This article is for anyone who is unexpectedly experiencing a temporary or permanent life-altering event. It is written for the person that has been directly affected, their family members, or even their employer. The only qualification for the applicability of The 8 Stages of What the Fuck is that life will never be the same after the event happens. Hopefully this article will generally describe your feelings and assure you that they are perfectly normal. By understanding the stages, you can observe yourself and wait it out while you get used to your new normal.
I’ll get the background over with as quickly as possible, so that you understand I am imminently qualified to write about this topic.
Last year in 2017, my younger brother died of a massive heart attack, my 25-year-old daughter came down with neuro-Lyme, and then Irma hit. A few months later - a week before Christmas - the doctor said my 7-year old knee replacements were infected, and to march right over to the ER because they were both coming out tomorrow. This resulted in 6 months off of work in a wheelchair while the infection was treated.
Over that span of time my daughter went into remission, I got two more new knees, and was able to get back to work. By June, even though my job didn’t wait for me, my employer was able to find me a new position, I started walking every day, and life started returning to normal.
But The Universe wasn’t finished with me.
For about ten years now, every October our neighborhood has a Haunted Hike as a fund raiser. About ten homes host a skit or a band, and about 3,000 people pay $7 to go on the Haunted Hike. It is great family fun, and our daughter - who had begun feeling better - was in one of the skits. I took our grand dog, Bear, for a walk to watch her skit, which involved a lot of screaming, bloody faces, and scary music. As the crowd moved off, we approached. I could feel Bear tense, and I tightened my grip on the leash. Suddenly she bolted behind me at top speed, and I was swept off of my feet. My body slammed into the sidewalk on my right hip and rib. I immediately felt excruciating pain and started to cuss.
After all my surgeries, I have enough opiates to put a small down payment on a house. I took a Tramadol, and sucked it up for a day. My ribs hurt more than my hip, which felt bruised. I felt like I’d been in a car wreck. By the next afternoon, I still couldn’t walk without significant pain, so we went to Urgent Care to have the hip x-rayed just in case. The doctor was all like “yes, I’m sure this is just precautionary”. She came back 5 minutes later with that look you never want to see on a doctor’s face and said “don’t move – you need to go to the ER because your hip is fractured”.
Long story short, I had a fifth surgery in a year and got 3 pins in my hip. I am back in a wheelchair and can’t put weight on that side for 6 weeks minimum. I am back on short term disability and contemplating, yet again, what The Universe is trying to tell me.
The 8 Stages of What the Fuck
The concept for the 8 stages began forming during the first set of surgeries last year, but really kicked in a few months ago when I learned within the span of a few weeks that my daughter had relapsed, followed by news that someone dear to me had recurrent breast cancer. It was cemented with the Haunted hip incident.
There is a wonderful book by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross called The 5 Stages of Grief. Her seminal work identifies 5 stages that are commonly experienced when we lose a loved one: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. As I went through various emotions, I kept being reminded of her stages, but also that what I felt was slightly different. In my case no one died. Yes, the life as I knew it has been lost forever, but there seemed more to it than that.
After some analysis, I’ve identified The 8 Stages of What the Fuck which applies when your life changes unalterably in an unexpected fashion:
- Disbelief - You’ve got to be fucking kidding me
- Anger - This is total bullshit
- Desperation - I don’t have time for this shit
- Hopelessness - I can’t believe this is happening to me
- Fear - What is going to happen now?
- Mourning - My life will never be the same
- Resignation - Fine, whatever
- Hopefulness - I’m going to get through this
This article was initially going to detail each of these stages, but it made me sad to think about them and I kept getting distracted. I realized I was more interested in writing about countermeasures for The 8 Stages of What the Fuck.
What to do When the 8 Stages Apply to You
This section gives you some countermeasures you can try to help get through the stages and move towards to Hopefulness. They aren’t in any particular order, and some may seem repetitive.
Do as Much for Yourself as You Can
When I was in rehab (I’ll never get tired of saying that), I observed the frustration of people needing help and the overworked staff not able to assist them. In particular, waiting for someone to help you go to the bathroom is just about the purest Hell on Earth. I vowed that I would quickly figure out how to do this myself. Besides, I didn’t want anyone to see my womanly parts. I practiced and practiced until I could get to the bathroom without using my feet, and was really proud of something most people take for granted.
Look at your situation and identify something that is hard, but not impossible, to do for yourself and then try. It might be going to the bathroom, brushing your teeth, bathing, cleaning, or doing your laundry. Doing as much for yourself as you can will help you feel more in control and less of a victim. And caregivers, we know you can do things for us. Let us attempt to do them imperfectly and feel a small sense of victory by doing them ourselves.
Find Things to Be Thankful For
Back in January after both my knees were removed, I woke up one morning feeling sorry for myself thinking “this can’t get any worse”.
During rehab that day, there was an eighty-five-year-old woman lying next to me on the exercise table who just had her right leg amputated above the knee. She kept crying “what am I going to do now”? I had no idea what to say to her, and couldn’t imagine being in her shoes. In that minute my whole perspective changed.
