A huge setback. How to deal with it?

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The expected
You’ve got a new job, you’re about to start your own business, there is a junior on the way, or you’re going to move. It’s a conscious change that you invite in your life, it’s something you look forward to (Exciting! Can’t wait!) ánd not look forward to (‘What will happen? I’m not sure, somewhere I’m a bit scared too’). The time when I left my job, moved abroad, and started to work for myself, was a lot to process. It was a dream come true, and it brought a lot of insecurity. It definitely took some time to get used to.

The unexpected
What about the type of change you are not able to see coming? Like a layoff, the end of a relationship, or a health issue?

This happened to my partner Alex – the cyclist fanatic also featuring in  Focus vs Force – who got into a serious accident. Alex broke and damaged everything on the right side of his torso, which resulted in significant time spent at the Intensive Care and a long summer indoors. I’ve looked with admiration at how he’s handling the situation. His positive and down to earth attitude was noticed by others around us too. It made me curious. How is he doing that? What could we learn from his experience when we are overwhelmed by planned and unplanned change? I decided to ask.

You went from active athlete, to immobile and dependent, and all your summer plans were thrown into disarray. How did you deal with that?
First, it was not something I choose for. Someone else – the driver who hit me – forced me to adjust to this new situation. From the beginning, I did not have a decision. But when I was in the hospital and couldn’t move myself, I realized I did have a choice. The choice of either to swim with the current, accept the situation and cooperate, or to swim against the current, to deny the situation and resist. I wondered; what would happen if I swim against the current? I realized the situation would be even harder, because I would pay attention to a lot of negatives. For example; if I focus on the pain, I will feel more pain. And if I focus on what I can’t do, I’ll feel even more limited. I also wondered; what would happen if I swim with the current? Than it would become easier. If I accept it for what it is, I can focus on the positive aspects.

What does that look like exactly?
For example: When I think about the highlight of my day, my daily walk outside, I feel motivated. How far I can go is the measure stick for how I’m doing. I also asked myself what I could get out of this situation. Since the accident, I got to know my body and thoughts much better. And we as a couple got closer. I also discovered that there are a lot of people that care about us. If I would have swum against the current, if I resisted my situation, I wouldn’t be able to see all that. Then I would have been busy with myself and how much I pitied myself.

That sounds nice. And what do you do on bad days?
I accept that it’s just part of it. That there is no way around them. And I try to look at what makes it a bad day. During the last days, I was experiencing more pain. When I look back, I think it had to do with that I moved a lot. And I had sat on chair for too long.

And then?
I’m taking it easy and watch something enjoyable on Netflix. The following day I’ll think about next steps again. Like that it has become a little easier to dry myself independently after a shower.

Overall, you seem to feel less frustrated about this setback than another setback in the past; not being happy in a new job. How does that work, you think?
Not liking my job did not improve for a long time. There is improvement in this situation on a daily basis. And I had a lot of expectations about my new job, I don’t have any of that now. I could not have any expectations, I did not see this accident coming. I try to have not too many expectations about my recovery, it prevents disappointment.

Now you’ve been through this, what would you advise people that are facing change?
Try to surrender. Try to swim with the current, and accept that new situations take time to get used to. You can also ask yourself what sort of positive aspects this situation brings to light. You can simply be aware of the positive aspects by paying attention to them often. And let other people help you when it gets rough, that’s also what I did.

You don’t have to do it alone
A helpful question, when you encounter an impactful expected or unexpected change, could be: What can you do to get yourself through this change in a pleasant way? What do you need to feel good? And who could be of support?
For Alex, it was counting his blessings, watching shows he now had time for, take rests as soon as his body told him to, and let people come over to cook/chat/grill/boardgame/and-what-not. What would it be for you?

A Dutch translation of this piece was originally published on Competencer and can be found here.

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