Christie O.

Crisis, Pivot, Comeback

For most people, 2020 was a year full of crisis because of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’ve gone through anything in your life on top of COVID, well then it’s possible that you could barely come up for air this year.

That was us.

When the year 2020 started, we were already smack dab in the middle of crisis as a family. Knee deep, stuck in the thick of it, barely grasping for air (kind of like being underwater and using a straw to breathe.) The pandemic was just, well, a wonderful little extra. (heh)

In the summer of 2019, I had left my job and my career as a journalist to start a new business and that summer was filled with excitement and possibilities, nervousness and excitement, or as my friend calls it, “nervoucited.” I was nervoucited.

Quickly though, once school started, it began to be clear that this new venture of mine would be scaled back. Considerably.

I wasn’t ready for that, though. This wasn’t what my picture looked like. This wasn’t the plan. I began to panic. I resisted. NO! I’m home because I’m starting my new company! CEO! Powerhouse! I have huge plans! I’m BUILDING MY OWN EMPIRE, GODDAMMIT!

But the universe had other plans and I had to deal with that.

Soon, we were faced with crises (plural) and navigating a world of mental health and treatment options and our school system and our healthcare system within this world of mental health for a child, which I found is VERY DISAPPOINTING to say the least, but that post is for another day.

My child was in crisis.

There is nothing that rips your soul right out of your chest than your child spiraling in a crisis. I can tell you that for the better part of a year, starting last summer, the summer of 2019, my chest was on fire. My head felt like it was about to explode. The number of hours researching causes, effects, doctors, medicines, therapies, 504 plans, and phone calls and meetings and doctors appointments left my head swirling. The advocating, the pushback, the dead ends, the fighting. Not to mention, the emotional toll. The fear.

The nights were sleepless.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, I have only barely begun to scratch the surface in writing about this, but now that we are thankfully starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, I can finally look back and give what we went through a name and I feel like it applies to many people, this year, especially.

It’s the crisis-pivot-comeback.

No, this is not an official scientific name or anything (it’s more like the Bend-And-Snap from Legally Blonde). Also, something like it, especially when it comes to businesses and the pandemic, has been written about before so it’s not a novel concept. It was just novel to me before I went through it and whilst I was just drifting through the currents of my life.

But, having gone through it now and being able to identify what we just did has given me so.much.freaking. strength and a feeling that if we could get through what we have been through this year, then we can get through anything. I hope you can benefit from any or all of this information I am about to share from what we went through and what I learned about moving forward during a crisis, with grace.

Being 2020, and whether it’s homeschooling, e-learning, business owning, getting sick, losing your job, or worse, losing a loved one, most of us are in one of these phases right now. Everything is up in the air and there is no timetable for when it will end.

Again, this is my experience having gone through our own personal crisis, so it will look different for you.

The Crisis.

The crisis comes in like either a wave that you can see coming or an all-out blow that knocks the wind out of you that you didn’t see coming at all (sometimes both). Initially, after the crisis hits you, you stand up, dizzy, like, “what the hell was that?” And then you discover you’re standing in front of Mordor. This giant mountainous volcano of hell without armor, alone. You know you have to conquer it but you haven’t the faintest idea how. It hurts just to breathe. So how can you even take a step forward? Eventually I learned these three things:

1. Whatever strength you have, you have to summon it. You have to. There are no other options. For us, for my son, I’m the one. I’m his voice. There’s no option. You just do. You do the thing. If you only know how to do the one thing, you do that one thing, and the next thing will present itself. You don’t have to know all the next steps, you just have to know the next ONE. If you don’t know that next one, start looking (or praying – like I did, if this is your thing) for the answer, asking questions, finding people who have tread this path before you. Usually, phone numbers lead to more phone numbers which lead to people which leads to answers. Forward motion is all you have at the beginning, in whatever form that looks like.

2. You learn how to suspend all feelings while you’re doing the things so that you can physically do the things. Because feelings jam it all up and paralyze you. When you’re stuck in the feelings, you can’t see clearly. So, you have to elevate yourself above them for a while and then go do the things. This is a skill. This takes practice. For me, this looked like turning my brain off, swinging my legs out of bed, getting out of the bed and taking a shower. Things looked different for me after a shower. It became my go-to step. Yes it’s simple, but even breathing is hard during crisis. I learned that if I started physically moving forward, then the rest would follow. Like turning on autopilot.