I was reminded about being thankful again today.
Prior to the Haunted Hips incident, we listed the wheelchair and other things we didn’t think we’d need on craigslist. We forgot we’d posted anything until we got a call from a woman who wanted to buy our wheelchair today. Her paraplegic brother is coming to visit for Christmas, and she needs a wheelchair for him. We told her we’re using it right now, but call us back in mid-December, because we hope to have it available again.
As bad as you think you’ve got it, there is likely someone else in a worse situation. Fair warning – it takes a while before you’re able to accomplish this countermeasure.
Something Good is Going to Come Out of This
Years ago, I had the worst job of my entire career, but made more money than I ever had before. So, I stuck with it for nearly two years. It was the type of job that sucked the life out of you. An I-don’t-want-to-get-out-of-bed-and-get-dressed-in-the-morning kind of job. It took about a year after leaving to discover that it directed me to my life’s passion – how never to treat people at work (and in life), how to lead teams to build great things, and how to be a teacher and facilitator. That job sent me on a journey of discovery and learning that I continue to this day, and I am – gulp – thankful for having had that shitty job. For without it, I would still be bored and under the illusion that I knew everything. The truth is, you will come out the other side of this a changed person. Quite a lot of how that change affects you is largely up to you.
Ask “How Can I”
You may now find yourself unable to do many things that you could do before ‘The Big Event’. You may tell yourself, or others may tell you, you can’t do something any more. Turn it around ask yourself or your family “How can I”. It turns out, that our normal frame of reference limits the choices we think we have. Once the question is asked in a different way, you may be surprised by the number of choices you do have.
A more elaborate, but fun, method is to start a 2-minute timer and write all the ways you might accomplish something, no matter how crazy they might seem, one idea per sticky. Let your mind flow freely. After the alarm goes off, read the ideas out loud one at a time, and place them on the wall where you can see them. Order your ideas from first to last once by easiness, once by cost, then again by value. After a while, an idea will move into the lead as something to try. Save your stickies, because if whatever you picked doesn’t work out, you have all of your other ideas to choose from. If the family does this together, use dot voting for the top 3 picks to help winnow down the choices.
Laugh at Least Once a Day
For those of us going through the 8 Stages, laughing even once a day can get be a damn stretch. However, with the advent of the Internet and YouTube, there are innumerable ways to try to purposefully look for laughter. Baby and pet videos are priceless. For some reason I find news bloopers to be side-splitting. I also like reading blogs. Jenny Lawson’s The Bloggess just cracks me up, and I always smile when I read And That’s Why You Should Always Pick Your Battles.
Help Someone Else
Helping someone else is always within your reach, empowers you and takes your mind off yourself. Sometimes you can help someone by NOT doing something. Don’t ask your caregiver to make your lunch today and go open a can of tuna fish.
Acknowledge the Power of The Universe
One of the characters in Hot Tub Time Machine said “Embrace the chaos. Life might astonish you.” Believe it or not, while you can control a lot, you don’t and can’t control everything. Think about it - life would be so boring if you could.
Try Listening to The Universe
With each life-altering event, I’ve felt like The Universe is trying to tell me something, but I can’t understand. It’s trying to catch my attention by saying “No, that’s not what I meant dummy! You’re not supposed to do that!”. Although I’ve tried to listen, apparently, I’m just not getting the message. I know this because I am sitting in a wheelchair for the second time this year after 5 surgeries due to totally seemingly random circumstances. My husband thinks that sometimes God sits up there and leans over to Peter and says, “I can’t believe it. He still doesn’t get it. We’ve got to hit him harder’.
Acknowledge the possibility The Life Event may be indicating to you that you are just not meant to dance in the Geoffrey ballet, or you should really look for a new job, or maybe move to Bali or something (I just finished reading Eat, Pray, Love).
Look for Opportunities
Don’t look back – you’re not going that way. It is so easy to dwell on the past either with longing, with anger, or both. Fortunately, and unfortunately, what’s done is done. Sunk costs baby. You’ve learned a lot. By continually looking back, you’ll miss the opportunities happening right in front of you. Learn from the life you have lived, but look for new opportunities that are about to happen. Obviously, you wouldn’t be in this situation without The Life Event, but the opportunities that present themselves would never happen without The Life Event either. Anticipate opportunities, and be ready for unexpected surprises.
Plan for Tomorrow
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once said “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Your life has changed now. Look at the goals you once had and decide which still apply. Make new ones. Ask yourself “How can I”. My dream job didn’t wait for me, and now I am doing something completely different than I expected. However, this job fits with my new physical limitations and the old job didn’t. I have to learn new skills to stay relevant, and I’ve made a plan to achieve them.
Appreciate Those Who are Trying to Help You
No matter how much to dislike being in this situation, just remember that your caregivers and family aren’t having a party either. Their lives have changed as well. While they can’t experience your feelings, be empathetic that they are experiencing loss too – loss of their autonomy, loss of the life they expected to lead with you, feeling out of control because they must react to whatever situation you are in, and having to watch you suffer. They are not ‘freer’ than you - they have the additional responsibility of your care. Give them as much love and appreciation as you can each day.
