It wasn’t the first time we moved on short notice. This time we were living in Arizona. I was in second grade, so that made me like 8 or 9 years old, I think. I came home after school to find the apartment all packed up in boxes. Mom and my stepdad told me to say goodbye to my friend Crystal because we were leaving that night.
This was a common occurrence in my life as a child. Every six months or so, or when the bills collectors caught up, or the drug dealers my Mom owned money too found us, or hell maybe she got bored … we moved. Life seemed to always feel out of control and unpredictable.
I wanted to think that due to my turbulent upbringing that the last year, 2020, didn’t have as strong of an impact on me as it did on others. But here is the thing about chaos, you never get used to it. You just find new, better, or different coping mechanisms that make it more bearable. Or at least that is how I feel about it.
Look, I get it. The world we are all living into today isn’t exactly predictable or peaceful. Even more frustrating is that I didn’t say the United States. There is a collective and worldwide pandemic. Shit is real. Like really real. It can feel like every day there is some new tragedy, illness, or cause for fear that plagues our attention and our energy.
When sick family and friends and local protests and crazy elections all come from every direction and show up in our lives in both big and small ways … just wow. Yet, whether a personal issue arises that totally disrupts your peace of mind that seems to only affect you personally or a global event transpires that uproots the happiness and joy of millions of people all at once, our world can be a bit of an uneasy place to live right now.
Finding Your Safe Space
I had this blanket I used to carry around with me. I had it from the time I was a baby until I was nearly 12 years old. It was a blue cookie monster blanket. By the time I grandmother took it and threw it away it was not much more than a bunch of worn-down material. It certainly could no longer serve the purpose of a blanket. What it did provide for me though was a mobile safe space.
Children are so much smarter than we are. They have their blankies, binkies, or stuffies they take with them wherever they go. My 9-year-old daughter, she’s on the autism spectrum, carries her four babies around with her everywhere … and I mean everywhere.
With everything that is going on around the world, maintaining a sense of security and order, having a safe space or object or routine, is important for your mental health. I used to have a blanket. My daughter has her babies. Now I have my routines, little things like brushing my teeth before I start my day, remind me that some parts of life are still normal.
Try as you may, perhaps it seems that no matter what something always comes up that fills you with fear or worry. There are certainly enough crazy things going on these days. Perhaps you are changing jobs too. Perhaps you are moving too. Perhaps you just had a new baby or are also getting divorced. Life just keeps throwing life bombs at you. While you can’t change the dynamic nature of the world we live in, here are a few strategies you can try, that when implemented might help you stay grounded when life just goes crazy.
Be Aware of Your Own Limitations
You are not Atlas the Titan condemned to hold up the celestial heavens or sky for eternity. While I know you are strong and capable, you are not meant to bear the weight of all the world’s problems on your own shoulders.
As a kid I remember feeling responsible for my mother and my brother before my stepfather came into our lives. I would get up at 5 am to make sure my Mom was up for work and then after she went to work, I would get my little brother up and then we would walk him to the babysitter, and I would go to the bus stop. I was a first grader then.
Can you imagine doing all of that as a first grader? Heck, my first grader is still asking me to help him Velcro his shoes in the morning. Yet, we all often do the same thing to ourselves that was done to me as a small child. We not only feel the weight of the world on our shoulders, but we accept that is our burden to bear alone.
Thankfully I was too young to realize that I had options. As adults though, we know that it shouldn’t be that way. We might even look at the overwhelming weight we are carrying and think we should just give up and let ourselves get tossed about by the waves of each new tragedy. Yet, if we can become aware of our own limitations and learn to share the burden it can serve as one of the biggest sources of peace and contentment you could ever hope to find.
I find myself thankful every day of my adult life that my stepfather came into my life shortly after first grade. As adults we talk about my childhood. He comments sometimes how even he felt overwhelmed by our circumstances back then. Yet, when he joined our family, he began to share the burdens with my mom, my brother, and I. I realized I wasn’t an adult and that I needed help.
There is so much value in taking the time to identify the things that are out of your control. If you take the time to identify what isn’t in your control, it can actually make it easier to realize what you can influence. Instead of feeling overwhelmed at every single problem going on around you, you are able to focus your efforts on only the issues you can change.
Only focusing on what you can change gives you a much-needed sense of authority over your own circumstances, and it can also free you from the burden of trying to manage the problems of the world by yourself. When the world feels like a war zone, it is best to pick your battles wisely – and ensure they are your battles to fight.
It’s Not All About You – Maintain Perspective
I know it doesn’t feel like it sometimes, but honey … it isn’t all about you. It is a common issue that many of us have when it comes to all the things going wrong in the world; we automatically feel as if these things have a direct effect on us personally.
While my comment might seem callous, the truth is that not only are most of the issues we notice on a daily basis have little to no effect on our personal existence, they are also entirely out of our hands. Expending your time an energy on trying to solve problems that affect your immediate environment is a much better investment than worrying about an issue on the other side of the globe.
This is not to say you don’t care or that you can’t have influence … but if you are overwhelmed … reign it in sweetheart. Supporting a worldwide cause for the sake of charity is fantastic, but not if doing so means ignoring the conflicts that are staring you in the face.
I found it hard to make the transition to being accountable and responsible for everything other than what my mom did really hard when my stepfather moved in. I would reprimand him for eating too much cereal as we only had so many food stamps to pay for groceries. He would remind me that it wasn’t my job to worry about the finances. Sometimes it will be hard for you to take a step back out of the world view and just focus on what is yours but give it a go. It is very freeing.
Create an Environment of Certainty – Maintain A Sense of Order
Can you imagine what it was like not knowing where you would wake up from one day to the next? We lived in a car for some time when I was a kid. We also lived in a tent in Tennessee for a while. We lived with different family members. We lived in a camper. We never knew where our heads would be some nights, but we to stay sane we had a series of very set routines that never changed no matter where we were.
You can find a sense of order in your own life, regardless of how message and cluttered the things around you become. For us, it was always brushing our teeth and getting our ‘blankies’ before going to sleep – wherever that was. For you it might be always washing the dishes before bed or making sure to always tuck your kids in at night. It doesn’t really matter what the micro-routine is. It is critical that you find some order in your own life however it makes sense for you.
Our internal state often mimics our external environment. It is easy to allow ourselves to fall victim to the chaos. Whatever your day-to-day life brings, strive to develop routines that provide you with a sense of peace and security. If you are looking for security anywhere outside of yourself, you won’t find it. We are responsible for our own safety – and that of our children of course – but we are not responsible for the entire world.
Sometimes the world will just feel upside-down. It doesn’t require a pandemic either. There are so many things that happen outside of our control. Yet, if we just take a bit to remember how much IS IN OUR CONTROL, we can feel much more grounded and ready to take on the new day.
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