Hey there, Pollywog —
After all the time I spent writing, re-writing, and fussing over Creating In Chaos, I was pretty darn proud of myself. I thought I’d done a good job covering a difficult topic, especially for someone who was only just coming out of her chaos and finding her new normal.
But it turns out? Life had another helping of chaos in store for me… or two. It sucked, and it continues to suck, but it also helped me realize something. While I did a good job… it wasn’t a complete one. I missed a few points, and honestly, they were big ones.
So without further ado, here are those points. Once again with no relevant details left out and nothing glossed over.
Sometimes you’ll crash. Hard.
As you go through your personal chaos, there will be days when you’ll do triage. You’ll take care of the most important things first, even when there are things you’d rather be doing.
Once there’s a lull in the chaos, there will also be days when you’ll do the fun things. The things that make you happy and have a therapeutic aspect to them. The things that are your way of taking care of yourself.
But there will also be times when you won’t be able to do anything.
Maybe you did too much — you weren’t selective enough in your triage and took on projects and tasks that weren’t so important.
Maybe you pushed too hard. You didn’t take advantage of the lulls in your chaos, and instead of taking it easy for awhile, you kept going with the same intensity.
Maybe you thought your chaos had subsided and you’d reached your new normal, but life had more upheaval in store for you.
Maybe in the midst of all the doing, you never really got a chance to process the way you felt about the change, and the feelings are demanding to be dealt with.
Whatever the reason, you’ll wake up feeling like there’s a lump in your throat and a gaping hole in your chest. Your entire body will scream that it can’t. Do. This. Anymore. The only thing you’ll be able to do? Will be curl up in the fetal position and whimper… and even this might take too much effort.
Been there, done that. As I write this, I’m recovering from one of the worst crashes I’ve had in over a decade.
To make a long story short, I’ve been working hard to make my apartment a home, to take care of myself financially, and to find a sense of community in my new neighborhood, but I’ve run into some setbacks… and some straight up failures… in these areas.
(Including, but not limited to, a demanding and unreasonable boss at a part-time job, a struggling pet-sitting business, some unwanted six-legged house guests, and unwanted advances from a creepy neighbor. Ick.)
It doesn’t seem like much is going my way, in spite of my best efforts. I feel like a failure at adulting, and to be honest, it hurts. And all this hurt? Made me crash so hard I couldn’t drag myself out of bed, let alone think about my interests.
Of course, I did get out of bed, and I did get back to my interests. And I continue to do so, in spite of smaller crashes, or aftershocks, from the big one. Here’s how I did it, how I keep doing it, and how you can, too.
1.) Accept that crashes happen. Even if you take fantastic care of yourself emotionally and physically, there will still be days when your body and mind will reach their limit. There will also be unexpected challenges, setbacks, and failures — they’re all part of chaos.
Most of us have been conditioned to think we shouldn’t have or admit to our limits because it means we’re Playing Small. Being Negative. Well, I’m going to be blunt and say that this is a bunch of New Age malarkey.
(I know, I’m breaking out the saucy language here. But desperate times call for colorful words.)
Having limits doesn’t make you Negative — I really, really wish people would stop using that word — It makes you human. So accept that you’ve hit your limits, and accept that people going through chaos and upheaval hit these limits sooner than others.
And as much as you’re able to? Don’t judge yourself. Do your very best not to use words like weak or Negative, or my personal favorite, train wreck. Substitute the words natural and human.
I usually dislike telling people which words to use, because it seems nit-picky. But as someone who’s prone to self-abuse, I can say, train wreck falls squarely into that category and can quickly lead to other, harsher words. And it’s just not going to get you where you want to be — back to living and creating.
2.) Feel the feelings.
I mentioned earlier that one of the reasons you crashed might be that you were avoiding feelings relating to the change and loss you’ve experienced. Also, the crash itself will stir up some emotions in you like anxiety, depression, and anger.
Whatever is causing these feelings, you need to deal with them. To acknowledge them without punishing yourself for having them, and to feel them as deeply as you can. If your feelings are a raging river? You need to dive in and go for a swim.
Even if these feelings are unpleasant.
Even if they scare the crap out of you.
