2018 was my rock bottom year.
At the start of the year, I went through a traumatic breakup that cut into every insecurity I had ever held about myself. I later graduated and felt like a rug was pulled out from underneath me as I no longer held the identity (student) I had held so tightly to for my whole life. Shortly to follow, I felt devastated as my career path shifted and I felt like I had lost drastically from the one I had envisioned for so many years. Like a metaphorical Jenga tower, each loss left a hole in me and my heart collapsed.
I remember several times crying alone on my kitchen tile floor, drowning in a mixture of grief and exhaustion and not knowing how I was going to be able to manage the pain. In the grand scheme of the world and in the context of a long lifetime, the disappointments and changes I had undergone were rather minuscule, but I assure you, for me in this year, it felt as if I had lost who I was.
I stand here, mid January of 2019, kind of on the other side this, kind of still scraping the remnants of mud and quick sand off my feet. I share this very small snippet of a larger story because I know how helpful it is to hear from someone who has hit rock bottom and made it to the other side (or at least has made progress in getting to the other side, whatever the “other side” is).
As I went through this season, I remember how badly I longed for some direction or advice on how to navigate the waters of change and suffering. For this reason, I want to share with all of you a few pieces of advice I have for anyone going through something similar to what I went through. I know that my advice might not even scratch the surface of the depth of pain and suffering you might be going through, but I hope and pray that these few pieces of wisdom provide some help or comfort in your trials.
Allow yourself to grieve what you’ve lost.
Amidst the devastation and suffering that accompanies rock bottom, there is grief. Perhaps you are grieving the actual loss of another person’s life, but you may just as well be grieving the end of a relationship, the loss of an identity, or the end of a time in your life. All of these things fall into the category of loss.
Whatever your loss, it is important to allow yourself to grieve. Your heart hurts because you have lost something. Listen to it and feel your feelings. For myself, this meant giving myself the freedom to be sad, the time to cry, and the permission to really sit with my emotions. However grief looks for you, allow yourself the freedom to step in and truly grieve your loss.
When the pain is intense, break time down into small increments.
In the immediate aftermath of my traumatic breakup, I felt physically unable to cope. I could not imagine the next hour let alone the next day. When your pain is this intense, concentrate on small increments of time. Get through the next minute, then the next 10 minutes, then the next 30 minutes, and so on. Eventually, the increments of time will increase, and you will realize that you are progressing, and the realization of this progression in and of itself will help you.
When you’re at your lowest, the last thing you want to do is get up off the couch and exercise, but from a mental health perspective, it can be one of the best things for you. As Elle Woods would say, exercise gives you endorphins and endorphins make you happy. I’m not saying that exercise will make you happy, but it can certainly help you to feel less horrible. Make a point to exercise even if for no other reason than to trick your brain into being less sad.
Plan things to look forward to.
When I was struggling, I had a close friend who would often ask me, “What are you looking forward to this week?” Or: “What are you doing for yourself today?” I remember when she would first ask me this, I was baffled. “Um, watch Vampire Diaries and cry?”
Looking back, her nudges to create positive future plans and focus on self care helped me to pull myself out of my dark place. In your lowest place, sometimes the last thing you want to do is make plans or do something out of the ordinary (for me, anything that was not binge watching Netflix). However, like exercise, this can be just the thing that helps.
Talk about it.
This is much easier said than done, but I would invite you to talk with two to three close friends or family members about what you’re going through. I found the most healing in just talking about what was happening and hearing my loved ones’ opinions. They can provide a lot of much needed perspective and encouragement.
I am the sort of person who recommends counseling to anyone and everyone. There is not one person I can think of who wouldn’t benefit from counseling!
Counseling can be an essential part of your journey to healing, especially if you’re struggling. In your darkest place, it can feel like no one understands and no one is there for you in the way that you need them to be. If this is you, I would urge you to seek counseling. When you’re able to connect with a counselor that’s trained and suitable for you, it’s freaking amazing for your journey to healing.
Seek the face of God.
If you are at rock bottom, the last thing you may want to do is seek out God. Perhaps, like I did, you believe that God inflicts suffering on us and that your struggles are part of him “shaping you up” or punishing you. Perhaps God wants to show you who He really is and who you really are..
I would encourage you – seek out God, the real living God. Use this time to figure out what Scripture actually says about Him and establish what you really believe about him. He is near to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18) and will draw nearer to you as you draw near to Him (James 4:8). I can honestly say that this season of suffering has brought me a deeper and clearer understanding of who God is and who I am in his eyes, and it is my greatest hope that you also experience great discoveries about God in this season of suffering.
I hope that you found this post to be helpful to you and that you know how so deeply sorry I am for the pain that you may be enduring. If you’re looking for some additional resources during this time, I would again advise that you seek out professional counseling, and perhaps do some reading on the theology of suffering. If you’re looking for some helpful books, I would particularly recommend reading Shattered Dreams by Larry Crabb (ONE OF MY FAVORITE BOOKS OF ALL TIME) or It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way by Lysa TerKeurst, if you’re looking for some direction on how to approach God and your faith as a whole in this period of suffering.