There’s Plenty of Time to be Sad
Have you ever been having an “OK” day when the memory of something painful just comes up and whacks you on the back of the head? Have you ever been unexpectedly felled by seeing someone or something that reminds you of your pain, your trauma, your loss, your grief?
This is a universal human experience after a “trigger incident” – the divorce, death or other trauma that started your pain. Thankfully, the frequency of those unexpected, punched-in-the-gut events typically begins to subside after a few years. But in the meantime, most people are vulnerable to being broadsided by their emotions on the road to recovery. They never know when they will next be debilitated by a painful and unexpected episode of anguish. It can happen at work, while driving, while trying to tend a loved one.
It doesn’t have to be like this.
One of the most important things you can do for yourself if you find yourself burdened by unexpected recurrences of suffering is this: schedule your grief. When both my young children died in a car accident in 1991, I was certain if I fully gave in to my emotions I would never stop crying. I’d just cry and cry for the rest of my life.
My friend Lora, who had lost her son to SIDS just a few months before, told me her best advice for beginning to control the uncontrollable: schedule the grief. She said, “Dare yourself to go thirty seconds without crying.” Since I was lying in a hospital bed in considerable pain physically and emotionally, I had little else to do but stare at the slow-moving hands of the clock. I took the dare.
After a few days, I was able to go thirty seconds. After a few weeks, I could go five minutes. A year later, I could go a few hours straight on occasion.
People sometimes say, “Oh, what’s happened to me is nothing like what happened to you!” But the truth is, if you are suffering then your pain is as painful for you as my pain was for me. Pain cannot be counted, measured, compared. If you’re hurting, and if unexpected recurrences of pain are disrupting your ability to function, sleep, love or live, then you really must try this step.
People who successfully manage their emotions allow them to be fully expressed – sometimes. They don’t deny them but neither are they victims to their whimsical comings and goings. For instance, many men have been acculturated to believe that showing emotion is a sign of weakness. For them in particular, and for women, too, learning to schedule grief can be a quantum leap in recovery from loss, pain or trauma. The emotions are getting processed but they are no longer in control. They are not being suppressed, they are being directed.
So how does one “schedule grief?” It’s a trick of the mind and the calendar, really. You tell yourself, “I am going to be free, alone and available to really feel what I’m feeling next Saturday afternoon between 4 PM and 6 PM. I choose to suffer, grieve, express rage, anger, tears, fury, sadness, deep depression – whatever it is – during that time.” Then, when incidents happen during the week that trigger an emotional reaction, you catch yourself before it engulfs you and say, “I choose to feel this pain on Saturday from 4-6 PM, not now. I need/want to function in my life now.”
When the appointed time to suffer arises, go ahead and feel it fully. Cry, use a whole box of tissues, beat up the pillow, scream, do whatever you need to do. Allow yourself to exorcise your pain fully. You’ll know when it’s been used up. Think of the instances that made you want to break down that you diverted until now. Perhaps you saw a happy old couple holding hands, or a mother kissing her child’s forehead. Perhaps a friend told you about a call she got from her loving, healthy parent or someone at work got the big promotion you thought would be yours. Let yourself reflect, wallow and succumb. Be fully there. When your time is up or your pain is emptied, whichever comes first, get up. Change your physiology: take a shower, wash your face, go for a brisk walk, get around other people – whatever you need to do to “close” this session. And take a moment to schedule the next.
By learning to “compartmentalize” your pain, you begin to recognize that your mind is in charge of your emotional reactions. With practice, the skill of scheduling your grief fosters a sense of confidence that you are not at the mercy of the event that triggered your pain. You train yourself that emotions are a normal, healthy, human response to suffering, and that you can determine when to experience them.
One word of caution: there will still be times when you are blindsided by pain. Sometimes, especially when you are tired or overwhelmed, something will trigger a memory and your heart, mind and mood will spiral downward faster than you can catch them. If you do not have the next grief session scheduled, even if it is six months away, you will find that you have a harder time catching yourself and stabilizing again.
