What to do when life takes a non-peachy turn

Heartbreak hits us in all kinds of ways, sparked by all sorts of very sad things.

For some it’s the loss of someone precious unexpectedly, hitting suddenly – or perhaps slowly – washing us up in a world that feels like a parallel universe.

For others it might be a series of hits, with losses, challenges, trauma stacking up layers of difficulty until life reaches an unsteady tipping point and everything turns upside down.

For me it was the latter. The loss of several close family members, coupled with the gruelling break-up of a long-term relationship plus a bunch of physical and mental health problems created a heady cocktail of horribleness.

When I tipped, I tipped into chronic and debilitating anxiety and depression.

Granted our tough times circumstances are all different, but our responses to challenges can be have much in common. It might not be anxiety or depression, as with me. It could be some of these other things:

The physical pain of heartbreak, perhaps? Headache, chest ache, ear ache, neck ache. The sore pieces of us varied but similarly awful when enduring loss, trauma or grief.

The destabilising of one’s whole world? That’s pretty agonising too. The sort of life you thought you had is gone. The world you thought was this way, is that way. Even the YOU you thought you knew is different now.

Sleeplessness, loss of optimism, appetite shifts, memory lapses, shame, constant rumination, drinking too much, hypervigilance. The list goes on.

For many of us grief or the mental health troubles associated with our tough time create financial challenges, adding a whole other layer of unwanted crap.

This cascade of complications can leave us feeling really sad as well as really, really stuck.

When I felt like this I had no idea what to do. So I did nothing. I was well enough to keep working, so I worked every day and spent my spare time crying or having panic attacks or trying to pretend I was okay when my kids were around.

I tried the usual self-care things, but nothing worked Instead I tucked my heartbroken self into bed with relentless episodes of Gilmore Girls or Hyori’s Bed and Breakfast.

Eventually, I got wise to the fact that dark rooms and square eyes punctuated by Olympic-level sobbing was not really going to cut it. It was quite the revelation, but one I accepted pretty grumpily because frankly I was too terrified to move a muscle in any direction, lest things get worse.

Around a year into this crappy time I was driving one of my kids to his job and all that changed.

I was whizzing down the freeway and he was chatting away next to me and I started crying (again!) Was he saying something upsetting to me? No, reader. No, he was not. Rather I was crying because that is just where the heartbroken me was at. I was crying because apparently crying was my job.

I turned my head and drove the rest of the way looking a little bit sideways. This is not something you should try yourself. You could crash. Then I went home and booked a GP appointment and worked through the process of getting my Professional Crying Self to a psychologist.

This was the first positive step in the direction of starting to get better and one that I would recommend to anyone else who is working through a swamp of difficulty and associated heartbreak.

I learned a lot of things as I began to get better and feel better, recording them carefully to share with other sad people and their loved ones someday.

Here’s ten of those to get struggling you or your favourite struggling person started:

If a favourite person is struggling

  • Stay in touch – on their terms.
  • Listen to your person, but don’t advise them. Every personal crisis is nuanced.
  • Don’t try to ‘fix’ your person’s feelings.
  • Be patient with your person and help them connect to support if they are willing.
  • If you’re helping them, look after your own mental health too.

If you are struggling

  • Prioritise the simplest self-care – nourishing food, quiet times, sleep.
  • Allow yourself time to convalesce. You don’t have to keep your chin up.
  • Write down 3 good things you notice each day, however small. This is a proven feel-better tool.
  • Spend time outside when you can. You don’t have to be super active if you’re not up to it. You can still get feel-good benefits by being still in nature.
  • Know that you might not have the answers, and that getting professional support may nudge you into a less horrible place. Please know that it won’t always feel this way.

Buy my book, if you fancy!

When Life is Not Peachy: Real-life lessons in recovery from heartache, grief and tough times 

6 Comments

  1. Dearest Pip sending big virtual hugs to you hoping that will help with your pain just a little – remember you are loved

  2. I love this post. Thank you. I lost my father two years ago, after a few crappy years of both him and my mother being hospitalised for various illness. More than once, I had prepared myself for the goodbyes that thankfully never came. What began as a wonderful year with an exciting new job, a few days away at a convention turned south when I injured myself quite seriously. Less than two weeks later, and the morning after my 47th birthday, my whole world collapsed when Mum phoned me to tell me that Dad had collapsed at home and passed away. The shock waves that hit me were unbelievable and I had no idea how I was going to tell my 4 children, let alone deal with everything myself.
    As an only child, and with my parents living a 3 hour drive away, I had to pull up my big girl panties and just get on with it. Which I did. Until I couldn’t, then I would be driving my son to hockey games, listening to his music and reading so much into every lyric. Tears would stream down my face, and exactly as you have described, I would be driving looking sideways to hid my feelings from my son. This went on for quite some time, and I would always make sure I was alone when I needed to cry – the toilet, the shower, in bed – anywhere that my family couldn’t see me, as I truly believed that I had to be strong and hold everyone else together. What I didn’t realise at the time was that I wasn’t really showing them how to deal with the pain and heartache.
    I was fortunate that my work has a dedicated department for those who feel they need assistance. Funnily enough, I had been to see my boss earlier in the year, to discuss the family issues I had been having and to ask for this department’s contact details. The day I was due to attend my first appointment was the day I was injured, so I had to postpone. Looking back now, I think there was a reason I didn’t attend that day, as when I was finally able to reschedule, I had a wonderful chat to an unbiased counsellor who knew nothing of my history, and I was able to truly express myself.
    I would agree that if you need help, don’t be afraid to seek it. It doesn’t mean you are weak, crazy or any other negative connotations that come up when people hear words like psychiatrist or therapist. It means that you are strong enough to admit you are human, and you need someone to listen to you. When you are ready. On your terms.

  3. Perfect timing for me to read this. Just broke my ankle in three places and am struggling with the lack of control of my life. I have to just breathe and realize I need to relax and let my body heal. Will definitely use your tips and start to journal the happy things in my life.

  4. Thank you for this wonderful reminder of we can feel when life takes an unexpected turn. It’s taken me a while to realise how I’m feeling manifests itself physically too. I get bad earache when I’m feeling very low, which makes it worse because I hate having earache! And I also get bad sinus pain. I’ve learnt to look on these as alarm bells, that I’m not taking the right care of myself. I’m also learning to look for earlier signals, so it doesn’t get to the earache / sinus pain stage. I’m reading your wonderful book on and off – as my emotions are a bit raw at the moment (aren’t everyone’s as we deal with the emotional cheese grater of covid?) I’m reading it in small doses so I don’t feel overwhelmed. But on my to do list is to go back through your book when I’ve finished it and make a list of the super helpful things you suggest. Thank you!

  5. Beautifully written. I needed this 4 years ago and I am so happy for those that stumble upon it in their relentless internet search for that magic answer that can ‘make it go away’. That dual life of ‘happy face’ and ‘professional crying’ while keeping everyone else afloat is exhausting. Physically for me it was unlike anything I have ever experienced. At times it felt like I should be able to tangibly rip from my body and then I’d be ok. I am so happy you have made positive steps forward and are finding your feet again. It’s a lovely helpful valuable book.

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