Devastated? Get some perspective

Life can throw anyone a curve ball. No one is exempt from this, however much money, or qualifications, or good looks, or friends they have.

Accidents can happen quickly and to anyone, a family death can hit you out of the blue, you can fail to get into the course you wanted, your parents suddenly announce they're getting divorced, you get meningitis or your girlfriend/boyfriend can leave you for your best friend.

Sometimes these things are pretty serious and will have a life-long effect on you, but sometimes the agony will cast a shadow over your life only for a short while. It might be that you have not gone through something like this before, and as a result, there is nothing against which to measure it. So it feels like the end of the world. It's not.

If you feel you are not coping with the stress, the grief, or the shock, get to your doctor and ask for some help. If you haven't slept for three nights, or you haven't had an appetite in days, or you are crying all the time, you may need help to get through this devastating patch in your life. Get help. You don't earn any brownie points for suffering unnecessarily.

But keep the following things in mind:

How will I feel about this in a year's time? This can give a lot of perspective on your situation. If you've been stood up for an important date, or lost a job, or been sideswiped by a friend, chances are that a year from now, your life will have moved on and this unpleasant incident will be all but forgotten. If it's something serious and grim, like the death of someone you cared for, know that a year from now, you will probably still think about this person a lot, and miss them, but that sense of utter devastation will have receded somewhat.

Will this heavy sense of loss last forever? That numbing sense of loss you have when something really horrible happens, can last for days, maybe even weeks, but it is unlikely to last for months on end. If it does, you may be suffering from depression. Usually within a few months, the good things in your life will be able to make you feel good again – even it does not seem likely right now. There will come a time when what has happened to you has been assimilated into your being. It becomes a part of you, but not everything there is to you. The process of mourning – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance – is something you will go through too.

Will I remember the good times one day? Yes, even if your girlfriend ran off with someone else, chances are that there will come a time when you will be able to remember the good times you had. If you didn't have any, what were you doing with her in the first place?

Does this happen to many people? When something grim happens to you, it feels like something that's happened for the first time. It has happened for the first time to you, but many others have been through humiliations, deaths in the family, illnesses etc. Sometimes it is good to think of the many others who have survived through something similar. It can be done, and remember, strong people go for help.

Am I looking at all possibilities? Often, in a crisis situation, we see things in black and white. If I don't get into medical school, I don't want to study at all. Or if I can't have this guy, I'll be on my own for the rest of my life. There are millions of possibilities out there, mostly not just one or two. You could become a landscape gardener, or end up with someone much better than the person who just dumped you. Broaden your perspective. Although it may be the last thing you want to do consider doing right now.

Am I blaming myself for things which are not my fault? This is a big one. If someone treated you badly, stole your money, beat you up, snatched your partner, they are at fault, not you. We cannot always be on guard 24 hours of the day. Sometimes we trust people when we should not – but the worst mistake you have made is to trust the wrong person. The other things are their fault and you should not blame yourself for what they have done. You can never hope to control other people or their actions. Don't even try.

Is this really the end of the world? Even if someone close to you dies, or you are very sick, or your boyfriend turns out to be gay – it feels like the end of the world, but it's not. Millions of others have been through similar things and survived. While that may not be much of a consolation right now, when all you feel like doing is crawling in under your bed and staying there, all you need to do is to get through the first week or two and then you will start to feel better. If you don't, you may be suffering from depression, and that can be treated.

Will all of this be forgotten in five years' time? If you fail Grade 11, it is a disaster when it happens, but five years down the line, you will be giggling about it over a beer with good friends. Time does give us perspective, and something which may seem totally devastating when it happens, fades into insignificance as time goes by. There will come a time when you will again enjoy sitting in the sun, reading a book, laughing with friends, enjoying a party, playing with the cat and sleeping through the night.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, October 2006)

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