Recently, the right half side of my face went numb and within a couple of minutes froze in completely. I knew I wasn’t having a stroke but generally speaking, that was a pretty stressful moment. Heads up, I am fine – I was fine. All is well. I do have a slight weakness in one of my facial muscles right now (which I’m not digging) but nothing to seriously worry about! This post is not really about my face anyway, it’s about finding yourself in an undesired situation – and how to cope with it for your own sake of mind.
I have found myself facing abuse, physical illness, depression, lost hope for life, anxiety attacks, surprise conflict, loss, and so much more in the last couple of years alone. I’m not sure if life ever eases up or if we can avoid these massive challenges. I have noticed, however, that I surprise myself with how well I cope now. Sitting in the emergency room by myself all night ( after 4 hrs I sent helpers home), I had the chance to witness people rush in and out with varying injuries and degrees of distress. Pretty fascinating actually!
I have also worked at a suicide hotline, worked with clients, and volunteer online at a mental health website. What I know after over 5 thousand conversations is this: we all suffer the same. And most people benefit from coping in the following way:
1. Let someone know what is going on!
Frist off, every challenge is harder by yourself. Not only will you deal with your emotions and eperiences, but you will also be faced with isolation unless you tell someone. Loneliness and disconnection are two of the biggest silent killers in our current times. Especially as humans, we often feel separate and disconnected. Like no one else will ever have felt this bad, messed up like this, failed or suffered in this horrible way. This is the point where I could tell you that it’s all an illusion. That we are always one, that love is always present. That your angels and guides are closest in moments of trauma… you get the idea! And technically that is all true. It’s just not very helpful in this moment. So maybe keep that in the back of your head, but for now know this: Until you speak out, it will be so much harder to get yourself out of disconnection.
Often times just sending a text might be enough, though at any given moment you can reach out and call free hotlines (Samaritans free number UK/Ireland: 116 123 or email: Jo@samaritans.org). Remember, at this stage it is not about getting advice from others and you probably have a good idea of who is more likely to freak out if you tell them what’s up and who is prone to staying calm under pressure. I know that my mum will panic no matter how gently I break news to her. So I tend to tell her once I have calmed a bit. I also have friends who get shocked but are still capable of switching into a function-based mode to figure out what needs to happen. Involving others is not a rating of your relationship. This is your moment to be selfish and make choices based on your needs right that moment.
Here’s the tricky bit: When you are in a vulnerable position and reach out, you do run the risk that the other person misses the point, gets triggered, or fails to help. Sometimes this may make things even worse. Be specific in what you need. I called my friend with the following words: ‚I’m sorry I’m calling so late. I need you to listen right now and stay calm. I’m dealing with this and I need someone to know about it. Can you please do that for me?‘
Sometimes people fail. Or our expectations are unrealistic. Or there could be a simple misunderstaning. Reaching out to a trusted person is vulnerable and can go wrong – but it is the only quick ticket out of shame, guilt, and despair. On a practical level, when others can take practical steps to keep us safe, we can go into the internal process needed. So my friend drove while I followed the other steps. Or sometimes and ambulance needs called. Stay safe first and foremost!
And from what I have lived through and been told: Sharing your pain is worth the risk of disappointment for the reward is so huge!
2. Acknowledge what is happening without rating!
Be realistic. I knew my body, and I could tell that my arms went numb because I panicked. But it would have been foolist to ignore that numbness on the right side of the faces, paired with struggle to speak and weakness in arms could be a stroke. So no matter how well I could feel into and get a clear message from guides and helpers, I always stay reasonable with the risks I take! That being said, I stayed conscious of the story I told. I didn’t say: ‚I might be having a stroke‘. I stated my sympotms and noticed that, rather than drawing conclusions.
Here’s the much trickier step. Not going into rating the experience. It by far wasn’t the scariest I have lived through. It really was a minor ditch in the road compared to what I have survived by now, but I still allowed myself to be scared. To say my prayers. It was definitely a ‚get-yo-butt-down-here-guides‘ situation! And I have rarely asked that as ruledly!
I also acknowlegded that my reptilian brain needed to panick. I was consious of the stress shooting through my body when I saw the drooping of my face. In the past, I have broken out in tears over the most miniscule things. I simply acknowledge that the situation was causing a massive response. Like when the wee kiddo flops to the ground crying because there’s no ice cream at 8 am in the morning… Try practicing holding your experience without rating whether it’s reasonable or valid.
From talking to so many people, I have learned that we can never rate experience. What one person struggles with is easy for others and vice versa. Even on a day-to-day basis, our personal experience varies. I have sat in the same temperature ice baths multiple times and always cope well. And still the last time it felt absolutely unbearable!
I stay calm when doctors tell me I am having a stroke, but I cry big crocodile tears when I find a dead bee. It don’t make sense, ya’all. And that is totally okay!
I saw a post the other day: It doesn’t matter if someone’s drowing in 5 feet of water or 100 feet – they end up pretty dead either way. We must stop rating our pain and trauma as if it was a competition.
so assess what’s going on, stay conscious of the story you tell around it, but allow yoruself to stay kind with your experience.
