I haven’t been feeling my best.
I haven’t had a bad day since the Rise conference I went to in July. I’m pretty damn lucky to have gone nearly a half a year with no bad days. Except that right now, it feels like every bad day I escaped is catching up to me.
I know it’s November, a month filled with tons of reasons to be grateful. Trust me, I’m aware that I have so many reasons to count. When I focus only on those things, my heart could burst – it’s so full.
But life isn’t always all sunshine and fairy dust. No matter how optimistic and positive we are, life can and will get hard.
November is a hard month for my family.
When I was 4, my oldest brother died as he was being initiated into a gang. The whole gang, about 20 something members, lined up in two lines as he walked down the middle. Each member took turns beating him as he passed them by. One man performed a roundhouse karate kick which landed on my brother’s head. He fell and hit his head on the pavement – another blow. He was pronounced dead at the scene at only 16 years old.
This happened just days before Thanksgiving. In my household, this time of the year is always a reminder of those painful days. Every year for the last 28 years, we celebrate this holiday with lots of food, football, and reasons to be thankful.
But underneath it all, there’s a hint of heartache that still lingers. During these days, we do our best to mask the regret, anger, anxiety and wishful thinking we’re all experiencing deep down. It’s not easy but we push through with a smile on our faces.
This November, my parents are fighting.
They fought my whole life, but this time it’s different. My mom is learning, after 61 years of life, to be her own person and to put her own happiness first. That doesn’t suit my dad well at all. Every time I talk to one of them, they’re complaining about the other. It stresses me out. I’ve worked hard to set boundaries and build barriers during times like this. But right now, that barrier is feeling really weak.
On top of that, we’re expecting another death in the family.
My aunt is in hospice care. She’s the 3rd of my aunts on my dad’s side that will pass – the 2nd of cancer. She’s laying on her deathbed now fighting for every moment she has left to spend with her husband, kids, and extended family.
And I won’t visit her. I won’t go over and say my goodbyes. I don’t think I have it in me to do that right now. I feel like the world’s shittiest person even thinking this. I feel worse admitting it out loud.
On the one hand, I want to see her.
I want to say goodbye and show the rest of my family that I’m there to support them. I want to show her that even though I haven’t been around much, I love her and always will.
But on the other, I’m too scared.
I’ve been through this before. I’ve stood by and watched helplessly as an aunt fought for each of her last breaths. I hate that feeling.
I also know how hard death is for me to process – its effects on me are lasting. Days and weeks can go by and I’d still be a mess in the worst headspace. On several occasions, I’ve handled death in the family well. For the most part, I spiral out.
When my uncle passed away several years back, I sat in my closet and cried till I fell asleep. The night after his funeral, I woke up in a panic thinking that I needed to go unbury him. I couldn’t fathom the idea that we’d leave him in a box under the earth all alone. I was destroyed by his loss and felt it for months.
So yes, I’m having a hard time with the idea that going to see her in her state will cause me to spiral out. I really don’t want to go down that path right now.
Will I regret my decision? Most likely.
Is that going to change my course of action? Doubtful.
Do I feel selfish? 100%
And that’s where I am right now.
The pain of a death from decades ago is slightly stinging once again. The pain of a death that’s just around the corner is calling to light some of my biggest weaknesses.
Sometimes life is all sunshine and fairy dust. But sometimes it’s not. No matter how much work you put in to stay on the sunny side of life, hard times can and will keep back up again. That’s life.
Build a toolkit. That’s what I tell everyone.
I tell my practice life coaching clients or friends that ask for advice to build a “tool-kit”. “Do some exploring and figure out what lifts you up when you’re feeling down or what fuels you when you’re in a slump. Document it and keep it handy!”
I think it’s so important to build this toolkit. I’ve spent years creating my own. I know, within seconds, what I need in order to change my negative headspace and get me into an uplifted state. I rely heavily on my toolkit.
Sometimes, though, your best tools don’t work!
And that’s what I’m realizing right now. I’ve been feverishly digging through my toolkit. I take one out, try it on, and toss it aside to dig for the next.
I put on motivational content. I enjoyed that but it didn’t do the trick.
I meditated and practiced breathwork. Still, it didn’t do the trick.
I journaled until my hand cramped. It was helpful, but it didn’t do the trick.
I put on my most uplifting songs and danced badly till I was out of breath. You guessed it. It didn’t do the trick.
None of the dozens of tools I use have worked. None. WTF?!
It’s been beyond frustrating.
Then my brother’s death anniversary hit.
I woke up that morning in a panic. Before I was even fully awake, I started to think about how unfair it was that my parents lost their son. For only 16 years, they got to hug him and kiss him and take in his smile. Then he was taken away. No more hugs. No more kisses. No more smiles. How could that be? How could his flesh and blood and bones be gone? How could I get him back for them?
As I started to wake up more, I realized this was something that occurred so many years ago. Life has settled since then so there was no reason to feel this panic – there was nothing to “fix”. That didn’t stop the ache in my heart, though.
Like I do every year on the 19th, I made sure to call my parents.
I talk to my mom often enough but on the 19th, I reach out early. I never miss this day.
