I have numerous friends dealing with crises this summer. Two have mothers who have been diagnosed with life threatening illnesses. Their lives have been turned upside down. They are worried, stressed out, and deeply sad about what is happening with their moms. They are dealing with doctors and lawyers and trying to keep daily family life together while dedicating a big chuck of each day to helping their mothers.
This was the situation I found myself in last year when I received a phone call from my mother’s landlord telling me she had been found disoriented in the basement of her building.
Wham. In a moment everything changes.
In the weeks that followed I didn’t feel like myself. I had to take care of things I never had to concern myself with before. I was physically travelling many additional miles daily. My head felt scrambled and full of immediate concerns for how to best care for mom and fears about the long-term implications. And so much more!
Three adjectives to describe the experience include:
In coaching we call this a square one experience. A catalytic event suddenly erupts and change is upon us. Life is turned upside down. As I was going through the first week of what would turn out to be a year long odyssey, I recognised the square one nature of the experience.
Author and life coach Martha Beck says the motto for square one is: “I don’t know what the heck is going on and that’s okay.”
The challenge is with getting to the “that’s ok” part.
Here’s what is important to do when you are in a square one situation – whether you are caring for a loved one in crisis, or you are the one is crisis.
1. Recognise the terrain – “yes, I am in the thick of it!” – and give yourself the love you need to keep going.
Take steps to give yourself the love and attention you are giving to others. Treat yourself as you would a close friend, and this will help you to be resilient, and to face what comes.
2. Pause and breathe
When you start to panic or feel fearful remember to breathe – take three slow deep breaths. This will help get you back into your forehead out of the back alley of the brain.
3. Give space for the emotions that arrive
At the hospital I broke down into tears. I knew I was panicking and tried taking slow deep breaths to calm down. It didn’t work. Ultimately I just needed to have a few minutes to cry.
I have learned that it is important to give yourself and others the space to experience the emotions that want to arise.
If you need to cry, then allow yourself that liberty. I wanted to be the strong, together daughter. Ultimately I got there, but I needed to be a little scared kid first.
Susan Beekman, a coach I turned to for help last year has written: “There is a clarity that comes from the body’s reaction to crisis. You can count on it.”
4. Forgive yourself
Forgive yourself. If you snap at someone – like I did at the hospital with one nurse – forgive yourself. I apologised and let it go.
5. Get help
Don’t go it alone. Seek help and guidance. I obtained as much detailed information as I could at the hospital about how to care for my mother and then continued to seek out advice and support in the days that followed.
I was fortunate to be supported by a close friend who gave me a place to stay, who listened, and provided a space for recuperation at the end of each day.
I called in additional troops in the form of home cooked meal delivery, and a hired caregiver.
6. Get sleep, if you can
Sleep is important. On the days when I wasn’t able to get much sleep I suffered for it. When you are going through a square one experience prioritize your own sleep as much as possible.
7. Dial back other commitments
Strategically dial back what you can. I continued to work during the crisis but rescheduled some meetings, got some extensions on deadlines, and passed up some opportunities. My coaching practice fills my cup rather than depletes it so it was important to keep this an active part of my days, but I needed to reduce the usual volume.
Don’t hide what is happening from your community. I let the people in my life know what was happening and as a result received support in numerous meaningful ways. Little things make a difference when you are in square one.
9. Add self care to each day
Give yourself a nice dose of things that soothe you. Listen to your favourite music. In my case, I drank many cups of tea and bought an escapist novel and carried it around with me for two weeks, dipping into it when I could.
Coming around to “it’s ok”, is important. In my case this was simply accepting that mother was not be able to take care of herself the way she used to. A year later, she now lives close by me in a supported living community. The journey to getting her there was rough at times but we made it through and she is enjoying life again, and so am I.