How To Survive, Thrive, and Learn From a Crisis You Didn’t Ask For
It was 2009 and the h1n1 flu was among us, but I didn’t pay attention to it until I had relentlessly achy and swollen joints and so much pain at night, I couldn’t sleep. After a few blood tests, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. A week later I couldn’t even walk and my husband had to help dress me.
Hope was in a bottle, but before I could receive my prescription medications, I was required by my doctor to get the new h1n1 vaccine. I waited in a 4 hour line to get that vaccine. One hour into it I nearly passed out from pain. I was given a wheelchair.
And there I was, in a wheelchair. Age 34. Weak, exhausted, in disbelief that this was my life now. Months before this I was working full time in a position that would ultimately lead to my dream job. I was running around with my 1yr old daughter. I was snacking on trail mix and hitting the gym 6 days a week.
The hope was that the medications would help me return to normal, but the medications didn’t turn out to be a miracle, by a long shot. I still struggled…a lot. I no longer worked but was too proud to pronounce myself “disabled” so I decided to make work, work for me.
What could I do at home? What could I NOT do on the days I couldn’t get out of bed? I signed up for web design classes at the local college. The classes were two hours, a couple times a week. Only one problem, just sitting for two hours made my joints flare in pain. I couldn’t learn or concentrate with all the pain. This wasn’t working!
The status of our situation was bleak. We had half as much money to live off of because I’d lost my job. My husband’s job was unreliable income, no health insurance, and we had a 1 yr old. We stretched every dollar. Potatoes. Tuna in a can. Mac and Cheese. I remember the menu well.
It was an unplanned crisis, not unlike what many are going through right now with the way the coronavirus has turned our “normal” completely upside down.
How do you respond to change?
My illness, this virus, these are big changes but it can help by thinking about it on a smaller scale. Change happens to us daily. How do you respond to small changes?
The way you deal with small changes reflects how you’ll deal with big ones.
What happens when your dinner plans get canceled?
Are you the type to:
a.) ruminate and wonder why the other person really canceled or wonder if it was something you did or said.
b.) blame the other person for being flakey, rude, or unreliable.
c.) carry on and find something else you can do with your unexpected free time.
I did a few things during the initial phase of my illness, like see a counselor who helped me get past the ‘why me?’ stage and move onto acceptance, ‘why not me?’
She asked what I missed most about my life prior to getting arthritis. I answered, “Lifting weights”. She asked what it was that I liked about lifting weights?
I replied, “The challenge.”
She said, “Is having this illness not a challenge?”
Suddenly my perspective shifted.
Shift your mindset or perspective:
During a crisis it’s important to seek a shift in mindset or perspective rather than stay stuck. Try looking at your situation in various ways.
A life of balance consists of numerous states (states of mind). When we fail, it is only because we are stuck in one state and remain there.
Don’t take it personally, take personal responsibility:
Who among us feels that what this virus is doing is unfair? Or what the government is doing is unfair?
We’ve managed to make the virus political, therefore taking it very personally.
When it turns political, it becomes unnecessarily personal. The way we discuss politics so openly is like airing all our dirty laundry out there, making us feel both exposed and defensive.
I get it. Crises can seem personal. I was in that space for at least 2 years after my diagnosis. I did everything right. Why am I sick? Why did this happen?
Why do tornadoes and fires take some houses and not others? It’s nothing personal!
Instead of making it personal, make it about personal responsibility. You can do this by asking yourself what you can and can’t control and what you can learn from this.
What is your responsibility in your situation now?
This is a tough one. Look at all the blame thrown around. It’s Trump’s fault, It’s China’s fault. It’s this governor or that one! It’s a conspiracy!
But ultimately your situation is your responsibility and under your control..
The problem with placing blame is it feels like you’re doing something, taking action, but you’re not doing anything or taking action toward your situation.
What you are personally experiencing from your attitude to your emotional situation to your working/money situation is your responsibility, within your control.
I didn’t ask to get a debilitating illness any more than someone asked to get laid off during the coronavirus.
What I learned from my personal crisis was that sh*t can definitely happen. Weird sh*t you don’t expect. And from the heaping pile of sh*t, you’ll find your own answers and various ways to prepare for and mange a crisis in the future.
How to Survive, Thrive, and Learn From a Crisis:
- Prepare. One crisis is the crisis itself. The second crisis is not being prepared. I can’t help but think of the doomsday preppers during this virus. I can hear them saying, “I told you so.” How you prepare is uniquely up to you. The fact is, you should be prepared. This not only makes you feel more secure, but it’s something within your control and can really pay off in a crisis.
Have you ever known people who are always in crisis? I used to someone who waited until something was a crisis before I acknowledged it or made changes. Some people wait for something to get nearly unmanageable before they respond or take action. In other words, they create their own crises by not preparing. Living without preparing, and waiting for something to turn into a crisis can be bigger than the crisis itself.
