The thing about a crisis is that you never know when it will hit.
It was a cold January day when I slipped and fell on the ice.
I was getting ready to go to work and my nine and a half month old son was perched on my hip. Snow covered the grass but the sun was shining. I stepped out with my diaper bag and purse slung across one shoulder, pulling the door shut behind me.
I took three steps and in a flash I could see the sky up above me. I knew we were going down. I dropped everything and pulled my son even tighter as we flew backwards. Then, for a couple of seconds there was silence. He began crying, and I stood up. We were okay, but I couldn’t find my keys to get back into the house. I could feel my hands shaking as I started dipping through the icy snow with my bare hands in search for them. Where were those damn keys?
My fingers touched the jumble of metal finally and grasped.
“It’s okay, baby,” I said to my son. “We’re gonna be alright.”
We soon found out that my son had fractured his right femur. Luckily, there were no head injuries, but upon learning he was broken I could feel my insides begin to crumble. What had I done? Why hadn’t we salted the driveway to melt the ice? Why didn’t I take my bags out to the car first and then the baby? If I wasn’t in such a hurry, maybe this wouldn’t have happened. I replayed every move and thought leading up to that fall.
In the weeks that followed my son was put in a spica cast. It ran all the way down his right leg and connected across his hips with a metal bar to the left side which was cast partially to his knee. He had a hole in the cast so we could put a diaper up inside and another hole cut for air circulation near his tummy. He would be like that for five weeks. I was incredibly sad and frustrated, yet relieved that this was only temporary.
An array of other crises occurred in the years following. We had a string of family deaths—my father-in-law, my mother-in-law, my grandfather and then my sister-in-law, which all happened in a span of two years. The night my sister-in-law passed, we received a call from the police. Her seven year old daughter (our niece) needed a place to stay for the night. That night turned into a week, which turned into a month, which turned into legal guardianship since her mom was a single parent.
However, suddenly getting custody of a school-aged child when I was already raising two small children of my own, wasn’t easy. She was broken and so was I, and the stress from everything soon began to put pressure on an already shaky marriage.
I could speak of philosophical quotes regarding how coal can produce a diamond under stress, but the truth is that when the rug you have woven so carefully gets pulled out from under your feet, sometimes you can be left grasping at threads of whatever is left.
I didn’t meditate or read or do anything of that nature—I just performed. I moved through each day without thinking much about anything. I wish I could give a Top 10 or even a Top 5 list of things to do to combat a crisis but you can never predict what will help you through it.
Some find strength in prayer even if they had never done so before and others look towards friends and family to lean on. At one point I found myself sitting in a counselor’s office because when you are in a place where you just don’t know what to do anymore, therapy seems like an avenue that ought to be explored.
During one of our sessions where I listed all the stressful events I had experienced in the last year, she put down the manilla file folder and looked me square in the eyes.
“I have to tell you that is kind of off the charts when it comes to stressful events.”
She then told me about the Holmes and Rahe stress scale which lists a number of stressful situations that can occur and rates each according to the potential effect it can have on a person. I had 17 out of 43 stressful life events happen in just that year. I’m not sure how I was supposed to respond, but before we left she gave me the number to their emergency help line. For some reason, this did not make me feel better.
For me, in these instances I just plow through each task with a sort of tunnel vision.
I’d like to say that I become a strong beacon of light when put under pressure and that I meditate and read Pema Chodron’s books. In reality, I am quite a mess. I cry, I snap at those that are close to me, and I struggle to accomplish even small things.
Except I have learned that doing self-work while not under stress can truly pull me through these times when I am being pushed from every direction. It’s almost like depositing money into a bank—building up reserves while life is going smoothly so that when the pressure is on you can draw from that strength. This self-work can at times be a blessing born in the periphery of a crisis.
In the pauses of tension I tried yoga therapy, along with traditional therapy. I read books by Buddhist authors and self-help titles from Louise Hay, Dr. Wayne Dyer, and Don Miguel Ruiz. I walked and tried to meditate, pray and say mantras. Sometimes I felt like nothing was really working, but I have to believe that somehow it did.
This past week I went through yet another major stressful circumstance. A friend of mine had a medical emergency and I had to get help immediately. For a while, the tunnel vision returned and I had to once again draw from any strength I had previously built even though at some points I wondered if there was any left. Luckily, my friend is doing well.
Life is slowly returning to whatever normal is and I am again finding myself in that pause between up and down.
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Ed: B. Bemel