With social media in our faces all the time, we’re offered a snapshot into our friends’ seemingly perfect lives, which can leave us feeling inadequate, jaded and darn right depressed. Someone close to me once mentioned that if we could all put our problems under a tree, and see everyone else’s, we’d quickly run back and pick ours up again.
The purpose of this entry is as much cathartic as it is meant to help you pick yourself up again. Perhaps you’ve faced a recent tragedy; maybe you’re dealing with ongoing stress like a divorce, working for a dictatorial boss, your cat died, or you’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Maybe it’s none of the above, and you’re simply down in the dumps. We all know how difficult it is to face the world and carry on – especially if you’re a working professional, you’re at school, or completing a demanding qualification. Perhaps you’re a home-maker and notoriously it’s up to you to be the cheerleader of your family.
Here’s my personal story, and my lifeline to (hopefully) inspire you to get up again.
Trauma is different for everyone
I purposefully mentioned the trauma of your cat’s death alongside getting diagnosed with a terminal illness. You see, we are complex, unique human beings – and no two people experience trauma in the same manner. Based on our genetic predispositions alongside the environment we’re reared in, we have different degrees of tenacity. This doesn’t make us weak or strong – it makes us different. Don’t feel ashamed if you feel you really shouldn’t be feeling this way if life is treating you 'okay'. At the same time, don’t think you are the victim if you’ve faced the worst atrocities this life can offer. Neither approach will be beneficial to you. Own your shit, work through (not around, through) the pain, and then commit to releasing it.
So what’s your story Marzenna?
It’s funny. People who meet me for the first time are often in “awe” of how successful / confident / brave / courageous / funny / (insert your own word) I am. I’m usually left feeling rather puzzled. Look, I get it. I project a certain persona on various forums. It’s strategic. For my business to thrive, I need to appear confident. To coach others in reaching their full potential, I need to demonstrate strength. It’s all part of the personal brand I piece together on purpose. However, I need you to know I don’t have all my shit together, and my life is not the perfect bubble you may see. I’m, after all, human too.
In August 2018, I got the dreaded call no person can ever be prepared for. My beloved step-father, Stafford Thomas, had suddenly died. Stafford was a pivotal part of my life, being my father figure from the age of approximately seven. Fast forward a series of heavy weeks ahead, the truth of his passing was far more sinister than any of us could have ever imagined. Stafford had been murdered. Brutally. As if you’re thinking that’s the worst of it, it gets worse. We know who the murderer is; further to that, he is still roaming around a free man as the police continue their murder investigation. I need to remind myself that these things take time… Look at the Pistorious, Dewani or Van Breda cases. It took YEARS for the culprits to face the music – some of them like Shrien Dewani got to walk away a free man. For now, I cannot provide more details due to the sensitivity of the murder investigation, but its torture having to carry on with life when someone you loved dearly was ripped away in such a cruel manner.
Would you believe that the above is one of but many traumas my family and I have had to deal with? The ripple effect of Stafford’s death has impacted many of our lives. There are then the completely unrelated issues that may even make a murder case pale in comparison. I wish I were exaggerating. But this is not my forum to bitch and moan. I wanted you to know that where ever you are in your life right now, there is someone worse of than you (and it’s not me!).
Here are my tactics that I need to apply every single day to carry on moving forward…
Tip #1 – Look after yourself
That almost sounds vomit-worthy it’s so cliché. Hear me out.
I met with a close friend yesterday. He too is going through a tremendously challenging time, and even so, he is still supporting and uplifting those around him. I told him that he needs to – just for the time being – look after himself first instead of expending his energy on others.
You’ve flown in an aircraft, right? Take heed of what the airhostess says when she instructs you to, in the case of an emergency, PUT YOUR OWN OXYGEN MASK ON before assisting others. I mean, let’s say the plane loses cabin pressure and is going down, and your priority is making sure your kid has air to breath; that’s a pretty normal parent response. However as you do so, you then pass out due to your own loss of air; how the hell do you expect to help your child when the plane finally crash lands? A bit dramatic, I know. But I think it gets my point across.
