The Washington Post
Coping without the usual comforts
Adapted from an online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: I’m having a tough time. I’m trying to navigate changes to how I work, and it’s so suboptimal that it’s making me crazy, because I’m used to being good at what I do. I’m navigating a bunch of challenging circumstances with extended family — the one-year anniversary of the murder of a cousin and the impending death of an uncle. And all the things I normally do that help me love my single life, like dancing, are unavailable to me right now for various reasons. Any suggestions? — Coping
Coping: I’m sorry you have so much stuff going on at once.
At the risk of turning this into an emotional “Macgyver” episode . . . please look not at the specific things you put in your life to make you happy, but at the broader fact of your putting things in your life toward your own happiness.
You didn’t just get these things at birth, or at graduation. You didn’t just go from zero to dancing. You felt a need for activities, thought about them, chose them, put effort into them, paid attention to how you felt when you participated in them, got better at them. You rearranged your schedule to make them a priority.
These are things you can do again.
It’s obviously not the same — you have an A list you can’t access for whatever reason, so you’re choosing from your B list. You’re also having to start from scratch all at once, instead of gradually as you built your adult life; you’re doing that while feeling the strain and loss of other things. But it’s still going to draw from the same skills you used before and the same emotional feedback system you’ve grown to trust.
So, deep breath, and think about where you’d like to start. What is your most immediate, most meet-able need?
Carolyn: Thanks for the thoughtful response. I should add that the cat has been very helpful, of course, although he steadfastly resists my attempts to cuddle. I remain optimistic that we will reach a negotiated truce on that . . . eventually.
— Coping again
Coping again: Great! Um, good luck with that.
Dear Carolyn: My husband is a terrible employee. Holy carp, listening to him in meetings while we were working at home was a revelation, and I’m now 100 percent sure the problems he has had at work over the years are entirely of his own making. He doesn’t do any of the things you need to do to get along with people! He’s not like this at all with friends and family, either. I don’t know what to do with this information, though. — Anonymous
Anonymous: Share it. You probably know how best to approach it, knowing him as well as you do.
If someone were saying it to me, I’d want them to be blunt but also give me a chance to adjust my head for what I’m about to hear. Such as, “I have overheard many of your meetings now and I might have an idea about your work issue.” If he’s receptive, then lead off with what he usually does right with others that you hear him handling differently with colleagues.