Surviving in times of crisis.

Right now my family is going through a time of crisis. A hospital centred crisis. Which is why I haven’t blogged for so long. My Dad Joe has been pretty sick and we had to take him to hospital.

On that day my husband and I were at the beach and I got some texts from my mum asking me to go check on my Dad. She was not at the house and he was very sick. The last time my mum had begged me to suddenly go check on my Dad (2 years ago) I had to call an ambulance. So we took this seriously and gave up our plan to head to IKEA.

That was the last moment of normality, at the beach. We went to see Dad and after many, many hours he finally agreed to go to hospital. At that point he was delirious with agony in his legs and was even asking to go to the pub en-route. We thought we were admitting him for a few days but it turned out to be blood cancer.

For the last 3 weeks life was been absolutely exhausting. Bitter and sweet and exhausting, I have been at the hospital most days. I have had untold sweet times with my Dad and he has seen way more of all of us than in decades. More than an introvert could manage really.

My sisters have come and gone (a two week long family reunion). My brother came up three weekends in a row. Pretty hard on his wife and kids.

My mum has been camping out on a spare bed in my daughters room for 3 weeks. I have missed many days of work. And we have been so tired that we could not function properly. We only ate some proper meals thanks to my husband cooking most nights and thanks to some friends who dropped off meals.

The talk of death and all its necessary practicalities has been too much for my daughters. Discussions on saying good byes, on cancer, on the will, on blood tests and seeing the Doctor, on getting documents signed, and on finding a place in a residential care home for my dear Dad. I am the oldest and live nearby, so I am the one pushing through a ton of administrative tasks. It is utterly overwhelming. But too much for my kids to hear about. So I should try contain it to school hours.

My Dad is sooo sad that he suddenly had to give up driving. Give up his home. His whole lifestyle. Shops. Being at home in the garden with mum.

We are all in grief. Dad. Mum. Us four kids.

There is grief, stress and insomnia. There are many visits at hospital. And there and countless phone calls with care homes, social workers and medical staff.

One day at work I had to literally lie on the carpet in my office for a moment of rest. This is what crisis is like.

How to survive?

We have been through a few major life crises. Even worse ones which involved house moves. One included a kind of evacuation from a country!

In crisis your life is upside down. You can’t think straight and you can’t sleep. Some times you can hardly remember your name.

Here are the things that have helped us the most.

1. Embrace housework. Yes I actually said that! Every day tasks like doing the laundry and tidying up are so soothing. It gives us and our kids a sense that life is still going on. There is some normal. Keeping the home a bit tidy really helps everyone cope. Who knew hanging up the washing could be more powerful than a session at the psyche?!

2. Deal with physical stress. The body becomes pretty tense in crisis. One has to run to burn up the stress chemicals. Even just the wnd of the street. Or do 20 starjumps. At the least- do some stretching or take a hot bath.

3. Take time out for a moment of normal family life. Last night we treated ourself to some favourite chinese food for a treat.

4. Eat some thing healthy each day. I make the odd smoothie. I also continue my usual habit of making a huge salad every few days. Then we can punctuate the junky food with some nutrition. It also helps your gut biome during the big stress. Good gut health= better mental health.

5. Do everything really s l o w l y. This is crucial. Think slowly. Act slowly. Talk slowly. Drive slowly. Make all decisions slowly. One is clumsy and a bit mentally impaired in crisis. Slowing down will protect you in all ways.

6, Double and triple check that you have what you need every time you leave a room or car or the house. One is in a daze. (Shock/ high stress /trauma). During the last weeks I have nearly lost keys, documents, and forgotten untold crucial items I needed for an appointment, hospital visit or going to work. By double checking I avoided many disasters.

7. Fast food. Under normal circumstaces we health food freaks but at the moment we are worn out. I say bring on the Happy Meals.

8. Be relationally careful. This time can bring out the worst in everyone. Every family member is fraying at the edges from the extra work and emotional strain of crisis. Extra understanding and verbal acknowledgement that we all feel wrecked helps a lot.

9. Boundaries. The safe line between survival and crashing. For your health, your relationships, your kids, your job. Draw the line for yourself in all areas of life when you know you will not be able to cope if you push yourself further. To do X, to be X, to see X, or do X for longer than X amount of time.

Got to avoid burnout because that would make matters much worse. Read up and know symptoms. And exercise boundaries. Burnout can mean we can’t work and can’t earn income.

I am needing to take more time for rest so I need to get better at this.

