August 6

After a challenging experience, how do you rejuvenate?

Purpose

  • to help you to have practical anchors to hold onto to refresh and rejuvenate themselves
  • for you to understand why it’s so hard to rest

Introduction

It’s a foggy morning. I get on my bike, switch on the front and back lights, and quickly move onto the road. I’m going to be late. There’s exactly 24 minutes before I need to be at the bus stop to catch the bus to work.

7:34.

I’m off from home. I’m getting onto the roundabout in good time.

In about 5 minutes, I should be at the gym, hitting the barbells. I’m looking forward to it.

I wait at the roundabout for the next car to pass before making my move. I see a small Volkswagen Polo making its way out of the next lane. I make eye contact with the driver.

I’m expecting him to stop.

Only that he doesn’t. He tries to beat me…

And we crash. We crash. I’m thrown off my bike, and land heavily on my side.

Am I dead? I can get up.

Looks like I’m not. Immediately, everyone pauses on the roundabout. The car that hits me pulls off to the side. There’s another car that drives up the pavement. The driver races out to see me.

He runs to me, and asks if I’m okay. I pick up my bike, and survey the damage. The wheel has snapped in two. Beyond that, I feel okay. Really okay.

I walk to the side of the road, pulling my bicycle with me. Nothing seems broken.

7:42.

The first though that comes to mind isn’t “Am I okay?” It’s “How am I going to get my six packs now?”

I never expected this.

Gym was my idea of rest. Active rest. Especially after I had been through so much over the past few weeks. I was close to burnout after being told that I was close to failing my placement. Now, that was challenging.

But pushing myself to ever faster speeds didn’t seem to be helping.

In challenging times like these, how do you rejuvenate yourself?

But more importantly, how should you not do it? You can see from my experience that pushing myself to my limits, was harming me.

Give yourself time

When will I be able to stop taking these medications?

I look expectantly at my doctor.

Well, it depends. Usually we will review after 3 months to see how it’s going.

Do you find yourself with an internal deadline?

That’s not the answer I want. I want him to give me a direct answer. A fixed timeline. Of when I will recover, stop taking these antidepressants and move on with life.

This wasn’t how I expected to ‘rejuvenate’ myself after the challenge of the past few months. Seeing a psychiatrist, taking antidepressants, and performing poorly at my job.

I returned back to Singapore after spending 3 years in England. The pain of losing the people I came to call friends and family, the peace I had come to enjoy in Nottingham, and the place I had come to call home; disappeared in the span of a 14 hour flight back to Singapore.

Sometimes the grief felt so visceral that it felt like someone had stabbed my heart and left it out to bleed. It was that painful. I didn’t know how to continue.

And I didn’t know how to stop the pain.

Except to stuff myself with more and more food. In a month, I grew by 8kg, after stuffing cakes, cookies and chocolates into my mouth, day after day.

Admist that, I learnt to accept where I was, as I was.

To give myself time. As much time as I needed. There was no competition to get better. There were no prizes if you got better in 3 months or better in 4.

Its your own journey, your own life.

After your challenging experience, you may be tempted to race to the next big thing. After all, the high of finishing your challenging experience still exists. It’s not gone.

You may want to reach those highs again. But give yourself time to recover from the experience.

When I suffered the grief of transiting to Singapore, the most helpful thing was time. Time where there wasn’t any agenda. Where I could simply sit and enjoy time.

There’s a particularly poignant experience I remember. That afternoon, I was at a training course. It was my first week of formal work… and I hadn’t seen the psychiatrist yet. I was still struggling with binge eating.

During lunch, with a buffet in front of me, I stuffed myself silly.

It was so bad that I needed to hide my eating. That evening, as I went to swim off the calories I had put on, I sat at the bench, with my diary.

Looked at the happy children playing, splashing in the water. Looked at the mothers trying to catch the children running away from them. Looked at the lifeguards sitting stoically, marking each passage of time with another shift in their chair.

There was no agenda. I just wrote. And wrote. And wrote.

That night, I wrote a letter of forgiveness to myself.

Write a letter of forgiveness to yourself

There are many points in my journey of rejuvenation, where I found life again. But this was the start point.

This was the point where I forgave myself for stuffing myself, for ‘failing’ to get a proper job, for losing all I knew.

You may have made mistakes in your journey through challenges. But the biggest mistake you can make is to hold yourself hostage for what you have and haven’t done.

In your letter of forgiveness to yourself, be specific about what you’re forgiving yourself for. State the examples where you felt that you didn’t show those qualities.

Write, draw out what you’re forgiving yourself for.

For example, you can write,

Dear John,

I forgive you for not being nicer to your colleagues.

Self forgiveness is the antidote to self-flagellation. It is self-forgiveness that will help you to grow in your journey towards rejuvenation, for it is there that you begin to accept yourself as you are.

Hold onto hope (practical hope)

Daily, you will experience challenges. It is hope that will hold you through.

Hope is like an anchor.

Maybe today, you’ve been rejected by every single college you’ve applied for. Or every job you’ve expressed interest for.

It’s horrible, isn’t it? How do you hope, when all around you, things are bleak, dark and dreary?

Hope anchors you to see the light in the situation. It encourages you to keep applying, even though you’ve yet to get a positive outcome.

How?

Here’s some practical ways.

Celebrate progress, not perfection

Each day, celebrate the progress you’ve made, rather than the outcomes you’ve achieved. This means that you look at the actions you’ve taken, rather than the final results. You can’t determine the output, but you can determine the input. Then, write down one thing you can improve on, allowing yourself to focus on progressing further as well.

For example, you can write,

I wrote an article today, even though I didn’t feel like it!

I met a friend for lunch! Great effort investing in meaningful relationships!

I could have been less frustrated with my dad last night, learn to forgive others for their wrongs!

Seek meaningful relationships

There are those toxic relationships that tear you down. Get away from them.

Then there are those that build you up, reminding you of the good within yourself. Seek them out.

Although this sounds corny, with your close friends, tell them how you would like to be ‘loved’.

Each of us has different love languages.

Our different love languages, credit: Mindbodygreen
Our different love languages, credit: Mindbodygreen

For me, it comes through words of affirmation.

I would tell my friends that you’re struggling to find the good in yourself. Ask them what’s the good they see in you.

Celebrate yourself.

When you struggle to find hope, remind yourself of the good within yourself. No one else can do this but yourself.

When I first met my therapist, he asked me to write a love letter to myself.

What’s worth celebrating about John?

He looked at me, expecting an answer.

I’m not sure.

I didn’t have anything for him. It shows how little self esteem I had in myself. I didn’t know if there was anything worth loving in myself. I had lost the passion for myself.

Write a love letter to yourself. Each time you feel lost, read that love letter to yourself.

love letter to yourself
What are your best qualities, and how have you shown them in the past? Read out the letter after you’ve written it.

Conclusion

I woke up, struggling to breathe. Now I was feeling it. The bruised rib! In all its glory!

All because I was unwilling to rest in the aftermath of a challenging experience.

Now it was time to rest.

You too, can rest.

But will you let yourself rest?


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  • Thank you John for sharing .. your style of writing is pretty unique.. narrative and personal … very easy to read and relate to. Hope I could be your first person to receive your book of compilation of your blogs here in “liveyoungandwell”. I stumbled upon your wonderful blog when trying to download the slides for “How to wake up excited for University”.

  • Thanks so much for this personal sharing! I love how you gave practical tips such as the letter of love to oneself about how to raise my own self-esteem. That was very helpful! Thank you!

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