Facing your mortality and surviving is not something people often have to do. Unexpectedly experiencing a rapid onset of an illness or suddenly becoming seriously injured is very much like that. It’s terrifying. You don’t know what is happening to your body. Minute by minute, even second by second, you are in more and more pain and becoming more helpless. You cannot control anything. You think, ‘I am dying.’
Eventually, you get help. You’re in hospital. You survive. Now you’re dealing with knowing you’re mortal.
This is something my coaching clients and people I support in the charity where I work often talk about and how that experience stays with them long past the acute stage. They describe how the memories come back, sometimes unexpectedly. That along with missing your previous life, learning how to live in a changed body, wondering why you feel stuck yet want to move forward but not sure how, it is normal to feel the way you do. You have a lot going on.
It’s a profound thing to have felt and realised, ‘My time in this life is ending.’ Given the enormity of this, there isn’t a quick fix solution to feeling better. It can take time but there are three things you can be doing now to move yourself forward. Read on to find out.
1. Give expression to your experience of facing your mortality and surviving
Story of facing my mortality. Drawn by B Babcock 2015
This involves telling your story of facing your mortality, including your thoughts and feelings associated with it, in a way that works for you. You may talk to someone, write about it, or express yourself through photography, music, sport/exercise, drawing, painting, colouring, or some other way. How you give expression to your story is unique to you.
And it’s ok to give expression to your story many times. This kind of processing is what helps to integrate your experience into your life story rather than it dominating your life in an unhealthy way.
2. Practice compassion for yourself
Be nice to yourself. Be gentle. Practice speaking good things about yourself to yourself. Ask yourself, ‘What enabled me to make it this far?’ Write it down if you want. Allow yourself to take a break when you need to. Hug your heart.
3. Notice your victories
Every day note what you are happy with, thankful for, enjoyed or achieved. It doesn’t matter how tiny or big they are. These are all victories.
- Being able to concentrate for a few minutes on your favourite tv programme
- Knowing you’ve gone 5 minutes thinking well of yourself
- Being able to watch your children play
- Managing to knit, finish a book, take a few more steps on your own
- Being able to go out with friends and family
- Getting through your first week returning to work
- Noticing something about nature that made you smile
- Feeling good for no known reason
You may want to write them down and keep a diary. Reading where you’ve been a month or year ago to see how far you’ve come can be very motivating.
Moving forward from facing your mortality and surviving
Giving expression to your experience, practicing self-compassion, and recognising your victories are all first steps in moving forward. As you take those steps, you may find that the terrifying-ness of the memory of dying starts to transform itself into a reminder that your life is precious and must be looked after well. You now feel ready to take a bigger step forward to define what your renewed life looks like.
Over to you
Have you faced your mortality? What was/is the experience like for you? What have been the victories on your journey? Share your experiences with us by leaving a comment.
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© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2015