After I lost my job, I put on my pajamas, and crawled into a hole. I joined the ranks of the 4 am sleepless, and the 4 pm sleepy. This is what I do whenever I get the wind knocked out of me, and feel like my life is falling apart. I retreat.

Those sad days happened several years ago, but they are on my mind now as I revisit the writing of my memoir. It seems like everywhere I give a reading, people want to know what I did when I first fell apart--what advice would I give others dealing with a trauma that sends them into the slough of despond?

For months, after I fell apart, friends and family told me...Come on...You'll be fine...Everything will work out...Snap out of it...Get over it.

My response?


Not good.

So when I'm asked to give people advice about what to do when they're in the midst of any kind of heartbreak, be it divorce, loss, cancer, or unemployment, the first thing I say is: Give yourself permission to feel bad.

You don't have to feel bad about feeling bad.

Mourning is the way we honor the past. It is the way we lay it to rest. Grieving isn't reserved for death; every traumatic change is a kind of death, a death of the life or the love we had. Eventually we move on, but first, we suffer. Because that is what it means to be human.

Eventually, we have to stop staring at the ceiling.

Eventually, we have to pick ourselves up and move out into the world. And I mean, literally, get moving.

Walk. Feel a breeze on your skin. Remember how you once moved through the world with confidence. You will again. For now, let the world go by in a blur of color, if that's all you are ready to take in. But get yourself moving.

Just remember: You don't have to feel bad about feeling bad. It is hard enough--and it is important enough--simply to feel bad. Bear this in mind when you're helping friends who are down.


karenleslie said...

i've been reflecting on your previous post along these lines -- about feeling unhinged and going through another molting, that change is painful and unfamiliar but not changing is also painful, though familiar. i love that moment in music when the tension builds and then bursts forth. i also love that experience inside myself, but the mounting tension is usually fraught with fear and pain -- should i turn back? should i just ignore what's happening inside me? we make our choices, as you say. there is only one way we make that journey through change -- alone. it's our own journey and though we get encouragement and support from those around us, the journey is a lonely one. your writing is always reflecting that journey and it helps us in ours...

Jessie said...

When my marriage fell apart I felt many emotions -- fear, anger, disbelief, humiliation, betrayal, confusion, jealousy and deep, deep sorrow. There were times when I so wanted to be over it, to feel that life was normal again, to go back to before. But everything had changed and I really needed to let the pain dull with time. Alongside the pain and darkness, I found moments of joy -- in my daughters, in friends and in doing things well for and by myself. I painted the inside of a dish cupboard bright red. I re-tiled the hearth. I wrote. I photographed. I learned how to weave baskets. I made improvements to the house and the garden Anything creative allowed me time to lose myself in the process and I could rest my emotions for awhile. At the same time I was gaining confidence in my ability to reconstruct my life.

So yes, yes, yes. Allow yourself to feel bad. And don't let anyone give you a timeline for mourning. At the same time look for things that give you pleasure and pursue that too. It helps to rebuild the empty spaces of the life you have lost.

Anonymous said...

Great post and great advice.

Judith Ross said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Judith Ross said...

Great advice. During the hard times we have to give ourselves permission to treat ourselves well and to take care of ourselves in whatever way we need.

Sitting with our own feelings and paying attention to them is a form of Slow Love.

And I love Jessie's comment about the little things she did as she recovered from her marriage break-up.

Once you are moving again, activities that allow you to lose yourself like writing, reading, art, movies are all little vacations from the pain.

Just today I published an article about an artist, who made a major change to her work in response to her mother's illness and death from cancer. You can read it here: http://talkingwriting.com/?p=22801

Deborah A said...

I love the flower on the cover of your new paperback version. I have some old prints in that same style that I had framed.
Yes, I can see that relieving that very trying time in your life would be difficult. But, as your Dr. commented recently, look how far you have come since then.
Your advice is very good. I just read a book review in the Boston Globe yesterday...I'm not sure of the name , but the author discusses how there really isn't such a thing as the highly over used word "closure". We move on, but there has not been "closure and never will be".
I have a very good friend who told me years ago to apply the "it could have been worse" scenario when I've had an upset. I do find myself using that to help put things in prospective. I can usually find several worse scenarios for everything small and major that comes my way.
I really do think that psychologically, when we finally give ourselves permission to feel bad and go to bed, then soon after we can move on .

Anonymous said...

Wonderful Post! Thanks for sharing! :)

CLAUDIA said...

Dominique - I stumbled upon this "Blessing for One Who is Exhausted by John O'Donohue soon after reading your blog. I thought you might enjoy it...