When you stabilize and your brain begins the inevitable process of functioning again, emerge and set a time with yourself to feel the pain fully.
By learning to schedule your grief, you force yourself out of the victim mode and begin to take positive, strong, healthy steps toward incorporating your pain into your life, learning its lessons and moving forward into joy and peace again.
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37 thoughts on “Schedule Your Suffering”
sharon jameson says:
Love this! Tho slightly sceptic I am going to try this. Thankyou
Cindy Simmons says:
Thank you so much for this post, WOW is all I can say, it works. I so needed this today well all week in wrangled with my emotion in so that I dont rage all day and sit and think about the pain. Once I let that one incident start the pain everything else floods with it now I have a tool that I can use. THANKS YOU SAVED MY DAY!!!!!!!
Isis Veiled says:
Such a good idea. Taking back control of yourself, even for a few moments under this conditions, while you let emotions to be expressed as it should be, is the most benefial thing anyone could do.. Thank you for sharing with us 🙂
Paulette G. says:
This is an awesome article (and I do not lightly use the word awesome). When my Mother died (Christmas day 2005) my first reaction was to go into autopilot because of all that had to be done and I was sometimes simply overcome by grief. I would let it flow over me and pass along- sometimes the only thinig you can do. I did take some times when I was alone to just swim & wallow in my grief and loss, but these were not deliberately timed. I think if I had done that, scheduled time to feel and grieve, it may have helped me though the tidal waves that occasionally hit. I have two dear friends who are recently bereaved – their Mothers have passed on. I think this may be useful for them. I know I will keep this article for whenever I (inevitably) am in a position of emotional pain.
Belen Hernandez Ovalle says:
I will definitely try this, I thank you for sharing it. God Bless you.
Nair Moreira says:
I red all and I thank you for this. I am still crying too…after 3 years my MOM passed away. I am 47 and she was 70 but with a young spirit…
I miss her so much!
I am still trying to control myself, but is not easy.
After she died I went to the hospital with a pneumotorax and had cirurgy. Was painfull and I am always afraid to happen again.
In the end of the day there are worst situations but I think my brain is not the same anymore and I am fighting against with all my forces.
Thanks for your words.
Susan A. says:
I am glad this works for you, but BS!…..
Humans don’t file their emotions. UI too have had terrible tragedy in my life, most people I know have, we all can function pretty well for the most part. Those that file emotions end up like the poor soldier that “lost it” and just sadly killed 16 people this past week. He was trying to file his emotions without seeking help…he possibly didn’t even know he needed help, and by filing things away you may miss this important opportunity to seek professional help. I’m sorry, we disagreed strongly on your tactic to deal with horrible grief.
Joe Veera says:
What may be “BS” to you, may very well be a blessing to someone else, and not just the writer of the article.
It would seem that you are making (and please correct me if I’m wrong) an assumption and sweeping generalization that humans do not “file their emotions”. Prior to reading this article, some persons may actually already be in practice of “filing their emotions”. You gave a good example of someone who might. As a person of Faith & Spirit, I believe there’s only one Being that knows what every human does.
From what I understand of the article, it’s not stating the practice of “filing your emotions” is the be all and end all, and as long as you follow what’s suggested, everything would be great. It seems to present the idea as more of a mechanism to help cope & deal with the hurt & pain.
We, as individuals, have to learn to recognize what we can do alone & be open and accepting to the fact we may require help & assistance. Most times, it’s the inability to recognize along with the close-mindedness, that makes a person miss opportunities.
Thank you for sharing.You are correct in saying that each persons grief and feelings are their own, one can not compare theirs to another. I have been going through a tremendous amount of grief the past year, loss of my mother, which I never really grieved until now, loss of my business and marriage. I am just now learning to cope with and work my way through the grief process with the assistance of an excellent therapist. I do find myself blind sided by emotional breakdowns that come out of no where. I am going to work on implementing your suggestion.
