I have read almost every one of the books David Sedaris has written and I have loved them all equally. There is one in particular with a title that has become sort of a mantra to me. I trot it out when I am in most need of assurance; “When you are engulfed in flames”. This sounds horrific and I can’t imagine the tragedy of the real scenario. However, when a day finds me as yesterday did, down on my luck and just plain down there is a soothing quality to recognizing that at that moment I am engulfed in flames and the only one who can stomp them out is me.
I have an Auntie M (just like Dorothy – though hers was Auntie Em and my ‘Uncle Henry’ is actually Uncle Mike, but I still feel the kinship). My Auntie M is very practical and calm and has the ability to set things right by pointing out that if it seems off kilter, I might try to shift my paradigm instead of Rubik’s cubing the problem over and over again. It is so simple but effective, change the way you are thinking about the problem and the problem changes.
I am combining these two lifesavers to share my top five list of getting out of the unending cycle of self-afflicted wounding that starts when one encounters really difficult situations. It is easy to get into being down and hard to get out of it when you are in the thick of it. Hopefully you don’t have the same problem, but if you find yourself there, here are some handy tips.
Auntie M’s style of dealing for when you are engulfed in flames (again, David Sedaris coined that term)
Realize that you are, in fact, engulfed in flames This goes in complete opposition to the one thing I fundamentally believe above all else. And that is; “You are going to be fine”. I can usually tell myself this enough to trust that it’s true. I do not take into account that I too can be an unreliable narrator, I just say it enough that it seems like fact. Because of this, step one is usually the hardest for me. I have to break the spell of thinking I am going to be fine, no questions asked and stop to look at what the heck is really going on.
Freak the eff out I know, terrible advice and I get it if you want to stop reading here, but I promise there is a point to this. Give yourself a second or two (with a maximum of sixty) to run around Henny-Penny style flapping your wings and shouting that the sky is falling. You might look like you are on bath salts, so I would recommend doing this in the privacy of your own home or office to lessen the likelihood of being tased. Your first instinct might be to call someone you love who has your back and if that has worked for you in the past, I say go for it. But remember, as Maya Angelou has so beautifully illuminated, words are things – you can’t take them back and they settle in to stay a while once you’ve let them out. Point being, if you give in to having a mini-meltdown it equates to blowing off steam, your opinion isn’t clouded with someone else’s point of view yet and you will be able to attend to the problem at hand.
Calm the eff down Exhausted, right? Good. Because now you can focus but you can’t get there until you transition out of being furious or full of despair or both. Good ways to do this include my mom’s (and probably yours) favorite, get a glass of ice water. The magic is in the ice, room temperature will work, but a glass of ice water signals to your brain “Hey, I need to chill out. This water is so cold. Maybe I was thirsty”. (If this solves your problem by the way, you were simply thirsty and my mom is waiting for a thank you). Deep breathing also works, as does taking a shower or sitting still for a minute and collecting yourself.
Look at the problem to see it for what it really is Sometimes I make what I can only assume is the most logical leap from, oh hey, the monitor won’t turn on to GAHHHHHH the computer is fried! I have lost all my writing! The photos of the kids I haven’t printed out in the last five years! Documents! And now we will have to buy a new one! Or maybe it’s in sleep mode. If you are showing up to the problem full of emotional baggage, sleep deficit, hunger, thirst, caffeine withdrawal or any combination of it, your problem is mostly you.
Try to work it out once you fixed what you can and if it persists ask for help Ask for help? Seriously? What about determination? Muddling through? Being a Destiny’s Child #Independentwoman (even if you are a dude)? I didn’t suggest you start there. I am recommending you end there. Because people need people. If you don’t want the solution but you need to hear yourself run through the situation, preface that to whomever you call/see/write. Some of the most honest and insightful conversations I have had with people I loved started by one of us saying “I just need to say all of this, without stopping”. Try it, it works. Sometimes you simply need to be reminded that you have a safe place to say what you want to say without anyone talking you out of it or convincing you it is (or is not) the end of the world. If you are looking for an answer, say that too. People who love you really do want to help you in the way you need to be helped.
If this seems like common sense, that is because it is to some extent. But the problem with being “all engulfed” is that you are on fire. You aren’t thinking clearly, or beyond what is happening right that second or how bad you are hurting or struggling. That is where the Auntie M reframing comes in. Zero in or pan out until you can see the bigger picture. Then extinguish that bad boy in the way you know how. Trust me. “You are going to be fine”. I just know it.