What do you do when life throws you for a loop?
Wouldn’t it be nice if there were quick and easy answers to make it all better?
But life doesn’t work that way, does it? A loved one gets a serious diagnosis, gets into a car accident, passes away. Your child is born weeks or months too soon, lands in the hospital with an unknown disease, faces a major crisis at school, suffers from a series of setbacks that rock his/her mental health to the core. A job loss, house fire, or natural disaster leaves you feeling like you’re back at square one.
And of course, these things have a way of piling up on each other – they rarely seem to happen in isolation, do they?
I get it. And I truly do get that sometimes it feels as if nothing will help – I’ve been there.
But I’ve also been through enough rounds of this theme to realize that a few common threads have helped me through these crises, and have also helped others I’ve witnessed going through similar challenges.
So if you or a friend finds yourself getting thrown for a loop (or three or five, all at once), here are a few ideas, based on what’s helped me and those I know make it through these rough patches.
What To Do When Life Throws You For A Loop:
1. Try to remember the basics
Proper nutrition, proper sleep, and (if you can manage it) proper exercise will help you keep your body strong, which will help you better manage everything else.
One day, when one of our girls was two, she suddenly stopped eating and drinking. In 36 hours she lost over 10% of her body weight, and her organs began shutting down. Before we knew it, she was an inpatient at the nearest children’s regional hospital, an hour from our home.
After stumbling through the first few days of this crisis like zombies, my husband and I could no longer avoid the reality that our daughter wasn’t going home the next day, or the day after that. That’s when we had to accept that we could no longer neglect our own health if we were going to be there for her. Going to the nearby Ronald McDonald House for healthy, hot, home-cooked meals and a good night’s sleep became our refuge.
Living on junk food, fast food, and/or high-calorie comfort food for weeks or months on end is NOT healthy. And lack of sleep just makes you crave these unhealthy foods more. If you can, try NOT to do this to yourself.
2. Try to prioritize and compartmentalize
I easily become overwhelmed when there are too many obligations and crises pressing down on me. This doesn’t happen as much now that I’m a parent and work from home, but I’ve been there plenty of times both for work reasons and rest-of-life reasons.
When life throws me for a loop, lists in general – and my Bullet Journal in particular – are my best friends. Rather than trying to take on everything all at once, I try to write it all down and get it out on paper. Then it’s no longer in my head, and I can start to make sense of what has to get done soonest, and what I can let slide for a bit.
This is especially true when I’m sick. You know how the flu or a sinus infection can really mess with your head? It’s hard to put one thought in front of the other sometimes.
But having it all on paper in front of me suddenly makes it easier to see that those five meetings over the next three days just aren’t going to happen. Not only do I not have the energy, but no one else really wants or needs my germs.
This was also true when I was pregnant with Kimmie. That supposedly “happy” time of one’s life coincided with selling old house, finding new house, an out-of-state temporary work assignment, and my right wrist falling apart. (As in, a bone died and I needed emergency surgery if I didn’t want to lose use of my dominant hand forever.) All of these were extremely stressful and overwhelming, and any one of them would have been enough on my plate at once. Let alone all at the same time. Let alone at the same time as a “high-risk” pregnancy.
All together, it was WAY too much to have on my mental plate all at once. The only way I could get through it all was to focus on one piece at a time, and use lists/calendars/planning notebooks to keep the bigger picture under control without letting it overwhelm me.
3. Try not to cut yourself off
This can be a fine line. It’s easy to retreat inside ourselves, especially if we’re starting to feel depressed. Being out in the world is a good reminder that life goes on, in spite of whatever personal hell we’re going through. Seeing friends and family will also help to remind you of this, because they will TELL you so.
Just be careful not to dump all your problems on everyone, all the time, every time you see them. Not every store cashier and waitperson cares about every intimate detail of your personal dramas. And even your closest friends and family will get tired of hearing you whine all the time about your challenges.
When I least want to see other people is often when I most need to get out of the house – and doing so is SO much better than sitting at home by myself!
