Dr. Eileen Callahan, Ph.D.: Messiness of Coping

The Messiness of Coping

An essay By Michelle Linn-Gust, Ph.D.

Once I had a birthmark removed from the side of my head. It wasn't cancerous, but simply cautionary. Although my hair helped to covered the shaved spot and stitches, I was very self conscious and I didn't sleep well that first night. Everything felt turned around from my usual routine; I couldn't sleep on my favorite side and I was scared of going for a run the next morning with a sloppy ponytail becauseI had to wear Vaseline on the wound for several weeks. I looked like a greasy mess. 

Coping with loss and change in our lives are just as messy. Everything is thrown off. We can feel it emotionally because something in our lives has ended or someone has left. We feel as if we have a gaping wound within us. But often we don’t talk about how physically loss and change affect us. I can still remember the first morning after being told my sister had died, going for a run and feeling as if the tilt of the world had changed and no one told me. Everything felt off. And it would continue to be that way for some time as I struggled to adapt to life without her. For each loss in my life, there is a physical exhaustion as I emotionally adapt to life without someone who was important to me. Our physical and emotional selves work together in tandem and when one is affected, the other reacts. Some people find themselves sleepy while others bounce off walls, not sure what to do with their energy.

Bottom line? No matter how we feel, we usually can’t predict it. We usually don’t understand it. And, finally, it will be unique to each of us. Life in general is messy and we can’t expect that coping with loss and change will be a neat, straight line. We will be taking turns we don’t expect and coloring outside the lines even when we aren’t sure what we’re doing or how we feel. Accepting that this is part of the process may not help us understand it but at least we can accept it and let it run its course. And in that we can find a sense of peace in the messiness.

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