“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.” ~Og Mandino
You know when you get a major wake up call that shakes you to the core and gets you to focus on what's truly important? That's what 2014 was for me.
My boyfriend and I had gotten married in May 2014 after moving from Toronto to a small town to be closer to his aging mother.
I was working thirteen-hour days to re-establish my wellness business, and things were slowly picking up. I was finally adjusting to the quiet country night and whinnying horses across the road. I envisioned a “happily ever after.”
Life, however, had other plans.
In August, three months after our wedding, my husband had a debilitating stroke that almost killed him. Actually, it was his third stroke. The first two left him speechless for a few weeks, but the last one paralyzed him on his left side.
Boom! Life changed forever, in an instant. He had to learn how to eat, walk, and adjust to the possibility of not being able to use his left hand again. I had to adjust to the idea of being a thirty-four-year old caregiver, and felt so very alone in my new surroundings.
Between driving back and forth to the hospital every day for three months, the song and dance of having to buy a new car, and having to find a new accessible place to live, in a new town (even farther from my family and friends), I completely lost myself.
I didn't know who I was as a wife, and I didn't know what I wanted in life anymore. There was too much “newness,” and I felt like a boat with no anchor. The transition to the “new normal” was a challenge, to say the least.
I often dipped back into my memory of how things used to be and stressed out about things I’d never really given a second thought: As a caregiver, would I be able to leave the house at all? How would we cope being farther away from friends and family? What if he had another debilitating stroke and had no choice but to live in a nursing home?
Thankfully, our adjustment to our new situation and surroundings got better as the months rolled on. After a while, I was able to slowly turn my uncertainty into joy. That is what I want to share with you today.
Step 1: Make space to process your “now.”
When you’re dealing with new challenges and uncertainty, it can be disorienting and overwhelming. It almost feels like you’re driving along a familiar route, and in the blink of an eye you’re on a completely different street. You have no clue where you are and how to get back to where you were.
The first question you may ask yourself is, “What the heck just happened?!”
When adversity and uncertainty present themselves and you’re left trying to re-establish a life that’s comfortable and familiar, it's easy to dwell on should, woulda, coulda or bury yourself in distractions.
This, however, is the perfect opportunity to carve out some time to process how you're really feeling in the present moment. For me, this was a daily routine of meditation and talking to friends. Make it a point to connect with your body and emotions every day so you can move forward with a clearer head.
There's no shame in getting support to process your current situation, either.
Step 2: Define what a joyful life looks and feels like to you.
Going with the same analogy above, you can try to find a way to get back to the street you were on, but did that path truly make you happy?
Before trying to “fix the problem,” it's important to sit down with yourself and have an honest conversation. What was missing in your life before? What would have to be in place for you to live the joyful version of yourself, every day?
What I realized through my husband’s health crisis was that I wasn’t making time to actually live. To me, living meant working hard but also making time for family and fun.
I became committed to unplugging in the evenings to spend time with my husband and ditching my computer every afternoon for daily walks. I now feel more active and connected to my spirit.
It may take less than you think to make your vision a reality.
Step 3: Take care of your body to minimize the blues.
The stress that comes with adversity and uncertainty sometimes leads to unhealthy coping mechanisms. For me, stress leads to carb and sugar binging, which leads to weight gain, which leads to lowered energy and lowered self-esteem.
Making a date with a friend, your partner, or yourself every day to get outside for ten to twenty minutes might be all you need to boost your mood, energy, and overall health. Exercise is a great mood booster too.
Step 4: Let go of limiting thoughts around not knowing or not being in control.
If you're Type-A like me, you actually beat yourself up for not being able to think up a clever solution. I tried to be the drill sergeant reminding him to do his daily exercises, but this only stressed him out. I put a lot of pressure on myself to make money quickly, but having limited opportunities to leave the house shut that down almost 90 percent of the time.
There's no shame in not being able to fix a situation. Sometimes it’s a matter of being patient instead of fixing.
Once you let go of the idea of having to control everything and accept yourself for what you are (human, that is), it becomes easier to connect with yourself, others, and your desires from a calmer, joyful place.
Step 5: Stay curious and explore something new.
Whether or not you've figured out what your perfect scenario would be—the big picture of your what you really want in life—it’s important to stay open to unexpected opportunities that pique your interest. This will help you infuse your day with tiny pieces of joy.
After my husband's stroke, I had no clue what I wanted to do, and that was really scary for me.
Eventually, with some help from a social worker and friends, I started to trust the universe and view my limbo as an opportunity to try something I've always wanted to try: drawing. It was soothing for me, low cost, and brought me more joy than I ever thought it could. My ideas and energy started to flow again, and it eventually led me to start a new business.
Never underestimate the power of exploration with intention.
What's in your box?
You can't predict the way your life will unfold. There isn't a book you can read that will prepare you for what you'll actually experience and feel if the rug is pulled from under you.
Uncertainty can be a big package of overwhelm and fear. But, actively looking for and believing that there are other things in the box, like gratitude and joy, can make the package you've been given a whole lot more rewarding.
Happy woman image via Shutterstock