Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and writer who specializes in helping clients—as well as their family members and professional caregivers—deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
Ever feel that way? If you do, you’re in good company. I often read posts in which members describe that feeling of being lost, and they're not sure where to go next.
What about you? Maybe you’ve been chugging along just fine, doing what you need to do to take care of yourself. Everybody around you, including your doctor, is doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Your medications are doing their work, too.
And then…what happened? You thought the road ahead looked pretty certain. All of a sudden you find yourself wandering around in the weeds!
You’re doing everything you need to do. But something—or someone—isn’t. You’re not feeling like yourself. Symptoms that you thought you had under control aren’t under control. A medication or treatment doesn’t seem to be doing its job.
Let’s face it. One aspect of your life suddenly getting out of sync can make your whole life feel like a house of cards. It’s another reminder that living with a chronic condition means living with uncertainty.
Maybe the way is clear on what you need to do, but you have a lot of work ahead and you’re not sure if you’re up for it. Or maybe you have no idea what the problem is and, therefore, no idea what to do to fix it.
Here’s a way to look at life: we’re all winging it. We hope we’ve got the right formula in place and we probably do. At least until we don’t.
And when we don’t, we feel lost. That’s just being human.
Life teaches us that having it all together—all our ducks in a row—can be temporary. On the other hand, so can that feeling of being lost.
6 tips to find your way again:
1. First, breathe! I know it feels like the world is caving in on you. But take a deep breath. And then a step back. And open up your mind to what’s possible instead of what’s not possible.
2. Remember that a setback does not have to be a catastrophe. Your emotions may be telling you that what you are dealing with is the worst possible thing that could happen, along with lots of scary images of worst possible outcomes. Don’t fall into catastrophic thinking. Yes, this is a setback. Maybe a basketful of setbacks. But that doesn’t mean you can’t recover.
3. Think of your situation this way: You’re not lost. But you need some new direction. Who knows, this might even be an opportunity to make some positive changes. And a leap forward!
4. Retrace your steps. I have a really poor sense of direction, and when I get lost, I have found that what helps is to go back to where I thought I knew my way and try to figure out where I got lost. That might mean taking a look at your self-care plan and your treatment regimen to identify any gaps that you weren’t aware of. Or maybe you need to review your knowledge about a medication or a treatment and see if you missed a potential side effect or if you need to update your expectations for how it works. This may also be a time to review how you and your doctor have been communicating to see if something didn’t get communicated along the way or got lost in translation.
5. Look for direction. And information. Think about who you might reach out to. It might mean talking to your doctor about how your chronic condition is being managed with an eye toward a refresh to get you moving forward. Or maybe you need to have a conversation about how you can team up better to help avoid nasty surprises in the future. It might be time to consult some other resources to get new input on how to take better care of yourself—what you’re eating, for example, or your activity level.
6. Get emotional support. Don’t sit with all those feelings. Go to a trusted listening ear and talk about what’s going on. Vent if you need to. Getting those emotions out will help clear your mind so you can look at your situation from a more objective viewpoint. And the person you talk with may offer a perspective you hadn’t considered.
Keep in mind: if that lost feeling doesn’t seem to want to go away, it may be time to have a talk with a mental health professional. Don’t go through this alone.
Feeling lost? Think of yourself as running into an unexpected detour. Stay confident in your ability to find your way back.
More from Dr. Gary:
Having Fun Yet? Seven Steps toward Bringing More Fun into Your Life
Depression or Diabetes Distress? Here's Why It Matters and What You Can Do
Second-Guessing: Seven Steps toward Getting Out of Your Own Way