The truth is simple. You cannot (and should not) be filling others’ cups when yours is empty. Not only will you do yourself a disservice, but those closest to you will suffer too. Self-love is NOT selfish! Know your boundaries; even if it may come across that you’re being ‘selfish’, no one is going to look out for you more than YOU.
So what do I mean about self-love? It’s taking care of yourself.
Eating healthy. Getting enough sleep. Delegating some of the chores at home. Take a day off work when you are ill (how many of us simply push through even if we are sick as a dog!). Go to the gym. Meditate. Spend time in nature. Have a me-day where you get to read books or watch TV at home alone instead of wearing a mask to that social occasion. Do what you need to do… for you.
Tip #2 – Reach Out
When you’ve experienced trauma, or perhaps you’ve sunk into a hole of depression, it’s easy to isolate. Trust me I know. There have been days where my personal hygiene has flown out the window because brushing my teeth (never mind having a shower) was just too much effort. Do not feel ashamed to reach out if you’re not coping.
That could be asking your partner to help with the dinners at home. Perhaps letting your line manager know you’re experiencing a tough time. Pick up the phone and give your #bestie a call. Maybe you need a more formal intervention, such as entrusting the support of a psychologist or coach. Do not have too much pride that restricts you from reaching out to the help that is so readily available to you.
Feel like you really are all alone in the world? Many churches offer sometimes free pastoral counselling. Non profits like SADAG (0800 456 789) or LifeLine (011 422 4242 / 0861 322 322) may contain your immediate anxiety and offer some options going forward. Chances are there is certainly someone out there that is willing to listen.
Tip #3 – Fill your cup
It’s easy to wallow in self-pity when you’re down. You may have the MOST legitimate reasons on earth for doing just that – but here’s the kicker: Life goes on.
According to research, the worst atrocity a human being can face in this lifetime is the loss of a child. A friend of mine lost her teenage son over a decade ago, and the pain of his loss still bites deep into her soul. She told me that about four months after his death, her boss approached her and said (as diplomatically and tactfully as he could) that she needed to put her focus into her work (she was, understandably, not performing). It was cruel and harsh. But that’s the unfortunate reality – life has to go on.
Fill your cup up with things that will nurture and heal your soul. For me personally, I downloaded the app Audible where I have gained access to a plethora of wholesome books. Publications on dealing with loss, right through to nifty hacks on how to re-programme your mind. Understanding my pain has been an imperative in helping me work through it.
Music. Do yourself a favour and download Spotify. It’s an incredible music app that lets you stream any and all types of music. I’ve customised special playlists to aid my healing. Just playing uplifting music can make such an impact on your mood.
Physical touch. According to research, aging retired folk who adopt a pet are known to live longer, and experience better moods than those who don’t have pets. One of the variables at play include the fact that these people have pets to stroke, cuddle and caress.
Don’t be a weirdo – but don’t be afraid to reach out to those you love and care about, and give them a good old squeeze.
Tip #4 - Put one foot in front of the other
I don’t know about you, but there have been days (plenty days) where just the thought of my tasks ahead are simply too overwhelming. The sheer thought of facing another day can be anxiety provoking. Like, literally.
I’ve embraced a new exercise (no really; I adopted this simple strategy last week). When life is simply too overwhelming, put one foot in front of the other. I put my head down and I look at my feet, one passing the next as I walk toward the kitchen, the office, or my client’s building. The exercise reminds to focus on the here and now. I force myself to not entertain the worry of the things I need to complete. Call it mindfulness… or perhaps I’m deflecting? I’ll tell you this though – it gets you present in the moment. There is ample time to think about x, y and z later on.
Tip #5 - Reframe your experience
I’ve witnessed the rare few individuals who are able to turn their plight into a positive experience. Think of the person diagnosed with cancer, and with the reality of death peaking over their shoulder, they find a new lease of life? What about someone who experiences a near death experience… following the ordeal, the food they taste, the air they breath and the colour they see are not nearly as intense as what they had ever experienced in the past.