The problem with this is that once you go into autopilot, you will return to your emotional self eventually, and you will still have to eventually feel all the things. BUT the good thing is that if you know this ahead of time, you can prepare to allow yourself to feel all the things because you must also know that they will come. They will come at you like a tsunami and often unpredictably, like when a song comes on the radio or you smell a certain smell or while you’re in the shower or when the house is silent or possibly in the car before or after a thing you have to be doing or in the driveway or parking lot of the grocery store. (All the places they’ve hit me.) Just be ready.

3. Your car’s air conditioning is a great tool for drying up tears in the car. Buy sunglasses. Dry the tears, go do the thing, wear your sunglasses, return to the car, repeat. You’ve got this. Also, people who wear sunglasses inside buildings are rockstars. And you’re a rockstar right now. Because you’ve got this. (It never hurts to pretend a little. Whatever helps you through it.)

But do yourself a favor in crisis mode. Be gentle with yourself. Allow yourself to feel all the things and recognize them. Don’t completely ignore them. DO NOT IGNORE. Ignoring is different than suspending. Suspending says, “I feel this and I’ll come back to it later.” Don’t ignore things and tell yourself that you’re stronger if you don’t cry or feel them.

Cry. Or not. Whatever.

Validate yourself. Tell yourself – and repeat this – it’s OK to not be OK. Stop judging yourself. My dear God Baby Jesus, please stop judging yourself.

If breathing is all you can do that day, THAT’S OK. If you don’t get your workout in (or you stop working out altogether) or you have two donuts instead of one or you accidentally sleep in, don’t return phone calls or texts, your kid is late for school, it’s OK. People will tell you to find healthy coping skills. That working out and meditation and yoga is good for you. It is. That’s true. But it’s also another place to judge yourself if you don’t do them. So do what you can, unapologetically. Period.

If you go through carline with a messy bun on top of your head and pajama pants, and no makeup and you look like hot mess mommy, that’s OK. Everyone is going through a battle or a crisis at some point in their life, but not everyone will understand yours, so give yourself grace.

Furthermore, if you forgot someone or something that was pretty important, like a birthday or anniversary, FORGIVE YOURSELF. Yes, it happens. It feels awful. I did it. Failing other people feels worse to me than failing myself, but forgive yourself anyway. Sometimes you can’t be all things to all people at all times.

Forgive yourself. Do this every day in every way. Forgive yourself for not being the version of the self you thought you should be by now, for being in the crisis in the first place (because inevitably we all believe that in some way, some how, we are responsible for said crisis or could have prevented it or done something different to avoid it and please DO NOT GO THERE because that is a deep spiral of endless darkness that you could live in if you’re not careful.)

Whatever you’re in right now IS NOT YOUR FAULT. If you said the wrong thing when you were emotional, forgive yourself. If you didn’t clean the kitchen this week or this month, forgive yourself. If you ordered takeout too much because you didn’t feel like meal planning, cooking, or even buying things to cook, FORGIVE YOURSELF. Your mission and your only mission is to keep everyone, including yourself, alive and to breathe and to move forward through this crisis in whatever way you can and to find some sort of coping mechanism in the meantime. That’s it. Bare minimum.

Also, be OK with failure, and by “failure” I mean “your version of failure.” Because failure isn’t actually failure. Failure is a completely made up thing. Failure is the name we give to the times we don’t live up to perfection. We are not perfect. So therefore, there is no failure. Science. (heh).

As parents, we are constantly feeling as if we are somehow failing, whether it’s in work-life balance or parenting in general. No one knows the right way and someone else’s right way is not your right way. So really, what I mean is COMPLETELY DISCARD the term “failure” or “failing” from your vocabulary entirely. It doesn’t apply to us, it applies to machines that experience mechanical failure, and we are not machines. Remember that.

Try to find gratitude in the smallest things, even if your world is burning down around you. This one is the hardest when you’re having a day that feels hopeless. But there’s something. Anything.

Also try to understand that people will try to help in ways you don’t really need them to and they will offer unsolicited advice, OR, they will see you in crisis and run for the hills. Be gentle with yourself and others. Don’t spend valuable energy on dissecting any of this, you need to save that energy for the crisis and for you and your family. Sidenote: You may take special note of the ones who disappear when you’re in crisis, but don’t spend actual energy on this. Crises have a way of showing you who shows up in your life when you need it, whether it’s a simple text every once in a while or a phone call to check in or a meme.

Memes kept me going this year.

