Are you going through low times? Do you know someone who is? Few, if any, of us get through this life without experiencing seasons of trial and difficulty. Times like these knock us off of our game, interfere with our intentions, and undermine our determination. Being “productive” falls to the bottom of the priority list, replaced with a sheer need to survive. Frequently, we don’t know how long the low times will last, making it hard to chart a course for the future. What is the best way to persevere when low times show up?
I live along the Connecticut shoreline outside of New York City. Since moving here many years ago, I’ve been fascinated by the daily change in the tides. In fact, my family teases me about how the first thing I notice whenever we head to the beach is the tide. Recently, my husband and I went out on a boat ride at low tide. Riding along and looking around got me thinking about how truly hard low times are.
Here are the some of the reasons I observed:
Low times are rocky.
You can see in this photo that during low tide, the shoreline is a bed of rocks. Of course, the rocks are always present, but they are neither apparent nor troublesome during high tide. During high tide, the water rises to about halfway up the rock wall in the background.
Low tide often reveals issues and problems that we may have been “floating over” when life was easier. During low times, we not only see the rough parts of our lives, but we also have to contend with them. Whether it be our living conditions, family dynamics, financial situation, physical health, or even our own personality flaws, the less-than-desirable aspects of life are harder to manage during periods of adversity.
Low times are tricky to navigate.
To get out of our boat club and into the sound, we have to drive though a narrow channel. During low tide, this channel is especially small. We are always thankful for on on-board navigation device that helps us know how much clearance we have beneath us.
Low times can be tricky. New situations, circumstances, people, and challenges usually leaves us feeling insecure and hesitant. We often don’t know how to proceed, and in many cases, even the “experts” around us lack concrete answers. We usually have to trust our instincts and make decisions, even when we worry that we might make a mistake.
Low times are unpleasant.
I much prefer to sit on the beach or dine near the water during high tide because during low tide, the mud comes out. Mud isn’t inherently bad. In fact, when it is covered with water, it provides nice housing for a variety of wildlife. However, during low tide, the mud is yucky. It smells bad and attracts insects. It is also very unpleasant to walk through.
Low times can feel like a slog through mud. We can feel stuck, unsuccessful, and unattractive. Depending on our situation, we might be attracting pests, such as unwanted attention, comments, opinions, and judgments. We lack momentum, and moving forward feels daunting.
Low times can be isolating.
One of the hardest things about going through low times is how solitary the experience can be. In the photo above, this gazebo looks rather forlorn at low tide. When the tide comes in, it seems much more inviting and accessible (you can see from the water line that the tide reaches almost to the base of the gazebo itself).
In many cases, while we are struggling through a low time and trying to keep our head above water, the rest of the world seems to be humming along without a care in the world. It is a weird dichotomy, and one that can leave us feeling very alone. I’ve heard it said, “We cannot truly understand what we have not experienced.” As a result, when we are in a low time, most people around us – even the well intentioned – don’t really know what to say or do. Unfortunately, many choose to avoid us and our situation altogether.
Low times are hard work.
During low tide at our little boat club, the ramp to the docks becomes quite steep. It takes a decent effort to walk up to the top. In contrast, during high tide, the ramp to the docks is practically flat.
Low times are almost always accompanied by hard work, such as:
- Going through painful medical tests and treatments
- Cutting back on spending
- Experiencing rejection or criticism
- Attempting to “stay positive” with those around you
- Rallying to make connections with strangers
- Struggling to navigate a new location or setting
- Changing a well-entrenched habit
- Persevering through failure
- Battling unknown or unfamiliar states of mind
During lush times, we can just drift along, behaving in a predictable and comfortable manner. But during low times, it can feel like every day requires us to live outside of our comfort zone… often for the foreseeable future.
Hard times can feel hopeless.
On our boat ride we drove past this beautiful yacht club. As pretty as it was, it felt quite unapproachable, perched as it is high on the bank of the river. During low tide, accessing this club requires either a steep walk or a climb up a ladder.
When we are experiencing a low time, it can seem like we will never be able to climb up and out to a better spot. The “nice things” are for others, not those of us in the trenches. We wonder if we will ever be healthy, meet the right person, land a decent job, receive positive feedback, have a baby, or get any number of other things for which we long. Of course, there are no guarantees in life, and some things may remain out of reach. At the same time, it is possible that our fortune will change, and that the path forward may get easier.
In light of all the obstacles that low times can bring, the question remains, “What can we do when it seems like everything is wrong?” Platitudes are not particularly helpful, nor are encouragements to simply “buck up.”
Therefore, I humbly offer a few thoughts…
- Allow yourself to acknowledge the difficulty of the present moment. It’s okay to not be okay. If you can find someone you trust with whom to share your sadness, all the better.
- Make an effort to notice whatever is going well (no matter how small).
- Avoid comparisons to those around you. No one is in your exact same shoes! The internet is unlikely to make you feel better during low times.
- Make an effort, even if it isn’t perfect. Go to the appointments, submit the resumes, do the homework, show up for the exam, make wise food and spending choices, exercise in any way you can, attend the awkward social event, etc.
- Remember that it is okay to experience joy, even when you have problems. You don’t have to wait until everything is perfect to be happy.
- Remain hopeful. You never know when the tide may turn.
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Nobody enjoys low times. What has helped you get through some of your toughest seasons?