The Top Ten Tips To Coping With Crisis


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The Top Ten Tips To Coping With Crisis

  1. 1. The Top Ten Tips to Coping with Crisis A gift for you from Wendy Keller Author + Speaker + Survivor
  2. 2. If you’re reading this, you’re no stranger to suffering. I’m sorry about that. Itwould be wonderful if the world worked exactly the way we’d like it to, wouldn’tit?This document is the result of some suffering I’ve done and the lessons I’velearned. It’s super short, because if you’re in shock, pain, sorrow, grief, angst,anguish, sadness, PTSD or anything else, I know you don’t have much of anattention span for some long boring stuff.You just want some useful advice, and you want it now.You’re probably caught between two questions: Why did this happen? and When will it stop hurting, if ever?Answer to Question One: you will probably never know. As best as anyone cantell, it’s all about how you handle the rotten things that happen, not about figuringout why. “Why?” will drive you nuts. Let it go. If there’s something you didwrong, figure it out and don’t do it again. But don’t spend your life blamingyourself or anyone or anything else. Breathe. Learn. Let go. It’s possible, really.As for Question Two, the answer is “sooner than you think – if you let it.” Whenmy children died, it was years before I could go a whole day without crying. Butnext week, it will be 21 years since they died and you know what? I’m doing OK.I’ve observed lots of suffering people, including other bereaved parents, and I’vecome to notice this:  Blaming yourself doesn’t change What Is  Arguing about it doesn’t change anything  Unfortunately, crying doesn’t change anything either© Copyright Wendy Keller, 2012 Page 2
  3. 3. What’s happened has happened. There’s likely no way to fix it or get it out of yourhead or you’d have already done that. No one likes to suffer.So let’s get you started on the path to recovery. Note that “recovery” doesn’t meangoing back to how things were. That’s not possible and may not even be beneficialto you in the Grand Scheme of Things.I’m guessing that you’re in the acute stage of suffering if you’re reading this, sothese things work as bandages and casts and splints to get you through the worst ofit. When you’re feeling stronger, that’s the time for the real work of processing thesituation and gleaning lessons. Give yourself a break – if it’s been less than a yearsince The Incident, you’re not even ready to be “better” yet.NOTE: I didn’t make this stuff up. I was so devastated emotionally, physically,spiritually, mentally and in every other way that I researched how people handlecrisis, applied different things to my miserable life and these are the things thatworked. They’ll likely work for you. I hope they do.Tip Number One: Accept HelpEspecially in the USA, we’re trained to be tough and rugged and individualistic.Especially guys. But when your legs have been cut off at the knee and you’rehemorrhaging from some awful life event, that’s not the time to tie your bath towelaround your neck and pretend you’re Super Man – or Super Woman.Humans have the attention span of a house fly – they spend way more timethinking about themselves than other people. If there are people in your world whowant to help you while you’re suffering, ACCEPT THEIR HELP! Geez! Enoughalready with the “I’m fine” stuff.© Copyright Wendy Keller, 2012 Page 3
  4. 4. Let them bring you food, send you cards, listen to you cry and repeat the samestory over and over. Let them give you money or spare clothes or a place to sleep,or whatever it is. Just say YES. (And “thank you”.)Whether you can see it now or not, people who want to help you while you’re incrisis are a special gift. They’re proof you live on a good planet, despite the badthings that happen here. You’re helping them as much as they’re helping you – ormore. Most people who want to aid those who are suffering had someone helpthem when they were down. This is “paying it forward.” Someday, you’ll do thesame for someone else. Really. It’s your turn to receive, so just accept it and floaton the kindness of the world.Tip Number Two: Decide To SurviveI made numerous suicide attempts when I came out of my coma in a draughtyEnglish hospital and knew my children were in the morgue below. The doctorsconsidered amputating my left leg. I didn’t like my husband much before theaccident, and now I didn’t like him at all. I had nothing left to live for, in myopinion.If you want things to get better, your first job is to commit to surviving. Survivingdoesn’t mean you commit to living sad for the rest of your life. If you’ve heard mespeak, you’ve probably heard the story of Little Billy’s mother – the woman whocarried her unmanaged grief for 26 years and destroyed all other relationships inher life in the process. Don’t be like her!Make up your mind to live, to get through this and to see if you can make yourlife better than it was before The Incident. It starts with that choice.© Copyright Wendy Keller, 2012 Page 4
