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When Self-Help Books Don’t Help

I believe in transparency, especially now with the various filters we put on our life via social feeds. And when it comes to the modern woman, we are the masters of putting on a happy face no matter what the circumstance. It’s what we do as women — soldier on.

No matter what the situation, from the everyday stresses in life to more intense bouts that entail anything from a high stress career to an abusive relationship, if there is one thing we need as a community of people it is to be supportive and compassionate.

In my last column I talked about slow living and how to get there. But how can you get the peace of slow living if your life is in a shambles? Well, you can’t at first. This is where the phrase “baby steps” comes into play.

A few short years ago, I was living in abundant middle-class stability. But with the swoop of life-changing health concerns generously paired with the aftermath of a serious car accident, my husband and I decided to revamp our little world to support a mindset of “happy living or bust.” Isn’t it funny how unexpected change and a dose of fear light a fire under you to get busy living?

The trauma was not only health-related but of a financial nature, that consisted of the following years of challenges:

The short sale of our home, bankruptcy, unemployment, over 25 job interviews, Medicaid, applying for food stamps, depression and an overwhelming amount of demoralization during the job hunting process, our electricity, gas, and phone shut off, a period of eight months receiving at least 10 calls a day from collection agencies, working multiple jobs to make ends meet, and a car accident.

I’m sharing to let you know there are people right here in our community who “get it.” In the past, I scoffed at people who chose to collect unemployment and thought homeowners who opted for a short sale were irresponsible.

And bankruptcy. My thoughts about bankruptcy before we went through a season of hardship were of failure and an easy way out.

Both my husband and I were working multiple jobs and at the same time, interviewing for positions that would sustain our meager life. Week after week we sunk deeper and deeper into debt hoping that the latest job interview would be “the one.”

I felt like I was drowning every day.

Desperate for some kind of relief and hopeful there was an end in sight to all of this stress, I sought self-help books to lift me out of the sadness and exhaustion. Suggestions of exercise, making inspirational mood boards and taking time for myself by getting a manicure or a “mental health” day, were apparently the answer to my stress. Yet deep in the middle of a breakdown, a pretty board full of pictures wasn’t going to help me, and I couldn’t justify spending any money on myself because we needed it for food.

I couldn’t breathe most days. Quietly crying in the shower became a morning ritual. It took everything I had to smile in front of my children instead of weep as I stressed about how we were going to pay the rent.

These self-help books didn’t apply to me. I needed the “rock bottom” advice book, where the reader is in such a state of personal crisis, all she can muster is simple short directions like, “breathe” and “iron your shirt now.”

So I decided to back up and figure out how I could help myself cope with living until I could take a mental holiday. I purposefully started to look for insignificant things that brought me joy.

The smell of fresh air coming in through the window of our bathroom made me relax a bit. Sure, I was sobbing in the shower, but the inhale of the cool air against the steam of the hot water brought my senses happily to life for just a moment and reminded me of camping as a child.

Coffee was a true friend, always there for me in the mornings to get me going, but later in the day, helped me crash and burn with an overload of caffeine. I loved the ritual of sitting down with a hot beverage, but had lost my enthusiasm for a good ‘ol bean buzz. Tea became my new best friend. It’s amazing how the leaf of a plant heated just right, helps you slow down a bit.

I also now understood what people in prison meant when they said they “found Jesus.” I made a list of all the things that I hoped for in a “higher power” and found I resonated the most with a message of unconditional love. If God was the caring being that I envisioned in my heart, then simple prayers of “help me” should suffice until I could figure out how to really talk to Him.

Everyone has issues. Every. Single. Person.

The daily call of loving and caring for a child with special needs, the aftereffects of a divorce, debilitating health problems, living with addiction, depression or anxiety — no matter what you’ve been dealt, you’re not alone.

You never know who is suffering out there, and — as humans — we need to be compassionate. That “hot mess” of a woman in a disheveled outfit or the consistently late gal could be drowning inside. If you are in the rock bottom of an overwhelming season, start with breathing.

It doesn’t cost a dollar, and you don’t need childcare or a day off work to get it.

I’m gradually coming out of that rough patch, but my outlook on what’s important is vastly different. Storms don’t last forever. I encourage you to be stubborn enough to see what’s on the other side. Pull up your big girl panties, dig in your heels, BREATHE and press on — even if it’s one minute at a time.

“Every great change is preceded by chaos,” Deepak Chopra said.


This article was originally published April 19th, 2017, in the Kane County Chronicle.


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