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Everything hurts (and it’s going to be okay)

The last 11 or so days have been, collectively, the worst stretch of time I’ve experienced. I’ve had worse individual days and moments, of course. And by absolutely no means do I have the market cornered on difficult situations. But in between events that impacted me directly (most significantly my car getting broken into and getting miserably sick), people and places I know and love have been facing impossibly more difficult circumstances.

I live in California, and while I personally haven’t been near the shooting and wildfires that have been ravaging the state the last week, they’ve been affecting folks and communities that are close to my heart. Places I used to go are no longer there. Friends have lost loved ones, everything they own, and in some cases both.

On Friday night, I stayed up stupidly late refreshing Twitter even though I was exhausted because it was the only way to know if people were safe (I firmly limit texting during emergencies so anyone at risk can conserve battery for the most necessary communications). Not only knowing that thousands of people are in danger and experiencing loss, but knowing many of them personally — and being able to do so profoundly little about it — is one of the most uncomfortable, terrifying experiences I can imagine. Certainly one of the most that I’ve been through.

Thankfully, first responders and citizens have worked tirelessly and sacrificed endlessly to ensure that as many people as possible have remained safe, as well as animals and property. It would be impossible to thank them enough. I also can’t understate my appreciation for the journalists, many of whom I know personally, that have been dedicated to covering one disaster after another and keeping the public informed while experiencing each tragedy themselves.

But that doesn’t change the fact that these moments are painful. So many have lost so much. Even for those that were further away, these kinds of tragedies strip away an element of home and security that, while intangible, is meaningful nonetheless. At the end of the day, so many people are hurting.

So what do we do when it just hurts? When there’s little or nothing we can do about it, or we’ve done all we can, and it still stings or surges up like a wave we had our back turned to? What do we say when no words would be enough to fix or fully comfort?

We stick together. We give each other hugs when we can, and find other ways to send love if we’re too far. We give what we can, whether it’s money or time or food or supplies or just a card. We tell people how much we care about them. We make sure we’re there for each other. We thank the people who have made the challenge more manageable, or kept people safe, or ensured people had correct and timely information. We keep our head above water, and tell other people when we need help doing so. We set aside our differences and work for the good of the community, both present and future. We speak thoughtfully and compassionately. We speak out when necessary. We’re honest about the fact that it might not be okay right now, and it might not get better soon, but it will get better. We hold onto hope and find strength in community.

I’m really proud to say that I’ve seen the communities affected by these tragedies do all of these things.

It still hurts. It’s not over yet. Kids, teenagers, emerging adults, and full-fledged grownups will be dealing with the effects of these events to varying extents through the rest of their lives. We won’t magically be okay overnight. But we will be okay. And that’s enough to keep going.

If you’re able to help or give in any of the ways I mentioned above, here are some helpful links (both general and a few that are particularly close to my heart):

Coming together amidst tragedy is unfortunately something we all experience at some point. But I’m honored to be part of communities that do so selflessly, even when the heartbreak doesn’t seem to let up. If you have any questions on or additions of more ways to help, please comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting.

(Photo credit goes to Jessica Burns via the LA Times.)

Loss & grief

Today’s post is a little less than chipper, but unfortunately it’s a topic that’s inevitable. I have a huge family and a lot of friends that feel like family, and though I feel really lucky to not have experienced more loss than I have, I’m no stranger to it. My guess is that no one reading this is.

The upside is that this means other people know what you’re going through. The bad part is that does nothing to change the fact that it sucks. Unfortunately, emerging adulthood is a time of life when loss tends to be more common than it was in younger years, and can be even more difficult to deal with when so much else in life is uncertain or in transition.

But there are some things that can help:

  • Get a hug. Comforting physical touch — or even just being next to someone — makes a huge difference. It gives you someone to lean on, reminds you you’re not alone, and can actually lower your heart rate and release oxytocin (aka it lowers stress and stimulates bonding).
  • Don’t bottle up emotions. It’s bad for you in pretty much every way. Instead, give yourself some time to feel all those things, and then temporarily set them aside when you have to.
  • Write your way out, or whatever that looks like for you. Honestly any tactile hobby can be a good way to keep your conscious mind occupied while your subconscious mind processes the information. When I’ve lost family members in the past, I usually wrote a poem or two and/or journaled, but you can cook or craft or do anything that gives you something to focus on.
  • Talk to someone about it. There’s no rush on this. It’s when you’re ready, as much as you’re ready for. This can be a friend or family member, a mental health professional, or even your pet. Sometimes just speaking is a good way to process your feelings, and though no one knows exactly how you feel, almost everyone knows what loss feels like.
  • Find a metaphor. Unfortunately, pain is one of those things that is nearly impossible to accurately describe — the only thing to compare it to is more pain. But that can be enough. For me, grief is like waves. It comes and goes; sometimes I have my head above water and sometimes I feel like I’m drowning; sometimes I’m being pushed down or tumbled; sometimes I can’t see anything else until I wait for it to ebb. It’s often calm on the outside, but always dangerous under the surface.
  • Get outside. Go to the park or look at the stars, whatever. But fresh air will do a lot more for a heavy heart than we often give it credit for.
  • Do or buy a small thing that reminds you of them. Don’t go crazy out of budget here, but if it’s flowers or a small decoration, or going to a particular place they loved to visit, the reminder can help you focus on the happy part of knowing them instead of just the loss.

Grief is a process, and it will take time. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Admittedly I’ve even had to write this post in pieces, because sometimes I’d be midsentence and all the feelings the topic brings up would crash on me for a little while.

Whether you’re dealing with recent loss or not, I hope these tips prove helpful for others as they have for me. If you’re willing to share, I’d love to hear what things have helped you handle loss in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. As always, thanks for reading, and good luck adulting.