3. Breathe into deep relaxation – even just for 30 seconds!
Maybe it is easy for you to calm down, maybe that will take some time. When shit hits the fan, your body will panic. It has to in order to survive. The panic or fear that comes on is your evolutionary system making sure you notice the danger and can act about it. You don’t want to stand on the road and see a car coming at you, only to calculate the likelyhood of death if it hits you – you want to move, and you want to do it quickly and safely!
So first: let’s thank our quick brains, and panic attacks for being evolutionary badasses.
If you have ever suffered from anxiety attacks, hoewever, you will know that it can suck balls! During darker times of my life I struggled with that pretty badly. To the point where I lost feeling in arms and legs and dropped to the floor unablt to move. after a couple of those it was actually pretty amusing lying there, knowing what was happening and how much it sucked. And still knowing that eventually I will get my feelings back and can get up. Granted, to get to a point of staying calm in those extreme situations can take practice. Whether you are dealing with panic, anxiety, anger, desprair, or sadness. Breath is your friend! If you can, try alternative nostril breathing. It is one of the best ways to get you into rest-and-digest mode, get you out of freeze and distribute hormones and blood trhoughout the body. If that is too hard for you in the moment (totally fine!!) then focus on your exhale. Force yourself to let the exhale out through the mouth as slowly and for as long as feels possible without fainting! Stay reasonable.
This will force you out of the reptilian brain and allow to think more logically!
4. Remind yourself that your experience will change!
Whether it’s emotional, mental, or physical. My biggest fear in any undesired situation is that it may last forever. What if I can’t heal this? What if I start cyring and it won’t ever stop again? What if I now always wake up in pain? What if my face is permanently frozen? Oh the joy of creating horror scenarios in the brain. I could go on for hours and hours! In truth though, nothing is as certain as change. There will be moments of laughter, even in terminal illness. People who are diagnosed with conditions recover all the time even though strickly speaking there shouldn’t be a cure. Spontaneous revovery happens on a regular basis!
But let’s go into the fear for a moment. Let’s say something happens to you that can’t be healed. Maybe my face will stay like this forever. Not a nice thought. You may not notice the difference in my face, but I know the unpleasantness of the struggeling muscle and I can see my mouth looks slightly different. (Remember: I’m not rating!) I have moments where I don’t notice. When I laugh, it is not noticeable. I’m still better off than most other people on this planet. Even when my life was pure torture, I could witness moments of kindness. And if there is hope, there is a reason to persevere. If life brings me to my knees, I have learned to rest in child’s pose for a while. When I can’t get out of exhaustion, I learn to rest and pace myself rather than assuming it will never change again. It always changes, there are always moments of respite. From over 5 thousand accounts I know this: most of us face hopelessness along the way. Most of us are afraid to go back into old patterns. Most of us fear that there is nothing we can do. Hear those fears, breath through them. Don’t assume they are true!
5. Figure out where this is all coming from.
Lastly, all of the above will help you cope. It likely won’t significantly move you past what it’s happening. There are millions of ways to cope. Pills, surgery, or alternative options all have their validity to some extent. Yet understanding, expression, and presence can shift the darkest hours in seconds. So here is my favourite, simple approach – and boy, how I wish I had known about this when things were really hard!
By the time something shows up loudly in your physical reality, it is likely that you have missed much more subtle clues on many levels. This could be feeling stressed, or holding a judgement. Knowing you aren’t equipped to commit to something, or holding on to old pain. Sometimes we push past a tiny head ache and let it turn into a massive migrane… It happens! Let yourself off the hook for what you may have missed. Deal with what you can right now.
When I had a massive lower back pain, I went to explore. I coudln’t access it on an emotional level, so I pressed around my body some more. I realised that it was combined efforts of middle back, feet, and calf muscles. So I could make a game plan for stretches and myofascial release rather than pressing around my back and clearly not getting any benefits. Similarly, with emotional pain, I attempt to understand it holistically. Where am I holding this in my body? What colour is it? What size? Is there a word connected? Are other people involved? When did I first feel it? If this could speak, what would it say to me? Can I link it to a situation before the age of 7? And what would I have needed when this first come up? What can I do to help this now?
Sometimes issues resolve through physical means, sometimes through mental processing. Yet emotional expression is something I advertise like nothing else: Throw a good old tantrum. Cry, punch pillows, scream and swear if that feels right.
Healing, in my opinion, means transforming an undesired state into a desired state. There are things in life that persist. I may not ever get my mouth to look the same way (even if it’s only noticeable to me). But I can surrender the feeling of helplessness and fear. And then sometimes, when I change my perception of a situation, the body does miraculous things, or others compliment me. Or I’m noticing a blessing.
If you are going through crisis, please know this: You are not alone. It may take massive struggle but there will be ways to love life again. I remember not knowing how I could survive the next 5 minutes, I had so little hope for life. Now I can find enjoyment in 9 hrs of A&E and I’m looking forward to the next years of my life despite what might happen next. There is help, there is joy, there are more options than any brain could ever hope for.
I love you,
Please don’t suffer alone. There are so many of us here for you!