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April 4, 2012 1:55 AM   Subscribe

Staying positive when it seems like everything has gone wrong - snowflakes within

The past 6 months,

*After being promised a promotion and payrise for 6 months that never came, I was made redundant from my corporate job in August - got a pay out and decided to use the money to study to be a personal trainer, and be qualified by March. I'd been in my previous industry for 8 years and had wanted a fresh start in something I was passionate about, so I took it as an opportunity
*Began full time study in October. Was excited to use my sports background to help women enjoy exercise with a body positive philosophy. Was nervous about making such big changes but used daily training in my sport (BJJ) to keep consistency and positivity in my life as well as stay fit and strong for my new career
*In January, I tore the cartliage on both of my hips due to underlying structural issues (FAI) - rehabbed like crazy so I could return to being able to jog/do regular exercises painfree but was unable to continue my favourite hobby and sport without surgery due to range of motion involved. Booked in for surgery consultation in May (earliest available), would require an arthroscope on both hips. Was heartbroken to have to quit my sport but decided to put all my energy into becoming the best personal trainer I could be and focus on diving (spearfishing) as my new hobby
*From December through to March, I studied every day and worked every night in a gym for free to gain experience, the owner had told me he would employ me at the end of my course. Had planned to work part time in his gym while starting my own business and slowly build up my own clients
*2 days before the final exam of my course, was hospitalised with a CSF leak and debilitating headaches. Discharged a week later and advised to take total bed rest for a few days, then for the next few weeks, when the headaches come back to lie completely flat and take painkillers until they pass (can be up to a day).
*Had recently begun dating a guy after being single for 3 years after a horrible relationship. Discovered he was completely unsupportive and disinterested (eg not returning my messages or even asking if I was ok) when I first got sick and I ended up telling him by text from my hospital bed that he didn't deserve a place in my life.
*Due to the CSF leak, I'm now now unable to do weights or anything beyond light cardio for 2 months. Cannot work in gym so I'm now unemployed. Doctors have advised no diving. All my other hobbies are outdoorsy, physical things. Normally I go crazy being cooped up indoors for a day, nevermind weeks. I don't enjoy watching TV etc.
*I've had to spend most of the past 3 weeks lying flat on my back to allow the CSF leak to heal. I have to see the neurologist again in May to review, if it doesn't fully heal by itself they will do a blood patch.
*My condition has definitely improved but not completely healed, I want to get a job but at the moment I'm averaging one day a week where I have to stay in bed, and my energy levels are low. I'm waiting for the hospital to call me back and advise whether that's still normal.
*Obviously, as someone who was previously very fit and active, not being able to do anything physical at all, and seeing my hard-earned muscle and CV fitness go to waste is difficult
*I'm trying to get unemployment payments sorted in the mean time, but the process is depressing and I feel disappointed in myself for being in a situation where I have to

Positive things:
*My friends and family have been ridiculously supportive and I feel very loved, which is really something when it seems like there's nothing else
*My family are helping me out financially in the mean time and also with food on the days I'm unable to leave my flat (I live alone), which though it makes me feel like a burden and an infant which depresses me (as I have always prided myself on my independence), I am grateful for not being in danger of homelessness
*I am trying lots of different things to stay entertained and make the best of the downtime, eg today a sampler I purchased arrived so I'm going to try making beats at home. I've also tried random things like learning crochet, building model planes etc. I have internet access, and a laptop, yay!
*It could have been something much more serious, thankfully CT and MRI scans have ruled out tumors etc - this is something I can recover from and hopefully return to normal in a few months time
*I am making the absolute most of the time I am able to move around normally, and am relishing the chance to do normal things when I can do them
*I've started applying for temporary office jobs etc in the interim, and hopefully the headaches will continue to decrease in frequency
*In a few months time once I'm hopefully fully healed, I can slowly start to get fit again and then once I'm fit again, I can look at making this personal trainer thing happen - so it is viable, it's probably just going to be about a year away

