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How To Recover From Setbacks

Updated: Oct 19, 2020

In November 2019, with my home city twinkling around me, I crossed the line of the New York City marathon. I am not an athlete by nature (that’s my sister’s role in the family). But when I put my mind to something… practice, strength and sheer determination always pull me through.  

The past year has been different, though.  

I sat in the front row of five funerals (one of them being virtual). I was a pallbearer, delivered eulogies, and even had the funeral director’s phone number saved in my phone. I couldn’t escape grief. My heart had been shattered, had swelled, and had been shattered all over again. I learned that what they say is true: grief does come in waves. 

During this same time, I was also working and raising two small children. This involved way too many nights of takeout food, copious amounts of screen time, saying yes to toys in the grocery stores, forgetting homework, and then forgetting to put away those grocery-store toys. It sure as heck sounds like a really good time to sign up and train for a marathon, right? I signed up anyway, determined. 

Aside from the elation and sense of accomplishment that came from crossing the finish line, I felt many other benefits first-hand. The many miles of training made me feel strong and gave me something concrete to focus my energy on. The big race gave me a goal to look forward to. And, on top of all of those reasons, raising money for Multiple Sclerosis (one of the big losses was from the terrible disease) added purpose and meaning to the journey.  

Even so, It wasn’t only running that kept me sane during this time. Amid my setback (or series of setbacks), I turned to different rituals, pastimes, and people to help keep me afloat. 

  • I made things — all the things (but especially tie-dyed, beaded, and embroidered things). I even started a side hustle with these skills — giving me something else to concentrate on. Working with my hands and tapping into my creativity provided much-needed relief. 

  • I turned to writing. I took a writing course specifically designed to write through the pain. Both the writing and the sharing were hugely cathartic to me, and I really leaned into the power of writing for healing. 

  • I spent time in nature. Water is especially magical for me, and I’m lucky that I have had access to the Long Island Sound (where I spent many hours simply watching the waves go in and out). Nature, in general, has many healing effects, and it’s a wonderful place to help disconnect. 

  • I found support in loved ones. I made an extra effort to spend time with family and friends — especially at weddings, birthdays, bar mitzvahs, and graduations. One of the mantras in my family has always been “just show up,” so continuing to do that felt normal, and the happy occasions buoyed my spirits. 

  • I let myself be sad. This is the most important thing I did. I really let myself be sad (really, really sad). I went to therapy, I got a coach, and then I became a coach. And in this genuine, vulnerable sadness? I learned to look for and find the silver linings. 

The biggest lesson I learned was about how stories like these aren’t always packaged up with a bow at the end. They are not always sunshine and rainbows. Because the truth is, a few months after I crossed that very epic finish line, I lost someone I loved very much — suddenly and way too soon. 

Recovering from loss has been an exercise in resilience on top of resilience. I learned that you don’t just bounce back from a setback and wipe the slate clean. The race isn’t over yet. You just have to learn to keep going and collect the tools and the support you need along the way to help keep moving. To help you keep going. To help you heal. 

You see, setbacks aren’t just about the comeback. They’re about getting back up again, no matter how many times you get knocked down. As my grandma always used to tell us, “tough cookies don’t crumble.” Indeed they don’t.

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