Keeping Perspective in a Difficult Time

Life is filled with unexpected events. You can blame this on a number of things- a plan, if you’re religious, fate, if you aren’t, or chaos, if you’re Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park. Sometimes, unexpected things are oddly funny- like a balloon slowly losing helium and floating down next to you on stage. Sometimes they’re lovely- like a really good hug or flowers from an aunt. Unfortunately, sometimes… they’re unhappy. Recent events in my family (including three close family members in the hospital in the span of a few weeks) have led me to closely consider my own perspectives in dealing with those unexpected events that require more of a response than, say, laughing it off. Here are some things I came up with that may be worth consideration in other situations.

To many people, perspective just means comparison. “Well, my situation is just X, and thankfully it isn’t Y, so I guess I shouldn’t be feeling C.” WRONG! Your situation X is creating feeling C. End of equation. Situation Y isn’t on either side of the equals sign. Your feelings are just that- feelings- and they’re not right or wrong. They’re yours. Your situation is X and sometimes X is just total crap. It’s okay to feel like total crap about the total crap that is going on in your life. It’s okay to walk away from your workplace for 5 minutes, kick an empty cardboard box, and shake your fist at life. It’s okay to cry the ugliest kind of crying in your car (safely, of course, maybe pull over first..) on the way to the hospital or your friend’s house or the courthouse. If someone passing by laughs, makes faces, or otherwise judges you; it’s too bad for them that they haven’t learned any perspective yet. Good for you.

Here’s the life-changing thing that changed my perspective:

a film called “Overview” that I found on VIMEO, about astronauts’ views of the Earth from outside.

I watched this for ten minutes, and then watched it again, and then woke up every morning for the next month thinking about it and realizing new and wild things: Countries should definitely not be bombing each other. Money is totally fake and unimportant. Life is really short. There’s so much we don’t know… on and on and on.

The thing is, though; that realizing a new perspective doesn’t mean you can stop brushing your teeth or paying your rent. Self-care doesn’t mean you can abandon all responsibility and go to the beach for three weeks.

Hope may just mean looking at the bigger picture. Think about a time when things weren’t so bad, and know that you’ll have more of that in the future. It’s important to be realistic about a given situation. It’s important to get the care you need from the professionals who offer it. But do it all while holding a big umbrella called HOPE, and don’t let anyone take it from you. I find that the clients who come from religious backgrounds have the easiest time with hope. But even if you’re not religious, you can choose to have hope in so many things- either realistic things, like ‘tomorrow I will start the day over’; or extraordinary things like ‘when I die I will become a sea turtle and roam freely’. Don’t think too hard about hope. If you’re already having a hard time emotionally, you may get into a circular thinking pattern: ‘but the oceans are polluted, so i’ll probably die again as a sea turtle’. YIKES.

TGMs- not the jaw issue, but TINY GOOD MOMENTS- are some of my favorite things. That old phrase ‘stop and smell the roses’ is actually quite good advice. A common complaint from people who are failing to practice self-care is that they don’t have TIME. They don’t have time to go on a 20 minute walk every day, or call a friend, or go to a support group. Fair enough. So here’s a practice that’ll be easier. At least 3 times a day, find ONE thing that’s beautiful or positive in the world. Keep it really simple. REALLY SIMPLE. Because remember, if you’re going through Situation X and it is Total Crap, it may be quite hard to find the positive. So, by really simple, I mean, observe things that on any other day would seem ridiculous. “Wow, this blade of grass is silky.” “That cloud is shaped like a pair of scissors.” “I’m so glad my legs are working today.” etc.

If there are other humans involved in your situation, remember that you can only be responsible for you and your reactions. Let the other humans do their own human things. This includes realizing that other people make their own choices and you can only do as much as you can do to help, to change their minds, to make things right.

And since this blog post is coming from a music therapist, I suppose I should include that EVEN if you’ve never touched an instrument in your life, music can be an excellent way to explore how you’re feeling without being overwhelmed by feelings. Find some tunes that reach you, and just put your head down and listen for awhile. If you end up dancing around your living room to D’Angelo, that’s probably what you needed. If you end up crying into a bowl of popcorn to Sarah MacLachlan, hey- do it. You’re only human, and that’s pretty extraordinary.