TAKE ACTION: * First things first: food, supplies, and money. These are 3 areas that can save your life. Have 6 months salary saved up (5-10% of each paycheck) or an alternate income stream. Think 6 months to a year because I learned that’s how long it takes to bounce back after a major crisis. Rethink your spending habits, and I say “habits” because those are the sneaky expenditures. There’s so many ways to save or earn extra money. Have medicine and medical supplies, extra gas, generator… whatever is right for you. [6 Simple Ways To Be Ready For Anything Life Throws At You]
- Self-care. First, identify your physical and emotional reactions to change and unpredictability. The best way to do identify your needs is to observe how you’re treating others. Right now we’re isolated and perhaps we’re isolated with others in our home. If you’re being snippy to someone, ask yourself what it is you need. What need is being unmet? What are your emotional needs? [Emotional Needs Quiz]. Also, look at how you deal with smaller disappointments, frustrations, and change in your life and begin there.
Your upbringing is connected to your crisis response. Your crisis response may be over-the-top and overwhelming because as a child, you were not taught to handle a crisis and most likely the adults in your life did not handle crises well. Perhaps, the adults created crises. Perhaps you experienced trauma and did not receive the help and comfort you needed. In this case, your fight, flight, freeze, mechanism (sympathetic nervous system) is automatically amped up during a crisis in adulthood. For this, I have people record their own voice.
TAKE ACTION: * Record a few sentences or words of calm and encouragement (in a soothing voice) as if you were the adult in the position of parenting yourself as a child, perhaps saying what you’d like to hear (or needed to hear) as a child in times of stress or crisis. Record and playback several times for 3 minutes at a time. Best before bed.
- Reinvent. Was your life really working for you in the first place? Crisis can wipe the slate clean or as the quote above goes, “Change when it comes, cracks everything open.” Crisis, such as a failed business, an illness, or divorce can be a great wakeup call, opening your eyes to things that must change or aspects of your life that aren’t working for you. My illness helped me realize I was not prioritizing my values. The life I have now is more in alignment with who I am than any life I was leading before. In this sense, I didn’t necessarily reinvent myself or my life, but I rediscovered…my love for writing, my joy of parenting, my need to slow down/be mindful, my desire to help people.
During the last recession, many new companies were created and thrived. Entirely new professions emerged. Many companies right now are beginning to rethink how they do business. After this, many people will rethink going into business in the first place, and they should. Think about it. Many places that are closed to street business, do not have to entirely close right now. They still have online sales. We didn’t have this safety net in The Depression era.
TAKE ACTION: *Life Coach, Talane Miedaner, and author of Coach Yourself To Success, suggests writing out your ideal day and writing out your top 5 ideal careers/jobs. This isn’t simply a wish list, this is an exercise that helps you identify what your priorities are. Consciously, you’re writing your ideal life. Subconsciously, review it to pick up on underlying themes and activities related to values. “People for the sake of earning a living, forget how to live.”
- Flexibility. Also known as resiliency, is the ability to adapt or bounce back. I started writing for a writer’s site at the beginning of my illness that still brings in residual income. It led to life coaching and freelancing and eventually my own wellness website. Flexibility requires a willingness to “go with the flow”, adapt, and adjust as we go. Many more opportunities will present themselves to us in this way. This also requires an open mind. Keeping an open mind allows us to not view everything as “good” or “bad”, but also see opportunity in a crisis.
In my case, I needed to be able to work from home at least partially. Flexibility in your current career or job isn’t always possible, but I encourage people who even work in a restaurant or grocery store or a brick and mortar building to start a blog, self-publish a book, create engaging YouTube videos, teach something online, make money from a hobby, learn a skill like web design or something that helps others. Have multiple sources of income and/or job flexibility. Multiple streams of income is something everyone should be looking into. Residual (reoccurring) income is another. My first freelancing job was for a Telecom company. They constantly referred to residual income so I looked into it, knowing that I wanted to base my next business move on this model.
What are the good things that can come of our current crisis or any crisis you face?
How do you cope with change?
Realize that a crisis is just a bigger change and changes are, and have always been a part of your life. We can respond to a crisis as we would respond to smaller changes that happen more frequently and that we are more familiar with.
The overwhelm many people are experiencing now is because this is a big change, but big changes can be handled the way we handle smaller changes.
Even if there’s routine and predictability to your life, I can almost guarantee you, something will come along and upend your routine, however big or small. If we view change as a part of life, it’s less scary. Navigate, adapt, learn.
Think about the last time something in your life changed. Remember how you responded to it. Did it make things worse? Did an opportunity arise from the change? Did you fight it then finally let go? How did you navigate it? Did you learn from it?
Don’t waste this crisis on blame and resistance. Find opportunities in it and learn from it.
Peace and Be Well