Recovering from a Life Catastrophe

Written by
Michael Wells

Recovering from a Life Catastrophe

Written by
Michael Wells

Recovering from a Life Catastrophe

Written by
Michael Wells
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Life! Gotta love those curve balls it throws at you.
At least life isn’t boring, eh? 

I've had a number of spectacular catastrophes in my life.

So far, I've experienced...

  • A catastrophic marriage implosion and divorce
  • A catastrophic business failure, which nearly bankrupted me, and cost me my house
  • A few catastrophic injuries, like a broken leg as a child, and a broken shoulder as an teen, which knocked me out of school for extended periods of time and affected my schooling
  • A catastrophic, sudden firing from my first salaried job, just after I bought a home and we were expecting our first child
  • A catastrophic love lost due to a ( different ) break-up

Every one of these experiences was very hard to deal with in the moment.

I felt like my life was over, like the future was suddenly gone, all plans put in the shredder - like I wasn't certain how to proceed or how to feel secure again.

In retrospect, I now have a very different view - and that's what I'm going to talk about today.

I would now describe every one of these experiences as spectacularly awesome...

Because every one of them changed me in essential ways, to make me who I am today.

What Makes a Catastrophe?

The ingredients of a catastrophe are pretty simple...

  1. Surprise. We were not prepared for this, and were likely caught off-guard.
  2. Expectations. A catastrophe violates our expectations of what should happen, and therefore what we planned for.
  3. Challenge. New challenges suddenly exist, that we are not yet strong enough to overcome effortlessly
  4. Disruption. Our our future plans in this part of our life have been torched, and and our future is thrown into uncertainty.

If any of those things are not true, then... it's not really a catastrophe... it's more like an inconvenience.

Let's do an exercise

I'm going to make some guesses...

  • You probably have two eyes
  • You can easily pick up a sack of groceries
  • You can easily say the word "hello"
  • You have a place to live
  • You have some friends or family
  • You have a bit of money in the bank to live on

For most people, all of the above things are true.

I'm going to guess if suddenly you woke up one day, and any of the above things was no longer true, it would feel like a catastrophe.

This is important to understand, because...

Catastrophes are relative.

If you lose an eye, but you were already blind, how much of a catastrophe is that?

If you live in a wheelchair, and have a caregiver, how important was that grocery carrying task?

If you've suddenly lost all of your money, but you have developed solid skills, friends, and connections, or you own your own place... how much of a catastrophe is that?

See the difference?

For an unprepared person with certain expectations, all of of these are catastrophes - but for another person, that same situation is just another day.

This is important.

What it shows you is that your catastrophes are about YOU. They are about where your'e at, how prepared you are, what expectations you had, and where you are trying to get to.

They are catastrophes because they demand massive change from YOU.

For someone else, the exact same situation is just taken in stride, and it might not even be noticed.

The Huge Value of a Life Catastrophe

Life is full of challenges, and it should be that way.

But for most of my life I've been approaching catastrophic situations entirely wrong.

When I was suddenly faced with a catastrophe, I asked these kinds of questions...

  • "How do I fix this?"
  • "Why is the universe so unfair to me?"
  • "Why are people such jerks?"
  • "How could this have happened?"
  • "How do I survive this and get back to the security I had just before the catastrophe happened?"

I've seen myself as a static, mostly-unchanging thing, with the world whirling around me, and I just wanted things to return to "normal."

I fought to return things to the way they were, instead of embracing change and growth to take myself where I needed to be.

But - when a catastrophe hits, it hurts most when I resist the changes it's pushing into my path. I'm fighting the hurricane, instead of grabbing a kite.

Experience has taught me that there are better questions to ask...

  • "What are the most urgent needs I have right now, and how can I meet them?"
  • "What incorrect expectations did I have about this situation, that have proven false?"
  • "What dependencies did I form around this situation, that I should not have?"
  • "What can I do right now, that is under my control, to improve my situation?"
  • "How can I prepare so that if the same thing were to happen a year from now, it really wouldn't affect me?"
  • "Who do I need to become, so that this exact same situation is no longer a problem, and might even be FUN and exciting?"
  • "What are the new opportunities I have now, as a result of this change? Sure I've lost some things, but what did I gain?"

Can you imagine feeling excitement when you are confronted with an unexpected major life change? Lose your job, and feel thrilled? Relationship ends and you're quickly smiling with possibility?

It can happen, because every change creates new opportunity.

Embracing a Life Catastrophe

If you're dealing with a major catastrophe, here is a daily routine that will help you recover and grow from the experience. 

Every night, sit down with a pen and a notebook, and answer these questions-

  1. What 3 things am I most grateful for today?  
  2. How did I feel today?  Sad?  Confused?  Angry?  Resentful?  
  3. Why did I feel this way?  
  4. What did I expect to happen, that didn’t happen?  Why did I expect that to happen?
  5. What did I not expect to happen, that did happen? Why did I expect that not to happen?
  6. What exactly do I need right now?  Friends? Safety? Money? People to talk to? How can I get those needs met?
  7. Who is my support network right now, who I can call on if I need something?
  8. Who can I surround myself with, who understands and can help me get perspective on my situation?
  9. What is the most important thing I need to do tomorrow to improve my life?

Why this practice matters so much

This practice of reflection, and planning will help you do several very essential things, all at once.

Clearly see the good things in your life, and not just the challenges.  Appreciating what you have is essential to a healthy frame of mind.

Process your emotions. If you do not, they will paralyze and crush you. Sweeping them under the rug does not work. I have far too much personal experience making that mistake, many times.

Focus your mind - with all its incredible problem-solving abilities - directly on the parts of your life you can improve.

Figure out what's next, and move towards that.

Empower yourself.  You’re taking personal responsibility for creating the life you want, rather than hoping someone else will make your world better for you. 

Get perspective. The people you surround yourself with impact your perceptions of the world in huge ways. That can be massively healing, or incredibly harmful to your recovery, so choose wisely.

There is a HUGE difference.

Writing it down is essential

Journaling changed my life and helped me through some very difficult times. I wish someone had taught me about it earlier. It is the most powerful way to respond to intense, complex emotions and to recover quickly.

Read a more about Journaling here.

Why Journaling is Essential to your Growth - Michael Wells

Journaling & the 100 / 100 - Michael Wells

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This article is part of the series 


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First published on 
October 26, 2017
. Last updated on 
September 17, 2020

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