Rick Soden says:
The last loss & so far the hardest to get past has been the death of my wife of 20+ years on Dec. 28th, 2006. It still brings me to tears, not as often as it did, but it will take more than 5+ years to get to where I’m OK, completely. Love } Ricky~
Wow! This is amazingly inspirational and freeing. Thank you.
Awesome Bum says:
I could’t agree more. There are many points in my life that I just wanted to cry. For sometime I did, and I move on. I need to move on or the pain will overcome my sanity. And at that point, I learned how to hope and choose to be happy. And yes, happiness is a choice!
Joanne Deveau says:
One think that i found that helped me out when i need to take my Reverend out was.
To take a hammer and hit a board with it.
Or take a Racket and hit a pillow with it.
Or take a strong bag and put some bottles in it and hit it with a baseball bat.
That help out.
thank you … this has helped no end .
This is exactly where I am at today…still grieving after losing my husband in February 2010. After dealing with deep depression, I am finally past that, and it seems like I am just beginning the grieving process. Over the past couple of weeks, this has been me…being whacked in the head, etc., with a sight, a memory, etc. Love the article. Thank you so much.
Lupita Morales says:
thank you. I had 4 daughters on December 27, 2011 my 17 year daughter was with my 6 year old daughter and two of her friends and was killed in a car accident leaving my 6 year old with a head injury and a broken femur and both of her friends walked away with stitches and two broken wrists. She was a senior ready to build her life. Her 6 year old sister loved her that was her bubba as that is what she called her. My two other girls are devastated to have lost a sister that was a wonderful girl. I am a mother that is trying to be strong, i go to work and go home and cry she is not there actually that’s anywhere i go. this was a good article thank you for your wisdom.
Thx for this!!!! What a way to jewel them emotions in CHECK. This is WORTH trying.
Lucille Mays says:
My husband died in March 2009…I still have those “moments” when grief washes over me just as bad as the day it happened. My husbands sister recently told me on the 3rd anniversary of his death to “get over it” that I was being too emtoional about it. She also said she was glad she was privileged to “loan” him to me for 41 years!! Her words cut me to the core sometimes but mostly I just ignore her. Someone who hasn’t been through it really doesn’t understand the pain and emptiness you feel. Thank you for your articles…they are very helpful…even now!
I lost my husband to cancer 1 1/2 years ago. We were together 24 years. I still find myself almost losing it when I hear certain songs playing on the radio at work. I am going to schedule some time for greiving when I am home alone. I think this will help. Thanks so much for this article.
Dana Lightman says:
Thank you for sharing your experience and describing this effective strategy for managing and expressing grief in such a clear manner. It is comforting to know that this strategy works, and provides hope, which is much needed in times of grief and loss.
I have been through alot and small things do bring up my grief. I have been doing this without realizing it. I have dealt with death of two children and my father (at seperate times). I have an abundent love of God, animals, and life. Wanted to thank you for sharing.
In my opinion and my own experience this only applies to people who are dealing with a loss by death or a tragedy/accident etc that happens once and is dealt with and you move on. What happens and how does one move on when the tragedy reoccurs and/or is never ending? Your parent with dementia, now a shell of the person she once was yet you must see her over and over again in this state – until death comes and you grieve for her every single day. Your child with autism whom you struggled for years to get treatment and appropriate educational accommodation and therapies for, to no avail and s/he is now an adult who needs daily supervision, is severely communication challenged and you agonize about the life that awaits her after you’re gone – you grieve for her everyday. How does one move forward from grief that follows them every single day?
Thank you for writing and sharing this. It’s well worth reading and taking to heart. We can all benefit by scheduling our suffering. A link to this page has been shared on our Facebook page, The Far Side of the Rainbow, and we encouraged our family of friends to read this and help spread the word as well. Much appreciation! We’re all in this together!
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Cindy DeWitt says:
Very interesting. I would like to see more info from you.
