Almost five years ago I experienced a life event that literally broke me – mentally and spiritually. The stress from the event did a number on me physically, too. The short version of the story is that a very good friend of mine died and in the process of helping with the closing of my friend’s final affairs I discovered something that rocked my entire world and my understanding of the universe. I’m not going to go into the details of the event here, because it involves other people who have the right to their privacy, and because some of the issues that surfaced are so controversial that no matter what you say about them at least half the blogosphere will object to your opinion…loudly…and obnoxiously.
Suffice it to say that I’m still trying to figure out what my new opinions are, now that I have new information. I’m also trying to figure out what I should do about all of this…if anything. My objective here is not to wander off into the weeds, but to deal with the core issue of what to do with life-changing discoveries.
One of my favorite TV shows is The Big Bang Theory. In one episode Sheldon discovers that his favorite restaurant closed a long time ago. His roommate, Leonard, knowing how much Sheldon HATES for anything in his world to change, has been ordering from a new place and switching out the take-out containers so that Sheldon wouldn’t know about the change. Predictably shocked when he does finally learn the truth, Sheldon says:
But…oh, this changes everything. What’s real? What isn’t? How can I know?
Have you ever felt that way? Has something happened that has literally made you doubt your understanding of reality? It could have been something that most people would find relatively mundane like the closing of a favorite restaurant, or it could be something that was more dramatic such as the untimely death of a loved one. Either way, if it caused enough trauma for you to literally make you doubt your own belief system – it’s a serious matter.
What to do?
I’m not a therapist, so I’m in no position to give advice on this matter, but I can share a few things I’ve learned on this journey – both from my own experience, and from watching others. Here are some things that have worked, and some things that haven’t.
What does NOT work?
- Over-sharing. Most of us go through at least five stages of grief, and the internet is usually not the place to chronicle the denial, anger, bargaining, and depression portions of the experience before finally arriving at acceptance. Remember, what happens on the web stays on the web…forever.
- Running away. There is a temptation to remove oneself from every reminder of what is causing us pain. While it may eventually be necessary to end certain unhealthy relationships, it’s usually not a good idea to alienate EVERYONE who really cares about us – whether or not they “get” what we’re going through. Besides, where are you going to go, really? Remember, wherever you go – there you are .
- Trash-talking. During the anger phase, it’s easy to name and blame. It’s even easier in the world of blogging and social networking where anyone can post anything without regard to the truth or wisdom of revealing such information. There may be legitimate reasons to be angry, but let’s not use this an excuse to become the gossip columnist in our circle of friends and family. Save the “sharing” that will embarrass other people for truly confidential environments – like a therapist’s office. I’ve had to eat a lot of humble pie in my life – it doesn’t taste very good.
What DOES work?
- Find a quiet place to rest. Note: this is not the same as running away. This “place” can be a room, or a mental state. The idea is to give yourself time to just process and heal. I took up digital art, and it probably saved my life – or at the very least, my sanity. Maybe you would like to try mediation or going for a daily walk. Maybe you’re in the position of actually being able to take a vacation to someplace you’ve always wanted to go. Whatever you need to do – do it.
- Find someone to talk to. I had to find a counselor for a while, because I was uncomfortable discussing certain things with my friends and family. For certain issues, I was also able to participate in topic-specific discussion forums online. Note: Remember to discuss topics in these forums, not people.
- Give yourself permission to start over. Maybe in light of recent events, what you’ve been working on for the last couple of decades is no longer meaningful to you. I’ve been there. It’s OK. Whether you need to do it in stages, or all at once, allow yourself the freedom to build a new foundation for the next stage of your life.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who has felt like Sheldon – wondering how I can know what is real. I’m interested in hearing what other people have done in similar situations that have worked. What did you do?