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Briony Benjamin has written an article especially for us - and these times - adapted from her new book Life is Tough (But So Are You) - a funny, warm and practical guide on how to navigate difficult times and to help you gain perspective on what's truly important in life. Read on below for some wise advise from a young woman who never expected to survive The Big C.

I thought cancer only happened to people in the movies; like Mandy Moore in A Walk To Remember, or the hot Irish guy from P.S. I Love You. So when I got diagnosed with advanced stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at 31 it was the shock of my life. Suddenly I was the lead character in a film I didn’t want to be in, without the cheesy love story. How very rude!

After the initial shock wore off, I decided that if I had to do this I may as well make it as enjoyable as possible of course it wasn’t all high sunshine and lollipops, but I was fortunate to get through it and I like the person it’s made me become.

Below are a few concepts that really helped me in the trickiest times and I hope they help you too whether you’re struggling with the groundhog effect of lockdown, the loss of a loved one a breakup or your own personal smorgasbord of unexpected life events.

Briony Benjamin shares more about her book   
  1. Day by Day, Step by Step, Breath by Breath

    The one piece of advice I do remember clearly from my specialist after she’d delivered the news that I had cancer was not to get too far ahead of myself. She suggested that I shouldn’t google Hodgkin’s lymphoma or worry too much about treatment just yet. Instead, we were just going to focus on the next few things we had to do. That was really excellent advice.

    She gave me a piece of paper with the next steps written on it.

    • blood tests
    • heart & lung capacity tests
    • appointment at the IVF clinic

    In those first few days, as the enormity of what lay in front of me hit me in waves, I kept coming back to that. What are the next three steps?

    It’s a great way to approach anything in life. You don’t have to solve everything right now, particularly when you are in crisis; (or in lockdown) you don’t need to know where this will all lead. Things will unfold. I use this all the time now, if I feel overwhelmed or stressed or anxious. What are the next few steps? Just focus on those. While we want to dream big and think big and know where we’re going, sometimes we just need to break it down, focus on the next few things and take it day by day.

  2. Speak it out loud

    No matter what is on your mind, if it’s troubling you, it’s valid. Even if you feel ridiculous for thinking certain thoughts. When you’re going through a huge challenge, some pretty random ideas can pop up in your brain!

    I’ve found, however, that when you say things out loud it somehow takes their power away. Spoken out loud, worries can suddenly seem trivial, or you can’t quite remember why they are upsetting you so much. No matter what is worrying you, find someone in your A-team and talk about it. Even if you think it sounds trivial, silly or self-absorbed. It can magically help ‘expelliarmus’ worries and take away their power. (I solemnly swear that will be the only Harry Potter reference in this article . . . okay, I can’t promise, but I’ll try.)

  3. Some things don’t have to be understood, just accepted

    When you get bad news it’s easy to want to know every single thing that has led to this. Whose fault is it? When did this begin? How long has this been going on? Why has this happened to me? I mean, c’mon, I’m a good person . . . I eat healthily, I don’t smoke, I always remember my re-usable bags, I’ve never ghosted on a date, I even do volunteer work, why me?

    But that is EX-hausting. It’s a great way to zap your energy and it doesn’t help you to face the task ahead. Acceptance, hard as it can be, is key.

    My wise friend Marieke, who had been through a huge life crisis herself, told me in those first few days, ‘Remember, some things don’t have to be understood, just accepted.’ She sent me a slightly altered version of the well-known Serenity Prayer and suggested that I light a candle, sit in the dark and find a way to accept what was happening.

    ‘Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference’

    Whether you’re stuck in lockdown right now and feeling really angry about it (understandably) or you’re going through a major life upheaval, when you can try and find a way to accept what is going on, it will make the rest of the ride a lot easier.

  4. You don’t have to be healthy to be happy

    My friend Jenna Rumney who has been dealing with at times debilitating chronic for fifteen years shared the idea with me that you don’t have to be healthy to be happy. It was a hugely empowering and helpful concept to understand that I could separate my mental state of mind from my immediate physical wellbeing. That just because I’m not feeling well today doesn’t mean I can’t find other ways to enjoy my day. As she said to me, ‘You can shift your mindset from ‘I’ll be happy when I am well’ to ‘I can be happy in this very moment, despite the challenges I face’. This works not just for illnesses, but for all kinds of life crises. If we future-date our happiness to a time that is dependent on something out of our control, we will always suffer. Don’t decide you’ll be happy when . . . ‘I lose weight’; ‘the global pandemic is over’; ‘my partner stops doing this’. Instead, choose to be perfectly happy with your imperfect life. Start right now.’

  5. None of these things count as resting

    I always thought that listening to a podcast, reading a book, scrolling through Instagram or watching a TV show constituted resting. But as I’ve learnt to manage my chronic fatigue with the help of the University of New South Wales Chronic Fatigue Clinic they taught me that none of those activities actually count as resting, as they all require a high cognitive function. So, what on earth is resting? Well apparently, sitting with a cup of tea and staring out the window is resting or watching the trees sway in the breeze. Taking a break to just sit and be. How often do most of us do that? Hardly ever. It’s not easy but it’s so important to give our bodies a proper break.

  6. Focus on what feels good

    We spend so much time focusing on the negatives and what we’d like to improve. Gosh, we’re really just so mean to our dear little selves sometimes, aren’t we? A yoga teacher once told me not to focus on the areas that felt painful and sore during practice, but to think about all the parts that felt really good. What a shift! It’s so easy to fixate on the pain, especially when it’s sitting there yelling at the top of its lungs and poking you for attention. But shifting this attention when you’re recovering be it a physical or emotional pain to what feels good is super helpful.

  7. Life is Tough But So are You!

    This mantra I came back to time and time again and it’s why I ended up calling my book Life Is Tough But So Are You. It’s a phrase that has helped me at my most challenging times. It really summed up everything I wanted to tell you if you’re going through a challenging time. Yes this is difficult and tough and at times it’s going to totally bloody suck. But you have what it takes inside you to deal with this. You can and will face whatever is thrown your way.

    If you’re going through a tough time right now, I’m really sorry. If you think this book could help you or someone you love you can pre-order it online here.

 Life Is Tough (But So Are You) is available in store and online now.

Life Is Tough (But So Are You)
Briony Benjamin

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