2016 has been off to a rough start in my world. In 12 weeks I could list at least a dozen big and small disasters in my life; for a while it almost seemed as if everything that could go wrong, did. Legitimately difficult stuff -- all piling on -- all at once -- without a break.
What. The actual. Hell.
I'm not one to engage in a great deal of self-pity. I tend to get sick of myself after about two hours of whining. However, one Friday afternoon in late February everything culminated in a giant sh*tstorm.
I broke up with the guy I'd been dating: a difficult decision to follow my gut instead of reason my way around it. A sewer pipe burst and resulted in a flood in the lower level of my home, which led to the discovery of mold in my walls and the restoration guys took over, taking out chunks of drywall, pulling up swaths of carpet, dehumidifying. My house turned into a disaster zone overnight, and I was suddenly picking out paint colors and figuring out new flooring. I had a large and stressful business issue come up that I wasn't expecting. On top of the strep I'd just kicked, my bronchitis -- angry about the fact that I'd inadvertently blown mold all over my house with big box fans trying to dry the sodden carpet -- flared in a huge way. My General Manager came to my desk and told me I was too sick to work and it was the final straw. I crumbled and started crying, right in front of him (which was not at all humiliating.)
I was at my absolute limit and, to make matters worse, there was no way around a weekend full of wrangling kiddos and working on home restoration.
I mentally fought the process fiercely. All I wanted was to go home, go to bed, and feel bad about my circumstances for a few days. I didn't have anything left -- physically, mentally, or emotionally. I wanted to collapse. I didn't get that option. Turns out, it was the best thing for me.
In the following two and a half days I didn't have time to worry about what was going on in my life. I had zero ability to sit around and indulge in self-pity. I was too tired by the time I went to bed to overthink. But strangely, I found clarity in the physical tasks, the moving furniture, pulling out carpet, priming then painting. I found peace in allowing my children to help (even when they screwed up -- what was the harm?) and in spending some quality time with them.
By Sunday night my mental fog had cleared, I was calmer, my messes seemed to be less overwhelming. The physical work seemed to soothe my body. I ached, but I no longer felt as if I was on my deathbed. Everything looked a little brighter, and it occurred to me: Sometimes you just have to get over yourself, already.
A great deal of what was on my plate was truly crazy-difficult stuff, but it wasn't doing me any good to sit around and worry about it. Overthinking was getting me nowhere except further mired in the mess of it all. While I certainly didn't intend it, I became incredibly self-absorbed in the many little dramas swirling around me, and I couldn't seem to figure out how to navigate them anymore. I was so hyper-focused on everything going on that I lost the perspective I was trying so hard to find -- which was even more frustrating because I'm typically a laid-back and optimistic person.
You cannot control the things that happen to you in life. There is no way for you to predict some of the rough spots you're going to encounter. Of course you can mitigate the disaster as much as possible -- you can buy homeowner's insurance, make sure you're getting a yearly physical with your doctor, wear your seatbelt, install a smoke alarm, exercise and eat right. But sometimes shit just happens. In these times it's important to remember the only thing you can control is yourself. Your attitude, your focus, your reaction to what's going on around you -- it's all under your control.
I break up fights between my kids all the time with the same words: You are not responsible for other people's bad behavior, but you are responsible for your reaction. You are responsible for your behavior. Always.
So when everything in your life seems to be unraveling and you can't get a handle on it, I have two ideas that may help you find perspective.
Look outside yourself. Find somewhere you can help that has nothing to do with you. Perform a random act of kindness. Switch your focus to freely serving others. Do something as simple as work with your kids and allow them the room to screw up. Strangely, helping others also tends to help yourself.
Get to work. Roll up your sleeves and do something physical - rake the leaves in your yard, go for a run, power wash the windows, repaint the living room. Pick an activity that's physically draining and you'll also work through a great deal of your mental and emotional energy.
When everything seems to be piling up in life, it helps to reframe your perspective. If you can find a way to get out of your own head, your worldview will change dramatically in a positive way.
Kasey Ferris is a freelance writer currently querying her first novel, ONE STEP FORWARD, and "writing" (read: eating Oreos, downing coffee, and re-evaluating her life's choices) her second. She's a single mom and can frequently be found writing about parenting, relationships, dating, love, marriage, and divorce. Find her on Facebook.