February 2012: Normalcy
This year has begun with challenges from a variety of sources creating an inner (and outer) sense of chaos for me. I’ve recently realized this has been complicated by an interruption in routine for me—those daily events we count on to give a sense of normalcy in our lives.
It is these very routines that can get us through crises of varying intensities—from the death of a loved one to minor irritations at work. When we follow through with what we know, what we can count on, it provides us with a retreat of sorts from those situations that are exhausting our resources at coping. We can be replenished in a way by doing those mundane tasks that have to get done regardless of what else is happening in our lives. We must get up in the morning, brush our teeth, get dressed, walk pets, prepare meals, consume food and beverages, perform required tasks at work or home, commute, chauffeur family members around, and the list goes on.
We get into a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly rhythm that gives shape and meaning to our lives. We know what is expected of us, what must be done at any given moment in the day. When this rhythm is interrupted, it can throw off our sense of equilibrium (that all is right with the world). Toss in an unexpected crisis or two, and the threat to our equilibrium, our sense of balance, is intensified. If the crisis itself affects our routine, the crisis may seem insurmountable. The coping skills we normally rely on may be insufficient to the task. Sleep may elude us. Nourishment depleted due to a diminished appetite. Hobbies and activities may not hold our attention long enough to distract us, even briefly. Our concentration may be broken. Even basic tasks can seem overwhelming. In the midst of this chaos, how do we manage?
The old adage, to keep putting one foot in front of the other, may be of use. Help might be found in tightening our focus to those tasks, those routines that are not interrupted. There are always things that have to be done. Such as getting out of bed, performing morning ablutions, getting dressed, literally putting one foot in front of the other, consuming food and beverages. If an injury has interrupted even these basic tasks, adjustments have to be made to get back into routine—reclaim a sense of normalcy. If the absence of a family member due to death or departure has impacted these routines, refocusing efforts and re-establishing basic routines will help to regain one’s sense of balance—albeit shaky at first.
And it could be worth our while to spend some time considering what all surfaces for us while in that state of chaos—of disequilibrium. Are there internalized messages that need review? Do we need to pay attention to some long submerged emotion or belief? Does our range of coping strategies need a tune up—finding healthier ones to replace harmful ones? Would it be better to engage rather than withdraw? Or spend time alone rather than be distracted by caring for others?
Of course, there are always risks to trying out new thoughts and behaviours. Some of our attempts may be met with disappointment, disapproval, or discomfort. It may take a few tries before we make the adjustment with the most benefits. But isn’t that what life is about? The Chinese symbol for crisis, after all, encompasses both danger and opportunity.
What routines do you rely on to get through tough times? What risks are you willing to take to move forward through chaos? You never know what lies just around the next corner.