Self Care After a Life Changing Event: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I know that our story may familiar to some, but I wanted to take a little break from talking about money and managing motherhood for a moment, to talk about what happens after you experience a big life change as we did in 2015.

Life changing events don’t need to be as drastic as someone passing away, it could be something like facing a major illness, a massive job change, an accident, or even something as exciting as getting married or having a new baby.

For us, we had life change after life change after life change, and they were stacking up so fast that I couldn’t stay on top of them, or allow myself to process just one thing at a time before being hit with something new.

Our story:

How I coped when life hit hard, and then just kept on hitting.  How I coped and found my peace again.
“I said till death do us part, and I meant it.” – Hilda (my very wise Grandma)

My husband and I met in 2011, and were married just 8 months after we started dating. Over the course of the past 8 years we have experienced several stressful life changes.

Our son was born.

When our son was 6 months old we started building a house.

We moved into the new house, and found out I was pregnant again.

I started bleeding just after my first trimester, and we faced the very real possibility that we might lose our second baby.

My sister-in-law faced a MAJOR health crisis, and in the same week, my mom faced a horrifying and traumatic experience that left her HIV exposed. We are a close family, and this was a scary and unsteady time for all of us.

We sorted out my mom and my sister-in-law, but it took nearly a year for both of them.

When I was a day overdue with our daughter, my husband walked through the front door with a massive concussion that temporarily cost him a year’s worth of memories, including the fact that I was pregnant. I rapidly went from sitting on a yoga ball trying to put myself into labor, to praying that the Lord would give me at least a week before the baby came.

We had our baby girl one week after Matt’s accident, and were immediately flown to the NICU for a five day stay for breathing issues.

We spent a year trying to rehab my husband after my daughter was born. During that year we did ten medical trips to cities with higher levels of care that matched my husband and my daughter’s needs at the time.

When that year was over, we got a miraculous recovery from my husband, and our baby girl was perfectly healthy. So right after my husband’s healing we both returned immediately to work.

Today as I write, life is more peaceful than it has been in a long time, but it has been a long and hard fight to get us to this point. I want to write about it, in hopes that it might be able to help someone else who is feeling caught in a whirlwind of terrifying life changes and is feeling unsure how to cope.

“I said ’till death do us part, and I meant it.”

My Grandma Hilda, married for 70 years

1. Recognize your overwhelm

I didn’t want to believe that I was being faced with things that I couldn’t overcome. I was afraid to admit to myself that I couldn’t do it all, after everything that our family had been through.

I kept trying to push through working part time, looking after my family, doing my best to stay on top of everything that needed to be done in our house, feeling horribly disorganized because I couldn’t think past the fog of ‘thing’s’ that floated regularly through my mind, and keeping so busy that I wouldn’t allow myself the time to process everything our family had been through.

In the fall last year I started having regular panic attacks because I felt like the world was crushing down around me, and I couldn’t keep up to all of the changes that were happening. I felt like I had to keep up with my career, my house, my family, and I felt like our debt was keeping me trapped.

I often described how I felt as though someone had plugged me into the wall, and sucked my batteries totally dry.

I was praying one day, and felt like God made me a promise. He said to me, “if you quit your job, your debt will start taking care of itself.” This really didn’t make any sense to me, how could it be possible that we could make less money, and do something on one income that we weren’t able to do on two?

**I know that not everyone has a faith in God, and that’s okay I’m not asking you to, this is my story, and my faith plays a big part in my life. There is some solid advice here, so I hope you keep reading anyways.

In October last year, everything came to a head. I knew that I couldn’t continue life as we had been doing it, and that some major changes needed to take place in order for our family to start thriving again. So, as a family we decided that I would give up my position, and went to work on a very casual basis.

2. Make a list of changes

I allowed my kids to stay in daycare for a brief time, while I gave myself the quiet space to think about what our family needed from our life. During this time I made a mental list of the things that were the largest pain points and causes of stress to our family, and devised a plan to start tackling those things one by one.

Our finances topped the list of stressors, and I knew that I had to find a way that our family could not only survive on a single income. I spent an entire week getting all of our financials in order, finding out exactly how much money we had owing on our debts, and accumulating a long list of things I could do to cut our monthly expenses.

