Unless you’re exceptionally lucky, you know what it’s like when the proverbial bottom falls out of things. It’s such an epidemic that we have lots of words to describe it: the pits, the dumps, so far down it feels like up, on our knees, flat on our back. Okay, okay, you get the picture, and it isn’t pretty. Some days it seems like we have more expressions for being down than being up. (Hmm, maybe we should take a count.)
This article isn’t about ‘Why Bad Things Happen to Good People,’ that’s already been done. Nope. I’m thinking more about why overwhelming things happen to ordinary people. And when you get to the bottom of that barrel, the worst thing may be finding those ugly clawed crabs — the kind that keep grabbing at your legs and dragging you back down again every time you try to pull yourself up.
Suddenly we want an ‘Easy Button’ — a minister, a therapist, a book — any magic potion that will take away the pain and make all the bad things less overwhelming. But nothing is easy at that point! And don’t let your friends fool you. Someone says ‘ But it will end,’ as though that makes the current pain go away. But it doesn’t!
One of the phrases I personally hate most is ‘God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.’ I find that highly debatable, especially since I can’t read Creator’s mind and right this minute may be totally unable to figure out what He/She was thinking when She/He decided to dump all this stuff on me at once!
It’s always fun to find like-minded people, and recently I read some great thoughts on the subject, so I’ll quote from Ellen Degeneres’ book ‘The Funny Thing Is.’ On page 126 she says:
‘1) What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. (Translation: what doesn’t kill you puts you in a whole lot of pain and makes you cry a lot and want to crawl into a hole forever and live with rodents.)
2) Adversity builds character. (Translation: you become bitter and angry and people hate you even more.)
3) God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle. (unless God’s in on it and doesn’t like you either.)’
Besides, most of your friends are going to get tired and cranky themselves because you don’t just cheer up at the sound of platitudes. Nobody likes to feel powerless to help. Well, sometimes we just have to grieve! Like it or not, we will have to cry it out, and nobody can say how long that will take.
And part of what makes the grieving so tangled and agonizing is that your feelings aren’t simple. They are all mixed up with sadness and grief, and even actual physical pain. You know, like ‘kick in the stomach’ or ’stabbed in the back’? Then add in the anger, the fury, the rage over how unfair this all is. Why me?! Multiply by the agony of wondering whether it’s happened to you because you did something wrong, you didn’t see the danger signals, or worst of all, the nagging fear that you are just so bad and worthless that you deserve all the rotten torture the universe can throw at you! Did I mention the feeling of powerlessness that compounds the problem?
These complicated feelings are what makes it so difficult to somehow swim past the hurricane around you. Your fear itself may add to the pain, agony, and guilt to make your feelings overwhelming. And let’s face it, it’s really your feelings that are overwhelming, not the outside events.
While there is no ‘Easy Button, ‘ there are things that can help. The most important to remember is that if you can make a 10% improvement in several areas, the cumulative effect may get closer to a 100% improvement!
Summoning every resource available to you is the beginning step, as long as you don’t assume that any one of them is the only solution. Talking to a psychologist or counselor helps. Choose a professional with a great deal of experience. Since they are not emotionally involved in your situation, they can use that objective view of options to help you plan your strategy for climbing out of the barrel. Their compassion and understanding of the ranges of human behavior can also be a comfort to you. You are neither alone nor unique. Human beings get upset when they are overwhelmed.
If you have a spiritual advisor or group that you respect and trust, you may also find some comfort in speaking to them about finding a broader meaning to the catastrophe that is happening to you. Talking to someone or reading books may help you remember that there is a greater meaning in all our lives. You may not figure out what lesson you are supposed to learn, but just considering the possibility that there is a greater lesson may bring about a small measure of reassurance and stability.
When I’m knocked on my butt by some terrible events, I personally find comfort in remembering the Chinese proverb: ‘Those whom the gods love, they teach with a heavy stick.’ I may wish the blows to get my attention weren’t so heavy, but it comforts me to believe that someday I will understand the lessons that seem so invisible right now!
As we’ve discussed before, this is a good time to make a plan. Break the overwhelming into small pieces and pick one small thing that will improve just that one piece. Setting priorities is important, but don’t be afraid to start with the lesser problems first. Getting back some sense of control will help you get your footing again.
And don’t listen to the ‘crabs’ who try to pull you down with discouraging words. Or to well-meaning friends who say ‘you’ve cried enough. Get over it.’ If you hide your pain and anger, and force yourself to move on before you’re ready, you may lose the chance to learn the lessons and find the meaning inherent in your current catastrophes.
It’s your life and your pain, and little by little, you’ll find yourself reducing some of your suffering to a manageable level while you learn just how powerful you can be in the case of disaster. Take it one step at a time, cry when you need to, and take the time to look at the things that have happened. Just don’t listen too much to those who tell you what you should do. Consider your options and choose for yourself.