In the mean time, the biggest thing I'm facing up against is maintaining a positive mindset. Most days now, I'm able to walk around etc as long as I take it easy, but on my "headache" days, I have to lie as flat as possible. I've had major problems with anxiety and depression in the past and know that I need to stay mindful and not let my thoughts run wild as it's a slippery slope. Usually exercise would help, but obviously that's not an option. Most of the time I'm doing great but I do sometimes find myself sinking into thoughts of being a failure (I'm unemployed! I can't do anything! I have nothing to offer anymore! Everything I was defined by is gone! I'm like a child again! This is embarrassing! I'm being lazy! I can't look after myself! I've made stupid decisions!) During the working week is the hardest as everyone I know is at work, and I am mostly by myself, doing nothing terribly useful - either sloooowly chipping away at the things I need to get sorted out when I'm mobile, or lying flat on my back waiting for headaches to pass. I feel a lot of pressure (from myself) to achieve something with this time (eg, I was sick for 3 months, but I learned Spanish!) but I can't think of anything I really want to do, and the pressure is unpleasant and unhelpful because it just makes me feel guilty. I also feel overwhelmed by the massive amount of things I have to "get sorted", though I am slowly working through them (eg rescheduling my exams, completing some final paperwork, catching up on bills, household tasks etc, applying for jobs) when I am able.

TL/DR; I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed by the amount of stuff that's gone wrong, and the amount of stuff I need to sort out to get back on my feet. I *know* I can turn things around, it's just going to take time, but I need to keep positive to make that happen. I'm looking for any advice, anecdotes and perspective you can offer on getting through this time, being kind to myself and staying confident of rebuilding my life and plans from here.
posted by lifethatihavenotlivedyet to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Gratitude journal:
1) Start with a small notebook
2) Each day, write 3 new things for which you are grateful and briefly retell one positive experience.
3) Rinse. Repeat.
posted by nickrussell at 2:18 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


This isn't meant to be all-encompassing, worldview-altering advice, but merely a piece of the puzzle. Remind yourself that you will come to view this time as a defining challenge in your life. In my experience, accepting the challenge and moving through it will show you strengths you never knew you had. But, unfortunately, you've got to slog through the difficult period first. You don't have to feel confident and determined every day, just act with courage and determination, and you'll make yourself proud.
posted by itstheclamsname at 3:46 AM on April 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm so sorry you had to go through so much in such a short time period. I think it's amazing that you seem to be handling the situation and yourself with such strength and dignity, maybe even a little too much!

Maybe the positive mindset you're looking for will come if you cut yourself some slack, and not try so hard right now. I think the first thing is to not measure the value of your existence by comparing productivity with others, or where you belong socially at the moment. Of course easier said than done, and it's only natural to feel anxious and frustrated, and have an identity crisis so to speak when you lose many things that you had defined yourself by. But from my experience of battling health problems and struggling with my artistic career, I realized that the state of doubt and seemingly stagnant and hopeless situation isn't all that negative. It only becomes overwhelmingly depressing and debilitating when I try to combat it and struggle to get out of it. Instead, I've learned (or I still am) to accept the situation for what it is, and think that big positive differences in life usually come after the dark, and this is just my way of recharging and getting ready for my next stage in life. In the meanwhile, I try not to get too frustrated about not being able to do certain things in my life that I could before, (the comparison only brings agony and frustration as you would know) and just embrace the situation and the time I have, and do whatever I want to do, and what I can do in that situation. After all, it's my life, and I have my own pace and my own way of living it, and that's all that matters ultimately. There's so much more to life than series of achievements, and I think I've learned much more about enjoying life and letting things be for what they are through my hardships. So perhaps instead of thinking you have to be productive and learn Spanish in 3 months or what not while you're sick, maybe just take this opportunity as a way to redefine yourself once again, and discover life from a different perspective and enjoy the little things as much as you can. After all, you already seem to have responsibly sorted out the positive aspects to this situation as well as the negative, so all you have to do now is sit back and let it run its own course while really being there and experiencing it. I hope this helps in some way! Good luck.
posted by snufkin5 at 4:01 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I agree that writing it out helps, but maybe try this:

Write about the terrible time you're having, but write it in the past tense. Think of the way you'll feel about this difficult period in a year, in five years, in ten. Write about how down you were, how you thought it was hopeless, but how you got through it and how it made you a better person who appreciates the good times more.

