Everyone goes through hard days. No matter how strong or confident we are, we all go through periods in our lives when we question the very reason for our existence: we break down and feel too weak to look ahead and sometimes the very wings that gave us flight begin to weigh us down. This is the human condition: to be in a perpetual state of high and lows. Success, in my book anyway, is like going through a car wash: you get scrubbed up and beat down but you come out shinier on the other end.
I’ve been separated from my boys for some time now (for reasons that I won’t go into), and some days can be very, very dark. In the past, I used to feel like I was trapped under huge rocks of intense sadness with no light in sight. It was scary to feel that powerless. I compare that feeling to someone grabbing the remote off of your hands and changing the channels on your own TV set while you just look helplessly on. You get upset but all you do is sink back into the couch further until it swallows you whole. When I hit rock bottom, I knew I had to change because I didn’t want to end up being that old lady who was angry at everyone, including myself. Instead of despair, I chose hope.
Next time you feel depressed, try these exercises to get yourself our of despair and into hope mode:
I may not be living with my boys but alhamdulillah, they are in good health. I do have wonderful stepsons and a supportive husband. I live in a wonderful city which allows me to indulge in my many curiosities. I get to get a chance to make a difference in other people’s lives every day through my philanthropic activities.
The thing about gratitude is that it forces to focus on the ‘right’ rather than the ‘wrong’. It pulls you back into the present, back to your breath, out of your head, and into the cosy nooks of your heart.
I keep a gratitude journal and each night, I try to write down 3 things that I am grateful for that day. Think of anything that you are grateful at this moment and write it down. Talk about it. Share it with a friend. If you can’t think of anything to be grateful for, put your hand over the left part of your chest and feel the ‘thump, thump, thump’ against your cavity walls. Hear that? That’s a sound of better days to come.
Take an inventory of successes (and helpers)
Think of all your accomplishments you’ve achieved in the last five years. Write them down and think of how you got from point A to point B. What hurdles did you have to overcome along the way? What resources did you call in to help you deal with those roadblocks? Was it prayers/your family/a good book/a song/a place? Successes are never a one-man performance and it’s a relief to know that we can lean into something much greater than ourselves. Helpers helps take the anxiety off.
Personally, I was astounded when I looked at my own list of achievements. It made me realise that my accomplishments far outweigh my defeats. Woohoo! Another thing that I realised? That I am surrounded by an abundance of blessings. Tragic moments brought my family closer together and moved me nearer to God. My personal relationship with God and my family are now two things that are dearer to me than anything else in the world. Sure, I still worry about future storms but my assurance in prayer and family always floods my head with peace.
Tie your camel
An Islamic narration points to one incident when a Bedouin asked the Prophet Muhammad “Should I tie my camel and place my trust in Allah for her protection, or should I leave her untied and trust in Allah to protect her?” The Prophet replied, “Tie her first and then have trust.” [At-Tirmidhi]
In other words, work towards the manifestation of your blessings. Don’t wait for happy moments to fall off the sky. If you want to get somewhere (physical or otherwise), create a game plan. Map out exactly what you need to do in order to take you from HERE to THERE. I am a firm believer in the power of list-making so I prefer to write my game plan down. Then, get to work. Put the time and effort in. (Don’t forget to reward yourself along the way: go to a spa, travel to Iceland, get a double scoop of icecream…whatever tickles your fancy.)
Keep doing what needs doing now in order to get what you want for the future.
Approach everything with a healthy dose of curiosity
When you come to a stumbling block rather than jumping to an ‘I AM DOOMED’ conclusion, look at the block with a curious set of eyes. Place hope at the forefront of every problem and push through building a solution by engaging the world around you. Chances are that the problem you have has been experienced by someone else before, so look for wisdom from people who have been through the same. Personally, I find books to be wonderful sources of knowledge and for almost every life crisis I’ve faced, I’ve faced it head-on with a book in hand.
It is said we are only as rich as what we give out to others. Generosity doesn’t only involve money; it can be giving your time, your knowledge or skills, or your effort, to others. Studies show that giving to others increases feel-good chemicals in our brains, thus making us happier in the long term. Charity and volunteerism are both ‘drugs’ that we should all get high on. If you want to fight depression, help someone else in need.
Tough times do not have to define your life. What strategies do you use to cope with difficulties?