This week, I caught a “cold.” It presented as a sinus infection, likely viral, and fairly annoying if not completely debilitating. I think the added distress of this infection was that I haven’t had a “cold” in the last several years. I think I believed I was “immune” – but of course, I’m not.
We’ve adopted so many precautions over the last few years, to avoid COVID-19, that we’ve also been spared the many (thousands) of contagious infections that circulate in our communities. Well, this week, I wasn’t spared.
Basically, I’ve felt like $&#! all weekend and I’m startled by my lack of resilience when confronted with a simple, common, infection which, five years ago, would not have surprised me a bit. I’d have reached into my medicine cabinet and pulled out the usual battery of OTC symptom relief tools that I now, no longer have at my immediate disposal – I’ll need to visit the pharmacy (again). I was woefully underprepared for this infection!
I share all this with you not merely to complain (although, whining a bit does feel curiously good), but because catching a “cold” is a metaphor for any number of other things that befall us and catch us off-guard, surprised that we could be so vulnerable to their assault.
Life has a habit of taking us by surprise. Events catch us off guard, like my cold, and send us reeling. An accident, injury, illness, sudden family stress, relationship disruption, or job change — these are some of the stressful events that can shake our poise and leave us feeling unprepared.
So, it made me wonder, what’s caught you off guard recently? What’s surprised you by falling into your lap and requiring you to adjust to its presence, respond to its demands and rearrange your life for its duration in your life?
This too, will pass. . . We can usually meet these unpleasant, unplanned, and unexpected circumstances with the platitude, “this too will pass!” but in all truth, it’s distressing when life’s circumstances catch us by surprise and shake our preferred confidence that we’re “ready for anything!”
The difficulty remains that we don’t know (for sure) that this will pass. Unlike my cold, a common infection that generally has a 10-day (or less) life expectancy, many of the things that life springs on us may not be short-lived, they may stay with us for longer than we’d expect, and that uncertainty magnifies the problem.
For too many of us, the experience of being caught off guard struck us when we learned we’d become a caregiver! Joy Loverde, a writer concerned about family caregiving and aging solo in today’s world has several recommendations about THAT experience of being surprised by life’s realities – her wisdom can serve us in MANY similar circumstances:
- Step One: Take a breath– let yourself be less reactive and more responsive to whatever circumstances you’re facing – just breathe and let your nervous system know, this is not the time to panic!
- Step Two: Get organized– depending on the events, this could mean gathering materials, documents or contact information – for caregivers, this is likely an on-going process!
- Step Three: Accumulate resources– learn from the experts, what are you really facing? Don’t let other people’s anxiety drive yours.
- Step Four: Gain understanding of the big picture – know what you’re really dealing with! There’s always the danger of awfulizing – making it worse than it is, so avoid overreaction and learn all you can about what’s going on and/or likely to occur from here.
- Step Five: Ask specific questions – now is not the time to be quiet, when you need to manage something new to you, especially in an unexpected point in time, you need information. Write down what you need to ask and don’t be bashful when seeking answers from the professionals.
- Step Six: Gather an informal network of support – none of us survives the caregiver role without a team around us. That team may change over time, but in the early days, when you’re like to feel that wave of overwhelm, be sure to reach out to others who can support you.
So, whatever it may be that’s caught you off guard recently – a respiratory virus or a parent’s sudden confusion – take a minute and breathe! Remember that you’re generally a very capable person, able to rise to the occasion, even when it is a surprise!
And, if life’s surprises are feeling a bit overwhelming, remember that I’m here for you. Coaching can’t solve all your problems, but it can offer fresh perspective, provide you with a clear reality check and validate your capacity to take the next, necessary steps!