Sometimes, there are so many changes – in an hour, an afternoon, or over a couple days – that it can be really difficult to stop what you’re doing and catch up with yourself.

A client of mine with back issues was doing much better for a while.  Physical therapy was effective, exercise was working, and things were looking up.

At the same time, those little things that bug her were adding up, there was a death in the family, she felt isolated and frustrated with various personal relationships, she’d lost a couple major accounts due to the economy and life felt unpredictable and out of her control.

On top of all this, she’d just broken her arm, two ribs and her right foot in an accident.

With her tendencies toward depression, all of this stuff felt like being in the eye of a hurricane – too much, too fast, and no way to digest it.

Her usual mode of self care and dealing with mood issues  – exercise, getting out with friends, shopping, being strategic and organized (which she discovered required not just her brain but her arms and legs) weren’t working.

I asked her what she thought the message was.  She sat with the question for a moment and then, in an exasperated tone, said:  “How can I answer that?  All the things that used to work I can’t do anymore – either for financial reasons, because money is a problem, my body isn’t cooperating or because I don’t have people in my life who get it.”

I sat quietly with her as she continued for what felt like a long time – sensing it was my time to let her listen to herself rather than offer suggestions.

“Self care doesn’t look like anything familiar to me.  I’m used to writing, I can’t write.  It’s even hard to hold a book.  Language helps me feel better, talking helps me feel better.  I want to get out of the house.  I can’t drive.  I feel challenged on every level,” she said.

Having lived this myself, I totally get where she’s coming from.  What she’s describing is the need to “retool” when we’ve been hit with more than one thing at a time that affects our attitude, behavior and well-being.

I listened and nodded, and quietly said:  “Yes, you’ve not been through anything like this before.”

“Oh Thank God, you get that.  And you’re not telling me what to do.  I don’t need one more person telling me what to do here,” she said.

I repeated the question again: “So, if you knew what you needed to do to help yourself feel more comfortable, which you do*, what would you do right now?

(* I believe on an intuitive level we ll know inside ourselves what we need to do to help us feel more comfortable no matter what the situation.  It can feel hard frustrating, irritating, and annoying  listening on this level – to say the least – especially when you’re in pain, physically and psychologically.  And if you’re willing to deeply listen and practice that process, the answers are inside you.)

“I don’t know – that’s the problem.”

We paused together.  She took a deep breath.  We sat quietly on the phone.

I said:  “I have an idea.  How about if you talk for the next couple minutes and just respond to this question.  Even if you say I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know. . . . after a few seconds of saying that, you mind, just by you giving it permission to not know, will start to remember what you do know that would be helpful.  Wanna try it and see what happens?”

Through her tears, she said:  “Sure, but I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know and this sounds like a bunch of hippie garbage that I don’t know what to do!   I don’t know how to help myself – if I did,  I’d do it.”

I said:  “Yes, I hear that.  Feeling better may be out of the question right now as you’ve got a broken hand, foot, ribs plus all this other stuff.  But, here’s the sentence for you to complete.  If I knew what I needed to do right now to feel more comfortable, which I do, I would.  . . . Now, it’s your turn to talk.”

Here’s the short version of what she said:  “If I knew what would help me feel more comfortable right now, which I already know, I would not do one thing but sit here and cry. I’d cry til I couldn’t cry anymore.  That’s what I’d do.  And I wish someone was here to hold me while I cry and there’s no one here do that, and that’s really scary because I can’t do this alone.  I may never stop crying.  I may never get out of this situation and things may never change which is why I am afraid to start crying.”

I asked if it would help her if she cried while I was on the phone with her.

She said, “No – but it would really help me if I could call or email you when I’m done.  Or if I get stuck.  Or if I haven’t stopped crying in two weeks.”

“No problem”, I said. “And I promise you that you won’t cry without a break for two weeks!  I’m pretty sure of that.”

Twenty minutes later she emailed me and said she felt so much better.

I then asked her this question, “Now that you’ve let yourself do what you needed to do to feel better, what have you learned about yourself?”

She laughed and said:  “Well, I won’t cry forever and nothing stays the same.  And now I’m ready to listen to Geneen Roth’s new book, Women Food and God, while I go through some filing and pull some financial stuff together.”

“Great”, I said, “and when you notice that something has shifted for you and this starts getting hard for some reason, ask yourself question number one again.”

So, here’s the recap.

When situations come at us all at once, whether they a personal, professional or both, and you notice you’re feeling overwhelmed, despondent, angry, sad or hopeless here’s a couple simple steps to remember:

1.  Stop what you’re doing.  Something isn’t working.  Your mood is giving you a message that something isn’t right in your world.

2.  Ask yourself this question:  “If I knew what would help me feel more comfortable, and I do, what would I do right now?

3.  Give yourself 2-3 minutes  to talk it through with a friend, write about it, talk out loud (a voice recorder can be handy for this)or some other way to get it out of your head so you can hear yourself think. A timer can be handy to keep you focused. Don’t worry about finding the perfect journal, right words to express yourself or having the perfect space to do this in.  You are of course welcome to contact me and I’ll lead you through this as well.

4.  Let yourself do it.  If you can’t do it right now (i.e. you’d love to take a nap and you’re at work doing this in the bathroom as it’s the only place you can get some peace and quiet), make a date for yourself to do it soon.

5.  When you’re done, notice what you’ve learned and ask yourself:  Now that I’ve let myself do what I thought would help, what have I learned? Stay open and curious – maybe it didn’t help at all and you need to try something different, maybe you feel much more energized, maybe you’re feeling like you wasted your time.

7.  Repeat this process as often as you like.

A few caveats here:

  • Slow down your learning curve on this.  You won’t do it “perfectly” because there is no such thing.
  • Oftentimes, when we ask ourselves what will make us feel better our brain gives us so many things to do at once that it’s impossible to figure anything out.  That’s where writing can really help you think it through because it slows the thinking process down. Getting it out of your head is really useful to hear yourself think.
  • This is a practice – you’ll learn more about yourself every time you do it.

No matter what you’re facing in your life – whether life is on the upswing or things are coming at you in massive ways – asking yourself these questions is my all purpose solution to helping you feel more comfortable. I hope you’ll share what you’ve learned so we can learn from you too.

5 Responses to “Case Study: How to Cope When Broken Bones and Depression Collide”

  1. Marie Leidy Says:

    I am dealing with a broken right foot two bones a broken right hand I am in a wheel chair. I have to sleep in the living room . This happened Oct.1 2012 my foot is still swollen I have y shape with screws . I have big scar on the inside of my foot about five inch long and on the outside there is a scar going up that is three inches long . I feel scared that I will not be able to walk again . All I do is cry. My husband says stop feeling sorry for yourself .

  2. Char Says:

    I am just seeing your comment now Marie. So sorry that I haven’t responded sooner. I am hoping that by the time you read this you are feeling better. Support and understanding are so important when you’re struggling with this kind of thing. Please be sure to let your healthcare providers know about your fears and see if they can offer some suggestions to you. Be as detailed as possible about what you’re experiencing. If there is a way I can be of service privately, please email me directly. Wishing you the best always.

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