Of course, I don’t wish any trauma to occur in your life. However, if I have to resort to categorising people’s experience, there are two ways we can look at this. We can mope about how cruel life is (it really is), feel sorry for ourselves and wallow in the pain (all legitimately so). This negative feedback loop feeds itself, festering and growing, resulting in a depleted mood, low ambition for anything and a general sense of …bleh.
OR, we can celebrate the memories of a loved one who may have left us recently. We can look at what ways we contributed to the failure of a relationship and work on our areas of development. We can look at the mistakes we’ve made and grow from such.
I have a gorgeous son who is now a whole five years old (where has the time gone?!). When Ethan was a toddler, he would entertain me with his tenacity when learning to walk. This little chubby pocket of pink flesh would crawl, pull himself up, take a few steps and collapse onto the floor. Every time he fell down, he pulled himself up and would try again. And fall. And try again. And so my entertainment would continue.
Imagine we could be more like the toddlers we once were? Imagine we could learn to get up again – no matter the challenges we’re facing?
Akeru, or 開ける, is a Japanese word which means “to pierce”, “to open”, “to make a hole”, “to start”, “to expire”, “to unwrap”, “to turnover”. When you experience loss, akeru refers to the empty space which is created – but simultaneously the opening to which a new beginning can occur. This word actually suggests that “to end” also means “to begin”. What a beautiful, multi-faceted concept which captures my point raised above?
Tip #6 – Count your Blessings
The last thing you may see are the blessings you have in your life. However, if you’re even able to read this blog post, consider yourself blessed. You belong to an elite few who has access to a computer or phone, and the internet. That already tells me it’s safe to assume you have a roof over your head, and a meal each day. Even if you live in deplorable conditions; perhaps you have no idea how you’re going to cover your bills at the end of the month… The fact that you are living and breathing may seem like a curse at times – but you are blessed.
I read a brilliant book by Mark Manson, titled “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck”. He made mention that on one of his many travels, he climbed the summit of a mountain, and decided to inch toward the edge. He explains in exquisite detail the process of edging closer and closer toward the edge, and how he felt as though he was almost fighting a magnetic field pulling him back to safety. He ignored the cues his body was sending his brain, and continued to move forward until he sat down on the edge of this cliff. With his feet dangling down to a sheer drop, he described that purely on a physiological level, the human body fights to remain alive (side note: Mark Manson was not suicidal; he was poetically capturing a beautiful experience).
Even when you feel there is nothing to feel thankful are – take heed that the very fact that you are choosing to be here, is a blessing. Yes – you heard me. A bit of an unorthodox statement for me to make, but we all have the choice to tap out of life, or live (and not making a choice is a choice on its own).
Tip #7 – Smile
You may think I’m being facetious by telling you to smile, right? However, I will never forget stumbling up some research that actually demonstrates that smiling can not only boost your mood, but elevates your immunity too. You may think this sounds a bit bizarre; I mean, you smile because you’re happy – you don’t smile to make yourself happy. Or can you?
According to neuro-psychology, when your brain recognises the muscles that are responsible for happiness, that very activity releases neurotransmitters in your brain – notably serotonin and dopamine (both are which responsible for feelings of happiness). I kid you not.
So the next time you feel down in the dumps, force a smile. It may just make you feel a bit better.
If I’ve managed to touch just one person out there, I hope you feel at least slightly inspired to fight. Fight for your happiness. You deserve it.
I’d love your comments, additional pointers you would like to share – anything! You’re also welcome to connect with me privately if you’d prefer: firstname.lastname@example.org
This blog post is dedicated to Stafford Thomas (October 1949 - August 2018), a beloved father, grandfather and Award winning journalist for the Financial Mail.
I am speaking on behalf of so many when I say you are sorely missed. My heart is broken that you have been so cruelly ripped away, leaving so many behind. Your youngest, beautiful daughter, Keziah Thomas, the worst affected.
We hope you are getting some much needed rest x
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