I’m aware this is an unusual opinion, but I have little interest in writing about things everybody agrees on anyway.
Last May, in the midst of a break-up, months of a failed job search and having to move from one country to another, I felt profoundly helpless.
For some reasons, I shared my sense of helplessness on social media. Then something strange happened: friends I hadn’t talked to for ages called me, people I didn’t know very well messaged me to share their similar experiences. The overall answer was this: “I feel the same.”
Was I missing something? I was a big failure, but most of these people I considered spiritual, active and on top of their sh*t. Was I missing something? Or were we all living in a constant state of post-graduation crisis?
The answer is actually quite simple: Incertitude. Sucks.
We are anxious creatures by nature. Think about it: you come from a lineage of homo sapiens who had to fight wild animals, weather elements and probably other bipeds. Your brain isn’t wired to gaze at a point on the horizon, asking yourself with wonder whether it is a big hungry tiger or not. Your survival instinct wants to know, and society doesn’t help, since we are supposed to have a plan for everything (hence the awful interview question “Where do you see yourself in five years?”).
But here is the thing: helplessness is great. It can teach us many things when we decide to go with it, so here are six golden tips to deal with change and hopelessness:
Explore your helplessness: What does it mean to you?
Helplessness is an intense feeling. Exploring it is profoundly uncomfortable but still crucial. What happened six months ago didn’t feel terrible because I lost my partner (we both knew that we weren’t right for each other), didn’t get a white collar job (this was, and never will, be right for me) or even because I had to say goodbye to my friends in the U.S. It felt terrible because I lost what I thought was defining my identity: the things I could say to prove to others (and myself) I was a smart, successful, interesting person.
We imprison our identities in one-dimensional narratives we tell to whomever might listen, and consume mindlessly to support these stories (a new look, a car, a yoga class to have the perfect butt). Deep down inside we think that, without all these things, people won’t love us anymore. Maybe we are, above all, scared we won’t love ourselves.
What’s at the core of your helplessness? What are you really scared of losing in this changing time? Is this fear still true to you today? Is it yours? Or was it planted in you by others, maybe a parent or by social expectations? Follow the tracks of your fears to make sure you know what you are hunting after.
Start with the smallest thing you can do:
Times of change are stressful, because we lose our old bearings and don’t have new ones yet. It is perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed, whether the change ahead is “good” or “bad”; change—whether it is a marriage, a divorce, a birth or a death, is often terrifying. Can you stop focusing on the (overwhelming) big picture?
Start small: What part of this can you deal with? Maybe you are feeling depressed and the smallest action seems unbearable. Can you take a deep breath five times? If you are stressed, busy and overwhelmed, can you just go out for a walk at the end of your day? That’s a great start.
Disobey your addictions:
In the same way we all experience anxiety to some extent, we all exhibit some kind of addictive behaviors, whether it is doing drugs or staying on the internet for hours. Identify your addictive tendencies: What are you trying to numb out by behaving this way? Are you watching TV every time you encounter a moment of silence? Disobeying the dictates of your addictions is one of the hardest things to do, but blindly following them is downright self-sabotage. When I was going through a rough patch, I avoided meditation like the plague. Getting myself to sit down for even just five minutes is still a struggle, though I perfectly know it is the very thing I need. You often flee the very things you need, and your addictions are what you use to support this process. Just like your fears, hunt them down.
Stop being busy:
Sit in silence at least once a day, even for just five minutes. Keeping busy has never been so easy—it is as simple as reaching for your phone instead of welcoming a moment of silence on the bus ride home. Technology allows us to keep our minds busy in all circumstances, which keeps us from being in touch with our own feelings. However, avoiding helplessness makes it worse because repressed feelings will come back with a vengeance whether you want it or not.
Before graduation, I had two jobs, I lived in a collective that I co-directed and participated in two international research projects (and that’s without talking about volunteer work). The truth is that I had no time to get in touch with how I felt about this transition (being out of school for the first time in my life) and what I wanted to get out of it. This kept me from manifesting the wanted outcome right away: I had actually no idea what I wanted and ran after what other people wanted to see me accomplish.
Change how you think about change:
Remember that whatever you are going through, it is temporary. Change is the only constant thing in life: your body, your mind and your experiences are always undergoing change. However, transitions themselves aren’t permanent. Remembering this will help you make the most out of challenging transitions. Remember that though chaos usually means disorder, it also describes “the void at the beginning of creation” (in Vulgate version of Genesis). Chaos is necessary to thrive. Can you think about what you might be letting go in this transition (rather than what you fear of losing)?
“Chaos should be regarded as extremely good news.” ~ Chögyam Trungpa
Don’t forget your body:
Times of change bring confusion and pain that we try to numb out, including physically. When you sit with your helplessness, can you identify where it lives in your body? Your body stocks energy, especially in times of fear and stress.
As Einstein said, “We cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” You need to engage not only your mind (usually the trouble-maker), but body and intuition in surfing through a transition. Deal with change physically. Whatever it is that you like practicing (soccer, music, chanting), keep doing it. Yoga is a big favorite of mine because it allows me to scan different parts of my body in detail. Setting up a routine (maybe 10 minutes of yoga or meditation practice in the morning no matter what) is a great way to feel grounded no matter what is happening around you.
Ultimately, domesticating helplessness comes with accepting that our lives are made of highs and lows, lights and shadows. Most importantly, it is accepting that both are equally valuable.
So, in times of turmoil, remember that it is from sh*t that we make fertilizer.
If you are interested in learning more about helplessness and how to deal with it, you can listen to this podcast of Abdi Assadi.
Author: Soizic June Hagège
Editor: Travis May
Image: Movie Still