- Mental Health»
“Back in the High Life Again”: Overcoming Adversity, Setbacks, and Major Life Changes
Sometimes things happen that turn our lives upside down. Maybe a spouse or lover decides to leave. Maybe a beloved friend or companion dies. Or, you lose the job you have dedicated your life and soul to. And, sometimes life hits hard and everything comes crashing down at once, leaving your existence in shambles.
We have all been there, they say. Life takes away as much as it gives. Saying this never seems to help.
If you feel like you have been through hell and back recently, take heart. You are not alone. The Wheel of Life is not trying to screw you over. In fact, your circumstances may be far better than you believe them to be.
You have been blessed beyond belief!
Really, you have been.
No… I am not kidding!
When things turn upside down, the real secret is that you have been given a new chance to create a new, more authentic life. What is irrelevant or old has left in its time. It is time to take pause, make note of the lessons learned from the experiences that have fallen away, and make strides towards discovering what you really, truly want out of life.
A single person has more time to consider what they truly want out of a mate and work towards fulfilling those needs. A bereaved person can cherish the memories of their loved one, while taking the time to reflect on the lessons learned from the one that has gone. A jobless person has the time and energy to find a career path that he or she truly loves.
In all cases, freedom has been granted. Deciding which direction to take with it is the only burden.
I Am an Expert
Before you, an understandably-hostile member of the great down and out, immediately discount this upbeat-tinged advice, let me inform you of something: I am an expert on loss.
You see, at the end of 2010 I lost four very important things to me: my job, my house, my long-term partner, and my cat. When I lost my job because of a budget cut, I quickly cleared out my savings. When I could not pay rent, I got evicted from my nice two bedroom house in the city and moved back in with my parents, who live in the bowels of Appalachia—a stark contrast for me to manage. In this process, I lost my long-term partner because the distance was too difficult to manage. Finally, upon moving back home, my 19 year old childhood pet died suddenly.
I would call that a lot to go through.
While my complaints might seem minor, keep in mind that I had borrowed tens of thousands of dollars from the government to pursue what I thought was my dream job—librarianship—only to find that the first job I ever got in the field would only employ me for five months before cutting my position.
Economics and growling aside, my life turned upside down. I made a complete 180-degree turn. I found myself back in my childhood bedroom, alone, bored, tearful, sprouting pimples, and gaining weight quickly.
After many months of wallowing around, doing nothing remotely productive, and facing judgment from the people that I thought would support me through thick and thin, I decided to make some changes in my life. I decided I would embrace my freedom instead of spitting it in the face.
This change, however, did not come overnight. It took time, planning, a change in attitude, and a little song that I carry in my heart.
A Mantra for Overcoming Life’s Changes
Anyone going through or moving on from a major life change needs support. If you are currently dealing with a major life change or setback, surrounding yourself with uplifting resources that support positive change is one necessary step towards healing.
As tempting as it is to spend your days listening to sad songs, surrounding yourself with positivity breeds more positivity. Turn off that Smiths record. Mute your inner Amy Winehouse. Bid Johnny Cash adieu. Say hello to…
Yes, that Steve Winwood, Mr. “70s Supergroup Frontman Turned 80s Soft Rock Solo Star” himself.
The first time this song came to mind as something that I possibly needed during this difficult time, I felt horribly embarrassed to even entertain it, but Winwood’s “Back in the High Life Again” has become my personal mantra for turning down the negative feelings I encounter.
I’ll be back in the high life again
All the doors I closed one time will open up again
--Will Jennings/Steve Winwood – “Back in the High Life Again,” © 1986, Universal Music Group.
Repeating these lines over and over gave me faith that I can, and will, move on from this setback. The song itself has such an inspiring tone that I gained more faith in myself as I listened to it again and again. It is one of “those” songs—it fits the keyhole in my soul. It unlocks what I need. Finding that song—the one that makes you want to move mountains, that gives you faith to persevere through whatever you are suffering with—is another step towards healing.
Stick Your Nose in a Book
Of course, one song will not change the world on its own. The momentum a good song gives you must be followed up with some practical advice. Finding a good book to push you through your setback-related funk is the next step towards healing.
While there are many books out there that can make a difference in motivating you to move past setbacks, the one I was most drawn to was by a most unusual author: the world’s raunchiest QVC jewelry designer, Joan Rivers.
