Life is hard sometimes. Like, really, really hard.
Almost everyone I know is dealing with something really hard right now: natural disaster, cancer, infant loss, systemic racism, chronic pain, caring for sick parents, divorce, depression, homophobia, transphobia, anxiety, job loss, seizures, major surgery, bankruptcy… the list could go on.
All super difficult, complicated, and really hard things.
At some point in our lifetime, we will each experience significant pain and loss, and I think it's easy to feel like we must maintain a good attitude, “stay strong” or put on a brave face.
You don't have to have to pretend everything is OK.
You don't have to stay strong if you feel like crumbling.
You don't have to keep a stiff upper lip if you need a good cry.
On September 30th, surrounded by our family, my dear Gama passed away. I don’t even know how to begin paying my respects to a woman like my Gama. In all the times I’ve written about her, I’ve never found the words to truly capture who she was and the life she lived.
Gama was a thinker and doer. She was a feminist. She fought for equality and civil rights for all. She was a lifelong advocate for education. She marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. twice in the ‘60s, cared for Central American refugees seeking political asylum in the ‘80s, and fought against sex trafficking in the ‘90s. In the aftermath of 9/11, she chose to go pray in a mosque in her hometown of Owensboro, Kentucky, in an act of solidarity with the Muslims of her own community.
Gama was intelligent, kind, progressive, funny, gracious, and not to be messed with.
She was and will continue to be one of my greatest inspirations. I couldn’t be more proud and grateful to have had her in my life for the last 33 years.
I'm heartbroken that she’s gone.
I went to bed on the night of her passing, and didn’t wake up until 36 hours later. When I did, horror and human tragedy were once more all over the news. and all I wanted to do was crawl back under the covers and not come out.
I know I'm not alone in feeling this way. Sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves is to absolutely lose ourselves in our grief.
Grief is love’s souvenir. It’s our proof that we once loved. Grief is the receipt that we wave in the air that says to the world: Look! Love was once mine. I love well. Here is my proof that I paid the price! — Glennon Doyle
I used to be afraid of feeling sad, of truly allowing myself to grieve the loss of something important to me. The thought of letting grief take over my body and mind felt terrifying. Like it would be too much and I might actually die — or at least want to die.
But somehow now, after more than eight years in therapy, the thought of running from the grief is even more terrifying. The thought of pushing away memories, stashing old photographs out of sight, shutting down conversations, trying to forget the reason I'm grieving in the first place — that deep, deep love I had for something or someone — feels worse.
Instead, recognizing that grief is the price I pay for loving deeply somehow makes it bearable enough to let it in. It's still hard. It's still scary.
Sometimes it still feels like my heart is being ripped from my chest and I can't breathe. But when it passes — and it always passes — I can breathe again. I can laugh again. I can feel joy again.
I can relish in the memories instead of pushing them away. I can pore over old pictures instead of stashing them in a forgotten drawer. I can honor what and who I loved by telling and re-telling old stories. I can seek to truly remember what it was like to love something or someone with all my heart.
For me, the grief comes and goes. Sometimes it's light and fleeting, and other times it hits me like a ton of bricks. The best thing I've found to do when it comes is to just sit with it.
Not dismiss it. Or judge it. Or try to "get over it." Just sit with it. Feel it. And let it run through me, knowing it will pass, knowing it will come back, and knowing it's the price I paid for the privilege of loving so deeply.
You are allowed to reach out to a loved one and let them know that you need them. You are allowed to tell your children “Mommy is very, very sad right now.” You are allowed to ask for help.
We talk a lot about mindset, gratitude, and perspective at Girls Gone Strong, but it's exceptionally important to point out that a healthy perspective doesn't mean not feeling negative emotions.
In fact, it's just the opposite. It's recognizing and allowing yourself to feel all of the feelings you need to feel, and then having the perspective to recognize that you won't feel that way forever.
It's experiencing the grief first and then looking for gratitude in the situation.
It's letting yourself process your emotions in the way that feels good to you, not avoiding them for the sake of "staying positive."
You don’t have to be superwoman all the time.
If you are worried that one of your clients — or anyone you know — is having a hard time right now, reaching out to them can be an extremely meaningful gesture. It might feel awkward, but remember that you cannot make your client feel anxious or depressed simply by the fact that you’re asking, and that your expression of concern might be a factor in her getting the help that she needs. Even if she feels like she’s in a good place, she’ll likely appreciate your concern.
Here’s an example of what you can say:
“Hey there, I just wanted to check in with you. I noticed you seemed out of sorts the last few times we’ve seen each other, and that you’ve canceled several sessions, which is unusual for you. How are things?”
No matter how you choose to phrase it, keep these elements in mind:
Checking in is a non-judgemental and non-intimidating way to express that you want to talk. You’re communicating that you’re really interested to know how your client is doing, as opposed to just asking a run-of-the-mill “How are you?”, which could easily be misinterpreted as just a greeting, as opposed to a genuine question — and we all know that the go-to answer for that greeting is “fine”, even if it’s not quite the case.
Avoid drawing conclusions and asking if your client is “anxious” or “depressed.” Allow them to name their feelings! What you can do is observe behavior and describe it — without judgment. In this example, you observe your client’s change in mood, and their absence at recent training sessions.
Ask to hear about your client’s life: “What’s new?” “How are you doing these days?” and “Tell me about what’s happening in your life,” are all open ended phrases we can use when checking in with someone. If those examples seem cheesy or awkward to you, say something that feels genuine to you.
Do take a moment to let your client know that’s what they’re experiencing is normal, and that they do not to have to keep it together. Remind them that they are allowed to grieve, to lose control, to get angry and to ask for help. All of those things are not only OK, but encouraged when they're experiencing something hard.
Note from GGS: the information in the Coaches’ Corner is adapted from this article by Dr. Lisa Lewis: A Sound Mind in a Sound Body. For more information on mental health, make sure you give it a read.
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