The Tragedy Playbook
How to bounce back when life knocks you down
👋Hello friends. I'm back in your inbox a little sooner than expected but it's largely because I've been getting tons of emails asking for an update on my son. Will get to that shortly and I'll also share a playbook of sorts that I've been attempting to follow over the past two weeks to keep myself sane. But before I get to that, I just wanted to thank you for the responses to last week's newsletter. It was obviously quite personal and emotional and I am so grateful for all the thoughtful, caring responses I got back. How cool it is to know how many people are rooting for you and your family. I really appreciate it. Your kind words helped me through a tough week. Okay... on to the good stuff.
I don't intend for this newsletter to become a chronicle of my son and his journey but since so many have asked, here's the update: Long story, short, he is doing much better.
After we got back to Charlotte and saw the pediatrician, we were set up to have an EEG (brainwave) exam about an hour's drive from our house. On the way there, Charlie unfortunately had another pretty bad and scary seizure. That was a tough day which culminated with us back at the emergency room and with Charlie ultimately being admitted to the children's hospital here in Charlotte. Fortunately, we were able to see a neurologist there who was able to diagnose Charlie with Rolandic epilepsy.
Of course, if you asked me two weeks ago if I'd be excited for my kid to get diagnosed with epilepsy, I would have said a categorical 'no.' However, given the circumstances, we viewed it as good news and as a relief. Rolandic epilepsy has a pretty good prognosis and, knock on wood, Charlie will hopefully follow that path. If it goes well, that would mean controlling future seizures with medication, which he has already started, and ideally, outgrowing the disease in his teens as many kids do.
We are now trying to get back to normal life after this crazy period. Some things look different (like sleep which is currently a challenge) and reality has now set in that Charlie, at least in the short-term, won't be able to do some things that his friends can. But we're trying to get over the fear (ours and his) of when the next seizure may strike and we're just focusing on how we can keep him safe while also letting him get back to being a kid. We'll celebrate his 11th birthday this weekend with family and despite what has been an extraordinarily trying couple of weeks, I think we will all be that much more grateful for this sweet kid we’re so fortunate to have in our lives.
The Tragedy Playbook
Alright, well if you know me, you'll know that I can't let any major event happen in my life without turning it into some kind of a lesson, framework or playbook. And this case is no different.
So here we go. The Tragedy Playbook.
First of all, if you've avoided tragedies in your life to-date, congratulations. I, as well, lived in that charmed state until seven years ago when my dad suddenly and tragically died. It was then that I encountered the reality that "bad things happen to me, too."
In fact, bad things—very bad things—will happen to all of us in our lives. I'm not trying to depress you but the sooner you accept this fact the better off you'll be.
This is where the playbook comes in. If you accept what I tell you, that bad things are coming, then the next logical question is: What can I do about this?
The bad news is that you can't avoid every bad thing - every death of a loved one, every unfair job loss, every divorce, every sickness or disease - but you can control how you react. You can make yourself and those around you stronger and more resilient.
Here is an incomplete list of how to do exactly that. Many of you who read this newsletter have lived more life than me and have no doubt encountered more tragedy than me. So please, weigh in. Leave a comment. Shoot me a note. Let me know what I missed. But here’s my best shot at how to respond when tragedy strikes:
Sleep - We need to take care of ourselves when tragedy strikes and that starts with the foundation of health: sleep. When we’re not sleeping, everything gets worse. Our mood is darker. Our reactions are slower. Our temper is shorter. It can be hard to sleep in the wake of a tragedy but it’s so important. Make sure to follow the basics here that experts like Andrew Huberman harp on:
Get natural light exposure first thing in the morning
Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day (even on weekends)
No caffeine after noon
Exercise intensely during the day
Mind your nutrition - It’s surprisingly hard to eat healthy when you’re going through a tragedy. One reason why is because our culture’s reaction to dealing with anyone in pain is this: Send Sugar. I have actually been shocked by how many people over the past week have sent us cookies, cakes, ice cream, etc. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am super-grateful that we have so many friends and family who want to support us. It’s just fascinating to me that sugar as a comfort food is so culturally ingrained. It’s fine to eat some cookies when you’re going through a stressful period. But what’s really going to make you feel good and give you the energy you need to deal with the difficult emotions you’re facing? Healthy, nutrient-dense, satiating foods, of course. So just be mindful not to get too thrown off your healthy eating habits during periods of tragedy — it’s one thing you can actually control that will have a very real impact on how you feel.
