Breaking Out Of Survival Mode

It doesn’t matter what way it presents itself. No money in the bank, medial bills that were unexpected, an unexpected loss, or any combination of them all. We all have those times in life where things seem more like uphill battles than smooth sailing. For me, that started ten years ago, when my mother was overtaken with mental illness and ditched our family. Though I wished I felt further ahead from that event, there’s been a feeling of being in a “survival mode”.

Even though I’d accomplished a lot after she left, a degree, a marriage, and a child, life still got much harder after that. It was harder for my dad financially, my sister emotionally, and me in both ways. That event made it harder for us all to recover from and “bounce back”. It was defining. I do know a little something about what it feels like to have the wind knocked out of you and trying to constantly catch your breath.

But I don’t think we take the time to think about all that we go through in life. I took an inventory of what occurred in the last year and it was a little horrifying… a miscarriage, a job change, a spouse who was in ICU with a heart that stopped, and a complicated delivery. When I took the time to think about what we’d gone through in just a short time I realized just how hard life really can be. And yet–it felt like it was still survival mode. Don’t take time to think and grieve your losses, but just keep moving, keep trudging through the mud.

So what do we do when we feel this internal pressure? When we feel like the noodles in the middle of a pressure cooker that’s been cooking just a little too long? Honestly, I don’t entirely know. But here are some things that I do know that have helped along the way.

  1. First, make a list. I don’t know why but somehow listing things out on paper just makes me feel better and makes life feel more manageable. You can’t possibly conquer everything at once, whether it’s debt, bills, or just a huge to-do list.
  2. Take an inventory of what is going right. So many times when life gets challenging, we take the simple graces of every day for granted, the warm coffee, the sun shining, the helpful friends. Thank them and thank God for those simple pleasures.
  3. Take five… whether it’s a short walk, a moment to read a book, play with your kids… it doesn’t matter what. But it’s hard to keep enduring difficulties if you’re burnt out. You’re your best advocate and asset, so handle with care. YOU matter.
  4. Know it shall pass. When you’re in a hard situation it can give you tunnel vision, like it will NEVER get better, but it will. It might still be challenging for a while, but little by little you’ll dig yourself out and be proud you did.

I can honestly say that over time, I have gained a lot of internal strength from the hardships. It hasn’t always been easy. I used to resent those that I thought I figured didn’t really have a lot of struggles, like they had a simpler ride and I felt that wasn’t fair. But the truth is, no one has it easy, we just all handle it differently.

And there really is no use in getting bitter about what you cannot control. So choose to be happy anyway, make a decision to be grateful for what is going right. You’ll be glad you did.

 

WHEN THEY GET WHAT YOU WANTED

It’s been a personal struggle of mine for a while, albeit, one that seems to improve over time. But isn’t it challenging, when you see a friend get the job you wanted, you felt YOU deserved, or when someone got a promotion at work that YOU felt you worked so hard for? The list goes on… their car, their kids, their spouse, just seems BETTER?

I think with social media, the problem of “coveting” or wishing we had what we don’t have, has only gotten worse. We see pictures on Facebook and Instagram and somehow think that’s a glimpse of reality; sometimes it is, mostly it’s not.

In my own life, I remember being really envious of someone I had worked with in the past who seemed to be so financially well off. No student loans, no obligations, just doing (according to my mind) really well. And I had such a hard time NOT resenting this person. I thought about how many menial jobs I’d worked in high school and even in college, and thought, how dare you be doing better than me when you didn’t work as hard? But see, all those statements I made up in my head (because they aren’t the truth) were all just inferences I had made. I don’t know his struggles, I don’t know how hard he worked or his story. I’m just making snap judgments to make myself feel self-righteous. But I’ve been there, and I know that it can be so challenging to truly say, “I’m happy for you.”

