Last year I read twenty self help books. They fell into two categories: life is hard and I got over it using my inner strength OR life is hard, but my life will always be harder than yours, and I deal with it using my inner strength.
Inner strength can get you through a brief time of badness, but not for a long time. Inner strength is something you can call on, like when giving a eulogy at a funeral. Inner strength is grace under fire. Inner strength is magical, but you can’t rely on it in the long term.
So here is my self help book. No BS worksheets, no touchy-feely stories, no cliches, just plain old good sense.
HOW I SURVIVED THE WORST YEAR OF MY LIFE:
- I put myself, and my kids, first.
I didn’t do things that would compromise my time, or my daughter’s routine. Even on the very worst days I forced myself to do self care routines. Not things like cups of hot cocoa, but actual self care, like having a shower, washing my hair and wearing clothes that were comfortable but not terribly daggy. Being pregnant over this time meant that I didn’t go out too much if it was hot. I had to drink water. I had to live on something other than toast. I HAD to, because at some points I barely cared about myself but I would walk over hot coals in an instant for my children and that’s why I got through every day.
2. I stuck with my routine.
The day after the separation I got up and went to gym. Why? Because on Mondays I train, and my daughter goes to creche. We stopped on the way home at the shops. She watched the preschool TV shows, I read, she had a nap, I did some work. Then we did the afternoon chores, we would go on an adventure, we had tea, more chores, bed time.
Nothing changed too dramatically.
I didn’t have time to curl up in a ball and stay there. My life as I knew it was over. I had no money, I had no idea how I would pay for anything considering the sad state of my bank accounts but I had two little people (a person and an about-to-be-born baby) depending on me. And, you know, even if I wasn’t a mother, I’d still do the same thing in that situation. Stick to routine. It brings normality to a life that is anything but.
3. I enlisted help.
Practically speaking, and fuzzy hugs aside, I had a whole bunch of people who offered to help, or who I asked to help me out. This included my family and a couple of friends. But it also included things like finding an occasional care place for my daughter, scaling back my freelance work, having my groceries delivered and applying for government benefits.
Self help books should include stuff like that. More often than not though, they like to tell you that they did it all themselves. Sorry, this woman was pregnant and had baby brain. She could waddle around, and couldn’t pick stuff up off the floor.
4. I did stuff outside of my little world.
There were two outside influences, one was my volunteer work, which thankfully is something I can do at home from the comfort of my lounge room. Another was my study for my Masters by research. I didn’t tell my supervisors what was happening in my personal life, but on the way home from our meetings I would promise myself I’d finish the course for them. Not for me, but for two lovely people who had worked hard to get my work to a certain level, and who I didn’t want to let down. Now that the terrible storm in my life is mostly over, I want to finish the course for myself, too.
What worked for me may not work for the next person. Then again, I’m not selling anyone a book, but I am hoping that maybe this post will help someone going through a rough time.
The take home message: Literally take care of yourself — shower, use deodorant, wear clothes that you like and fit you well. Stick to your routine. Ask for help and be specific as possible.
A word of warning: many people like to tell you that it will get better some day. That’s true, but right now, just focus on the here and now. Some people call that mindfulness or being present; whatever, you know what I mean. Getting through a day, or an hour, or even a few minutes is sometimes hard enough.
There are always rainbows, but they will come when you least expect them.