I was talking to a psychologist today (Roger Bretherton, a fascinating and dynamic guy who is a clinical psychologist currently researching personality and prayer).
I asked if he had any words of wisdom about what to do when life feels like it’s falling apart.
After hearing a bit about the situation he said two things:
1. Be kind to yourself
2. Hold on to hope
In my head I’m thinking “ooh, that’s exciting, ‘holding on to hope’ is the strap line on my blog” but out loud I just nodded (can you nod out loud?? Hmm, you know what I mean)
We talked some more about a few different things and away I went, buzzing from the reminder of why I love psychology so much.
Then later on I got thinking.
How do you actually hold on to hope?
Because sometimes it can be more slippery than an eel in a vat of vaseline.
The last couple of weeks have thrown my sense of hope a bit out of kilter.
The future is uncertain, and my brain has interpreted ‘uncertain’ as ‘disastrous’.
And that won’t do.
Because then my brain goes in to panic mode.
When actually, it’s just an unknown.
But it turns out I don’t like ‘unknown’.
I don’t mind surprises and unexpectedness and a few twists and turns, but total unknown is a bit scary.
Quite a lot scary in fact.
But what I’ve come to see is that in the unknown there’s also capacity for adventure, for new experiences, for learning and developing and discoveries.
It won’t be all good.
But it won’t be all bad either.
And that’s where hope comes in.
So here are three things I’m going to be focusing on to help me hold on to hope in the next few weeks and months. They’re all things I’ve used before so I know they work, though they might take a bit of effort at times.
An attitude of gratitude
Writing down things I’m grateful for at the end of each day.
(I used to do this but I also had to keep detailed headache diaries, which ended up taking over, so now I’m ditching them in favour of a gratitude diary. Much more pleasant.)
So I’ll be writing about all the things I’m grateful for, e.g.
Achievements (however small)
No matter what happens, there are – and always will be – good things in my life that I can be thankful for.
Things to look forward to
Having at least one thing every day that I’m looking forward to, however small (reading a book, going for a walk, sitting in a coffee shop, seeing a friend); something a bit bigger every week (having friends round for dinner or a date night with my husband); something more significant at least once a month (going out for a meal or for a walk in the lake district); and a few things throughout the year that are really special, e.g. a holiday, a party, an event.
And making sure I put them all on the calendar in the kitchen and in the calendar on my phone so there’s a really obvious and regular reminder of all the things I’ve got to look forward to.
Balance of positives and negatives
In my brain are two jars. One holds my happy thoughts and memories; the other holds my sad thoughts and memories. Sometimes I can get stuck in the happy jar: all is well, I’m quite happy, but it’s a clueless, switched-off, in-denial happy. Sometimes I can get stuck in the sad jar: this is not a good place to be!
I need to find a way to integrate both at the same time.
In the past I pictured myself with a leg in each jar, but I just ended up doing the splits (very painful, even metaphorically).
So I’m practicing mindfulness as a way of observing my thoughts and feelings a bit more objectively. The aim is to balance out the positive and the negative a bit more evenly. (I’m using the Headspace app – it was recommended by the consultant at the national migraine centre – it’s early days but it seems really good so far, I’ll let you know how it goes.)
In the face of a completely unknown future, it would be easy to fall into despair, or denial, or to swing between the two.
But instead I choose hope.
Hope that good things will come in unexpected times and places.
Hope that an unknown future doesn’t mean a disastrous future.
Hope that things can grow and even bloom in the most unlikely places.
And that’s what I’m holding on to.
Thanks to Phil for the picture