She was happy to hear from me. She told me she spent the early morning hours remembering my brother and crying. She recalled how loving and protective he was of her. She always shares this with me on this day. She told me she missed him so much, even after all these years. I held back my tears and I struggled to find words comforting enough.
My mom thanked me for checking in. She said I made her smile.
I don’t think I made her smile enough.
Next, I called my dad.
He immediately started to talk about his day and plans. Just like he does every year, he tried to avoid bringing up my brother.
I wondered if maybe this year he had forgotten what day it was. If that was the case, I didn’t want to be the one to remind him. If he forgot, that would be a blessing.
He started to open up about how hard my aunt’s end of life has been on him. He said that this time of the year is always so painful then asked if I remembered what day it was. Of course he remembered this day. I told him that I knew, and that was the reason for my call. He thanked me for checking in as he held back his tears. I held mine back once again.
Just like I do every year, I texted my other brother.
I reminded him to call our parents. And just like every year, he didn’t need reminding. He remembered too. We all remember. We all feel it. This time of the year never goes unnoticed. My aunt’s condition highlights the ache.
I did all my check-ins like I always do. It’s my lousy attempt to ease the heartbreak of my parents but it never feels good enough.
Once the calls and text were done, I sat my phone down and stopped holding back my tears.
I cried so damn much and so damn hard.
I cried because it’s really fucking unfair that my parents had their son taken from them. They loved him so much and were damn good parents. They didn’t deserve that.
I cried because their pain is still so real. My brother’s passing will always touch them during this time of year. No matter how much love and support I show them, I can never take their pain away. There aren’t enough years in a lifetime that will heal their wounds.
I cried because my aunt is passing and that’s only hurting my parents even more.
I cried because I’m not strong enough to see her and say goodbye. I’m being selfish and weak…
I cried because I’m frustrated. I can’t move past this pain fast enough. I’m the girl who helps others move through their emotions so how can I be stuck?
After a good long ugly cry – after letting my anger, frustration, and tears flow freely – I felt a tiny sense of relief.
It wasn’t big. It was incredibly subtle. It was just enough to make me realize that I had forgotten to use the tool I found most effective of all…
The tool of sitting with your emotions.
I’d been spending the better part of the last 2 weeks trying to get rid of the icky feelings that had suddenly come over me. I exhausted my toolkit and when nothing worked, I beat myself up about it. Talk about kicking someone when they’re down.
It took a bit of a break down for me to finally remind myself of a few things I know to be true about hard times in life.
I think I need to hear these messages more than anyone else so forgive me as I talk to myself while pretending to talk to you…
1. Don’t kick yourself when you’re down.
Feeling bad isn’t something to be ashamed of. Feeling bad isn’t something to hide either. We all experience bad days or weeks – even longer sometimes. There’s nothing wrong with that and it doesn’t mean anything about you. It only means you’re like everyone else – you’re human. So don’t worry about getting back up so fast. Don’t let yourself get frustrated when none of your tools or tricks work. Beating yourself up about it only perpetuates the problem. Show yourself some grace and compassion, please.
2. You don’t need to be anyone else’s hero.
You may think that because you’re the one other people rely on for a pick me up or advice, that you need to be uplifted and happy at all times. That is NOT FUCKING TRUE. You don’t need to stay high in order to help people who are down low. In fact, I think the exact opposite is true. In order to help people through their dark days, you have to know what those days are like yourself.
So don’t worry about showing up for other people in this moment. Show up for yourself first. The rest will come later. And remember, all therapists need a therapist, life coaches need a life coach and some heroes need rescuing.
3. There is magic in the contrast of life.
You can’t get strong without lifting something heavy. You can’t see clearly without finding a light in the darkness. You can’t learn and grow without lessons in life.
These hard times are our biggest opportunities for growth. It may be challenging to see or even accept when you’re in the thick of life’s contrast but trust that it’s true.
Take a deep breath. Then another. And another. And remind yourself that on the other side of this is something worthy of gaining.
4. Nothing you do makes you immune to hard times.
Just because you read all the self-help books, just because you’re into the new age spiritual woo woo shit, just because you attend conferences and workshops, doesn’t mean you get to escape the trials of life. No one makes it out of this unscathed. So drop the expectation that you won’t ever fall again. You will. We all do. But if you can accept that, the low becomes so much more bearable.
5. Not all problems need to be solved now.
Some dips in life can be fixed with one of your tools, how great is that?! But some of them require you to get down, stay down for a while, and learn to show yourself compassion. They can’t be fixed because they need to be healed. Healing only occurs when you acknowledge, accept and sit with the emotions.
So don’t worry about fixing. Just worry about getting yourself to the other side in one piece.
I think we all know these lessons deep down.
But they’re easy to lose sight of in the middle of life’s hard times. I know it’s true for me, obviously. Maybe you needed to be reminded of this too.
So if you feel like you’re going through hell, keep on going.
Yes, November is a month to smile and give thanks, but it can also bring about memories of things we lost or reminders of what we want and don’t have. If you’re feeling down, its ok. You aren’t alone in this even if it feels like it. We’re all going through our own version of hell or pain or contrast in life. Whatever you want to call it, so many other people are experiencing it too. Keep these 5 reminders in the back of your head and you’ll get to the other side.