At the end of that month, I had cut our grocery bill in half, totaled up our complete debts, and started phoning companies and making changes to our monthly expenses until we had cut out nearly $3000/month out our monthly budget.

3. De-clutter your life and clear your mind

I think there is some truth to what they say, that your house is a reflection of what is going on in your mind, and my house was an overwhelming disaster zone most of the time. I simply couldn’t keep up, and part of the reason was that we were drowning in stuff we didn’t need.

So second thing on my to-do list was to purge our home of everything that did not add value to our lives.

I sat down and read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying up, and rolled up my sleeves and got to work. I purged van load after van load of garbage, donations, clothes, and collections of things my kids were growing out of. If it didn’t spark joy in any of us, it was gone!

Between sorting out our finances, and starting to get our house in order, I started to feel like I was gaining a little bit of control back in our lives, that had been slowly slipping further and further away as time went on.

4. Pray

Its hard for me to talk about that year where were trying to persue treatments that might work for my husbands brain injury. I have always been a person of faith, and I take a lot of comfort in prayer, but during that year I didn’t pray much.

I wasn’t angry with God about all the things that had happened, I was always listening in case He was trying to show me something, or guide me somewhere, but I wasn’t speaking simply because I had no words. It was all I could do during that time to just keep our family surviving, so while I was holding His hand and walking through life, it was silent for a really long time.

When my husband got healed from his injuries, and we both went back to work, I started talking more to God about where our life was headed. I kept feeling prompted to quit my job, and that He had something different planned for me, but because it just didn’t make sense to me, I kept pushing it off as my own desire to be home with my family.

I think for me prayer was a healing exercise, because everyday I started looking for reasons to be thankful, and slowly tried to find my optimism again as I found I had lost it somewhere in the previous 5 years.

As He had promised, by spring we were starting to make some headway on our debt, and I was beginning to feel less afraid and more hopeful than I had in some time.

5. Journal

I journal-ed more than I ever had in my whole life when I went back to work. My journal became a prayer where I talked to God and told him about my fears, my prayers for my family, and the things that I was grateful for in my life.

I felt prompted during that time (and still do) to keep writing things down, so I can look back as time has gone by and see just how far we have come. How much I believe God has done for us, in spite of how hard life hit us at times.

The more I was able to look back, the clearer my direction in life became.

I used my bullet journal to make sense of our days and our to-do’s, and I slowly started to feel less overwhelmed by our life, and more in control.

6. Allow your emotions to just be what they are

I realized when I gave up my position, that I was suffering from a complete and total burn out. I had been trying to push our family to stay afloat for years. I felt completely depleted, and often times like I had failed at our life somehow. I couldn’t remember appointments, I would forget little things throughout the day, and simple things would leave me feeling panicked and guilty.

I felt the pressure to be better, but I didn’t know how to get there.

I spent a lot of that first month just grieving over how hard our year had been with my husband off sick, grieving over the time I feel like I lost with our new baby (I still don’t remember much of her first year).

I allowed all of the emotions that I held in over the past few years just come out. I cried a lot for those few months whenever I was hit with a painful memory, and allowed myself time to try to process everything that had happened.

One thing that I didn’t do, was allow myself to stay in those hard, dark emotions. I tried to find meaning in them and take purpose from them, and tried to learn something from what happened.

If Matt had never had his accident, I would have never started writing. I wouldn’t have given up my position to be at home with our kids, our finances might still be a disastrous mess – but I was forced to face these things and work through them.

One thing I fully believe, is that I am not weak and I am not a powerless victim of my life. Some really hard things have happened, yes, and while I am allowing myself the time to process them, I refuse to allow them one more second of robbing me or my family of our joy.

I feel proud when I look back at how hard I loved my family with every shred of who I was. I held nothing back from them that I could give, and I learned what it means to love someone recklessly, and without reserve. Even though I didn’t always do it gracefully, I can truthfully say, I gave them my everything, because that’s what they needed at the time.


“When I get all grown I want to find a little space, 
Somewhere that I can be myself, somewhere I feel safe and settle down 
With a (boy) who shares my name.” 

