcome. No one else can write your story. Find your brave, even if it scares you. Especially if it scares you. Open up to those you trust. Give others opportunity to help, to support and encourage you.

Hear my voice, if you can. That’s one of my goals…I want my voice to be an encouragement. Not because I have it all figured out, but because I know how hard this is. Eventually, you’ll know you can do it, because others have done it. You can be strong, you’ll find your way. And in turn, you will be a voice of encouragement.

Each of us has a place, each story has value. If your story has derailed, dig deep. Begin your revision. This is my time, and this is your time. ~ Sheila

Other people are going to find healing in your wounds. Your greatest life messages and your most effective ministry will come out of your deepest hurts. ~ Rick Warren

 

 

 

 

Top 10 ways to soothe when you need relief

I know a bit about needing relief. I’ve felt that many days, from different sources of stress: relationships, health, financial pressures, uncertainty over a looming decision, all difficult in different ways. Depending on the weight of the issue, sometimes it feels like I can barely function, other times the worry is like an overlay…or maybe an underlay… on top of everything else going on.

When I’m struggling with something heavy on my heart, I need to cocoon and hide myself. In the hardest moments, I want to sleep. I know that’s a sign of depression, and though I’ve never been clinically depressed, I know sleep is a coping mechanism for dealing with difficult emotional issues.

I also find it hard to stay focused and be productive. I’ve learned that action is a good antidote to feeling sad, but it can be hard to jump-start myself.

My automatic response to distress is to mask what’s bothering me…not sure if somehow I think that will make the situation go away, or if it’s a retreat from confronting what’s painful…if I ignore it, I won’t have to deal with it.

My way of describing this is “putting on the face.” You know, when you act like life is normal, you greet co-workers, go through the motions, even manage to smile and do whatever is on your agenda.

But all the time, inside you’re dying. You’re dying to hear from someone, or about something, or afraid of an approaching deadline.

You’re afraid.

Fear and I are old friends. I can tell the extent of my stress by the persistence of the “engine” of fear I feel running in my stomach. You know when you hear references to the feeling in the pit of your stomach? Yes, that’s the one I mean…fear that is so real you can feel it.

It wakes me up at night, this fear. It rouses me from sound sleep to course through me, my mind moving back to familiar grooves as I think about whatever the issue is, once again.

So what’s the answer? Unfortunately, sometimes there’s not one.

Some fears do come true, and there’s no changing that. Tests come back with scary results. People die. Bad things happen.

Some situations are not about circumstances that are beyond our control, but about people who are beyond control. Wouldn’t life be easy if everyone did what I want them to do? Well, that’s not happening either. Or at least, not in a predictable way.

So, how can you find relief, some measure of peace, some way to cope that’s healthy and sustainable?

Because let’s face it, there are all sorts of answers that are not healthy, not sustainable, not realistic.

I can’t sleep my troubles away, don’t want to medicate to handle life, and living in denial doesn’t help either.

So this is what I do…my top ten ways to comfort and soothe when I’m in the valley:

  1. It sounds counter-intuitive, but I imagine the worst. I just go ahead and get it over with. What if my worst fears come true? What will happen then? Of course I can’t foresee exactly what variables could come into play. But by going to my imagined worst-case scenario, I create a vision of what I would do, what I could do. By facing the worst, I can have at least a minimum plan of response. Maybe I’d need to travel, or consider how a situation would impact financially. I try to think through options in advance. Instead of seeing this as dwelling on the negative, I view this as confronting and planning ahead so I’m prepared, as well as I can be.

  2. Once I’ve imagined the worst and think of how I would address it, I imagine the best. What if the best possible outcome happens? What then? I imagine how that result would impact me…even good outcomes can create change, and I want to be aware so I can be prepared for the good as well as the bad. At least this step is positive and more hopeful than the first, so it’s an easier exercise.

  3. I think about things that I can do to soothe in the moment. Sometimes that means doing something physical, like a work out, or just getting out and going for a drive. Other ideas: clean something, paint something, cook something. Do anything that is a positive physical act that gets me moving and helps me feel productive. Stay on top of day-to-day chores. Nothing is more paralyzing than letting go of your physical environment when you’re mentally stressed…if you’re already fragile, living in chaos will only make it worse. Put your mind on auto-pilot and force yourself to keep a routine going. On the other hand, if you can’t do something active, try being still. Meditate and just breathe.

  4. I have a number of “go to” authors that I read when I need encouragement or comfort, or even a challenge to hold on and breathe and be strong. Knowing whose voices will speak to my heart and mind is a good tool to have in my arsenal to ward off sadness and depression.

  5. I think about who among family and friends I can reach to, not necessarily to talk about what’s troubling me, but just for the connection. When I can have a “normal” conversation about the day-to-day, it reminds me that there are a lot of wonderful people and good things in life beyond the concern of the moment, and it helps to distract me for a while, at least on a surface level.

  6. I talk out loud to myself, usually while I pace, or drive. This one may seem strange, and I don’t do it when I’m with anyone else, but it really helps me to work through my plans, fears, hopes, etc., to hear the words out loud. It’s almost like I can move outside myself and get a little perspective.

  7. I try to get out and meet a friend, have dinner with someone, do something to break my day or evening, change the conversation going on in my mind. That can’t happen every day, but having something on my calendar helps me to look forward to a change of pace, and something that is uplifting. This also includes things like doing something helpful for someone else…anything that gets me out and connecting with other people is a mood lifter, and a distraction, and that’s healthy. I try to do this even if I’m not in the mood to do it at the beginning. Acting my way to feeling better is a positive way to improve my mindset.

  8. I write. I’m a writer, so that’s therapeutic for me. If I can put what bothers me into words, I can get a better grip on the whole thing. I can vent, rant, be sad, talk it all out on paper, and oddly, writing through an issue gives me a different perspective than talking it through out loud or with someone else. It also gives me a record to review down the road. It’s a good check to see if I’ve sorted myself out and resolved what’s troubling me. I don’t try to keep a daily journal when I’m stressed, I write as I feel the need. But I do keep what I write, sometimes just until I have an answer, and sometimes longer if the issue is deeper, and something I may need to visit again.

  9. I talk it out with a trusted soul. Depending on the issue, everyone in my life may know what’s going on, or only a select few. I don’t like to air my issues casually, but being able to open up to the right person or group can do a world of good.

  10. I pray, if possible, out loud, or I sometimes write my prayers. If you’re not a praying person, this one won’t help. For me, there’s relief in taking my heart to God, and believing that he hears and cares about what hurts in my life.

So that’s it. I hope, next time you feel your fear, some of these ideas will help. And if you have a great strategy for dragon-slaying, please share…I can always use another weapon in my arsenal!  ~ Sheila