I’ve been in some shitty situations in my life, to say the least. Who hasn’t, right? Some of them were of my own creation and others came straight out of left field and were nearly impossible to prepare for. Here’s a list of things I discovered that helped me find some relief during my, personal, rock bottom.
1. Be nice to people.
Corny? Possibly. Underrated? You bet. If you can be kind through your dark times and not bite the unsuspecting heads off of innocent bystanders, you’ll find your personal happiness uplifted. It won’t pay your bills or fix your health, but it will give you some personal satisfaction and gratification. Plus, good karma is always nice.
2. Accomplish something
During low points, or mine at least, I felt like a total failure. I was simultaneously diagnosed with cancer and then fired from a job I had worked hard toward for years. I was pretty devastated, to say the least. Things felt pointless for awhile, I won’t lie, and even with my daughter (who was, thankfully, with her father over the summer break) I had a hard time focusing on things that felt worth living for. But then, stubbornness took hold and I realized, that when you’re struggling between that month’s rent and eating, even small accomplishments are worthy of note. Clean your house, go for a run, finish a book, finish a story, write a book, volunteer, ect. Just do something, and feel good about it.
3. Treat yourself, even if you can’t afford it
This might sound counterproductive, and maybe it is, but it helped me. I’m not saying you should go buy yourself designer shoes after you get fired from your job, or anything, I mean little stuff. For me this came in the form of having two bucks in the bank and not knowing how I was going to pay for gas for the rest of the week so I could get to work and being on the verge of tears in a Sears’s parking lot. Then I just said ‘fuck it’ and stopped to get a cheap ice cream cone from McDonalds. Judge if you wish, but god damn, was that dollar ice cream cone uplifting. I felt much better after.
4. Go for a walk
It’s really, really easy to get caught up in a cycle of depression, stress, and self deprecation. You don’t want to get out of bed, you don’t want to get dressed, you don’t want to do anything (or at least, this is how I felt) but I promise if you just go outside, take a long walk, and breathe, you’ll feel better, clearer, and more like a person.
Let it go. None of us really have it anyway. We can plan for everything, save all of our money and still not be prepared for what life throws at us. Goals and plans can of course help, but when you sit back and realize the only things you can actually control are what you do, say, and think, you can seriously reduce crushing stress issues.
6. Cry it out
I’m really bad at crying. Like, I just don’t cry very often. Not sure if it’s just something I learned to suppress as I grew up or I’m just not prone to tears, either way, it can, scientifically, be stress relieving. When I found out about my ovarian cancer I didn’t cry for months. I just held that shit together by the tips of my fingers, sure that if I broke down into tears the jig would be up. But when I, inevitably, did cry about it, I felt like a weight had been lifted. I embraced my sadness and ugly cried for hours. I finally accepted how I truly felt about the situation and, in a way, it was freeing. It didn’t fix anything, of course, tears rarely do, but I did feel better.
7. Reach out to people
And I don’t mean reach out to them and unload all your misery on them, everyone has their issues, they don’t need yours too. I mean reach out to someone in friendship, rekindle a relationship with someone that might have grown stagnate, force yourself to be around other people and feign happiness. This was really hard for me for awhile, especially during my treatment stages, but I realized by faking happiness, I actually started to feel happiness. Fake it till you make it, baby.
8. Do something new
Maybe you’ve always wanted to take Kick Boxing, or ride a horse, or try your hand at painting, go for it. Even if you’re drowning in debt, jobless, and friendless, you have to pull yourself out of that, you can’t let yourself settle into misery. I know how easy it is to sit in the dark (after your electricity has been shut off) and hate yourself, to be so ashamed you can hardly move, but you have to. I wrote like a mad woman and I went running for the first time in years. I made myself do things I had never done before and it brought me some perspective and gratitude.
9. Do something for someone else
Similar to #1, but more involved. Go out of your way to do good for others, realize that you are not the only person on the planet who is struggling, that there tons of people in your town and city who are having a tougher time than you are. There was nothing more humbling for me than losing everything. I started looking at the people around me more closely and felt true empathy. I, personally, befriended an elderly woman on my street and got into the habit of coming by her house in the evenings and helping her with what I could; yard work, cleaning, cooking, or just sitting and talking to her (well, more letting her talk at me, she told awesome stories). I still call her on a weekly basis and visit when I can (I live forty minutes away now) and I’m so glad I reached out to help someone when I, myself, felt like I was drowning.
I’ve always been a ‘reader.’ My grandfather was an English professor and had an impressive library where I would snuggle up and read just about anything I could get my hands on. But, typical of depression, I lost interest in reading when I hit my ‘bottom.’ Eventually, however, I forced myself back into it, and I’m glad I did. In some ways, it saved my life. Stories have always given me hope and direction and they did just that as I fought my way through cancer ridden, jobless hopelessness. Reading also allowed me to step outside of my own head/life for awhile, pushing aside my worries and sadness long enough for me to recuperate some of my motivation and self-awareness.
Happiness is fleeting. It’s rarely, if ever, a constant state of being for anyone, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pursue it even when there seems to be nothing worthy of that happiness. You can either let life and its struggles swallow you whole or fight your way to a silver lining. Remember, your happiness is your responsibility.