When I Grown, by the Treelines

I embraced the pride, the grief, the joy, the exhaustion, the strength it took, the gratitude, the feeling of inadequacy and I just let every single emotion and thought hold its place for a time.

I prayed that God would show me lies I believed about that period of time, and allowed Him to speak truth to me instead.

7. Make rest a priority

Shortly after I gave up my position at work, my friend Kathleen sent me an email with an article about how our bodies need rest. In the article, it spoke about how France had adapted a 10 day work week, as kind of a way to throw off religious custom as Sunday as a day of rest, only to discover that people were becoming less productive and worn out (read the article here).

“The weekly cycle of work and rest is uniquely suited to our biological needs.”

Propel Women – The Upside of Rest

Our bodies simply cannot sustain being pushed to its limits and does not cope well when we do not allow it time to recover and rest. I haven’t honored my Sundays as a day of rest since my son was born five years ago.

After I read the article, I recognized myself in its words and in its warnings. I saw how easily burnout could happen to anyone when you burn the candle at both ends, and stay up all night nursing babies.

My third priority was to find a way to make rest happen. I made a promise to myself, that I would start honoring Sunday as a day of rest again (read about how I made that happen here).

I wrote out a list of every commitment I had, and I started pulling myself out of them. Similar to my house, everything that did not spark joy, or left me feeling rejuvenated was gone.

I stopped signing my kids up for activities.

I pulled my name off of volunteer lists.

When people asked me to help out with events, I politely declined.

If situations overwhelmed me, I allowed myself to stop going, guilt free.

I started throwing up boundaries around my family to protect our time, and our sanity, and I became confident in knowing what was right for us, and what was not – and not allowing ourselves to be pulled into situations out of guilt or pressure from other people.

I allowed our no’s to be no, and our yes’s to be yes.

I am really proud of this. I think it has been one of the best things I have learned through Matt’s accident. I have a stronger desire to be home more often now, and I am always keeping my feelers out for where our family is at, and being aware of when we have all had enough and need to pull back a little again.

I don’t allow activities on every day of the week anymore.

I do my best to make sure that Sunday is MY day of rest. I don’t clean, I don’t cook if I don’t want to, I don’t socialize if I don’t want to, I don’t do anything that doesn’t build me up or fill my cup.

Sunday’s is the one day of the week, that I take the time to stop thinking about what everyone else needs, and do a quick self assessment to see what it is that I need. We go to church as a family, and then I ask myself, do I need to go out for coffee with a friend alone? Do I want to sit in the tub all afternoon? Do I want to have a nap with my husband and the kids? Do I want a long quiet walk, to read a book or play board games with friends?

(I wrote an entire other post on this topic and how I made Sunday my day of rest, you can read more here).

Allowing one day of complete rest has been pivotal for me, and I am not going back.

Life is a little (lot) more peaceful these days.

8. Start dreaming again

When you are in the middle of major life changes, it is hard to take your brain out of the now, and to look up into the future, but that is where we find our hope and our direction.

A little thing that my husband and I often do, is to ask each other, “if you won a million dollars what would you do with it?” Its a simple way to get your head into dream mode, and project where you would like your life to go if you could all of the sudden got the fast pass to your destination.

If you didn’t win a million dollars, how could you still get to that place? What steps would you have to do to make that dream a reality? Is it doing what you are doing right now? What changes do you need to make to start walking in that direction? What is stopping you from making those dreams a reality right now?

We had this conversation just after I gave up my position, and I couldn’t answer it. I couldn’t think past our immediate survival. I just wanted us together, and my future felt blank beyond that.

For me, I had to remove things that were clouding up my brain and my thoughts that were preventing me from feeling hopeful about the future. Once I got our finances under control, and the house organized, suddenly those clouds started parting for me, so I could get glimpses of a future that I never would have imagined before Matt’s accident. Life started changing directions, and it was good.

I fully threw myself into being a mom to our kids, and it brought me SO much joy and peace.

I discovered my love for writing.

I re-discovered my love of teaching, and it took me in a completely different direction than I could have anticipated.