10. Quiet time. I go to bed really early to be alone, to talk to God, to rest my mind, read my Bible, or to watch a movie to get my mind off the crisis. Say goodnight to the family and close the bedroom door. Long before you need to sleep.

A psychologist told me in a previous crisis that watching a nice series gives your mind relief time. I agree.

11. Faith. I would never survive without knowing that God is sovereign above all things going on and I can also see how He takes care of me. I promise you there are good things to see even in the midst of the agony and the exhaustion and the stress. I see God loving me when I stop and look.

12. Friends. I have not seen a friend for 3 weeks. Friends are like oxygen. So today I have a friend coming over who has walked a similar road some years back with her parent. I may have no energy or time to socialise but it is important to see some friends. Especially those who understand the type of crisis you are in. It may even be a new friend you met just because of the crisis journey.

13. Comfort the kids. Having been through a few major life trials I could actually write a book on this. But one more point is to comfort your children. Children are most comforted by seeing normalcy and also by communicating a few updates of how things are progressing (not every detail) and how things are going to be ok and normal again eventually. They and we also need some humour amidt the pressure.

14. Have a dream. To get through a trial, plan to realise a dream, 3 or 6 months from now. Something soothing to help you heal and recover. So don’t plan to renovate the bathroom😂. I mean a holiday destination, a beautiful new sofa, or the cat you all have talked about for a while. Whatever it is, you and your family need it. To think about right now when you need a nice thing to think on. To help you and the kids press through.

15. Music! In crisis our stesss levels get sooooo high. Sometimes we feel we are going to break. I would not have gotten through this without spotify and my earphones and some seriously good songs. Loud, in the visitor lounge at the hospital.

16. Ask for help, accept help. Some friends from our church brought some meals. Without those meals we’d have eaten toast for dinner as we were so tired that week. It was unbelievably comforting to eat a home cooked meal and with real nutrition! It really cheers up the kids too. And the biggest ingredient in the meal your friend drops off is not actually the chicken but moral support.

17. Self care. Today at the hospital I had to lecture myself to go to the cafe and get that decaf soy latte because: self care. I also watched a very funny movie this evening after my gruelling day because: self care. I make myself make salads and eat some healthy stuff between the trauma dazed grazing because: self care.

18. Money. There are a LOT of extra expenses in times of crisis. There have been many unexpected costs for us just now like parking and food at hospital (at least $100 per week), flights and car hire for flown in siblings, lodging the Enduring Power of Atorney ($175), a lot of petrol for driving, and my brother has had paid work lost due to time off for the crisis. Every member of my family is stretched. Some crises can cost ten thousand. In one crisis my husband and I got a credit card and payed it off later. Credits debts grow too quickly so savings are much better. Our own sanity has been saved thanks to having a small emergency stash this time. I am SO glad for these emergency funds we had right now.

(If you are NOT in crisis at the time of reading then start saving a minimum of $1000 as an emergency stash. Dave Ramsey (personal finance guru in the U.S.) says $1000 is an urgent initial goal (even before paying off debts) and then work towards having 3 months worth of living costs stashed away. Barefoot Investor (Australia) says have your emergency stash at a separate bank to your normal banking!)

19. Forgive. It is a time to forgive. Try to forgive hurt and annoyance, from the past, present and tomorrow. Crisis sucks the life blood out of you. Unforgiveness does too. You maybe can’t stop the crisis but let go of the crap that other humans have inflicted and hope they’ll let go of the crap you inflicted too. To conserve energy all round be gentle towards others but oblivious when it comes to what they say and do. Seriously, there are more important things going on right now.

20. Practice moments of thankfulness. Any little or big thing. Even if you are in a total crisis blur and must use the alphabet. Thankful for this apple, my bed, the cat, the doctor, the elevator as I am too tired to take the stairs, my fridge that has food in it, God who is taking care of me and making sure I keep breathing coz otherwise I’d forget😝.

I am really thankful for having good times with my Dad lately, I am really thankful to my whole big family and especially my immediate family as my husband and daughters are working so hard to help us all get through this.

I am also thankful to these things I have learned from previous crises that I have shared with you.

If you know someone in a crisis please share this with them, and please reach out to them. A text message or a practical thing. It is far harder a time than we can imagine from the outside. With a little help it does not need to be a time where we actually break.

Friends have saved us from breaking in crisis and I thank God for the gift of friends at such times. They can be a bridge over the most treacherous parts of the valley.

🌿Siobhan

P.s. Don’t forget to do things you enjoy! I have missed blogging so much and even though I am missing sleep to write this, writing is joy for me.

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