By now, I am quite sure you believe that I am crazy.
Joan Rivers? What could that old b***h have to say about moving on with life?
Truth be told, Joan Rivers has lived through it all in one grand wallop: job loss, death of her partner, loss of investments, near-dissolution of her relationship with her daughter, a fight to retain her business...the list goes on. The woman clearly has some advice to impart. Besides, the book was on the free table at my local library. There was nothing to lose, except time—the one thing I had in spades.
The biggest thing Joan Rivers taught me was that, while it was fine and good to wallow in a funk, the best thing I could do for myself is to stop waiting on life to hand me things. I had to participate. I had to do something—anything—to make forward motion. Stagnation is pointless. Standing still is worse than losing it all.
I wanted to be like Joan Rivers: a force of nature, willing to stare down my enemies and come back stronger and better. The inspiration found in her book Bouncing Back makes it worth its weight in gold to me, even if I got it for free. Serendipity truly worked in my favor the day I found this book!
Talk it out
If you have been through a serious life change, there is a possibility that you have become withdrawn from your social network. Talking to someone—anyone willing to listen—whether it is a professional counselor, or a random person on the internet, can do so much to change your perspective on life.
The best people to talk to are those that will remain positive. Surrounding yourself with positive people is important on an everyday basis, but it is more important when dealing with setbacks or major life changes. While you are experiencing some degree of freedom at the moment, you are impressionable. Knowing that you are weaker than usual is a sign of strength, so take this to heart.
Finding new friends, if your current social network is lacking, is an important step. If you belong to a spiritual or religious group, finding connections within your house of worship, or within another important organization, can produce transformative friendships.
In my own case, I did not have to look far for moral support. My best friend from high school still lives nearby, and she and I remain close. Becoming acquainted with a very unique group of her friends—female impersonators by trade—produced a surprising source of positive, radiant energy that encouraged me to step outside of my boundaries. This goes to show that some of the strongest and most meaningful friendships are forged among unlikely pairings. This straight-laced unemployed librarian learned to let out her inner diva!
Creating Your Own Life
“I have become my own version of an optimist. If I can't make it through one door, I'll go through another door - or I'll make a door. Something terrific will come no matter how dark the present.” – Joan Rivers
The obvious and cold-hearted reaction to losing a job, pet, or special person in your life is to immediately pick yourself up and find a new one. In respect to our current economy, it is never this easy to find work. Sometimes it takes months to find a new job. Some people never re-enter the job market.
Given this harsh reality of this economy, it is easy to just give up and be perpetually unemployed. Instead, it might be a time to discover your own talents and skills and how they might apply to a different career. Maybe it is time to create your own career. My own experience with this process is a long and torrid story that I will share in another article.
Finding a replacement for a lover, lost pet, or another missing element in your life is another issue entirely. Giving yourself time to fully heal—the no shortcuts, no bandages version of being emotionally healthy—is critical to moving on. It does not matter how long this takes. It takes as long as you need it to. However, dwelling on the past is counterproductive to the healing process and will only get in the way. Remember that the ones you have lost want you to move on and be happy.
The real answer to making a new life is to focus on the future. Who do you want to be? What kind of life do you want to lead? And, furthermore, what can you do to make this change?
Remember, you are free now. You have the motivation to change your life. The future is a blank slate. The universe has given you a piece of chalk for you to draw your own door onto the slate, or you can walk through doors others have made.
Your past is dead. The ashes from the urn you are clinging so close to your heart are ready to be dumped into the sea. Are you brave enough to fly overhead?
Making That Brave Step
Deciding to make motions towards creating a new version of your inner self will produce the most succulent of fruit! Almost immediately, you will feel an increase in your self-confidence. The more you move, the more you prove to yourself that you can overcome whatever life throws at you. While your new version of yourself and the future may not be perfect, it is at least more authentic to yourself as a person. You have been transformed through a backhanded blessing from the universe. You are on your way back to the high life again.
I’ll drink and dance with one hand free
Let the world back into me
And, oh, I’ll be a sight to see
Back in the high life again.
--Will Jennings/Steve Winwood – “Back in the High Life Again,” © 1986, Universal Music Group.