Content Warning: Grief/Death/Difficult Times
I’ve been coaching myself on this question – “What to do when things get difficult to manage” – since November of 2019 when my father was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a non-curable (horrific) form of cancer. I’ll cut to the chase and let you know that he was released from this world and flew away to glory on September 21, 2021, and no, I am not really okay. I mean, I’m okay, but not okay, and I’ll be okay while I’m not okay, okay?
Almost every day, for two years, I’ve asked myself the following questions, over and over again:
- How much do I share?
- Who needs to know?
- Will telling people that things are difficult right now make people assume I can’t do my work well?
- Do people even need to know? Do they care? Why should they care?
- Is telling people about my hardship unfair to them or cause an undue burden? After all, things suuuuuuuuck for a lot of people.
- Does telling people about our grief and hardship affect how we are seen or viewed?
- When I *do* say something, what will I be met with? Will compassion come, or pity, or judgment?
It’s pretty weird, isn’t it? To navigate showing up and feeling like garbage, all while still having the capacity to do good work, yet having less capacity than you’re used to. I know you’ve been there – cooked to the bone, yet competent and powerful, broken to bits, yet strong as an ox. Strong is dependent on the task at hand.
I told The SpeakEasy Cooperative last week that I don’t know how to do it right. I DO know that ultimately, my decision to “tell the world I’m in Difficult Times™ ” is born from my commitment to transparency and vulnerability.
I’ve learned that no one *really* ever knows for sure how or when to post about the kinds of things that take us away from ourselves – things like the loss of a beloved, a global pandemic, or even just a really bad day.
Those memes that float around the internet? You know, the ones that say “You know who is going through something rough? Literally everyone.”? Yeah, that’s a real thing.
In the spirit of this, I do feel like I’ve got a couple of things to offer based on what I have learned/am learning.
This blog is one of those “build the plane as you fly it” type posts. These are my ideas for when you (or I) aren’t sure what to do when things get difficult to manage. It’s a little glimpse into my heart and mind these past months and days. I see you.
I’ll break it up into two lists: List 1: Things to Not Worry About and List 2: Things to Try Out to Manage the UGH
List 1: Things to Not Worry About
When things get difficult to manage, please do not worry about the following things:
- Other people’s limited perception of you based on their limited experience of you. You wanna post jokes one day and cry-fest rants the next? GO FOR IT. While this isn’t just about the socials, I think the socials are a good example. For all the evil they can be, they can also be an outlet and a coping mechanism that helps you stop spinning on the pain. You don’t have to prove to anyone that you are anything but yourself in these dynamic moments.
- Attending events or appointments or meetings or lessons or whatever. Time is meaningless. The only things you need to keep on your calendar are therapy appts and meetings to figure out hard things (like memorial planning or doctors visits.)
- Productivity and getting sh*t done. Again, time is meaningless. Make a plan/to-do list, do your best, let it go if it doesn’t happen. Let things pile up, then go through the pile and dump half of it – you didn’t need to do it anyway, probably.
- Making other people valued and important out of obligation instead of genuine care. This is a tricky one, because OF COURSE we have plenty of times that we would naturally invest in others and it is genuine and grounded and within a healthy boundary. Difficult Times will most likely leave you in this weird place where you literally “just cannot”. You’re going to feel both genuine care AND OH HELL NO in the same hour, with the same person. It’s especially important that during this time you check in on yourself minute by minute when people reach out to you, and that you are clear about what you can and cannot offer.
- Answering all the text/DM/FB/IG/LI messages people send asking how you are and what they can do. Just… don’t, if you don’t wanna. It’s okay. It’s so lovely to get these messages! And you don’t need to answer any of them. (Listen, if someone is upset because you didn’t respond to their “how are you in your grief?” message, then it’s a sure sign that their message was more about them feeling good about messaging you than you being supported. Eff that noise.)
- Showering. Order these and these and call it a day.
- Having to look sad or distraught. You’re allowed to be happy, too. And be LAUGHING! And JOKING AROUND! Difficult Times come in waves, grief is not linear. You don’t have to be heavy and sad all the time, or put on grief feelings when they aren’t around.
- Having to look happy or strong in order to communicate that you are competent. You’re in grief, not in stupid land. Trust yourself to show up in all your special kind of magic. Sometimes do it smiling.