Acknowledge Your Obstacles
As Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour says, acknowledge your obstacles, but don’t give them power. Yep, you’re never going to fill in the blank again. Yep, “the blocker” is stopping you from something extremely important. You have a choice whether to let those obstacles control you. Take the next step by coolly observing your obstacles, move around them and move on.
Give Yourself a Break
You are unique. No one else is going through the exact situation that you are. There is no ‘right’ way to get through your experience. That is for you to decide. Your ass will get bruised on the ride to your new normal, but try not to be too hard on yourself.
Make Changes in Small Increments
Your life has been thrown up in the air, and nothing is normal. If you are feeling out of control, try breaking big changes or challenges into smaller ones so that you can adjust easier.
Embrace the Suck
The truth is, you are a badass. You may be the only one who knows it, but really … How many people could go through this shit? Normies have no idea how strong you are and how much you’ve had to overcome. Embrace the suck with honor. Normies wouldn’t last 10 minutes in your shoes, and you know it.
Find a Hobby
I play the piano and dabble with the guitar and banjo. Now, due to The Life Event, I have plenty of time to practice and play. Hours can go by and it seems like seconds. Try to find something that engrosses you so much that you don’t feel the passage of time. It can be cooking, or writing, or learning an instrument, or something else.
Get Some Sun
I believe that Vitamin D has a positive effect on your mood and immune system. You can’t get anything valuable from the sun if you slather on sunscreen, or sit behind an impenetrable window. Try to get outside for at least 15 minutes with nothing between you and the sun on as much of your body as possible. Personally, I would be a total nudist if my neighbor couldn’t see me.
It is possible that something or someone could have prevented whatever happened to you. Or maybe someone or something did this to you. Or you could have done something differently to have avoided this situation. Bottom line - dwelling like this will suck every life force out of you, and you won’t be able to move on to Hopefulness. You must forgive yourself before you can forgive others. Believe it or not, you are a fallible human being, along with everyone else in the world. Try not to berate yourself or others, and, even more importantly, don’t berate yourself for berating yourself or others. Your humanity is what makes you – you. As soon as you learn how to forgive yourself, you will find that you have the space to forgive others. Forgiveness is powerful, because it put you in control.
Start Each Day Fresh
You may have snapped at a family member yesterday, or fell into deep depression, or reinjured yourself, or did something ‘wrong’. Today you get to start all over. Acknowledge you fucked up. Start the day out with an apology – to yourself or your loved one - and then move on. Starting out fresh every day is always within your control.
Try Deep Breathing
While getting some sun each day is good, fresh air is good too. Try taking deep, belly expanding breaths – in for 4 seconds, out for 4 seconds – for about 5 minutes. It is healthy and calming to do this daily.
Give Hugs Liberally
I know someone who said they hadn’t been touched in a long time and longed to be held. Words are nice, but there is so much more power in a simple hug. Don’t be afraid to ask for one. Don’t be afraid to give one. Hold on for a little longer than two seconds, and try not to break away quickly. If you’re really brave, make it full contact. You will likely find that you aren’t the only one who is happy they got a hug.
Learn How to Meditate
Nothing will stop your mental or physical progress faster than stress, and you’ve got heaps of that. Meditation can help you gain a sense of control and allow your blood pressure and mind to calm down a little. Calming your blood pressure and your mind will speed your healing. There are books or cell phone apps like Calm or Headspace that can assist you. Or maybe your town has a class you can take. I found a $15 online meditation course that I could take. There’s always YouTube, of course.
Take a Class
There are so many interesting classes you can take online that are either free or very inexpensive. I happen to like Coursera, but there are many others. Taking a short class will give you a sense of accomplishment, and may even be part of your plan. Activity is life, even if it means taking a class.
Now Get ‘er Done
If you’ve made it this far, you probably realize that the “you” in the article, of course, is me. I am writing to remind myself of all of the things I still control and am capable of doing. Otherwise I will go batshit crazy with the feelings of loss, anger and helplessness that constantly try to consume me. For that Kübler-Ross is right - her 5 Stages of Grief are spot on.
Only I could write repetitive, often-contradictory countermeasures – because they’re my countermeasures. I am just a scared girl, going through things that have changed my life and family forever; trying to control the “how” as much as I can. I feel better now, because writing is part of my plan, and I’ve spent a few hours in Hopefulness this week.
Despite my very human desire to categorize my life and my feelings in the attempt to gain a sense of control, your situation, feelings, support network, coping skills, responses, etc. are unique. You have other categories, other feelings, different circumstances that may mean none of this applies. Just throw away what doesn’t make sense and create your own categories, with your own reminders, and your own coping mechanisms. Go out and discover the things that resonate with you, and embrace them. And for God’s sake, don’t give up on yourself. Create a plan and get moving towards Hopefulness as soon as you are able.