  5. 5. Tip Number Three: Trust Your BodyThe human body is an amazing receiver of signals. Your brain is full of chemicalsthat create emotions. Emotions are a spontaneous reaction to external stimuli – andsometimes to internal ones.One of the hardest things to do when your world has gone topsy-turvy is to listento your own body. I don’t mean if it is craving drugs, alcohol or some other formof abuse to blot out what you’re feeling. I mean if you feel tired, lethargic, likecrying, like yelling, like you have a headache – go ahead and give in.Those of us with the perfectionistic or workaholic gene tend to push harder whenour bodies aren’t doing what we think they should.While you’re in crisis, it’s crucial that you get enough sleep – which will likely beway, way more than normal.It’s important that you eat healthy things, because suffering diminishes yourimmune system already and it will only complicate your recovery if you get sick.It’s also important that, if you are perfectionist, you loosen up on yourself a little. Ifyou’re just too sad and tired to do the dishes right after dinner, enlist someone elseor give yourself permission to do them in the morning.Of course, if you find yourself unable to care for yourself in any way, it’s time toget some outside professional help. But the ebbs and flows of emotion during acrisis are exhausting, disorienting and overwhelming.You don’t get any extra points for beating yourself up trying to force yourself to dothings you’re really not up to doing.© Copyright Wendy Keller, 2012 Page 5
  6. 6. You have 100% permission to say “No” to social obligations that seemburdensome to you right now.You don’t have to do any errands, favors or services for anyone except dependentchildren or geriatric/sick parents right now.Be gentle with yourself. You’re going through a hard time. For a little while, turnoff the “Shoulds” in your head.Tip Number Four: Choose HopeLook, if you’re going to live, you sure as heck don’t want to spend the rest of yourlife miserable, do you? What’s the point in that? Forget that idea.If you’re going to live through this, you gotta do this: decide things will get better.Pick something to hope for. It doesn’t matter if it’s big or small. My early “hopes”were that I’d someday walk again without pain; that I would have another child;and that I would find a way to go all day without crying for my lost babies.I eventually achieved all three of those – and so, so, so much more than I everthought possible.I would certainly trade every moment of happiness I’ve had since the tragedy tohave my children back – any parent would. But since that’s not a real option,choosing to live, to be happy again someday, and even to thrive is a greatalternative.Just deciding has power in it. Your life will begin to calm down, level off, improvethe very day you make that decision. Promise.And things can and will get better if you let them.© Copyright Wendy Keller, 2012 Page 6
  7. 7. Tip Number Five: Realize You’re Not AloneMy kids died in a tragic accident on a rainy evening in England – and we live inCalifornia. We’d been on vacation less than 48 hours. My then-husband, the driver,just didn’t look both ways. He had jet lag. He was tired. He pulled out in front ofan oncoming car. Wham! My life changed in that split-second.For a long time, I thought no one else could understand my pain. I was severelyphysically injured, too, and didn’t walk for almost a year, and didn’t walk withoutextreme pain for nearly three. I’ll spare you the gory details.But because my situation was so dramatic and so tragic and so incredibly sad andall the other things people said to me, I found myself feeling isolated. Well, I waswrong.Many children die every day all over the world.Thousands of car accidents happen.Parents, friends and spouses die.People witness the horrors of war.They are subjected to vile crimes and abuse.Marriages end badly.Injuries and terminal diagnoses and natural disasters and on and on and on….Guess what?Other people have gone through something similar to what you’re facing andsurvived it. They’ve gone on to live reasonably happy lives – the “new normal” –which is slang for how things are going to be After It Happened.If other people made it through this kind of a crisis, it means you can too. Really.You can smile, laugh, play, enjoy life again. You have permission to get through© Copyright Wendy Keller, 2012 Page 7
  8. 8. this. You’re not the only one in history who has suffered as you are doing. Thereis reason to believe firmly in a better tomorrow.Tip Number Six: Everyone Suffers at 100%When I was in fourth grade, I came home from school and my beloved hamsterCaesar was stone cold dead inside his cage. I was devastated! I was having a hardtime – my mom and her new husband had recently had two new babies, one rightafter the other, and I’d lost my place as Supreme Child in the Household. I lovedthat little hamster - I thought of him as my best friend.When Caesar died, I grieved for him at 100%. I was completely sad. As sad as Icould get.As an adult, I have to laugh. Losing him was nothing at all compared to the griefI’d later feel when my grandmother died, and years later, my children.The lesson in Caesar’s death for us all is this: that everyone grieves their own painat 100%.That is to say, whatever’s happening to you, well, that’s what you feel most. Youcan watch someone on TV dying of some awful thing, and it’s sad. You may evenshed a tear. But it’s not you, it’s not your life.There are two sides to this coin:First, because it’s absolutely true that everyone grieves their own losses and pain at100%, you are never alone. Anyone you meet over the age of about six hasexperienced a loss or a pain, and knows what it means to hurt, to ache, to be sad.It’s the human condition. You’re not alone.Second, because everyone grieves their own pain at 100%, you get to choose tofind other people who have survived things that you think are the same or “worse”© Copyright Wendy Keller, 2012 Page 8