Over the years, I’ve learned to say that phrase–even when I didn’t mean it yet. Because I realized, we aren’t all competing with each other, we are empowering one another to bigger and better things. When I stopped viewing others as a “competitor” in a race to “greatness” or “success”, I started helping them, seeing them as humans with flaws. We all have struggles, even if they are silent ones. I also realized how grateful I was to have them in my life, and for all the blessings I have every day, that my envious spirit was blinding me to. When I focused on what I had an my own abilities, I became more self-aware than outward focused. By doing so, I become more friendly, joyful, a better peer and friend.

So appreciate all you have, don’t worry about the competition. You aren’t in a race against others, only for your personal goals.

The Struggle

Struggle. It’s a word that I feel I’ve become very familiar with, as has my family. The word isn’t exclusive to us, I think many are, or have been, in the same boat. But for the past ten years, on and off, it’s been incredibly challenging and, if I can “let loose” I’d say that this word is pretty accurate. Sometimes I think we like to pretend that we don’t struggle, that life comes effortlessly, and we are perfect; we have perfect families, perfect homes, perfect financial situations and perfect health. And there are moments when our peers fool us, and we believe that, somehow, we are the only imperfect ones, the only ones going through hard times. But that would be a lie. The Jones’ aren’t real, and they struggle too.

When my mother left, I was about sixteen and my sister was eleven. Not only did she abandon the family, but, with that, she abandoned all her obligations, including financially. Although my dad was a professional engineer with a great job, she had left him with a mountain of debt that she never told anyone about. So we went from being somewhat upper middle class Americans to, being house poor and faking it. We started shopping at discount stores, we didn’t buy as many groceries as we once did. It wasn’t to say we were destitute, but life had definitely changed. I remember feeling like I needed to contribute so I picked up a job as a hostess at the local Italian restaurant where I worked for about three years. We all started hustling and grinding, just trying to make it through and not knowing what other disaster might arise. I didn’t go hang out with friends much, we worked nonstop. When I wasn’t working, I was at school. There weren’t all the little “extras”, like shopping with mom for school clothes or getting your hair cut every two months. It was just survival. Can you relate?

Now I’m not complaining at all. The experience that I had, that was born out of a horrible situation taught me mental toughness, coping abilities, and work ethic. It was what molded my personality and shaped me. However, I understand that a lot of people feel this struggle. With our economy trying to recover, with baby boombers not retiring and a flood of college studuents entering to the job market, it’s changed the financial landscape for many.  Our nation is trying to get back to its roots and  health, I think it’s indicative of what many of us feel. The car breaks down, the vet bills pile up, we have an argument with our spouse, we lose or change jobs…all these things are part of that life season of “struggle”.

I know I have moments where I ask God when that time will be up? When it’ll feel normal again. Because just starting out as a newly married couple, as cool as it sounds, it’s a huge adjustment. I see the posts on Facebook where everyone smiles and they go on a romantic Jamaican cruise, but that is not us. And logic tells me that someone else probably paid for that cruise, or it’s paid for on “plastic”; that the facades we see on social media, many times, just aren’t real. But do you feel that way? When you’re going through the grind, work piles up, and the dishwasher breaks, you feel like it’s just you going through it?

I can assure you, it isn’t just you. We all undergo tough situations where we question ourselves, question our decisions. Did we make the right move? Did we pray enough? Did we think through the decision the right way? It’s like we think that the struggle is somehow always our fault, and sometimes, it’s simply life taking it’s course.

The struggle, it’s not always a bad thing. Webster’s dictionary defines struggle as: “to make forceful or violent efforts to get free of restraint or constriction”. It is synonymous with to “fight, grapple, or wrestle”. These aren’t always bad words. Sometimes a fight is worth it, sometimes breaking free and loosing yourself, is a good thing. So when you feel like it’s just you today struggling, trying to break free, know that it’s not; we all struggle and grapple with things in our lives. And don’t stop trying to break free, to keep fighting, keep wrestling, and striving forward. Because you don’t know what’s on the other side if you give up. You don’t see the progress you’re making in the wrestling match; but you’re doing it, and little by little, you’re gaining ground. Keep taking one step at a time; your struggle is worth the fight.