Even if you worry that having and exploring them makes you a bad person.
Because here’s the thing, my Pollywog pal. Just like crashing means you’re human, so does having and exploring unpleasant emotions. You’re not bad. You’re not weak. You’re not Negative. Just a person doing what people need to do.
Over the past few decades, we’ve been programmed to look at emotions in a black and white way. To focus on the “good” emotions and ignore the “bad” ones, and to judge ourselves and others for failing to do so. We don’t want that scarlet N on our chest. We see is as the worst thing a person could possibly be.
This is more New Age crapola. There is no such thing as a bad emotion, only an unhelpful reaction to an emotion. And if you refuse to deal with feelings because they’re unpleasant, they’re not going to get bored and go away.* They’re going to stick around, and they’ll pop up in all kinds of unpleasant ways.
You might have nightmares.
You might get sick or fall into habits that makes you sick.
You might lose your temper with yourself and people you care about.
You might find it difficult to work on the things you love.
So how do you feel the emotions? Find a nice, safe, quiet place. Put on some gentle, soothing music. Close your eyes. Breathe. And literally imagine yourself jumping into that stream.
The more intensely you feel the feelings, the more deeply you’ll want to breathe, and the more you’ll need to remind yourself that you’re in a nice, safe place. And that they’re only feelings — by themselves, they can’t hurt you.
You’ll also want to remind yourself that there’s a valid reason for your feelings. That you have a right to feel and explore them. And that doing so makes you brave, tough, and most of all, human.
When you do this, I won’t lie — it will be scary, especially at first. When I started doing this for my grief, I cried harder than I’d ever cried before, and I wondered if I would stop.
But if you stick with it, you might just find, like I did, that regularly doing this kind of work feels good, like a deep tissue massage.
You might also find, like I did, that doing this makes you heal faster… and prevents some crashes from even happening.
I could talk about this forever — healthy emotional expression is one of my Lifelong Obsessions. I have a project in the works that I’m really excited about, and I’ll go into much more detail there.
Until then, remember this: there are worse things in life than being Negative. Things like not healing. Things like staying stuck in a long term, low grade crash and not creating — or not creating to your full potential. Things like rejecting yourself, and others, for being human.
3.) Take a break.
We got into some heavy stuff just now, didn’t we? Well, let’s switch to something lighter for a minute.
The main theme of this blog is finding ways to do the things you love. That said? Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself and your interests is nothing at all.
When you’re in the middle of a crash, this is especially true. Because your system is overwhelmed, and what you need now, more than anything else, is to recharge.
So as much as you’re able to, I want you to abdicate all responsibility. Give triage a rest. Ignore your projects for awhile. Stay in bed for an hour, or a couple hours, or most of the day. Snuggle your dog or a stuffed animal.** Watch movies or stare at the ceiling. Take a nap.
Do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself in your fragile state. And I know I’m going to sound like a broken record at this point, but do this with as little judgement as possible.
We’re a society of people focused on doing, aren’t we? We work long hours, we have all sorts of relationships, and if we’re polymaths, we have dozens of interests and projects. We’re afraid of stopping, because we’re afraid of seeming lazy. We think that if we stop doing so much, our whole world will fall apart.
But it won’t. Not in an hour, not in half a day. In fact, you’ll probably find, like I did after I spent an entire day on the couch watching season 1 of Burn Notice, that you’ll come back to your responsibilities better than ever. With more energy, with better solutions to your problems, and with more strength.
4.) Do something easy.
So you’ve crashed. And you’ve spent some time doing absolutely nothing. And now maybe you’re feeling like you’d like a few more days… or even weeks. Because that bed is so comfy, and the plot to Burn Notice is so interesting, and life is so hard, and…
Nope. Don’t even go there.
As someone who once spent months sleeping for 18 hours a day, I can say that while one day off is healthy, more than that can lead to some bad habits, and these can be even harder to recover from than a crash. So resist the temptation at all costs.
The good news is, just because you’re forcing yourself to start doing things again doesn’t mean you have to be harsh about it. I have plenty of advice for working when you don’t want to, and most of it is here.
You can follow that advice, and you can also start with something nice and easy. Something that doesn’t require too much planning or logical thought. Something that’s relaxing and meditative and comforting.
