Recovering from a Breakdown (1)
By: Beth McHugh 2006
“The longest journey starts with a single step”
What can you do when your life is a mess, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong, and you feel you are so far down the slippery slope that you will never see the light of day again?
Many people find themselves in this situation. You are certainly not alone. Perhaps your situation has gone on for so long that you have forgotten what it is like to be happy and feel in control of your life. Time has weakened your coping skills and many of your friends and supports have deserted you for other, less troubled people. What can you do?
If you find yourself in chronic difficulties and, because of those difficulties, all aspects of your life seem out of control, regaining that control can seem almost impossible. The important word here, though, is “almost”.
Sidney Smith once said:
“It is the greatest of mistakes to do nothing because you can only do a little. Do what you can.”
This is sound advice. To not start a task, whether it is cleaning up the house which has resembled a battle zone for some months, or to start looking for employment when your partner has left you and you’ve been out of the workforce for 10 years, means that nothing can ever change. Remember, the longest journey starts with a single step.
For most life goals, we are encouraged to look at the end result to encourage us to do the hard yards. For example, if we passionately want to be an airline pilot, we must expect to put in many hours of hard work and study, plus a lot of cash, to ultimately achieve our goal. To help ourselves get through the hard work it takes to achieve our treasured goals, we are encouraged to focus on the end result. We practice seeing ourselves as a fully qualified pilot.
However, when dealing with chronic emotional illnesses, we often can’t envisage the goal of wellness, or imagine that we can ever be well again. It is just too difficult. We may as well try to fly to Mars. This is when we must concentrate on the small goals, and not look too far ahead into the future, less we become discouraged by the enormity of the task. So, we take the small steps. We set small goals. Perhaps you haven’t been well enough to clean the house properly for months. You look around at the “goal” of cleaning it. It all seems too much. There’s no way you can do it. This is where we remember the words of Sidney Smith quoted above. We do what we can.
In the case of cleaning the house, we ignore the “greater goal” of having a perfectly clean house and instead focus on one thing. That one thing may be making the bed. Having made the bed, we have achieved our goal for the day.
The thing we must not do now is to think: “All I’ve done is made the bed. I’m pathetic.” On the contrary, you are a great success. Yesterday, you did not make the bed. Today, you did. That’s a 100% improvement rate. Most business and sportspeople would kill for a performance such as that!
In articles to come, we will look at extending this theme to examine many different ways in which you can move from feeling out of control of your life, to slowly achieving a sense of mastery again.