You don’t have to blast the people who disappear, that’s exhausting. But it’s good research and knowledge for later. Keep it in your back pocket because when you get into the comeback phase, you will begin to cultivate your life based on your “new you,” because you will be a new version of yourself when you come out of this, I promise you. And you will come out of this. And the people who disappeared may not have to be the people you spend your energy on when you do make your amazing comeback. They may not be your people. That’s disappointing, but THAT’S OK. Hell, it’s 2020, they may be going through their own crisis and unable to help you in yours. Remember that, too. We all deserve grace.

THE PIVOT.

The pivot comes after you’ve been hit with the crisis and you’re finally accepting it. After you are knocked down by the crisis and you get up to face it, the second part of getting hit with crisis is denial. “No way this is happening.” Like Neo figuring out he’s in The Matrix.

For me, denial came in the form of throwing a mental tantrum and freaking out because this is not what’s supposed to happen, this is not what it’s supposed to be, this is not what I pictured for my or my family’s life. I resisted at first. I panicked. Like Tommy Boy before his first sales meeting with his hair all pulled up in the air and frazzled. (I use a ton of movie references apparently, but I live my life by them so…)

I refused to give up the dream and tried to do both: the dream and the crisis. Eventually I had to accept the fact that I had to abandon the dream temporarily. It wasn’t dead, but it did have to PAUSE so I could focus on the crisis. Pausing it indefinitely was so hard, because I had no idea when I would come back to it and also, I was not going to be making money anymore, and well, that stinks. But leaving it was necessary. I had to mourn it as a temporary loss.

You have to accept that your crisis exists so you can pivot. Radical acceptance is something I learned through the many, many, MANY hours of therapy I attended with my son. You have to RADICALLY ACCEPT that these are your current circumstances. Some of the steps that you initially take during crisis will be while your head is foggy and you’re still stumbling, but eventually you’re going to have to accept that this is actually happening so you can drum up any energy at all to form an actual plan.

Then, you have to accept the plan. You have to accept the fact that it looks nothing like the original plan. That it was nothing like you pictured from the beginning and that you’re doing a new plan now. Sometimes it’s not even a plan, it’s just a next step but it’s leaving the original plan behind. And you have to take a minute to mourn the loss of the original plan. Mourn the loss of all the plans that came along with the building of the original plan – events, outings, meetings, that life in general. No, this is not what you wanted. But here you are. The pivot.

Pivoting doesn’t erase the crisis, obviously, but it signifies the accepting of it and allows you to gain some control of your circumstances, which, up until this point, may have been completely out of control. Pivoting could mean an entirely different path and a “new normal.” A new life, even. New choices.

The way your daily life will look while pivoting will take some getting used to. So there’s the mourning of an old life. Mourning of what once was. Go ahead, mourn it. But still move forward with the pivot.

And if the pivot isn’t working, pivot again. I’ve always been pretty flexible and accepting of change, but even this year’s number of pivots for me were very hard to accept. But they made me a pivot master. Now I can fearlessly pivot in anything.

Pivoting for us also meant learning how to be OK with concepts that completely go against social norms and what we’re “supposed” to be doing, like essentially missing an entire quarter of school, and spending six hours a day, five days a week with my son in outpatient therapies. No Thanksgiving or Christmas break. This was a new life. New routine. New normal.

Completely going against the grain and going outside of what’s “normal” to other people has made me OK with accepting criticism and coloring outside the lines, because this is our life now. It has also opened my eyes to the fact that JUST BECAUSE WE HAVE BEING DOING SOMETHING A CERTAIN WAY FOREVER, DOESN’T MEAN IT ALWAYS HAS TO BE DONE THAT WAY.

One size DOES NOT FIT ALL.

There are exceptions to all rules.

Pivoting is creative. Pivoting is essential to survival. Pivoting with acceptance and without judgement is necessary. Pivoting may come with criticism from the outside. Pivot anyway. No one but you knows your crisis. Do the research, weigh all the options and decide for yourself what your pivot should be. Be ready to pivot over and over again when your pivot doesn’t work. There is no such thing as failure, only a different direction. DO NOT STAY STUCK. You can do this.

THE COMEBACK.

You can tell that your comeback is beginning when you can see some sort of semblance of your regular old life beginning to emerge again without you trying. All of a sudden, you have a little more time, calm, or peace on your hands. You don’t feel all tightened up on the inside freaking out 24/7, someway somehow some of it is lifting a little and you’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, the forest through the trees.

I can’t explain when this happens and what it looks like for everyone is different.