For me, that something has been reading fiction. Since my crash I’ve read the second and third books in the Miss Peregrine series by Ransom Riggs. I’ve done my reading in bed, at a nice shady picnic bench in the park, and on a few pet-sitting jobs, and the beautiful dark way the books are written has soothed me like nothing else.
And while I’d probably find writing fiction difficult right now — in spite of wanting so very badly to get back into it — I’ve found that editing one of my old short horror stories has been a nice, easy activity, too.
(Not to mention, fun. Coming back to a story I wrote six years ago is a lot like reading something by another person — a crazy, loopy person who shares my love of puns.)
So pick something easy and comforting, whatever that might be for you. And once you’ve done that awhile? Pick something else that’s nice and easy and comforting… but maybe just a little more challenging than the first one.
Keep working your way up at a pace that’s natural for you, and before you know it, you’ll be back to where you were before the crash.
You don’t have to do it alone.
Maybe you’re like me. You navigate your chaos feeling like you have everything to prove.
That you’re smart.
That you’re resilient.
That you’re responsible.
That you’re not as immature, inept, dependent, and lazy as the mean voices in your head keep saying you are.***
So what do you do to prove yourself? You do everything. All the time.
You go to work and pay your bills. You track your expenses in nifty little charts. You scrub your apartment from top to bottom. You cook elaborate meals almost every night. You immerse yourself in new interests. You work on your four, five, or six creative projects. You do your emotional work.
And every time there’s a problem? You research and solve it by yourself. You make your own insect bait with Borax and cocoa. In an effort to win the Amateur Handyman of the Year Award, you even fix the sticky-uppy nail in your studio with gaffer tape.
(And… maybe the hole in your window screen. And the hole on your closet.)
And if there’s something you can’t fix, you keep beating your head against that brick wall until you crash.
You do this because you don’t want to be a burden to other people — after all, friends have their own stress, their own chaos, and you don’t want to add to it.
You might even be afraid of losing friendships. When we’re constantly told to Be Positive and get rid of Negative People in the same way we might rid ourselves of six-legged house guests, it makes perfect sense to fear being abandoned.
But more than anything, you hold back because you think asking for help means that you’re not smart, resilient, or responsible.
And the truth is? You’re wrong… and so am I.
Because we all have our limits, nobody can do everything alone.
As a polymath, this might be especially hard for you to admit because you’re so good at doing and learning a lot of different things. But it’s the truth, and the sooner you accept it, and the sooner you open up, the better off you’ll be.
Getting your problems out in the open can make them smaller and resolve them faster. If you’re skeptical, I want you to watch this talk, Isolation Is The Dream Killer, by my role model, Barbara Sher. You’ll realize the way I did that when people come together to help each other, stuff gets done. It’s the closest thing to actual magic in this world.
And when you reach out, you’ll discover another kind of real, actual magic. Because you’ll find that other people are having a rough time, too. And you’ll get to be there for them as they’ve been there for you.
This happened to me more than once, and I learned that being the one who listens and shows empathy, the one who gives that one piece of advice nobody else is giving, the one who gives people a safe place to be raw and real, is one of the biggest privileges in life. There’s no feeling like it.
But for the record? You don’t always have to talk about your chaos. Follow your polymath nature and share your projects and interests with people, and invite them to share their own. It’s a great way to take your mind off your troubles for awhile and remind yourself that you are not your chaos.
Some of my most healing conversations were about customizing dolls. Sharing tips and techniques. Discussing plans for different projects. Squealing over each other’s photos. I’ve also talked with friends about painting, voice acting, and incredibly creepy/cool Lovecraftian art projects.****
I’ve found that being a polymath comes in especially handy here. More than once, I’ve chatted with someone I met because of one common interest, and we’ve started talking about another interest. And that person has said to me, there isn’t anyone else I can talk to about this. There isn’t anyone else who gets it! It’s amazing to be that person for someone.
In the end, you’ll probably find that opening up to people has a different effect than you thought it would. It doesn’t push them away, but actually brings you closer together. It brings opportunities you never would have had, if you’d kept everything to yourself.
