Is it really a party if it’s a pity party? We’ve all been to one, though. Perhaps it was an ugly breakup that we couldn’t stop replaying in our mind. Perhaps it was something even more grievous, such as the loss of a parent or loved one. Maybe a doctor just relayed some fearful news. Either way, when life knocks us down, sometimes it’s darn near impossible to get back up again.
I know a girl who, within a month, left a job that was nearing unhealthy for her and a boyfriend who was anything but Prince Charming. After those two departures, she had the luxury of returning home to live with her family and the misfortune of staying too long at her own pity party. As the party raged on, she gained weight, wallowing in her room with TV reruns and junk food. She lost her joie de vivre.
That girl was me. I know we haven’t met, but, if you’ll allow me to be your cautionary tale, I’d like to share five steps that dragged me out of this never-ending party. I wish I took them much, much sooner. But alas, life ebbs and flows and, though we might be washed away in one instant, we’ll swim to shore the next. Let’s make sure we swim right back to shore, burst open those cobweb curtains and exit our own pity parties.
1. Allow yourself time.
Although this sounds counterproductive, do allow yourself some time to wallow. It’s only natural, and we have to feel what we feel. It would be unnatural to see someone experience a tremendous loss and then just whip around with a bright, beaming smile. As painful as it might be, allow yourself some time to sit in those sad, lonely, defeated feelings.
Just keep an eye on yourself. Make sure you don’t wallow for too long. What’s too long? It depends on the person and the gravity of the situation. Notice any extended patterns of listlessness. When’s the last time you brushed your teeth? When’s the last time you had a good day at work or made a decent attempt to find new work? When’s the last time you spoke to a friend or allowed them to come by and visit? Self-correcting is hardest in these times, but even if you have just the slightest moment of reflection, you’re already on the road to recovery.
2. Talk about it.
Don’t try to bottle up your feelings, no matter how embarrassed you might feel. Talk it over with patient friends who will really listen. If need be, seek out a little one-on-one time with a life coach or therapist. I don’t know how or why, but non-physical things—such as negative thoughts and reliving horrid memories—can manifest in very physical ways. How about those tension headaches? How about that lack of sleep that makes our skin sallow? You must talk this time through, as often as you feel the urge to.
3. Do something.
Do something. When you don’t even want to get out of bed, make that your one achievement for the day. Get up, take a quick shower and do something, anything. Sit in a café instead of on your sofa behind drawn curtains. Go to a movie by yourself. Grocery shop, picking up a few of your favorite treats (so long as you don’t eat them all in one night). Make plans with a friend when socializing is the last thing you want to do. Make it your personal goal for just that one day out of the week. Pat yourself on the back for achieving it.
4. Be proud.
No matter the root of your pity party, let a little bit of Katy Perry into your heart. You know, “I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire.” Was it a breakup? Was it the loss of a loved one? Was it a series of unfortunate events that piled up and made you toss in the towel? No matter what, guess what’s going to happen at some point? You’re going to come through the other side. At some point, you’re going to feel like yourself again, contribute at work again, socialize with your friends regularly again. Keep that image in mind. Although you might only be on Step 2 right now, you will get through this. When you do, you’re going to feel just a little bit stronger, just a little bit more able to conquer life’s curveball to the nose.
5. Pay it forward.
They say tragedies and misfortunes happen to make us stronger. Heaven help the person who actually says that to the person who is currently dancing through the fire and into an extended stay at their local pity party. If someone dares mention that cliché in the moment, you just might hurl something at them—perhaps that Twinkie you’re about to bite into. Hindsight is only 20/20. The older I get, the more I realize the truth in clichés. They get repeated because they repeatedly apply.
In hindsight, you will be stronger and, hopefully, proud of yourself for coming out the other end of things. You’ll pay it forward to yourself, without even realizing it, because you’ll be able to battle through the next speedbump life places before you. Equally important, you’ll be able to pay it forward to a friend. When your cellphone buzzes and it’s someone who’s about to enter into their own self-decorated pity party, you’ll be a better equipped listener and be able to dance with her through the fire, right up to the shoreline where she belongs. Paying it forward will be a sweet treat—even better than that red velvet cupcake, if you can believe it.
One of my mother’s favorite songs by country artist John Michael Montgomery goes like this: “Life’s a dance. You learn as you go.” The inevitable pity party will come knocking on your door, if it hasn’t already. Avoid overindulging in the party punch laced with remorse and fear. Those first few sips might taste all right but, like anything else, excess needs to be controlled. Talk it out with a friend. Allow yourself the natural state of sadness. But then, slowly and surely, arm yourself with a reminder of that eye of the tiger in you, and get on out there and live again.