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A First Aid Kit for When Life Falls Apart

“What if pain—like love—is just a place brave people visit?” ~Glennon Doyle

It’s one of life’s greatest paradoxes: When life is easy, everything seems easy. When life is hard, everything seems hard.

This one keeps coming back to me and I keep trying to figure it out. Why do we end up in these spirals of “all good” or “all bad”? How can we get out of the “all bad” faster next time we get trapped? How can we help ourselves get out of there?

I’ve had periods in my life when all seemed lost. When I haven’t been able to fathom ever getting out of bed with ease again. When I’ve thought my current situation would go on forever or I’ve been convinced that suffering was my destiny.

My struggles have often been linked to physical illness. With six different autoimmune diagnoses, I truly felt my life was over. Before even turning thirty years old my life prognosis was far from optimistic.

I call this period, and others like it, the black hole. I managed to get out of there at that time via some major lifestyle changes, involving my body, mind, and spirit.

But I’ve also realized that, most of the time, it’s the internal, silent struggle that challenges us the most. And, sure, I’ve visited there again in the recent five years, and I know I probably will in the future. I think it’s part of the human experience.

So, how do we do it? How can we translate the tools that are so obvious to us when we’re on a roll to be accessible to us also when life is on a downward spiral? This is the first aid kit I’ve created for myself. I hope it can help you too.

1. Feel your feelings. 

If you’re a highly sensitive person, like me, you’re likely aware of your emotions. You know you have them. They never leave your side and you’re constantly reminded of what state you’re currently in. So, how do you deal with this fact?

Well, one solution is to embrace it. Be with your feelings. Sit down, welcome any emotion that needs to come forth, and feel it. You don’t always need to understand. You don’t need to analyze. You don’t need to fix anything, just be with it.

2. Let people in.

Who in the world told us that being human in this day and age is easy? Where did we get that crazy idea from? It’s not easy. Not always anyhow. Life can be hard.

Talk to someone that you trust. Remind them in advance that all you need from them is to listen, no advice needed in this stage. Just let it out, all of it. Just having someone to listen can take you a long way.

3. Remember you’re not alone.

Whatever you are feeling or experiencing right now, you are not alone. You are unique and special, but your experiences and emotions are not.

You didn’t invent the feeling you’re experiencing right now. Someone else, somewhere in the world, is experiencing exactly what you’re experiencing right at this very moment. It may be triggered by different things, but the emotion is the same. You’re not alone.

4. Write it out.

Our mind has this nasty habit of getting stuck on repeat. Same thought looping, over and over again. Grab a pen and paper or sit down in front of your computer and write. Let it all out. Don’t censor yourself. Take the pressure off by dumping it all out. Truly cathartic.

5. Move outside.

Nature has amazing healing abilities. Every time I actually go to it for solace, I’m reminded. Yes, this is amazing and I get to tap into something that’s beyond what my mind can comprehend. I don’t need to understand it. I just need to sit down by the water, lean on a tree, or feel the wind on my face. Trust that this is healing you. If you can move your body while tapping into this wisdom, do this too.

6. Maybe you’re not dying?

Our mind sometimes has a tendency to exaggerate, just a little bit. Are you really in mortal danger right now? Is your life about to end or is that just the emotion you’re experiencing?

If you’re breathing, your heart is beating, you have two feet on the ground, you are essentially all right. You are okay. Your mind might be telling you a false drama about something that is not really playing out right now, at this very moment. Be with the present and rest there for a while.

7. This too will change.

This is my favorite mindfulness quote. Being alive is accepting change as the only constant.

“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).” ~James Baraz”

Know that whatever you are going through right now, it will change. It might not all be good and fine tomorrow, but it will be different, if ever just slightly. Things will change.

I wrote this poem to myself a few years back, to remind myself. I think it sums it up quite perfectly.

To me, if I ever end up there again, and to anyone else, who’s ever been there, or are right now, in the black hole:

It will get better. There is a meaning to what you’re going through.

You will feel like living again.

If you can’t do anything else but breathe, do just that; you don’t have to do anything else.  

Don’t fight it. Let it be. It is as it should be and it’s okay. Just be. Don’t judge. Let go.

Look at what’s beautiful. Listen to what gives you peace. Eat what tastes good. Do what feels nice. Even if it feels pointless right now, it’s good for your soul.  

Ask for help.

Let other people help you. Let other people take care of you.

Cry. Scream. Wail. Laugh. Sleep. Close your eyes. Do whatever you need to do. Let it out. And embrace.  

It will get better. I promise.

Those are not just words on a piece of paper for me. They are well-experienced truths. And maybe your life isn’t falling apart in the first place. Maybe it’s just rearranging for something better to come.

About Helena Önneby

Helena is a coach, writer, and teacher on a mission to help you find your power. Her new book Pure Personal Power: Tools to Collect on a Healing Journey is just out! Download the free guide: 5 steps to finding your authentic power for a sneak peek. Visit her website www.helenaonneby.com to learn more.

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  • Sandhya Venkatesh

    Hi Helena,

    A timely post for me! The poem that you have written sums up the emotions that most of us experience. You just nailed it. I loved the last two lines “And maybe your life isn’t falling apart in the first place. Maybe it’s just rearranging for something better to come.”. Can I use the lines in my Whatsapp profile, with your name mentioned against the lines?

    Regards,
    Sandhya

  • Amy

    Helena, that was a beautiful post and poem. It spoke to me deep down. Thanl you for sharing your thoughts. It meant a lot.

  • Helena

    Thanks Amy! I’m so happy to hear that. We’re in this thing called life together <3

  • Helena

    I’m so happy it spoke to you Sandhya! Of course you can use the lines 🙂

  • Jay Mulligan

    Really wonderful post. Thank you.

  • Rey Sunday

    Thank you, really needed to read this right now, peace and love R

  • Helena Önneby

    Thank you Jay! Happy you liked it.

  • Helena Önneby

    So happy it helped <3 Thanks gor reading!

  • I love when you say maybe life is just rearranging for something better. I feel that’s the best way to look at things when going through a tough time. Also, when you say to do what you need to do to get through it. When my husband had throat cancer I was so scared and sad, but we got through it, although it was tough, the only thing we could do was hope things would get better and they did! Not everything we wanted got better. But some things got better and that’s what we focus on. We can live a good life without being totally reliant on how well out life is going. Thanks for the great article!

  • Cate

    Thank you. Going through an especially hard time right now — caring for a little foster kitten who just is not getting well, so lots of anger and grief — and your words felt consoling.

  • Helena Önneby

    I’m so glad to hear that my words gave you some comfort! I really hope it works out for the best with the kitten?

  • Helena Önneby

    Thanks Patty! Life isn’t always easy but I really believe there’s something to learn from every experience. I hope you and your husband will have a wonderful 2018!

  • Cate

    Thank you. If I can learn to handle this experience with half the equanimity this little kitten exhibits, I’ll have grown a lot.

  • Love this post Helena! And so true that we’re never alone or unique in what we feel — our minds just makes us believe that 🙂 Thank you!

  • Indigo Wolf

    Equanimity is a very powerful word. xo I am sending lots of good juju to your care-kitten. Bless.

  • Cate

    Thank you.

  • Sandhya Venkatesh

    Thank you very much, Helena.