My husband passed away 1 year ago from cancer. It was brutal. Over 13 months I alone took care of him. That was also brutal. He fell down all the time, so I picked him up off the floor every time.
If he would not eat, I didn’t either. By the time he passed away, I was in horrible shape. My saving grace is I am raising 2 of my 6 grandkids. They hold me together & keep me on a schedule.
I am eating again & have gotten slightly better (I don’t cry as much anymore.) I had to move out of the house we had lived in for 11 years. so I moved to Payson. It’s helpful that people up here seem to treat strangers with niceness, instead of rudeness. it is much more peacefull up herek, so that helps alot.
I have several health problems & am fighting the social security battle.
I struggle with finances as well as the emotional & grief issues for all 3 of us. I like your plan of scheduling the grief. We did that on the 1 year anniversary of his passing. The boys & I got a helium balloon & wrote all over it. We all wrote how we feel about missing him. We watched the balloon float all the way up in the sky. It was awesome. My 6 year old grandson in Phoenix has the greatest coping skills out of all of us. For example; they did the balloon thing in Phoenix. As little Darrell watched the balloon float up he told him mom (Grandpa told me he got the balloon and that he is watching over him. & that he loves our family._) he says all the time that Grandpa is in heaven, & that he is right above Darrell & talks to him & helps him/ Out of the mouths of Babes! Out of the entire family, Darrell has the best understanding. This is amazing. ‘Thank you, Cindy DeWitt
I had to read this afew times as i got to upset to see im feeling so down atm and trying to come to terms with how im feeling
But cant seem to see how this could work i do try and stop the thoughts emotions but they just overwhelm me all the time
They plague my dreams too i cant seem to get a grip on them
I feel like im losing control of everything
How do i start
Interesting way to manage ones griefs. I will personally put it on practice.
Thanks 🙂 I think I will try this!
My experience has been much like you described, in grieving the loss of my twin sister. Thank you for sharing your experience and offering an alternative to out of control emotions. Pain is universal isn’t it..
Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar wrote in his book, “Better Than Good,” that you should always schedule your “downtime.” When tragedy strikes – and it will strike, usually when we don’t expect it – schedule time to allow yourself to feel down. Even schedule it in the moment that you’re feeling down – just put a tight limit onto that “spontaneous” downtime. Even so, the point is to not fight or resist it; channel it into a “space” where you can manage it and even write it down into your dayplanner so that you don’t forget to allow yourself to be down. If you ignore it and you don’t go through the proper cycles, it will inevitably come back at the worst moments, just as was described above – during your “normal” everyday activities, which will in turn affect your performance in those activities.
Keep in mind that many painful experiences will only heal when a proper experience comes along to fill the void caused by the initial experience (eg. the pain of a divorce may not go away until you are part in a healthy, working, loving marriage), and even then it may not be healed completely. On top of that, some people may never heal from certain experiences at all and will grieve for the rest of their lives. What is important about this exercise is obtaining and maintaining control over these episodes so that you continue to have a rich and fulfilling life. DO NOT GIVE UP! DO NOT GIVE IN! With this control of your emotions and refusal to allow your emotions to control you, you will, as Ziglar puts it, live “a Better Than Good Life.”
Yes! You got it! That’s exactly the importance of scheduling! Bravo!
I love this article… It really a matter of mind-setting….
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Aw, this was a really nice post. In idea I would like to put in writing like this additionally – taking time and actual effort to make a very good article… but what can I say… I procrastinate alot and by no means seem to get something done.
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It is never easy to heal after losing someone you love, but scheduling a time to grieve is a good idea!
wow after reading this and all the comments to follow, (even through tears for all of your pain) this gives me hope for myself. my life has been in a constant state of pain and grief for as long as i can remember and this year i have decided enough is enough! i search for inspiration every day and new tools to help me over come my thoughts that haunt me, so far i think its working. i am very thank full for stumbling on to this site! positive thoughts and prayers go out to you in hopes you’ll fine some kind of inner peace with all that haunts you.<3