October 11, 2023

How to Feel Better when Everything Breaks Down around You.


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Just because things are not okay now doesn’t mean they never will be.

Years ago when I was first living in Australia, my Aussie boyfriend worked at this god-awful job in downtown Melbourne.

He would spend 12-plus intense hours each shift staring into brightly blinking screens for a company whose morals were questionable. But it paid well and was only temporary.

I forget the exact details of this one particular shift, but he’d had a terrible, terrible day. He’d had to work even later than scheduled, causing him to miss the final late-night tram. We had no car, so earlier he had cycled his bike to the station, trammed it, and then biked the final blocks to work.

Leaving work closer to midnight than happy hour, his bike tire quickly went flat, meaning he had no choice but to walk it home, which took hours.

Halfway home, a thunderstorm no one expected pelted down on the poor guy, as he pushed his flattened bicycle up steep side-walk hills, late in the night, still reeling from the crappiness of his workday.

Expecting misery at the door, I let him in and offered to listen to his complaints. But instead of swearing or blaming, he just laughed and said, “I’m good. I just figured, if everything has gone so horribly wrong today and it all sucks this much, something good for me must be just around the corner.”

That relationship curled up and died long ago, but his words did not. Something good must be headed this way.

Those words bespeckled my memory as the events of this last month played out.

If you’ve missed my emails, it’s because my computer broke several weeks ago, which is like the oven exploding in a chef’s kitchen. Some tasks are still possible, but what I’ve been able to churn out has been excruciatingly limited.

The computer failing me after eight years, which is probably close to 102 in human years, has served me well in my travels throughout humid countries, having been dropped a few times, or knocked off tables by clumsy cats, and I’ve surgically replaced its battery and charger over the years. As a computer I bought used, it has served me well, but I didn’t expect it to go now.

The days following its death played out. How did I cope? To be honest, my outlook was negative. I couldn’t actually work on my business, or maintain social media outreach strategically, and I certainly couldn’t send these weekly emails.

Contrary to popular belief, I did not saunter to the nearest wine bar. I did not surrender to the spaciousness in my calendar and dedicate entire work afternoons to one long gregarious happy hour. I try not to pursue drink when I’m discouraged or sad. Maybe at funerals, but funerals are often disguised as celebrations anyway.

No, when I feel defeated, I close in. There were a few days, perhaps even a solid week, where I down-spiraled hard. When my computer broke, and I could not keep up with my own self-imposed task lists, or manage to quick-fix all the quickly breaking things in my life—my normally optimistic outlook hit the road.

And there was more that went wrong than just my computer. Everything seemed to break.

>> A little dog I hit wasn’t regaining movement in her leg as I hoped.

>> The starter in my truck stopped starting.

>> Somehow I had injured my neck and shoulder and could barely turn my head, much less exercise, for weeks.

>> A technical glitch prevented new life-coaching clients from finding me, denting my income.

>> I lost a shoe that I have worn every day for the past six years. (And probably should have replaced by now, but I like them and they still walk me places.)

Perhaps you resonate with the feeling we can get when so many derailing things go wrong at once. This is a hands-in-the-air surrender kind of moment. Or for me, it was a head-in-my-hands moment, as I swirled low into some pretty harsh self-judgment.

I recently had my 45th birthday. How could I not have my sh*t together by now? How can I be an effective coach if my own resources and genuine positive thinking have failed me? Why in such moments do I believe the move to make next is to ugly cry on the floor with my animals?

Life broke apart in stark rebellion to my artfully scripted goals, and I didn’t have the power to express these emotions in a blog or catapult more posts that could connect me to my people. It felt like the bursts of inspiration that fueled my writing were passing me by—like unsympathetic taxi drivers toward pedestrians scrambling in the rain.

Looking back, that swampy pit of self-pity might have been how I needed to feel to delve into some serious self-evaluation.

There’s only so long we can sit in our own fears and worries if we don’t actually intend to let them consume us.

After a bit, my animals bored and hungry, I picked myself up off the floor and I caveated to gratitude. This I know to do in times of strife but somehow had forgotten.

Instead of waiting for the good to find me, I decided to catalog all the good things already here and be grateful for them.

That gratitude gained momentum, and, after a few days of listlessness, cleaning out cupboards, and re-potting plants, I started a listicle of all the things that were going right.

Someone bought me breakfast. A shiny new computer is en route as I type. Someone else offered me their shoes. I was given a ride to the vet, which is an arduous three-hour trip away, each way, and includes a ferry crossing and circumventing two volcanoes.

I had time to have coffee with neighbors. I had time to think about my business instead of just doing business.

Hugs are abundant where I live, and sometimes, that’s all I really need. A big long hug. The kindnesses and grateful moments stacked up.

Just because things are not okay now doesn’t mean they never will be.

Choosing to be grateful for what was still working was a start. But I began to lengthen that thought into understanding what the thing I was grateful for meant for me. I chose to think about the good and focus on the doors that a specific good thing might open for me.

Have you tried this? Not just jotting down the good things we are grateful for but tying together what these good things actually mean for us.

This is what pulls me up when computers stare back blankly, when shoes are lost, when trucks break down, when little dogs don’t heal, and when the income supply pivots. This ability to focus on the good, and lean forcefully into that grateful energy, is what begins to change things.

When I do, I find that I feel much better.

That’s when computers are replaced and clients and I find our way to connect again. I remember that shoes aren’t always needed in this beachy town. Little dogs get the help they need, and trucks roar to life again. Bursts of inspiration I thought I lost will come back around. Perhaps even bustier now than before.

I haven’t actually kept the score, but by far, appreciating what went right amongst all that didn’t knocked the despair I felt about the things that went wrong out of the ballpark.

If we can tap into what has gone right, and let those feelings lead the way to the good that is coming, then that will change things for us for the better. This much I know is true.


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