Exercise - Likely the last thing on your mind and the easiest thing to skip in difficult times is exercise. But it’s important to remember that exercise can be a medicine on its own. Even if it's just getting up early and going for a 30 minute walk to get your blood pumping, the physical (and mental) benefits can be immense - if only to give you some time away to process what’s happening in your life. Our culture still tends to see bodies and minds as two different things. My friend, Nathalie Rachel Sinyard, thinks it’s more like a continuum. And I think she’s right. The act of caring for our bodies in times of stress is also the act of caring for our minds.
Accept (and give) help - As someone who has always taken pride in being self-sufficient in many ways, this was a tough one for me to learn. But when my dad died, I came to the realization that I needed to rely on others. Fortunately, when we’re going through tough times, people generally want to help. My advice: Let them. Similarly, one of the most therapeutic things we can do when we’re struggling through difficult times is to help others. It seems counterintuitive but this is another lesson I learned from my dad. He struggled with major depression but one thing that brought him joy was being able to help others who were also struggling. And help people he did. When he died, an unbelievable amount of people came out of the woodwork with stories of how he had personally helped them - many of whom our family didn’t even know. As humans, we want to be connected. So when you’re going through tough times, pull your friends and family in close. And if you know someone who is struggling, reach past the discomfort and awkwardness and offer to help. They’ll appreciate it more than you ever realize.
Feel your feelings - I have to thank my friend Jesse Pujji for this one who told me in our recent podcast conversation about the importance of "feeling your feelings" - a key component of the Conscious Leadership framework. I haven’t always been the best at this but I’ve come to the realization that to truly recover from something terrible, we need to actually go through it emotionally. We need to let ourselves be angry, sad, scared - whatever the emotion is. If we don’t feel the emotions fully, if we try to ignore them or push them down, they will find another way out. This might be in the form of physical pain, a lack of sleep, deteriorating relationships, you name it. So feel the pain. It sucks but you have to go through it to get to the other side.
Surrender to something bigger than you - When tragedy strikes, we think “Why me?” and we wallow in our terrible misfortune. Our perception of the world gets very narrow and we cannot imagine anything more significant than the pain of our own unique situation. But as we begin to accept our new reality, it helps to remember just how small and insignificant we are—that the world does not, in fact, revolve around us. Almost counterintuitively, it can be incredibly therapeutic to recognize how vast the universe is and how tiny we are by comparison. For some, it’s surrendering to this vastness, for others, it’s “putting it in the hands of God.” Either way, there is something much bigger than us, and by recognizing that, our problems can start to feel a bit less overwhelming.
Be thankful for the tragedy - This is the hardest one of all to wrap our heads around. You may or may not feel that things happen for a reason. But almost without a doubt, the pain that you (or your loved ones) go through during difficult times will make you stronger. Often, we can only see this in retrospect. My friend, Joe Wells, sent me a note after last week’s newsletter about Teddy Roosevelt. He reminded me of the immense health challenges that TR faced as a child - including his terrible struggles with asthma, a condition that was largely untreatable in those days. He also reminded me that it was, by all accounts, that sickness that made him into the Teddy Roosevelt we all think of today. The barrel-chested, audacious leader and outdoorsman whose face adorns Mount Rushmore. So this morning on my morning walk, I said ‘thank you’ for the events of the past two weeks. I believe my friend Joe is right. The tragedies we face ultimately become the most formative and important events in our lives. So in that context, it makes sense to be thankful for them.
That’s all I’ve got for you this week but before I go, I’ll leave you with two things:
This chart, which I’ve used before in this newsletter but that I think we should keep in mind always. No matter how good or bad things feel at the moment, we will revert to the mean. That’s pretty comforting to think about when you’re in the thick of a rough patch.
A quote from Winston Churchill (who has a quote for everything):
“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
Again, I appreciate everyone who has reached out over the last week. Hopefully, we are through the worst of it with Charlie. My gift to you today in return is this article. I hope you’ll tuck it away and the next time you find yourself going through hell, this might help you in some small way to “keep going.”
See you in two weeks.
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