Putting the pieces back together after we feel we have lost all – that’s what we would like to do. And therein lies our problem. Because it does not work. Why? And what to do?
You and I, in our lifetime we are likely to encounter many challenging episodes, which will shake us to the core:
- poor health
- relationship break-down
- death, grief
- financial loss
- deceit, unfairness, discrimination
- environmental disasters
- and more.
And depending on their severity and impact on us and our lives, we can be left feeling like we have lost everything – literally, emotionally, spiritually or metaphorically. Putting the pieces back together is all we want.
But it can be a harrowing and impossible task, which can harm our wellbeing and lead to more depression, anxiety, anger, hopelessness – you name it.
1. What has broken in your life?
Often it is our sense of identity, purpose in life, our achievements, freedom, hopes, that which gives us a sense of safety and belonging, love, trust and understanding, our routines, the things and people that keep us going and hopefully make it all worthwhile.
And when we feel we have lost that, then putting the pieces back together feels almost impossible. Because what has happened to the pieces we are meant to put back together?
Gone, shattered, taken away. Leaving behind often traumatic experiences and memories. A numb void, a loss of self, self confidence and self worth.
Life now appears meaningless; we appear without meaning.
And when we are in that place, then putting the pieces back together can look like an impossible and frankly naive proposition. But we are let to believe that this is the way to go.
And if we don’t try then we are a failure – so we are told. And if we try and fail, then we are a failure, too, so we may think.
Why pulling yourself together can be more harmful than helpful.
2. Putting the pieces back together is not possible.
Because putting the pieces back together is impossible, if we try and look for the same old pieces. Many will have gone. But leaving it at that makes life look almost impossible.
That’s why repeating to ourselves and others the impossibility of our situation, whatever it may be, is so risky for our wellbeing.
The drip-drip effect of negative self talk, even if justified, is powerfully destructive.
I have had my fair share of events and circumstances which seemingly put the clock back to zero, leaving me standing in front of the shattered former life I had worked so hard to build for myself.
In those darkest of moments I never tried putting the pieces back together or to start again. Because I felt I had lost what it would take – health, money, a job, a home, my self-confidence, friends, faith, motivation, inspiration.
3. Why am I no longer in that dark place?
I think because instinctively at some point I let go of some of the old, left-over pieces. And that made room in my head for curiosity, possibilities and ideas.
When I would lock myself away, I would do so knowingly and tell myself, that’s what I need right now until I am ready to unlock the door and step out again, even if for the briefest of moments.
Doing it that way gives me a sense of ownership and I don’t feel overwhelmed by the victim identity, which stifles our identity.
Ultimately – status, things, people and even health alone don’t define us. It is only us who can define ourselves.
How to let your regrets shape you, not break you.
4. Finding tools to get you into the zone.
Instead of wasting time on putting the same old pieces back together, we need to find ways of
- calming down the negative and destructive self talk;
- motivating ourselves to look around, search and search again for what we need to get inspired;
- protect ourselves from the well-meaning pity and dread of others, who confirm how tragic our life is, but who offer little else.
We need to get into that zone, where we can start believing again in the im-possible.
Tools can vary over time.
I firmly believe that we will find what we need, when we need it.
As long as we are open. Don’t force and don’t be too quick to dismiss. One thing may lead to another. What worked one time, may not work another. What works for me, may not work for you. That’s the way it goes.
You may walk, cook, do yoga, knit, run, stare at the wall, read a book, sing, pray, wash, clean, visualise, day dream, have a massage / reflexology / etc, write, draw, meditate, listen to music, be silent, chant – the possibilities are endless.
But whatever you do, do it with the intention of getting into a calming zone, where you can reduce the negative self talk: those niggling or violently bashing away thoughts of anger, fear and resentment. They all have their place, but we need to learn to manage and to direct them. If we don’t, then we will lose perspective between the past, present and future. We won’t move on.
When you find what gets you into the zone, then establish a routine and stick to it. Mornings and evenings.
Your body, mind and heart will get used to it, and you will be able to cope better and faster with the dark moments. Because they will pop up, from time to time.
There is nothing right or wrong about it. It is what it is. And we are trying the best we can.
How to turn hopelessness into hope.
5. Resetting the clock.
The more I think about it, and the more difficult things happen in my life, I realise that we need to get better at closing chapters and resetting the clock – on our terms. Because, then we are not the victim.
But we don’t. Why? Because of the pain, outrage, grief and fear we may feel about whatever has happened.
On the one hand we are justified to feel all of that, as well as the trauma and numbness. But on the other hand, we cannot leave it at that.
When I was rediagnosed with breast cancer, I was shocked, even though I had always considered the possibility. Because I wanted to be prepared, and never ever be taken off-guard as I had been the first time around. Yet when I received the news I went back into a state of utter disbelief and shock.
And I could also see the pieces of my life starting to shatter. A lot I had to give up and stop – like my work, routine, financial stability, safety.
Financial and physical vulnerability are a potent and difficult mix.
And there were dark moments. But I realised pretty quickly, that I needed to be in charge of the narrative of what was happening.
- Yes, I might die this time, who knows.
- I have to make changes, that I’d rather not.
- Yes, I am more vulnerable than before.
- I am disappointed and frightened and angry and a lot besides.
But I still have the power, and always will, not to leave it at that. Because that would be disastrous.
6. Fitting what is happening into the story of your life.
Each episode in our lives, whether we like it or not, is an episode with a start, a middle and an end. And, yes, one episode will be the final chapter of our lives. It has got to be.
When we can accept that, then there is less risk of feeling and believing that one episode has the power to wipe out all that has been and all that may be.
Life is a continuation: Sometimes seamless, sometimes abrupt. But we are always the catalyst.
And if you say “no” – cancer is the catalyst, or your partner, or the government or whoever – then that’s not what I mean.
You and I, we are the catalyst for the continuation.
After my first cancer diagnosis, I could have given up. But I did not. I found other ways and I ended up content, even more so, with who I am and who I can still become. I started writing.
After the second diagnosis I could have pulled the plug on this website and a lot else besides. But I did not. Instead, I am writing this piece and do a lot else.
I am the catalyst as much as you are the catalyst.
And we need to dig deep to find the light, the direction, the inspiration and motivation to let go.
And when we do, then something starts to heal, deep in our soul. And then new possibilities open up, including making peace with that which we never wanted to happen, but it did and with what may yet lie ahead.
7 steps towards living in peace.
This is a really helpful article, Karin – thank you for sharing. I’ve realised that I have my own way of coping with repeat diagnoses: I keep my conscious mind occupied by watching uplifting or funny films and TV programmes until I no longer need to do so – and in the meantime, my subconscious mind is working away in the background, trying to figure out how to deal with the new reality. Your article has made me realise that we can’t put the pieces back together, because some are missing. So, in that situation, I try to find new pieces of ME that perhaps I wasn’t aware of before, or had forgotten about – facets of creative ME, for example. And sometimes that takes a while. We can’t go back to how things were before – which is what a lot of people I’ve met are trying to do. We can only move gradually into a new / alternative reality, making the most of what we discover about ourselves along the way.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read and to share your thoughts. I have found the same, and spent an intense amount of time recently searching for humorous items online, that made me laugh. And it felt great! And I am sure it helped move on to bigger and greater things. I’ve been thinking of writing about that, and your comment has given me more motivation to do so. Thanks! Warmest wishes. Karin
I look forward to reading that article too, Karin!
Best Wishes, Julia