Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

What To Do When The Bottom Falls Out

June 27, 2005

Life can turn brutally hard. Divorce, death, debilitating illness, and severe financial reverses are among some of the losses life brings.

We lose control, at least temporarily, over the very basics of our happiness and well-being. How can people cope when storms of adversity try to sink them in despair and depression?

Pay attention to your relationships. Outside of yourself, your greatest buffer and strength is a close, deep relationship with a spouse or a friend with whom you converse freely and openly about your feelings. When people feel cared for and understood, the harsh blows of life are softened and are easier to bear.

Work for common goals. Talk through your differences. Blaming each other, criticizing and pulling in different directions make matters worse. Commit yourself to extra patience, consideration and tolerance for each other's moods and irritations.

Don't expect that your moods will always match. Nobody is at their best when emotional turmoil and confusion are just beneath the surface. It is time to dig deep and give an extra measure of love and patience during hard times.

Sharing touch and affection are especially important during hard times. People's needs and moods are different. There are times when they want to be left alone in their pain. Sexual interest is often at a low ebb when losses are being absorbed.

You grow closer. The silver lining in a crisis is when we learn anew about the importance of character, family, friends, faith and good health in our lives.

You can no longer be independent of each other. You really do need love and support. In listening to your partner’s sorrow and pain, you become more empathic and caring. This is not just to your spouse alone but to others as well. Give your friends a chance to be friends by sharing with them the struggles of your heart. Their friendship will be a great support to you.

Find someone less fortunate than yourself and help them. In making the burdens of others lighter, yours will become less heavy.

Be flexible and adapt to the new circumstances. Face reality. Make a painful and honest assessment of your situation. Explore alternatives. Let go of the past and make whatever changes are necessary.

Do what you have to do to put bread on the table. First survive, then worry about new dreams. Give yourself time. Hope and confidence will come back when you know more answers than you do now.

Re-evaluate your priorities. What you thought "should be" may no longer be possible. You are learning new truths. Compromise. Bargain with life and bargain with yourself.

Write down your feelings. Your journal will help you understand yourself and be a record of what you went through. Writing makes for more precise thinking.

There are relatively few times in life when we are open to completely revamping lifestyle and career choices. Hard times represent a new starting point that can lead to better and more fulfilling lives.

Cut your standard of living and make a budget that fits your current circumstances. Learn to live on limited resources without feeling poor. Don't judge yourself by material possessions or status in the eyes of others.

Don't worry about what the neighbors think. Your abilities, competence and character didn't change with your change in fortune. Net worth is not self-worth.

Be careful not to let anger, anxiety or depression consume you. Reach out and get professional help to give you the boost you need to get back on track.

Learn to live in the present and to take care of yourself. Live one day at a time. Life has become fleeting. The things you counted on are no longer reliable. Faith in tomorrow has been broken.

Long-term goals are no longer in focus. Until there is a future you can believe in, making do with today is the best you can do. First survive and then worry about new dreams.

Fortunately, living in the moment has its own rewards. There is much beauty and pleasure in the simple things of life. Plan some fun and enjoyment for today and let tomorrow take of care of itself.

There is much to discover in life once we release ourselves from the struggle of trying to find answers that will come with the passage of time.

Find inexpensive entertainment and recreation. These are more necessary now than when times are good. Plunge yourself into your children's activities and enjoy their accomplishments.

For the time being, their future is more tangible than your own. Make family fun and activities a priority. Make new memories to crowd out the painful ones.

Retreat into nature. Deep pain awakens the sensitivity to life. Find joy in what is around you. See the sunrises, sunsets, storms, moonlit nights, animals and the wonder of creation.

Don't push yourself beyond your limitations. There is only so much you can do. Treat yourself to a hot bath, a massage, a good book, a favorite hobby - whatever it is that gives you deep relaxation and enjoyment.

When your future comes back into focus and recaptures some of your thoughts and energy, you will have a new gift - the ability to live joyfully in the present and to appreciate the journey of life as well as the horizons that beckon you.