AFTER I RETURNED TO MY APARTMENT, the first few weeks were unbearable. I was alone with an emptiness that was indescribable. I’d lay awake most nights, listening to the river and the thoughts that kept me from sleep – What if I had never taken Ma to Houston? What if I didn’t leave the hospital to go home?
Each morning, I’d drag myself out of bed, sit at my desk, and just stare at my laptop—just stare at it—trying desperately to muster up the energy to do what I’d promised Ma I would do.
Heartbroken, I’d march back into my bedroom, wrap myself back up in my blankets, and sleep. Sleep was better than having to face the excruciating pain in my heart.
I didn’t want to eat, I didn’t want to think, I didn’t want to live.
Not without Ma.
I hated Grief. Grief pulled me into a dark, dark place and snapped me like a twig. There were days when I just curled into a fetal position and cried; and nights when Grief ripped me from what little sleep I was getting and taunted me of what I would’ve, should’ve, could’ve done to save Ma. Grief made me walk into the grocery store, the bank, Target, Walmart… and break down. Grief told me it was my fault that Ma was gone. Grief would knock me down one day, and pick me up the next, telling me that it was okay to let it go.
Just let it go.
And I did. Tried to face Grief with the same conviction and courage I saw Ma face every day of her life. But my weak pathetic spirit was no match to Ma. First, I couldn’t stand the sight of anything that was amiss in my perfect little world. Second, unlike Ma, I didn’t know the meaning of unconditional. Ma liked, loved, and loved unconditionally. But everything I encountered, every move I made, every step I took was structured and deliberate like the COBOL programming language I learned in undergrad school with its structure and rules.
And aside from occasionally attending church with Ma, I never talked to God. I would mumble grace before I ate most times and say the Lord’s Prayer occasionally before I went to sleep but rarely had I ever had a heart-to-heart with God. I tried a few times, but it always felt awkward, like I had suddenly decided to say hello to someone that I’d been hiding from for a long time. In fact, I’d only recently learned to talk to God when Ma got sick. Then after I thought He took Ma from us, I questioned whether I could ever trust God again.
Now Grief was the closest thing I had to a God.
I could talk to Grief because Grief didn’t make any bones about her intent. She haunted me like a plague, made sure that I was going to deal with her, whether I wanted to or not.
I Haaattteeed Grief! Flat out hated, hated, hated her! And every day, Grief and I went through the same routine: I’d drag out of bed, drop to my knees, beg for mercy, and draw on what little strength I had.
Drag. Drop. Draw. Repeat!
This is an excerpt from my book, Don’t Look at the Monster. (
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Just like I have experienced when I lost my mother nearly ten years ago, many people are also going through terrifying times, especially after having been hit hard by COVID. The grief that comes with losing someone, the terror of not knowing if you or your family are safe, or having to face hardships that we could have never imagined is enough to discourage most of us.
So how do you stay optimistic in tough times?
I have come to realize that optimism is a free gift of nature. When you’re optimistic, you will discover how your fears, worries, and traumas can serve as a push for you to appreciate things you’ve always taken for granted.
We need not hide from the reality that we are sad, afraid, or angry. These are natural responses to life that should not be denied.
My own personal journey and years of influencing and empowering women have taught me some stern lessons that I would like to share with you: Seven realistic and sure-shot ways to stay optimistic during tough times. Let’s dive in!
1. Learn from others with similar experiences
Rest assured that there are people all around you who are also going through tough times – in most cases, those people have more severe challenges. Think about people who became successful despite coming from challenging backgrounds, or who encountered hardships or trauma. These people could be regarded as heroines of optimism. They are everywhere… in your family, at work, in your community, your places of worship. Rather than thinking about your situation, try finding inspiration and strength from others.
2. Know what you can’t control
It is often common that we want to fix every problem that comes our way. When going through a difficult time, it is important that we separate what we can change from what we have, not even the tiniest, control over. The reality is that we can’t always control every situation. But we can control how we react to it. I would hate to regret someday that I wasted my time and energy on a fruitless problem that was never within my power to control.
3. Take one step at a time
Even if you seem to be climbing up a steep hill, you will get to a point where you’ll walk on the valley. I have come to learn how to take one step at a time and move at my pace. I also think about my inner strength and allow it to drive me forward. Hard times often come with great lessons. The adage, what doesn’t break you makes you stronger, comes to mind. Remember that no one can take away your resilience.
4. Always see a positive perspective in every negative situation
Losing my mother has come at a great traumatic price. But after the loss, it eventually dawned on me that pain, trauma, and loss are all part of life and the choice to either remain stuck in my grief or trudge my way through it simply lies with me. Apart from this, the loss has also shown me how to cherish each day. Honestly, I’m not always good at it. Though I often slip back into my habitual ways (rushing through my days, allowing life to trigger pessimism), I try my darndest to identify the gift, lesson, or blessing in every situation.
5. Serve as a source of inspiration to others
What propelled me into serving as a source of inspiration to other women, beyond my own personal story, was my coming to appreciate the effectual power of the Law of Attraction. In other words, when you put out positive energy, you get positive energy in return. Be the shoulders on whom others can learn. Give people around you a warm smile. You might be surprised to discover that a little smile can go a long way in someone else’s life.
6. Build connections
Being in difficult times often makes you want to withdraw from others. You want to bear all the emotional waterworks alone. Sometimes it is necessary to draw on the strength of others. Draw close to God, your family, friends, and your community. Don’t allow any distance, including social, to keep you away from them. Try connecting with them virtually. Seeking connections shows your desire to move your life forward in a positive direction. You’ll be doing yourself a great disservice if you isolate instead.
7. Take time to do the things you love
Do you enjoy being creative, making music, or writing? Make a promise to yourself right now that you are going to make time to do whatever is speaking to your heart. Even if it’s only for 15 minutes a day, it’s progress. That you are facing difficulties isn’t a license for you to deny yourself the opportunity to do the things you love or pursue your passion.
You probably have heard clichés such as building a house with stones life hurls at you, turning lemons into lemonade, what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger (Thanks to Ma for reminding me of this). The earlier we realize that hope comes with optimism and drives us to take action, the better for us.
No matter how dire a situation, remember to learn from others, let go of what you can’t control, take one step at a time, develop a positive perspective, serve as a source of inspiration to others, build connections and get back to doing what you love, and most of all, embrace every moment, every experience as a gift, lesson, or blessing.
Shareable Moment: Which of these 7 tips speak to you and why?