When Life Gets Hard, Build a Toolkit.

Heather Martin, a Columbine survivor, wrote in a Letter of Peace, “I believe that if we took the time to notice, we’d see we’re infinitely more connected by our similarities than divided by our differences.”  I believe this is particularly true for the pain we experience during life’s struggles. The emotions we experience during life’s hardships - whether it is schools shootings, cancer, losing a loved one, or a sexual assault - is more similar than we think. 

We don’t always know when someone is struggling, since most of the time, we can’t see the pain.  After the Virginia Tech shooting, I didn’t know how to deal with my pain.  Years later, when I decided I was ready to address the mess inside my mind, my counselor recommended that I build a therapeutic toolkit. The purpose of the toolkit is to have various tools, or options, that I can choose from when I’m experiencing uncomfortable feelings.  When we experience tragedy or loss, it seems like the uncomfortable feelings - sadness, loneliness, anxiety, anger - are unbearable.

I think that building a toolkit can better prepare us when life gets hard. Because let’s face it, life can be brutal sometimes. The toolkit can include whatever you want - it’s your toolkit to help YOU. Here are a few of the tools that I put in my toolkit.

Journal

Writing is very therapeutic for me and was a critical piece to my recovery. I have a tendency to blow things out of proportion in my mind. When I turn to my journal, I can break things down. I remind myself that time will pass, the feelings are temporary, and it helps me get through tough times.

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Good Listeners

Find friends and family who you can talk to, and who listen. I half joke that dogs are the best listeners because they can’t talk back. Find people who listen without giving advice when you didn’t ask. Sometimes, we just want to get things off our chest and talk through them.

Walks and Exercise

I have to be careful here because I abused exercise before I had a toolkit. But now, walking and exercising is one of many options in my toolkit. So depending on how I’m feeling and what I think I need, I can go for a walk or choose one of the other tools. Walking, while listening to music or podcasts, helps me release stress and worry.

Books or magazines

Reading a book or magazine is another good option.  I like to read books that remind me that uncomfortable feelings are a part of being human.  I remind myself that right now I may feel pain and sadness, but it is only temporary, and eventually I will feel love and joy again. I remind myself that I can’t pick and choose the feelings I let in; I’ve got to let them all in.

When we find ourselves going through a difficult time, we may feel trapped and unsure of how to continue on with life.  We can't go around the pain, but we have to work through it.  For the longest time, I didn't know the difference between avoiding the pain versus dealing with the pain. I've learned the difference is that when you "work through" your feelings, you address them, not ignore them.  Addressing your feelings can be hard and uncomfortable, but that's where the toolkit comes in. The toolkit won't do the work for you, but it helps you get through the difficult times.