Reframing problems often works for me, and thinking about how a terrible thing will seem brave, or not as bad, or even funny at a later date tends to help me when I'm in the thick of it.
posted by xingcat at 5:25 AM on April 4, 2012


I think you're brilliant. I can't imagine most people would be as positive as you, in the circumstances. Anybody in your position would be feeling the loss.

The fact that you have good family and friends, and were able to cut off your loser boyfriend when it became clear he was a loser, is great.

I don't know exactly how it's going to turn out really well for you, but I can see that it is, just from the way you write.
posted by tel3path at 5:39 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is not an actual solution, but sometimes it helps a lot to just put This Year on repeat and scream out the chorus every time: "I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me!"
posted by mskyle at 5:47 AM on April 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


You're doing really well. It will get better. You already see positives. And you're mindful of trying to to slide too far down the slope.

When dealing with the headaches, can you listen to things? Like maybe books on tape? Even if it's public domain stuff, you'll at least have yourself occupied.

This makes me smile. Ev.er.y.time.
http://www.zefrank.com/chillout/
posted by DigDoug at 5:50 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dude, you're me. Here's what the past 3 years have been like for the Empress:

* late 2008: major, major, rug-pulled-out-from-under-me breakup
* all through 2009: unemployment
* 2010: finally getting a job, but it paid crap and required a 2-hour commute each way
* late 2010: spending several grand trying to nurse a cat through his final illness, and the cat then died
* 2011: Losing a long-term freelance writing gig, losing a roomate AND getting a three-month job that had a 10-hour workday
* January 1st, 2012, 1 am: breaking my foot.

What helps me hang in through all that is something a friend of mine said -- that even just one of those things would have outright flattened lots of people and sent them running back to their mommies, but I got through NINE punches and am still on my feet. I may not be ready to swing a punch back, but I'm still in the ring, and damn, that takes some guts. Same with you -- the fact that you're not in a loony bin after all that is a sign of serious grit.

As for the physical activity -- yeah, I hear you on that too; I'm not as active, but I get really frustrated when I have a physical limitation as well. But I just remind myself that "okay, look, the situation is DIFFERENT right now, and what I need is rest or else I'm just going to prolong this stupid inactive state." You know? The more thorough the rest you let yourself have now, the shorter this period of inactivity will be. And then you can build back up to where you were again (you got there before, right?)

The positivity can come from pride that you haven't thrown in the towel altogether. Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:55 AM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here's a similar question I asked a while back.

The most calming song to me, and the one that ran through my head over and over and comforted me when I felt grief or loneliness or just a huge jumble of emotions, is Take Care by Beach House. It's kind of a lullaby for adults.

Dude, that would be SUCH a great concept album. (Copyright: ME.)
posted by Madamina at 7:20 AM on April 4, 2012


Man! Well for starters, I hope you can logicallysee that this isn't your fault or failure at all. But you seem so goal-oriented. Can you use your flat time toward a goal? Learn programming or Web design?
posted by salvia at 8:31 AM on April 4, 2012


Perhaps you can view this time as part of your education for being a fully qualified personal trainer. Like you, the clients you will work with in the future will sometimes be challenged with injuries or illnesses that will make it difficult for them to succeed in pursuit of their goals. The question is, when you run into one of life's "Detour" signs, how can you best deal with it? How can you stay as physically and mentally healthy as possible when you suddenly have to change course, and when the tools you know how to use are suddenly no longer available to you? You have what it takes to figure this out, and then you can teach it to others. Maybe you can even make it a specialty, and be a personal trainer for people who are sick.
posted by Corvid at 2:11 PM on April 4, 2012


I can't tell you what to do or think or whatever, and in any case it looks like what you are doing and thinking are serving you well. I came in here to tell you that I'm sorry you've gotten hammered by all this stuff. What a load! I'm so glad you've got people helping you with it, that all of your close ones are showing up for you.