The tide you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.

You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken for the race of days.

At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.

You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.

Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.

Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.

Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.

Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.

Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.

Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.

~ John O’Donohue, A Blessing for One who is Exhausted.

Christa said...

This is just so true, thanks so much for putting it out there...

I just wrote today about letting ourselves (and others) feel sad. It's part of life, and so are the lessons we learn from it.

Thank you.

Warren said...

Besides permission to feel bad it is sometimes good to give permission to get angry and let it out. Once I retreated to my basement and yelled as loud as I could as I threw a tennis ball against the wall. I remember the dog looking really scared at this.

And that 'get moving' advice is particularly good. I seem to recall that moving in nature felt a lot better than simply getting on a treadmill in a sterile gym. Something about the feel of a cool breeze, running in the rain, moving among but not being a part of the oh-so-much happier world...

The sad part is that we each have to find our own formula for finding the way out of the tunnel, feeling the door that still blocks, then somehow picking the key.

Politicians can't help. And it is wrong to expect them to. Though it is perhaps a bit justified in blaming them for what may have happened.

Sweetpea said...

Thank you for this very important - and potent - reminder.

Cristina said...

"...remember how you once moved through the world with confidence. You will again. For now let the world go by in a blur of color":
a wise and sound suggestion I've already written down. Thank you.

Doug Hein said...

Having just lost my father in April, I appreciate this post from Dominique (and especially the responses from Jesse and Claudia; the poem is wonderful). I had the experience of watching "the way of rain when it falls slow and free" as I waited for the train to Boston early this morning. I didn't know why it felt so important until I read John O'Donohue's poem.

profA said...

A illuminating set of posts. Preludes to a somber week for me. Thank you for setting the tone.

Karena said...

Dominique, thank you so much. I was one raised to put on a happy face, not have a pity party, and just do for others and you will feel better about yourself.

Sometimes one cannot, and I have seen that I cannot ALWAYS meet everyone else's expectations. I am pretty stable, however sometimes it does get overwhelming. Then finally I move forward, put one foot in front of the other and repeat!

Love and hugs,


Art by Karena

Lori said...

Thank you so much for these timely words, Dominique...I needed to hear them. I just dropped off my oldest daughter last week at NYU...she is a freshman. We live in Arizona so the distance will play a part in not being able to see her as often as I would like. My head knows that she is on her path and that she needs to be where she is, but my heart is not there yet...I don't know that it ever will be. I'm allowing myself to feel the pain so that I can work through it. Well-intentioned people make their positive comments, hoping to make me feel better...I get that. But I've learned that this is something else I just have to work through. It's okay to feel sad...it's just another feeling.

Thea said...

after my niece passed away, my sis in law grieved, mostly alone as it has to be. later i overheard our mutual sis in law wondering why our grieving sister couldn't just move on. I was flabbergasted. Who are we to ever put a timetable on someone else's grief, for goodness sake!!! 'that move on' sis in law has never known that kind of loss, has a loyal and supportive mate, happy and successful children. So many gifts and yet she could not lighten up for someone who has lost a child. or a job, or a marriage, or their home. I really cannot understand that disconnect.

Deborah A said...

Thea, Its called relativity, your sister in law has never experienced grief of this proportion. Life appears easy for her, everything is calm, happy with no problems. I know people like that too. The thing is it won't last. Soon enough your sister in law will get her "bite of the sour apple". Only then will she have the compassion that is due your grieving sister in law.
Not so funny is that this is true of so many things not just grieving over the death of child. Its true of peoples financial situations, loss of homes, not having health insurance to name a few.
Its too bad some people have to deal with this stuff first hand before they can feel the proper compassion for others.

Dominique said...

That idea, of a timetable on grief, is so profoundly disturbing to the people who are suffering, and, with the loss of a child, will always suffer...

I'm afraid you are right, Deborah, for many people compassion doesn't come until they, too, have been smacked upside the heart...

Gorgeous poem, Claudie, that is a treasure. I will be rereading it for weeks to come....

and yes, Warren, somehow the treadmill isn't the same...but your dog was probably wondering why you were screaming in the basement rather than running through a field....We do want our politicians to make EVERYTHING better, don't we?! A father thing? (mother someday maybe?)

Karena, I know exactly what you are saying about being raised to put on the happy face--and that's actually, much of the time, a really useful coping mechanism, to say nothing of probably very helpful to those around you. But the hardest thing for us to learn is to ask for help....when we're used to giving the help.... A pity party, though...? Well, I suppose if it is a party of one. Very exclusive and private.