When my father lost his dad when I was 13, he was a complete mess for a year. He was angry. He struggled so hard dealing with it. It was hard to be around him. It went on for a year – almost to the day. All we could do was just recognize it and be there. And then, one day, he was back. None of us could explain it. My mom and I even had the conversation, “Oh my God, he’s back!” And he was.

There is no timetable for crisis, big or small, personal or business.

It has its own timetable and also, timetable of disappointments. You think you’re through it but you’re not. One step forward two steps back.

Because of this, you have to decide what you’re going to do during that time. You can float along for a little bit at the beginning, but eventually you’re going to need to stand up and face it head on.

Crisis during pandemic is made even more difficult. For us, pressure and school and anxieties heightened and compounded; friendships and outlets that we could normally turn to in times of crisis were all limited.

I wanted to leave and GO SOMEWHERE to escape, but there’s NOWHERE TO GO. It’s claustrophobic. So there were pivots within our actual pivot. I had to get creative.

Sit in the back of my car along the causeway at the beach. Get outside more.

Yeah, I probably drank a little more, too, after the kids went to bed. Had more ice cream or Twix. Chose hospital chicken fingers over salad. The many giant Starbucks coffees. The extra 10 pounds tell me I definitely did do that.

Here’s what the comeback is looking like for me.

When the dust started to settle, I began to seek out my friends again. I began to want to eat better and take care of myself again. I began to feel like I could venture away from home for small time periods again.

I began to want to tell my story. Our story.

And something unexpected also happened: All those emotions that I held in while I was digging my heels in and trudging through the crisis came at me all at once. That intense feeling of crisis mode disappeared and left a huge gaping hole in its place.

This was something I didn’t expect at all.

The crisis is gone, so I should be fine! Right? But I wasn’t. It was baffling. My body was having a reaction to the crisis being gone.

I cried. All the time. I slept. I slept some more. For a while, probably like a month, I couldn’t even function. Every last bit of energy I had was gone. I felt like I was run over by a steamroller. I couldn’t figure out what was happening to me. Why was I feeling this way?

I sought out professional help for this. Now, recovery is becoming part of my comeback story. Recovering from crisis. Recovering from crisis is a thing.

Recovering from being in “fight or flight” for a whole year. Recovering from the complete diversion of an original plan, a pivot, and beginning to lay the track again for a beefed-up version of the original plan.

Righting the ship.

The pivot took us off the highway and onto some back roads littered with speedbumps, potholes and zero paving. (Lots of transporation metaphors here. lol)

And now, look. Eventually, Siri got us back on course.

The comeback, I’m finding, started out rough, but it is incredible. And this is just the beginning.

I’m strong AF. My family is strong AF. I have clarity like I have never had in my life before.

I know what I want.

I know where we are. I can see when things are slipping and quickly move into action to fix it. I have tools now from living and breathing through this crisis.

I know where we are going. I am seeing little by little how to get there again.

I see my son, more self-aware than most grown adults, and I’m proud. He made it, too. I was just there, but he did the real work.

I know who my people are.

I can let things go.

I can pivot within a pivot within a pivot and then pivot again.

I am not sure if I am fearless or if I just DON’T CARE about some things like I did before. Maybe both?

Either way, I choose what I am going to focus my attention and energy on now and if I find myself wandering into dangerous terrority in my mind, I choose how to respond to that, too.

I am carefully cultivating a life full of love, happiness, things that spark joy, PEACE, and self-love and care. When you live a year of the bare minimum and you let so much go, YOU GET TO DECIDE what you’ll tolerate and what you’ll let back in again.

It’s quite magical, actually.

That same human who would apologize for asking for a straw at a restaurant (and apologize for basically everything in life?) Gone.

I can finally say the thing I want to say at the exact moment I want to say it. (Meg Ryan.)

Or I can choose not to say anything at all and let it go and put it my back pocket for later. Because I can choose to respond, instead of react.

And that’s empowering.

Once you go through crisis and come out on the other side, you realize how much nonsense we worry about needlessly when there are only a few things that actually matter.

Now, I cherish my time, I cherish PEACE, I cherish Post Malone songs and mindless girly movies and hot showers and coffee with cinnamon and writing and being creative and having the time to do so.

I cherish kindness and the people who care about my people.

I cherish the people I love so much in in my life because I will walk through fire for them and back again. Because I have.

And I will again if I have to.

I learned this year that I cannot be broken.

I WON’T be broken.

Here I am.

I’m back. And I’m building my own empire again.

The plan was never gone, it was just paused.

For a while.

Wherever you are, a comeback is near, and if it feels too far right now, I promise you, it’s possible.

One moment, one breath at at time.

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