Question: I have a very serious illness that no one has ever heard of and I find it extremely devastating and lonely. What can someone like me, in my position do? I’ve struggled with this for over 30 years and this is impossibly frustrating and miserable. You have no idea. Do you have any advice for dealing with this?
Answer: Many of life’s challenges are impossibly hard and painful. Many of these problems have no answers, solutions or remedies. They are painful and they are going to stay painful for a long time. In this situation, with no escape available, your options are limited. You have control over very little. For the most part, all you can do, is work on choosing your attitude and mindset inside the challenge. Vivian Greene said it best, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
Here are 8 suggestions to help you dance in the rain (and find joy and peace) despite an impossibly hard challenge:
- Buddha said, “It is your resistance to “what is” that causes your suffering.” It is your wishing and wanting things to be different than they are, that is the real cause of your pain. You have created (and attached your happiness to) expectations about how your life should look or feel. The problem is life rarely meets our expectations, and most often takes you in a direction you never saw coming. So, now that you are here, how much time and energy are you going to waste wishing you were somewhere else? All this time and energy is wasted and painful. You will suffer less if you stop resisting and choose to accept this path as the right one for you.
- Trust there is order in the universe and purpose and meaning in all things. Choose to see the universe as a wise teacher, who knows what it’s doing, and whose ultimate objective is always to serve you and your growth. This would mean every experience you have is here to facilitate learning and make you smarter, stronger, wiser or more loving. This means things don’t happen to you – they happen for you.I know, during times of intense suffering, it is difficult to believe your misery is here for a positive purpose. (And I cannot prove to you this idea is truth – though you can’t prove it’s not truth either.) But I do know from personal experience, that choosing to trust there is a positive reason, a painful experience is here, does make me suffer less.
I first learned this from reading about Viktor Frankl, who during intense suffering in the concentration camps of World War II, found if he chose to believe there was meaning in his suffering (that it was here for a reason) he not only suffered less, but also felt motivated to rise and get through the suffering in the best possible way. He said “Suffering ceases to be suffering [at the same level] the moment it finds meaning.”
If you choose to see the universe as on your side and working for you, instead of against you, and if you choose to believe every experience is therefore the perfect classroom journey for you – you will find more peace in spite of the difficulty.
- Focus on this present moment only. If you try to process the weight of the coming years of loneliness or pain you might have coming it will crush you. It is too much, too scary and too discouraging. So set that weight down. Focus only on this present moment or hour. Get through this hour choosing to be a positive and happy as possible, What can you do at this moment for yourself to relieve pain, create joy or just distract yourself. You have great power in this moment to choose your mindset (it is actually the only time you have any power of choice). Use that power to chose loving feelings towards yourself and others. Use this moment to experience gratitude and count your blessings (no matter how bad things get there are still things to be grateful for.) Create a life of happiness, kindness, service, joy and fun, one moment at a time.
- Find a passion project. During times of trail or suffering we can often find ourselves unproductive, stuck and feeling useless. It helps a great deal if you can find a passion projects of some kind that makes you feel fulfilled, productive or accomplished. Even if it is just a journal or blog, a puzzle or a scrapbook. What could you do with your time instead of wallowing.
- Allow yourself limited pity party time. It is natural during times of suffering and challenge to feel self-pity, sadness and grief. You should feel and experience these emotions and not try to suppress them all the time. It is actually important you give yourself time to feel these feelings and have a good pity party or cry, just don’t live there. If you feel these emotions coming up today give yourself a limited amount of time (like an hour or 20 minutes) to deep dive into the negative emotions and cry if you need to. Giving yourself this time is an important part of the lesson this experience is here to teach you. You will also find you actually feel better after a good cry. I believe it gets some of the pain out so you always feel better after.
- Lower your expectations around what you can do. When you are going through an impossibly hard experience at least half your brain power and energy are being used to process the trauma of the situation. This doesn’t leave you with enough band width for all the other tasks or interests you usually do. Go easy on yourself and expect less. Give yourself permission to have a messier house or get less done. Be realistic with the energy you have and say no to things you know will wipe you out later.
- Give up envy and wishing you had someone else’s life journey. It is really easy to find yourself in a place of envy when your life is hard. It does seem unfair that other people get lives that seem easier than yours, but dwelling on this does you no good and in fact, will make you feel even worse. Remember, their journey isn’t over and all of us will face some challenges sooner or later. Remember this journey (though painful) is the right one for your soul, or you wouldn’t be here. Trust the universe knows what it’s doing and that growth is its purpose. There are amazing lessons, knowledge and strength to be gained from your journey, and though you would rather not go through this to gain them, there will be a benefit down the road.
- Use this experience and the unique knowledge (on the human condition and suffering) it is giving you, to bless the world in some way. Your misery can often become your message. If you suffer with chronic illness you can show others how to cope in a positive way. If you are a single mother, you could help newly divorced women handle their new realities with more joy. If you lose a loved one, you can be a resource to others who are suffering grief. There is always a way to use what has happened to you to make a difference in the world.At some level that is why I write this column every week. My journey has not been an easy one at all. I apparently signed up for many hard classes in the classroom of life, and have experienced suffering on almost every level. I tell you this only because trying to use my challenges to help others, helps me. Most of these articles are full of practical ideas, I have actually used, to get me through hard times. When you can make your suffering useful to someone else, it helps.
There is nothing I could write that would take away the pain of your suffering, but I do believe you can lessen it, at least to some degree, by using these 8 ideas. Every day is another chance to practice choosing joy, peace, happiness and laughter in your life, and you don’t have to do it perfectly, just keep making progress.
You can do this.