I started the blog, and while I still nurse casually, I am challenging myself to learn a new skill and taking new courses.

I’m not saying my house is perfectly clean, because its not, but it is peaceful, and that feels more important.

9. You are not powerless in your life

I think sometimes we get going on a trajectory that doesn’t work for our life, but because it worked for us at one point in time, we feel that we have to keep pushing through. But you don’t. You aren’t the same person you used to be, and that might not be a bad thing.

If something is no longer working for you or your family, you don’t have to stay stuck there just because you started. Don’t allow yourself to feel trapped in a situation just because other people think that’s what you should be doing.

If your life isn’t working, you have the power to change directions. EVEN IF, other people don’t understand why.

You get just one life to live. Don’t waste it.

10. Lean on your people

One of the most valuable lessons I learned during my husband’s recovery was that its okay to not be able to do it all on your own.

God created us to be in community with people, and some days it takes a tribe to keep us on our feet… or Starbucks coffee with your parents on the weekly.

If you need help, its okay to ask.

When people ask how they can help you, they genuinely want to help or they wouldn’t offer.

If you need someone to take your kids for a few hours so you can sleep – do it.

If just having someone cook you a meal would help, its okay to say so when they ask.

If you need help cleaning, or staying on top of things, ask for help.

None of us our meant to walk in life alone. I know how humbling it is to need help, and how hard it was to let go of my independence for awhile so that I could keep us surviving. My tribe is the reason I didn’t totally fall apart the year of Matt’s accident.

People often said to me “I don’t know how you did all this, you are so strong!” The truth of it is that you never know how strong you are until you have no choice but to be strong. The people who loved on us, and me specifically during that time, were the ones who kept me strong on days where I felt like I couldn’t keep going.

**People came out of the woodwork for us in too many ways to write about here, but you know who you are, and we will forever be grateful for the ways that you loved on us.**

11. Seek professional help

I sought counselling after some of the dust settled. I needed someone to come along side me and just say, “what you did this year was so hard, but you have done a great job, your family is still together.”

If find yourself in the middle of major life changes, and you are feeling overwhelmed, its okay to seek a counselor, medication, a psychiatrist or something more, there is no shame is getting help and taking care of your needs.

About six months into casual employment I had a really difficult conversation with my sister-in-law, but in it she told me that it was time that I started looking after myself again. Looking back, I needed permission to fight just as hard for myself as I did for my family.

I was tired all the time, I couldn’t make it through the day with out taking a nap most days, and I knew that physically something wasn’t right, and it was more than just my thyroid. That conversation I had with her was the push I needed to look into it further, and I went and had my hormones tested.

It was not cheap, but it was one of the single best decisions I have made for my health. There was something off (massively off) as I had suspected, and it was the tipping point in finding energy that I hadn’t had in years. I never felt like I was depressed (if I had I would have sought more help or been open to medication), but I did feel depleted – and this helped me to find out why, and how to fix it.

My final thoughts

I hope that hearing my (our) story helps to give you some strategies that might work for you where you are at right now. I hope that you find some encouragement that even though life might be hard right now, that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

I hope that I have given you permission to seek help, either professionally, or from your friends and family. You are not in this alone, even though it might feel that way.

May God bless you and keep you, and give light to mark your path. May He mark your path with neon signs and open doors, just as He has for us.

Much love,

Nikky

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What strategies have you used to help you cope during major life changes? Let me know in the comments below. If you feel that this post could help someone you know, please share it.

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Comments 4

  1. I read every. Single. Word. And you know me and reading aren’t the best of friends, cause I need Adderall to focus, but this was AMAZING and held my full attention!! I want to read all of your blogs because you’re amazing and always have been! Just remember that you got this, Bombshell and Jesus will always guide you no matter what. Thank you so much for writing this blog because it made me sit and think about my life and my story. Love and miss you always ❤ Rock

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      That makes me so happy Rock! I am glad I shared it, and it got you to thinking. Jesus hasn’t led me astray yet, so I think I’ll keep plodding on this path He has set before me and see where these neon signs and open doors take us ;). Love you and miss you too friend!

  2. Great story of loss and survival with God in the centre of life’s storms. Good piece of writing Nicole!

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