So if you’re the kind of person who does everything alone, I want you to acknowledge this about yourself. And I want you to know that being this way doesn’t make you a terrible, horrible, antisocial person. Just like there’s a perfectly good reason behind your feelings, there’s a perfectly good reason you dislike, or fear, reaching out.*****
But I also want you to know that you’re denying yourself a lot of gorgeous experiences. And so I’d like you to make a list of all the compassionate people in your life. The kind of people who aren’t concerned with Negative and Positive, so much as Real, Alive, and Human.
Next, I want you to take a deep breath and reach out to a couple of them.
I have to be honest with you… I’m not OK right now. Can we talk?
I’ve been trying and trying to fix my problem with X, but I’m not getting anywhere. Got any ideas?
So I just got back into painting. Want to come over to my place and watch Burn Notice and make art?
And then I want you to give yourself a very awkward high-five for taking this step.
Now, you’re probably thinking, your homework is over. Once you’ve proven you can reach out, you can go your merry way without thinking about this again. But here’s something I’ve learned the hard way. Doing it once? Is awesome, but it isn’t going to cure you. Like any new skill, you need to practice it to get good at it.
(Otherwise, like any skill, you’ll get rusty at it. Or, to put it another way, your reachy-outy muscles will atrophy.)
So here’s what I want you to do. Once a week, or every two weeks if you’re feeling resistant, I want you to check in with yourself. And I want you to ask, is there anything that’s overwhelming me? Is there anything I can’t do own my own? And I want you to take a deep breath and ask for help again — even if it’s with something tiny, like a sticky-uppy nail on your floor.
I want you to keep doing this until reaching out isn’t something you have to think so hard about.
And if you’re at a time in your life where there’s a shortage of compassionate people? I’m here, and I’m in the same place as you, doing the same homework. Shoot me an email. I know what it’s like to feel lonely and isolated. If I can be there for you the way my friends have been there for me, it will be a frigging honor.
Holy crap, this was a long post! I’ve created not just one, but two summary graphics for all the most important points. Ready?
I hope this post was helpful to you, Pollywog. And if it was? I’d like you to do something. Please share this post with someone who’s going through chaos and upheaval.
Because when I started writing this, I had no idea I’d go this deep or cover this material so soon. It’s some of the most important stuff I’ll ever share, and I want to reach and help as many people as possible.
Thank you for reading, sharing, and just being there.
PS: Did you think we were done? Ha! Nope. Here are some handy dandy resources to help you navigate your chaos.
Via Spartan Life Coach: How feeling the feelings helps you heal faster.
Want to know how to talk to someone who’s in the middle of chaos? Want to know what you absolutely shouldn’t say? Here’s an amazing talk by Brene Brown on empathy.
Most of us live in fear of going mad. But here’s an interesting take on madness.
Are you grieving the loss of someone you loved? Does it seem like everyone expects you to be over it before you’re ready? You’re not alone.
Does all the talk about Negative and Positive bug you as much as it bugs me? Well, here is one of my favorite books of all time. The Antidote: Happiness For People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking. If you want to know if this book is for you, here’s a short video all about it.
Also, here’s Barbara Sher on why a Positive Attitude isn’t necessary for getting where you want to be.
Maybe you’re dealing with depression… and the self-hatred that often comes with it? The Depression Book is another of my favorite books, and one that changed my entire life. Even if you’re like me, and not a spiritual person at all, there’s so much to learn from it.
And finally, if you feel that you’re falling behind in life, the way I do, this is a good read.
*As nice as it would be if your depression went for a walk in the park and forgot about you completely.
**When I’m not on a dog-sitting job, my favorite snuggle buddy is Sir Reginald Puppington, a pink plush puppy I rescued from Goodwill. He’s very soft, and he’s missing part of an ear. And I love him so very much.
***If you grew up as an unappreciated polymath and/or in an abusive family environment the way I did, these voices are probably an echo of all the things you were told. But no matter where they come from? They’re lying liars who lie.
****Projects which may make an appearance here, if I get around to them.
*****If you grew up in a situation like mine, and you literally couldn’t trust the people who were supposed to protect you, of course you’ll hate reaching out. Because the message you got over and over was that it wasn’t safe.