What to Do When It Feels Like All the Bad Things Are Happening to You
Pretty recently I had a set of bad things happen over the span of a few days that threw off my equilibrium. Rupert, my sweet dog of fifteen years passed away, our truck was stolen, the dishwasher broke down for good all during a visit from the in-laws. When bad things happen in bunches, you start seeing everything as a sign of the next awful thing to happen. The passing of Rupert was the most emotionally difficult of the events that took place. The other things were annoyances with financial implications that took place inconveniently while family stayed with us. Yet, I did grow anxious about that next awful thing occurring and a younger me would have retreated into a safe space hoping that the next bad thing couldn’t find me. (Also, I tended to withdraw at times like this, also keeping myself out of contact with the happy surprises that seemed scarce.)
I’ve had situations where all of the things were related to work - a presentation didn’t go well; I had an awkward conversation with a professional peer and/or the opportunity that I sought didn’t come to me. Maybe in my head I think that the arc of my success will now forever more be stunted. I’ve been there before. I hope you haven’t, or at least it has been a long time.
Are you familiar with “catastrophizing?” It is a way of thinking where a person jumps to the worst possible conclusion. Typically, this is a hasty decision made with limited information and often based out of fear. In my case, I might have taken or given myself a moment and said:
-Rupert had been sick and outlived the prognosis of the vet by almost a year.
-Car and truck thefts have had a huge spike in my home city and have taken place in my neighborhood too.
-Appliances break. A dishwasher that is 20 years old needing to be replaced isn’t unusual.
Nonetheless, the set of things taking place across a few days as my in-laws were in the house felt ominous. And some people I know, who sometimes don’t say the most ‘helpful’ things will make comments that lead you down Catastrophizing Avenue.
-Isn’t it strange that all these things are happening at once?
-I know if that happened to me, I would take it as a sign.
-Are you afraid of what might happen next?
Yes, some people don’t self-edit very well.
So, how do you deal if you are in a place where the bad things seem to be mounting? Here’s what I do.
Accept that the feelings you have at this moment are valid
It's okay to feel overwhelmed. It's normal, and it happens to everyone at some point or another. When this happens to you, it can be helpful to examine the source of your feelings and then accept that it is normal to feel overwhelmed by life sometimes. Don’t ignore these feelings or expect them to go away immediately.
Take a Step Back
Give yourself the time to take a step back and get some perspective on the situation and allow yourself time to process. Perhaps take a break if this is feeling overwhelming. You're not alone in feeling this way--it happens to everyone at some point or another. Recognize that others would understand that you want to catch your breath, and that you too would advise others to do so.
Don’t Isolate Yourself
Reach out to the wise people that you trust most in your life and seek out their guidance. Let them know what you are thinking and allow them to support you. You may also have friends who have dealt with the same issues recently who can help you. In my past I have had a tendency to isolate when the bad thing happens, and this simply extends the recovery time. Share your perspective with others who can offer useful feedback that you are prepared to hear and then work with them to…
Create a Plan
All of the things that I mentioned above required me to take some action. Whether it was donating Rupert’s leftover medication to a charity, filing a police report and insurance claim, locating a short-term rental, and locating a new dishwasher. You can give yourself time to process your feelings, but also solve for these new issues that have come up.
Remember to Look Out for Joy
This is a great time to reach out to some of your favorite friends and perhaps do something silly. One of the things I decided to do was to stay at an animal rescue for a week. It seemed like being around baby goats and ducklings would get me out of my head and remind me of some of the beauty in the world. For you it might be listening to some of your favorite happy music or seeing the next season of your favorite streaming shows. You have to remember all of things that you look forward to.
Finally, if you find yourself down the hole and incapable of getting out this is a perfect time to reach out to a therapist. A good one can help you replace some of your irrational thoughts. For example,” I did a poor job on this project. I’m a failure who is bound to lose his job and end up destitute” to “I know my boss shared his disappointment. I will apologize tomorrow and that should be fine given that this hasn’t happened before. Everything is going to work out”.
They are there particularly for these times where it feels like we’ve run out of options that we are feeling confident in pursuing.