List 2: Things to Try Out to Manage the UGH
- Be a self-spy. Pay super close attention the one person you’re not used to paying super close attention to: You. Notice your eating patterns, sleep patterns, drinking patterns, movement, etc. Instead of judging them, simply observe and honor them. Flow with yourself.
- Create two or three templated answers for the lovely people who reach out. I know some of y’all have literally only gotten back a red heart emoji from me in the last week. I templated that.
- Delegate, delegate, delegate. Any decision that you do not have to make, don’t. Pass off EVERYTHING that feels like too big of an ask. If you are usually the person who makes decisions, you’ll need to tell people explicitly that you do not want to make the decision, and they the best way they can support you is to make decisions for you.
- Get hyper controling over something that won’t hurt you or others. You’re gonna wanna control all the things because everything feels out of control. So, do. Start doing a craft. Go for walks. Play a game with yourself to drink 15 glasses of water a day. Make a playlist. Set out your clothing ahead of time. These tiny control areas can bring you the grip you need in a healthy and non-freaky way, since, let’s face it, we are feeling pretty freaky.
- The moment you feel like checking out, CHECK OUT. It took me five days to write this blog because I checked out so many times. Cancel the appointments. Rescheule the sessions.
- Give yourself permission to ride the roller coaster with no apologies. People who love you will ride with you, scared, crying, screaming, laughing, loving. They will trust you to know your limits and honor them.
- Be more committed to your sanity than to your cash flow. One thing I am so grateful to myself for is starting a “I-know-Imma-need-time-off-when-my-dad-dies” savings account. When things started to get difficult, I began setting aside some extra moola so that I didn’t feel like I had to choose between my mental health and my paycheck. I guess I was “fortunate” to have the heads up, sure, yet I’d still argue that the money will be fine.
- To this point: Our culture has taught us to never be in debt, be fearful of not being able to pay our bills, never ask for financial help, and all sorts of money nonsense. You know how people ask what they can do for you? Well, this is a great time to say, “I wasn’t prepared for this grief and I had to cancel several clients. What I really need right now is [insert amount], to keep myself solvent.” I know you just got TOTALLY WIGGED OUT reading that, so take a minute and breath into it. True supporters will help and will trust that you aren’t scamming them. (Yes, I know you are worried that people will think you’re a mooch or something. Stop. Mental health over money worry, my loves.)
- Again, you’re a wise person. Get yourself into some credit card debt in order to take the edge off. Yep, I said that out loud. Go into debt for a few months if it means that you’ll be more able to come back to manage the grief more effectively. (Maybe that’s the grief talking?)
- The grief will come in and out like a lion. You can’t stop it. This could last for the rest of your life. I still believe that mental health is more important than money, and I believe that if we are tending to our mental health, we’ll be able to effectively manage whatever debt we choose to incur while managing it. We aren’t hopeless and powerless against debt.
- Genuinely think about how you will answer the question “How can I help?”. People are going to ask it. Don’t dismiss this offer. If you need someone to teach your lessons, ask them. If you need to write three emails that are hard, pass them off to a trusted voice. If you need a pedicure and a box of tissues, ask for a gift card. If you need someone to clean your house, tell them. It can be exhausting to think of what you need. Pay attention to your “I wish” self talk… “I wish I could get my lawn mowed” is a good sign that you can ask a friend to help you find a quality landscaper and pay for a month of service. Don’t be shy.
- Forgive yourself when you make a grief decision. It could be a good idea or a grief idea; a good decision or a grief decision. (And yes, I know, they don’t have to be opposites, just go with me here for the quippiness of it all.) You’re going to do some things and make some choices that just aren’t you. You’ll feel out of alignment and angry with yourself for it. Love yourself through it and remember, grace unto thee!
- Most of all, remember that people love you, deeply, and allow them to. People are wonderful and supportive when they have a support system of their own and strong, healthy boundaries themselves. This is who you work to surround yourself with. Remember this deep love they have for you, and trust them to hear you when you need to be raw, vulnerable, and weak. Let them carry you. Let them help you. Let them buy you dinner, and Target gift cards, and teach your voice lessons for you. Let people care for you.
In conclusion, inconclusive…
I’m starting to fade now. I’m running out of energy and momentum, and I need to be done with this blog. So, I’m taking a bit of my own advice and checking out – leaving this blog inconclusive, yet concluded.
I guess my point in all this was to say: We are human beings. We are so delightfully flawed and damaged and bandaged up again. These wounds give us roots and perspective. And I am so very with you in it all.
Love (yes, really, love),