If I could help you I would. If you lived in my town I'd bring you some tea, or sweep your back porch, whatever you need. As it is, about all I can do is tell you that I'm damn sure sorry it's hit you as it has, and it surely does seem to me that you are one hell of a citizen, to be able to face it down as you have.
posted by dancestoblue at 3:01 PM on April 4, 2012


I've battled depression and had my fair share of crappy life situations, so I know (somewhat) how you feel.

My personal take on it is this: life is full of opposites - dark/light, wet/dry, happy/sad, etc. These can *only* exist in pairs. If there was no light, then everything would be dark and darkness would have no meaning. If it was impossible to get wet, the concept of 'dry' wouldn't exist. And in the same way, you can't experience happiness - and pure joy - without sadness to compare it to.

To put it another way, the crappy times, the times when everything in your life sucks, will make the good parts of your life *that much better* by their very existence.

Have you ever had your ears plugged up from a sinus problem or cold? It sucks. It's hard to hear and there is a constant pressure in your head. But then one day you you're sitting there, doing something completely random, when suddenly your ears POP! and you can hear again! The pressure is gone!!! Hallelujah!!! Even though you are just returning to your normal, everyday, mundane self, in the moments after your ears pop it feels like a revelation.

That's how life is. Don't savor the bad things, but use them to help you appreciate the good things.
posted by tacodave at 3:13 PM on April 4, 2012


I'm a big believer in controlling your mood and attitude toward life through a kind of psychological self-mastery. Basically, you try to focus your energy on reacting along completely different axis than your instinct would ordinarily lead you to. The result is that you're not taking on psychological pressure head-on, but allow it to glide off of you, or miss entirely. It can be immensely helpful.

Example: you are in a conflict with somebody at work. The orthodox ways of dealing with it is along the axis of the conflict, i.e. counter-attack, submission, fleeing and so forth. But all these responses evoke a hormonal stress response, because that's how evolution has wired us to respond to conflict. If instead, you avoid the axis entirely, and don't take the conflict as an invitation to play that particular game, you will find yourself not having the stress response that comes with a conventional response. So, for example, instead of dwelling on how evil your enemy is, how unfair it all is etc., you try to analyze them as agents in a social structure, just as insects in a hive - a clinical approach. When somebody is saying something nasty to me, I might examine carefully how their veins and capillaries react to the release of stress hormones and not at all agree to respond in ways they expect. Very calming (though admittedly it might cause the other party to pop a vein).

This does not mean - at all - that you lie to yourself. In your case, you have tons of unfortunate events happen. You can't lie to yourself implausibly by saying "oh, it's just normal statistical stuff, happens to everyone", because you won't believe that deep down. Instead, since you can't change the fact that the events occurred, you must try to change your attitude to those events. One way - which in fact people do use - is to look at it as a curious display of statistical streaks. "Let's see what else can go wrong!" - "high blood pressure, a small tumor, a root canal, lost job, car accident - and there are still four days left in the month!" "What comes next?" Verrry exciting! We're fucked, but why focus on that - it's not going to get unfucked because of our obsessive attention - so why not jump off this axis of expected reactions (grief, bitterness, brooding), and glide along completely different plane - curiosity, laughter and being in charge of something, like your thoughts (because you certainly can't control what disease your body decided to throw at you) - why should your thoughts be the ones that come along from pure instinct and conventional psychology... what good has that ever done for you?... step off that treadmill and walk free, choose your direction, and your destination.
posted by VikingSword at 4:52 PM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks so much for your input everyone, lots of helpful responses. I think for my personality type, thinking of this as a challenge for me to accept and work through and grow from is a really great way of framing it. I'll be re-clicking this page for a little while yet to keep me on track. Thanks again.
posted by lifethatihavenotlivedyet at 11:56 PM on April 10, 2012


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