4. Find (and lean on) your village
One of the hardest things for some of us, when life gets difficult, is to ask others for help. My husband doesn’t like to do this because he doesn’t like to be indebted to others. I don’t like to ask because I’m afraid of imposing and inconveniencing others.
When our first daughter was born, my husband was loathe to let people from the church bring us meals to help out. Again, he has a hard time accepting what he saw then as “charity.” But when he started to experience the generosity of others, his heart was filled to overflowing when he realized that yes, people wanted and were willing to help us out. He’s never forgotten that lesson.
Similarly, when I broke my foot this past summer and was unable to drive, I found myself dependent on others in a whole new way. This only increased as school started and I still wasn’t allowed to drive. Essie is in kindergarten this fall. Our district has half-day K, and it is parents’ responsibility to drive their kids home from school.
And no one in her preschool classes is in K with her; they’re all at other schools. And none of our neighbors has kindergarteners, either.
It’s been really hard for me to reach out to others and ask them to help us with rides, week after week after week. (Since my husband also teaches, he can’t leave school in the middle of HIS work day to bring her home!) But it’s been a definite lesson in humility, and in depending on the kindness and grace of others to get us through.
And for those many friends and family who’ve responded to my periodic updates with “what can I do to help?,” this has been a tangible “something” they can do. It’s been huge to us – and they know it!
5. Lay the groundwork ahead of time, if you can
The time to build your social networks is BEFORE a crisis hits, not during.
If you’ve just moved to a new area, get out there! Join local parents’ groups. Get to know your neighbors. Get involved in a local church or synagogue or other religious community. Become active in neighborhood groups and causes you care about.
When tragedy or crisis strikes, those networks will be in place to mobilize on your behalf.
Likewise, if you know that there is a big challenge looming ahead of you, do what you can to make it easier.
My mother got her knee replaced several years ago. She had six months between when the surgery was scheduled and when it actually happened. She used that time to get her body as ready for the surgery as she could, by doing strengthening exercises ahead of the surgery under a doctor’s guidance.
Doing this prep work made her surgery recovery go much more smoothly, and speeded up her recovery time quite a bit.
6. Don’t be afraid to reach out for professional help, if you need it
There have been lots of times in my life when reminders of #1-5 would have been enough to get me through the rough patches until life felt on even keel again.
Having said that, there are also plenty of times when these tips would have sounded hollow and worthless.
If the above tips sound meaningless to you, please don’t be afraid to consider if you might need professional help.
Check with your health insurance plan or network to find providers in your area. Open a “private window” on your web browser and search for “mental health helpline.” Pore through the community section of your local phonebook (if you still have such a thing at your house!), or on the website of the nearest hospital. If you’re a student, check out your university’s mental health services.
Or if none of the above work for you, read the next section below.
7. Need more help?
In the United States, call the National Alliance of Mental Illness Helpline at 1-800-950-6264 or text NAMI to 741741.
Or call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Outside the United States, for a list of international numbers and websites for mental health helplines, suicide prevention, etc. visit the Together We Are Strong Helpline link on Tumblr.
And remember, you do NOT need to suffer alone. Help is just a phone call away.
A friend of mine regularly posts this on her Facebook page:
“My door is always open. My house is safe. Coffee can be on in minutes, and the dining room table is a place of peace and non-judgment. Anyone who needs to chat is welcome anytime. It’s no good suffering in silence. I have food in the fridge, coffee and tea in the cabinet, listening ears, and shoulders to cry on. I will always be available…you are always welcome!! This is an old value that has been lost to technology…a text, facetime, or emoji is not the equivalent!
Depression has no face, age, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation or ethnic background. It does not discriminate. And neither do I. 😘
You are never really alone.
*DISCLAIMER* my house may not be clean but it’s presentable. 😊
Could one friend please copy and repost? I am trying to demonstrate that someone is always listening. 💚💚💚💚💚💚💚
Just one person.”
If you do not have a friend (FB or otherwise) in your life like this the next time life throws you for a loop, PLEASE reach out to someone at one of the numbers above.
It CAN get better, I promise.