Tell Better Stories
This is all about when life sucks, so I've added some GIFs to make it not suck so much.
A friend reached out to me today, coming from a place that is uncomfortably familiar to me. When the unexpected and equally unpleasant side of life shows up, for some of us, it feels like your falling into black hole. The safe feeling of having gravity surrounding you is gone, and it seems that everything is being ripped apart at the seams, down to the last remaining atom. The voice in your heads tells you this is going to last forever, that you're not good enough, that “this always happens to you.”
UGGGGgggHHHHhhhhhhh. Exhausting, right?
When we craft this sad narrative in our heads, we start to live it. It’s a sick pattern of fabrication and reality. One feeds off of the other until we’re just stuck. Fortunately, this friend who I briefly chatted with today is already finding ways to thrive, but for some of us, these valleys of life can feel exceptionally heavy. So, coming from someone who has been there, seen it, been buried in it, and gotten through it, here’s my advice to you:
1. Feel it.
Give yourself a set amount of days for a full-on cry fest. I'm serious when I say: schedule it. For example, I’ll tell myself, “you have two days to get it together, then it’s time to work on next steps.”
2. Treat yourself (and others) kindly.
Self-care is so important in general, and in times where it sounds like the last thing you should be doing. (BTW–"should's" are toxic. How many times a day do you "should" yourself? Stop it–just do or don't and own whatever choice you make.) If self-care means exercising, cooking a nice meal, or spending a bit of time in nature, do things that you would do for a friend or family member who is struggling. Would you spew nasty words at them when they’re already down, or encourage them to stay in bed all day? No, you wouldn’t. Treat yourself like your best friend (I usually do at-home spa treatments or my makeup).
The second part of this piece is to show care for others. I believe you can truly lift yourself up by lifting others. I have a friend who is constantly serving others, and she’s the happiest person I’ve ever met. That must mean something, right?
3. THE BIGGIE – Write it out.
“What, like a diary?”
Kinda. Remember earlier when I mentioned how you craft your own sad narrative, and then you start to live it? Put that shit into words on paper, or better yet, in a Google or Word Doc, ‘cause you’re about to do some heavy editing.
Write down what your voice is telling you and how you think this sad story is going to go. Include all of the worst-case scenarios. Yes, even the one that says, “well I might just die.” Cool. Throw that in. Why not.
Below, write what you learned from this shit storm. What are the gems you can steal from this situation to make yourself a better person? List it all out.
By this point, you’ve discovered some things about yourself and therefore have uncovered some superpowers to use next time you are in a similar situation. The hard part is over, and now you get to write a parallel story–except in this version, you win. Yes, you’re more or less writing the same story you initially started with, but as yourself presently, the wiser you. In this narrative, you figure it all out, you “Beautiful Mind” the shit out of your life, and you end up the victor instead of the victim.
Trust me; when you see your life the way you want it to be in words, you will start to see change. I didn’t make that shit up, some weirdos who wrote The Secret did. I hate that book, and I roll my eyes whenever someone brings it up, but some of the ideas in there are useful and work.
This idea also comes from my therapist in college, who worked a lot with me on overcoming fear. As a part of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), she would have me write out a fear, write all the things that made that fear valid, and all the things that made that fear invalid. The “invalid” column was longer every time.
Someday (and maybe it’s today) you’re going to feel like you’ve lost control. It won’t be the first time, and I guarantee it won’t be the last. Get comfortable in this cycle, and remember that it’s going to suck temporarily, and then you’ll be able to look back on it someday, and be thankful it happened. All you can do is soak up the wisdom and wake up a better person tomorrow.