When Life Goes Wrong
Bad things will happen in your life that won't make sense.
Posted Jun 28, 2017
Ever since I emerged from a crippling depression over a decade ago, I’ve dedicated myself to discovering and understanding the elements of life that promote well-being and mental health.
I've learned with time and experience to see the bad things that inevitably happen in life as stimuli for growth, character development, increased faith and change, no matter how unwelcome in the moment these events might be. In the work that I do with people, whether coaching clients or patients, I encourage them to cultivate this hopeful belief.
Still, sometimes things can be so bad, so disappointing or so discouraging that it’s all one can do to keep breathing. In dark times, life can feel unbearable.
I don't intend to minimize or dismiss the deep pain, grief, and loss that accompany life’s most terrible events. It is so important to grieve, to acknowledge and process our deepest losses. Our society doesn't do a very good job of grieving alongside people. We're too quick to tell someone to cheer up, to get over it.
This isn’t a quick fix. Hopefully, it’s a perspective from which to find strength and understanding, a perspective to help you navigate what can be a very confusing, painful life journey.
1. Life isn't always good and fair, even if you are.
There's a belief in our society that good things happen to good people. That if you do the right thing, the right things will happen to you in return. It's absolutely true that when you plant good seeds in life, you're much more likely to harvest good fruit. Yet there is still the inexplicable that happens. Bad things occur that don't make sense.
It can be hard to hold these two opposing concepts in the brain, I feel cognitive dissonance when I do. I believe that life is good, that there is always much to be grateful for, that one can expect and hope for good things and that that is healthy and wise.
Yet sometimes terrible things happen.
We live in a broken, far from perfect world. Things won't always go well and we won't always feel good. The way we choose to interpret these events, the way we choose to handle them, the way we choose to respond to them, can either increase or decrease what makes for beauty in this world. For me, my faith has been what I have turned to in the darkest times in recent years; it is what has empowered me to be able to survive and get to the other side of these events.
Knowing that we are all broken on some level, that we all make mistakes and are capable of deeply hurting others, helps us to forgive other broken humans as they stumble and fail, trying to do this life.
2. God doesn't exist to make life turn out as we want it to.
I became a Christian a decade ago. For the first few years, I was so excited to experience a co-creative relationship with God, all about achieving my dreams and having wonderful positive experiences and breakthroughs. In retrospect, that seems self-centered and even a little childish.
Though there is so much good to see in life and the human experience, life at its core isn’t really about what will make us happiest and keep things feeling "good."
When we believe and insist that the ultimate purpose of life, and the purpose of the other people in our lives, is to make us feel fulfilled and content, we can become very unreasonable about and rejecting of (and even downright unforgiving of) reality and events that unfold.
When I think about the aspects of my personality and life that seem to be of real value to others, almost all of those elements have been developed and strengthened in the crucible of great trials. I hate to think what I might still be like if everything went my way, all the time. My depression also crushed me to the point where I was forced to build an entirely new life and perspective that now helps others, through what I learned from the experience.
3. Broken dreams are necessary for our growth.
As the years go by, I am more and more aware of this truth. Some things in life go blessedly, thankfully well. Other hopes crash and burn spectacularly, repeatedly, and I wonder why I seem cursed in a certain area of my life. The distribution of gain and loss is totally unique to each individual’s life, and often doesn’t make sense to anyone.
I naively thought for a few relatively easy years afterward that the depression was my major life lesson, and that in coming out of it I'd now be "home free." That seems hilarious now. Multiple trials have hit since, and these continue to bring out strength and fresh character that I would never have otherwise (the people around me have told me so, repeatedly). There is a deep wisdom and rightness to the whole journey that seems to be exclusively refined and fashioned by pain, loss and challenge.
Life is still beautiful. Embrace and live it fully by letting yourself feel both the highs and the lows, celebrating when it is time for celebrating and grieving when it is time to grieve.
4. Take care of yourself during the worst times.
As I mentioned earlier, I've committed my life and career to understanding what makes people thrive physically, mentally and emotionally. You can't escape grief, loss, and hurt in life, but you can escape the most damaging consequences by doing some basic things to keep your head above water.
When a situation is so difficult and intense that it's an effort to get out of bed and put food in your mouth, accept help from others. Pride or misplaced self-sufficiency will hurt you more than help you when you're down.
Human beings need to eat, so do it even when you don't feel like it. Stick to usual mealtimes even if you're not hungry, and eat what you can. Emphasize healthy proteins, whole grain carbohydrates, and fruits and vegetables, and avoid seeking comfort in junk food that's toxic to your mind and body.
Sleep is absolutely essential to being able to heal and cope. If you're not getting any, let your doctor know. Seek professional help in processing your grief, particularly if it has spiraled down or persisted into depression.
A good walk, daily, helps the heart and body heal. Walk in nature whenever you can, as nature itself is deeply healing.
Spend time with people you love, and who love you. It can be so tempting to isolate yourself when you feel broken, but being around others will help you get put back together. And you will be put back together. Perhaps even stronger and better than you ever were before.
Copyright Susan Biali 2017.