Life Hax

Carolyn Hax

How to refresh after this terrible of terriblest years?

Ar 180109999
Carolyn Hax
Ar 180109999
Carolyn Hax

This has been a rotten year. My dad got laid off from work, my mom had breast cancer surgery, my grandmother had two serious hip surgeries, a close friend was diagnosed with terminal cancer, my dad just fell ill with a mysterious illness (no, really), and I got pregnant. (The pregnant bit isn’t rotten, but it is contributing to the roller-coaster nature of this year.)I’m floundering in a sea of black emotions and despair, which, aside from not being good for the fetus, isn’t really good for me. My work is suffering, my relationship with my husband is suffering, and I’m at wits’ end. I wake up every day wondering what bad thing will happen, and I go to sleep every night praying no one dies before the next day. Any tips, advice?Overwhelmed

Wake up every morning accepting that bad things might happen, and go to bed accepting that someone might die the next day – whether your year has been rotten or not. (You, too, can receive Mary Poppins as your personal savior.) While you’re at it, also accept that it’s better to have death and bad things than not.

This is not a typo, or a braino. That’s because the only alternative to feeling the pain of loss is to have nothing to lose. You’re suffering now because you care about these people. And if you were given the choice, on the spot, right now, irrevocably, to stop feeling all this pain and with it the love you feel for them? You wouldn’t do it.

Know this. Force it to the front of your anguished brain every time you’re picking a fight with your husband, or fretting too much to concentrate at work, or feeling road-enraged as you try to get to the hospital before visiting hours end, or wishing pregnancy had come at a more fortuitous time.

If you’re less than convinced, consider: You have enjoyed, in some cases for decades, the great gift of knowing these people – all for the low, low price of one abysmal year. Since everyone who cares about anybody has to pay at some point, pay gladly. Go love mom and dad, love your grams, love your friend. Love your husband.

And love that baby. You’re carrying nothing less than living proof that love can be renewed. I risk my cliche-combat badge by pointing it out, and yet it’s too profound to ignore.

Granted, unleashing all these warm feelings will only deepen your emotional sea, but there’s an answer for that, too. Anchor yourself to whatever you can – your job, your marriage – then stop thrashing and just … float. I’m sure you’ve tried many times not to laugh or cry or have a crush on someone, so you know that feelings always last longer when you fight them. Feelings at full intensity simply cannot be sustained.

So float, and trust that the waters will slowly recede. It’s a scary thing, and exhausting, to surrender yourself to so many feelings at once, but it’s exhilarating as well. It’s also the least grinding path to dry land – and your child will be grateful for that.

A couple of years ago, I was in a relationship for a couple of months that didn’t end very well. It was going OK, but I decided she just wasn’t right for me. I’ve never been good with talking about issues like that, or anything emotional, so I simply stopped calling and spoke with her online less and less. I never gave her an explanation, and I still feel guilty about that. Would it be appropriate to send an email about how I’m feeling; write a letter; call?Conflicted

I’d just ignore your question, but I crave closure.

The rule on out-of-the-blue apologies is that you should only undertake one if it’s to ease her pain, not appease your guilt.

The other rule is, no one ever has any idea how the other person feels.

So, do it. Good practice. Plus, it’s a kind gesture; even if the gesture fails, the kindness still counts. And email sounds fine to me.

My fiance’s brother, who had had a few too many beers, made a comment that some people listening took as racist. I wasn’t there but trust the people who told me about it. I now have close friends questioning my judgment for associating with that guy, and for marrying someone close to him – and who, unfortunately, had to loudly take up for his brother despite not agreeing with what he said.What else should I do, besides reminding my friends that my fiancé and his brother are two different people?Questioned

Unless there’s more to the “loudly take up for his brother,” they’re grabbing torches and pitchforks against the innocent, and that won’t stop racism – but might empower its apologists.

So see if there’s more: “Do I hear you correctly – I should drop my fiancé because of something HIS BROTHER said? I want to understand.” An indication that you’re willing to listen in itself can be disarming.

Advice from readers:I learned this important truth the hard way.

I was a corporate attorney for a Fortune 500 company for 20 years. After enduring much bullying, I eventually learned: Just because someone asks you a question does not mean you have to answer it.

I have tried to instill this truth in our children (one of whom is of a different race).

When someone asks me an inappropriate question, I simply do not reply.

I just stand there looking at them. And I am a short, gray-haired woman, not some big burly guy.

Quickly, they become uncomfortable and change the subject.

The best response to rudeness is no response, which immediately causes the questioner to feel frustration because they have failed in their attempt to be nosy, rude and bullying.

On dealing with a gossip:In the times in my adult life that anyone has told me anything negative about someone in my life, or that someone said they had heard something negative about me, I learned to respond to the messenger with, “Why are you telling me this?”

While the messenger has never admitted to the attempt of manipulation that they are making – usually they will give a lame excuse – they don’t ever play that game with me again.

Carolyn Hax is a syndicated advice columnist for The Washington Post. She started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. Email her at tellme@washpost.com.