Sometimes life just sucks.
You get terrible news and it feels like you’ve been punched in the stomach.
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I felt this way when my step dad was diagnosed recently with early onset Alzheimer’s.
We had suspected for a long time that something was wrong. His symptoms were only getting worse. This diagnosis wasn’t a surprise, and yet… somehow, I still felt shocked.
It was the worst news I’ve ever received in my entire life.
This disease is fatal…always. There’s no stopping it or no slowing it down, there’s no cure, and there are no survivors. He is only 60 years old, and odds are, he’ll live another eight years.
In the meantime, his mental condition will deteriorate and he’ll likely end up in a nursing home with around the clock care.
It would be easy to feel horrible in a situation like this. But, thankfully, I’ve been listening to The Life Coach School Podcast by Brooke Castillo. One of the episodes is about what to do when something sucks.
I’ve followed the steps outlined in her podcast, and I’m so glad I have.
I’m NOT saying it’s easy.
It’s hard and there will be major challenges to come. But the good news is that I’m not making this experience MORE difficult than it needs to be.
Here’s what I’ve done (and what I recommend you do when you receive terrible, gut wrenching news).
Step One – Allow Negative Emotion
As counterintuitive as it seems, the first step to feeling better in a terrible situation is to let yourself feel like crap. Allow the negative emotions to come up. Make space for them.
I felt anxiety, worry, sadness, disappointment, and shock about his diagnosis…and that’s okay. I didn’t try to fight these emotions or escape from them.
When we try to resist our negative feelings, we often strengthen them and/or turn to vices (overdrinking, overeating, over-Netflixing, etc.) to escape.
This doesn’t work….and it creates new problems.
So when you feel like crap, let yourself feel that emotion for a while. It’s okay.
You don’t need to feel guilt or anger toward yourself for being upset.
That will just add another layer of negative emotion on top of the bad feelings you already have…which will only make you more miserable!
Step Two – Accept the Situation
The next step is accepting that you cannot control the situation.
I have no control over my step dad’s diagnosis. There is nothing I can do to change it, and trying to resist it would be futile.
You may not realize that you’re resisting a circumstance if you aren’t actively trying to change it. But…have you asked yourself questions like this:
- Why is this happening to me? (Or the other person?)
- Why is life so unfair?
- How can this be real?
- Why do horrible things have to happen? Why is life so cruel?
- What have I/he/she/we done to deserve this?
These thoughts are completely understandable, but they do not demonstrate acceptance.
Byron Katie says “when I argue with reality, I lose, but only 100% of the time.”
Here are some thoughts to practice to encourage acceptance:
- We live in a world that is 50% good and 50% bad. Bad things will always happen, and that’s okay.
- Life is not fair, but that’s okay. If life were fair and we all had an equal amount of everything, I’d probably have less than I currently have.
- Every single day that we’re given is a gift from God…a gift that many other people were not lucky enough to receive.
- It was always meant to happen that way. How do I know that? Because it did.
- Everyone has battles to fight in this life. No one gets out alive.
If these thoughts don’t make you feel better, don’t use them. Find thoughts to believe that will work for you.
Accepting my step dad’s diagnosis doesn’t mean I’m not sad about it. I still am, but I’m not adding another layer of misery on top of it by feeling angry about how unfair it is.
Once you’ve accepted the situation, you can move on to step number three.
Step Three – Decide What You WANT to Feel
The final step is deciding how you want to feel and practicing thoughts to create those feelings. I want to feel strong, committed (to my family), and at peace with the realities of life.
My circumstances do not cause my emotions; my thoughts create my feelings.
If I want to feel strong, committed, or at peace, I can practice thoughts that will produce these emotions.
I want to feel these positive emotions much of the time, but I also know that I’ll feel negative emotions sometimes too…and that’s okay.
I hope you find these steps helpful.
Remember: sometimes life sucks, it isn’t fair, and bad things happen…but that’s okay.
You can find comfort in knowing that you are never alone.
Psalm 91:4 “He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings, you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”