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Episode 30: Helpful strategies for a long period of suck


[00:00:02] I want to talk to you today about using charts or strategies to survive a long period of suck. I talked to you about a long period of suck a few weeks ago . . . we were talking about surviving long periods of time where things are just crappy and you feel awful.

[00:00:27] I've now survived three major long periods of suck. The first one was my divorce and custody situation . . . which no matter HOW hard I wanted that to over, it lasted like three years. The second one was cancer treatment, which was a year. And the third has been this pandemic, which is not over at the time of this recording, and has been eleven months.

[00:00:55] So I wanted to talk to you about how you can use strategies and specifically a goal chart, like a visual chart to see how far you've come and keep track of things so that you can see your progress.

[00:01:12] So I want to start with the goal chart. And this is simple, really simple. And it was actually my boyfriend's idea when I was in the middle of my recovery from my double mastectomy after my cancer diagnosis.

[00:01:30] He's a sports guy, and so he's really familiar with recovery from injuries. He has been a basketball coach and has helped a lot of people through recovery from various things. And now he can add breast cancer recovery to that resume. So he was really familiar with what it means to recover from something hard.

[00:01:52] And I, on the other hand, was like, "everything is awful. I'm not making any progress. I feel terrible all the time. Like nothing is working at the end of every day. I feel like the whole day just was terrible."

[00:02:07] So he suggested to do two things. The first was to create three small goals for every day so that at the end of the day I can look back and realize that I've actually accomplished something. So during cancer treatment, this was something like, "OK, I'm going to take a walk around the neighborhood, which was really hard. I'm going to drink three water bottles full of water, and I'm going to respond to five emails." And that's what that would look like for cancer for you.

[00:02:39] As far as like divorce or a pandemic, I would add quiet meditation or a walk - and don't get too overwhelming. The idea is to make these really attainable goals that are good for you, that you can look back at the end of the day and be like, "I did something good for myself." So think about that, and I'll put up some examples on Instagram later this week.

[00:03:06] And then the other idea he had was for a bigger, more "overall" picture of progress, and that was to create a pie chart. It's really simple to see how this works when it comes to something that has a definite beginning and a definite end.

[00:03:26] I used a big pie chart that we put on the wall on a dry erase board for the number of chemo cycles that I was going through. I split this pie chart into six pieces. And every time I would finish an infusion, I would color in that piece of the pie and I would feel accomplished.

[00:03:47] The thing that I didn't really recognize was going to be helpful was the effect that it was going to have on my daughter.

[00:03:56] If you think about kids and what they're like when it comes to time, five minutes is a lifetime to them. So their parent being in treatment for a year truly feels like a lifetime. It's goes on and on and they don't see any progress being made. They can barely even remember a time when you weren't sick.

[00:04:18] So for my daughter, seeing that pie chart getting filled in, helped her recognize growth and be able to see that, you know, even though it felt like this was lasting forever, we were actually making progress and it was going to end.

[00:04:36] So that is a really good one for something that has a definite beginning and a definite end. And the question becomes, what do you do when you're in the middle of a long period of suck that DOESN'T have a definite beginning and end, 
and things are just really hard for a really long period of time, and you're not really sure when it's going to end?

So in that case, my advice is actually the polar opposite of what to do when you do have something that has an end - and that is to take it one day at a time and try your absolute hardest not to focus on the future.

Instead, try and do your very best every single day and work on improving things on a day to day basis. Otherwise, I think it's really easy to start ruminating over how bad things can be in the future or how long this is going to last, when in reality the only way to get through really hard stuff is to actually admit that it's happening and focus on it and "fix" it.

So for me, during my divorce I kept focusing on how horrible things were right now. But I think the vast majority of my pain and suffering was because I was focused on how long it was going to last. And I wasn't focusing on trying to improve the present. I was trying to focus on fixing the future.

So, for example, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, if you're focused on how long this is going to last, rather than trying to focus on making each day as good as it can be, and just admitting that right now it's not super great.

The focusing on the future is going to cause you a lot more suffering. So when I was in the middle of my divorce, I didn't start to actually heal from what was going on until I started to focus on the present. I remember sitting with my therapist and telling her that I just wanted it to be over. And I was tired of, you know, constantly fighting with my ex-husband. And I was tired of how hard things were for my daughter. And I just wanted it to be over.

And then I realized that if I allowed myself to FEEL that sadness, the sadness that things were hard...THAT was when I was actually able to release those feelings and just cry about it or or just feel into it in my body and release it. And that made those days a lot easier, just because I had already processed what was going on and I was able to move forward on a day to day basis.

So just to reiterate, if you have a situation where you have a definite beginning and end date like chemo or I'm trying to think of what other example . . . a school year, that's really hard, you can create a pie chart on the wall and watch as time goes by. That's really helpful.

If you have a hard thing that is a long thing that doesn't have an end, focus on that particular day and don't look toward the future.

And in both circumstances, try to create three goals each day that are simple, easy-to-do and are good for you, so that at the end of the day, you feel as if you have accomplished something.

And again, I am not talking about creating something complicated or putting extra pressure on yourself. I'm talking about saying today I'm going to take a bubble bath. Today I'm going to go sit in the closet for 10 minutes.

That way, you feel like you've accomplished something at the end of the day that was good for you and you're doing the very best you can.

I hope these strategies have helped you even a little bit. My idea here is not to give you a thousand and one things to do to try and improve your life and completely make it over. My point is to give you actionable, small things that can make a difference in your life. So try this and see what you think.

Sara Olsher

Sara Olsher

Sara Olsher is the Founder + CEO of Mighty + Bright. She's a young cancer survivor, mom, and former single mom.

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