Survival mode is rough. We all enter “survival mode” for different reasons: maybe it’s becoming a parent for the first time, or being a parent to multiple children close in age. Or perhaps you find yourself surviving a major relationship fallout or extreme financial anxiety. Some enter survival mode while coping with a death in the family or finishing their degree. Whatever the reason, we all know that surviving feels very different from thriving.
I am going to write the short list of how I deal with being in survival mode, but before I do that I will start by stating the obvious: while you can learn to accept a difficult situation, the better option is to just get out of it. Usually, that means asking for help.
I do ask for help. I also pray for grace. I get both, but even with the help and grace I receive, my current situation is, well, tricky. So here’s everything else I do.
1. I say no thanks. You’ve undoubtedly heard this line before, but I will share it just in case: No is a full sentence. I personally find that adding the word thanks takes the edge off a bit. No thanks is a very useful sentence for people in survival mode. It is probably the most useful sentence, aside from Yes please. You use the sentence No thanks when you are faced with an option that makes your heart tighten, and you say Yes please when the option makes your heart bloom. (Note: this advice applies primarily to people in survival mode, not to those living comfortably who could easily stand to be stretched a little further.)
2. I host a LOT of living room dance parties. A good dance party really is a cure-all. Singing at the top of your lungs works great, too. My advice is to make a killer playlist in advance and then crank it up the whenever you have a stale (or painful) afternoon. Also: don’t attempt to be cool while making your mix tape. Go ahead and add (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life and any other guilty pleasures. Your kids wont care. If they do, put them in the backyard with a hose and dance alone.
3. I love my Passion Planner. I have a serious romance with this product. I am a stay at home mother to a preschooler, toddler and a 6 month old baby, so its not like my PP is jam-packed with activities and appointments and meetings. There are a few familiar commitments, words like ballet, gym, Mass. If there is a show (or debate!) I want to catch, its there. Bust mostly, my planner functions as a way to track my personal growth during this survival period. I use multicolored pens and I write it all out. I focus a lot on my physical and emotional heath, because those are things that I have some power over. I can’t get my two year old to stop shrieking. But I can go to bed earlier, drink more water, and eliminate caffeine. I can doodle about gratitude and acceptance. I can set a focus for each day. I end up doing a lot of raw journaling and list-making in my planner. At the end of each month I have a visual of what I have left behind and of what I have accomplished. I can feel proud of my growth, even when it feels like things aren’t improving fast enough.
4. I hold onto to faith and culture. Culture is a far-reaching term: it encompasses the customs of a given social group. Culture is immensely important when it comes to feeding the soul. Every home has its own culture. If we are lucky, we enjoyed a few things about the culture of our family of origin. If we are less than lucky, we are called to create our own customs and traditions. I do a little of both, and it really fills my cup. The culture I cling to is a total smorgasbord: I treasure being southern, being a feminist, being Catholic, being of Irish and Cuban descent. I consider laughter a cultural trait as well, along with extreme thrifting.
5. I’m nutrient obsessed. If you are overwhelmed or having trouble falling asleep or just generally being an evil sloth, consider what nutritional deficiencies you may have and then solve them. I’ve learned a fair amount about nutrient dense foods (what with my husband being a farmer and all) and I think about those nutrients whenever I eat. When I eat a can of sardines, for example, I say to myself: Why yes, small fishies, I will accept all of your B12 and all of these Omega-3 fats, thank you ever so much, and then I will rule the world with my powerful memory and fine mood! I also take a fair amount of vitamins and supplements.
6. I watch period dramas. Those who know me probably know that I would gladly live inside a period drama. I watch these for many superficial reasons (costumery, verbosity…) but also because it’s good to be reminded of how hard things were in centuries past. I just watched an episode of Poldark in which the couple loses their little girl to fever, and y’all, I wept. I was extra nice to my kids the next day, post-weeping.
7. I wake up early. I love you, dear night owls, but how do you do it? How do you poop or brush your teeth or sip your coffee with the sound of children near? I suppose you get your alone time, too, but you get yours in the strange dark hours. I am totally useless after 7:00pm, so getting up early guarantees a little quiet and allows a few minutes to plan how in the hell I am going to make it through my day. Its essential.
8. I let the ball drop. I am proud of the way I parent. I think I am a good mom. However. I do drop the ball. Sometimes I drop it by accident, other times I just give up and throw it off the court. The key to dropping the ball every now and then is to learn to lovingly tolerate yourself when you do. I’ve learned to lovingly tolerate my humanness. I swear in front of my kids too much, I yell at them, and when its family movie night, I’m not wasting my life watching Calliou flop around the screen when I could entertain myself instead, so we watch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. We’ll be watching The Godfather next week. (Joking.)
9. I cherish my relationships. If you have a relationship that works, be it with your partner or a friend or a family member, savor it. When I am in a hard place, my strong and healthy relationships are everything to me.
10. I tend to my Interior Castle. I love this term, coined by one of my very favorite Saints. You can find the concept of the Interior Castle in all sorts of writings, be they spiritual or secular. It’s your center. That’s all. It’s having a center, a soul friend, a home in your heart, and keeping a candle in it.