  9. 9. than what you’re dealing with and do what they did to get through it. Because theydid.I first realized that everyone grieves their own losses and pain at 100% whenpeople sent me cards- lots of them – after the kids died, that said, “I know exactlyhow you feel. My dog (or cat) died and it was like a child to me…”At first I was furious. You morons! I never left my dead kids home for the daywith a bowl of water on the floor and a litter box in the corner! It’s not the same atall!But slowly, it dawned on me that for that person, it was - because they’d known nogreater suffering. (Lucky for them!)If you can accept that everyone suffers at 100%, you can find lots of people whowill comfort, support, encourage and inspire you as you travel down this arduouspath.Tip Number Seven: Know When to Call in the ProfessionalsI am not a grief counselor, a therapist, a psychiatrist or a psychologist. Part of thereason I can do this work of helping other people get through crises is becausepeople like those helped me along my path.If you’re seriously suicidal…If you don’t start participating in life again and it’s been more than six months…If you’re neglecting your health, your children, your home, your job, your friendsand family and it’s been more than three months…If you feel afraid of what you might be capable of…Get professional help. It’s easy to say, but hard to do if you’re caught up inthinking it should be something you can handle on your own. Face facts: it isn’t.That doesn’t make you bad or weak – it makes you normal and smart. Get help.© Copyright Wendy Keller, 2012 Page 9
  10. 10. There are places that counsel people like you for free or for low fees. Look online.Ask a friend to find them for you. Do something – don’t just sit there waiting.People make a big mistake when they tell people in crisis that “time heals”. Likehell it does! Time doesn’t do one single thing! BUT if you have time and you takeconcrete positive actions – like those I’m describing in this document – and you usethat time to practice your coping skills – then in time, you will absolutely find itgets easier to manage the crisis you’ve endured.If you feel stuck, talk to a professional. Please.Tip Number Eight: Focus on the FutureWhen you were a kid, maybe you thought you’d grow up to be a rock star or afireman, a president or a princess. If someone had asked you, you’d have probablyconfidently told them your career plans.It made you happy to have a destination in mind for your life, and it made thegrown-ups stop asking you that dumb question all the time, “What do you want tobe when you grow up?”Well, now that you’re facing this crisis, it’s time to do a little daydreaming again.Whether you become a rock star or a fireman isn’t the point. The idea is to spend alittle time picturing a new future for yourself.Obviously, it isn’t going to be the same future you imagined before The Incident.It’s going to have to be something new. Take some time – five minutes, maybe ten– today. Picture yourself five years from now. What would your ideal life be like,knowing what you know now?© Copyright Wendy Keller, 2012 Page 10
  11. 11. I know. It may not be as happy since this awful thing happened. But just pretend.You can finish these sentences if it gets you started more easily:“Given what I know now, five years from now I’d like to at least….”“Since my life will never be the same, the best I believe I can hope for five yearsfrom now is…”“If I could start my life over again from the moment it happened, I may as well…”You might surprise yourself! Depending on where you are in your crisis, youranswers to these questions might change – dramatically! It’s normal after a bigcrisis for any of us to re-evaluate what we’ve got, what we’ve lost, where we wereheading and where we’d like to go now.Now that things have changed.Give yourself five or ten minutes today to daydream. Maybe you’ll want to do itagain tomorrow, too. Test your ability to bravely plan What Comes Next for you.What you focus on becomes your reality.Tip Number Nine: Decide to Give BackLet’s be super, super clear here: you don’t have to do anything, ever. You arecompletely and utterly entitled to just survive for the rest of your life. That’s 100%A-OK.It makes me a little nervous when someone’s child dies and three days later they’restarting a foundation to prevent or research something. I personally suspect suchgung-ho enthusiasm is a way of not dealing with, processing and moving throughtheir pain. It’s an avoidance technique.© Copyright Wendy Keller, 2012 Page 11
  12. 12. I’m not talking about that. And I sure am not talking about giving back to anyonewho has helped you get this far through your crisis. I’m not even talking aboutstarting a foundation. (If that becomes a real goal for you, you’ll know when thetime is right.)I am talking about deciding to give something back in the sense of wisdom. In thesense of learning. If someone came to you a month from now, facing somethingvery similar to what you’re now facing, what would you tell him or her?Would you tell them that it is something people survive and have survivedthroughout history?Would you tell them to give it all up and go shoot themselves?What if you were asked what the Most Important Lesson you’ve gotten from thisis?It doesn’t have to be some big fancy universal lesson people start wearing on t-shirts. For a lot of people, a major crisis makes them decide to live each momentto the fullest. Or to be present in the moment. Or to tell the people they love thatthey love them every day. Or to mind their temper.Someday, somehow, someone is going to come to you because they need youradvice and wisdom. What are you going to say?In that moment, when you distill all this pain, suffering and sorrow you’reenduring now into a valuable lesson for someone else, you’re giving back in a verybig way.I think of it as hiking up a steep mountain in the dark. You’re shining yourflashlight for a moment on the path behind you, to light the way of someone who istravelling the same path.© Copyright Wendy Keller, 2012 Page 12
  13. 13. Tip Number Ten: Reward Your ProgressYou remember in school how the teacher drew a smiley face or put a sticker onyour paper when you did a good job? Well, as a grown up, no one does that forus anymore, so we have to reward ourselves. Compliment ourselves. Be nice toourselves.What you are trying to process is hard. It’s a bad situation, it’s exhaustingemotionally, it’s physically depleting, mentally distracting and overall just a roughtime.If you’ve been applying any of these tips, you will be seeing little sprouts of hope.Little victories where you have minutes, moments, hours or maybe even days whenyou can see the sunlight peeking through that ol’ dark cloud above your head.That’s when you know you’re making progress. When you can look back on howyou felt last week, or how you handled your life last month, and see a little bit ofprogress. It’s wholly unrealistic to put a time limit on healing, but it’s reallyimportant to recognize and celebrate your progress.I kept a journal after the kids died, of how much emotional and physical pain I felt,of how angry I was, of how scared and hopeless I felt about the future. I kind ofstumbled on the idea of keeping score of myself along the way – and I found itreally helpful.One simple way is to score your mood. On a 1-5 scale, 1 being miserable and 5being happy, where would you rate yourself at this exact instant?Write it down or put it into your smartphone or something. Take your “mentaltemperature” at fixed times during the day – like, upon waking, just before eatinglunch, and just before going to bed.© Copyright Wendy Keller, 2012 Page 13
  14. 14. Watch and see if you don’t start making some progress! A shift from three “1”scores to a 1-2-1 day is progress! It’s not going to happen overnight. Nothingworth having does.But watching yourself heal, well, that can become pretty fascinating. If you havethe energy, try to keep a diary, even if you only jot down 30 words a day. Be realwith yourself. Recovery isn’t a straight up arrow! There will be low days, highdays, and then medium days all mixed in together, like it or not. The goal is that amonth from now, you have more higher scored days, more happy or at leastpeaceful days, than you did a month ago.Inch by inch, day by day, you’ll be making progress. You’ll be coping and thenprocessing and then healing from the crisis you’ve endured.I know you don’t want to hear this, but it will actually make you a better person.You’ll become more compassionate with the suffering of others; you might learn totake better care of yourself emotionally and physically; you might make importantchanges in the trajectory of your life; some people find it changes the way they dealwith other people. It will help you realize your valuable place in the world – hoemany people care about you and want you to be well and happy. It can open youreyes to opportunities to give, love, serve, grow, expand your beingness.Although we hate this truth, it appears that when things get too complacent, theUniverse (God, Jesus, Allah, Buddha, The Great Pumpkin, whatever it is out there)pushes us to grow. No one gets through human life without a lot of unwanted“learning opportunities”.What you do when you’re enrolled involuntarily in these “classes” makes all thedifference in the quality of the rest of your life.You WILL someday look at this calmly and see some benefits – some good thingsthat sprout in the darkest hours of our lives.© Copyright Wendy Keller, 2012 Page 14
  15. 15. You CAN get through this.Things WILL get better if you let them.Best wishes to you for a healthy, happy, peaceful, rewarding life from here on out!Wendy Keller Wendy Keller speaks and leads inspiring, practical workshops on overcoming adversity. Find out how to get her to come to your group or event at: If you would like copies of this document for distribution, please write for permission to:© Copyright Wendy Keller, 2012 Page 15