I had this blog all planned. I was set to announce that I finally had secured a publisher for my memoir, Flashback Girl: Lessons on Resilience from a Burn Survivor. I had many reasons to feel optimistic. A publisher had expressed repeated enthusiasm for my website and my story. When I checked out this publisher on-line, I found that they specialized in projects like mine: inspirational stories told by an expert/presenter, in plain language, which promote personal growth. I felt quietly confident that this time, my contract was coming.
So, my mouth fell open in shock when I read their short email that said, like 21 previous publishers, “Great story! But memoirs are a tough market, so we are going to pass.”
I sat on the porch with my dog for hours, staring blankly. Disappointment crushed my chest and words failed me. A circular pain swirled in my belly.
This rejection really got to me.
So, this week’s blog is clearly not going to be about my exciting publishing news. Instead, let’s talk about how to cope with crushing disappointment. Let me be clear: there are far worse problems in the world than being rejected (again) by a publisher. But I think my example can illustrate positive coping strategies to use for your next big problem. I went through a number of steps in coping with the news. I think they could be helpful to you, so let me break it down:
1) Accept What Has Happened: Buddhism says that we create our own suffering by clinging and/or avoiding. If something feels good, we cling to it. If something feels bad, we avoid or resist it. Buddhism says that this clinging/avoiding pattern only increases life's inevitable pain. Pain will happen; life is hard. But resisting that pain only increases it.
I sat on the porch for a long time, contemplating the rejection. I faced it head on. I didn’t pretend it wasn’t happening. I sat with the pain and accepted the stabbing in my heart. I said to myself, “I’m in pain. This hurts. I’m so disappointed.” I allowed the pain to be and felt it fully.
2) Take care of yourself: Self-destructive behavior can happen when people avoid feeling pain. To push away hard feelings, we can eat too much, getting lost in a sea of sensation, only to wake up later with empty chip bags littering the kitchen. Or, maybe we say, let’s break out the tequila. Drinking and drug use numbs us temporarily but rebound on us later.
I had a glass of wine at dinner. I thought about having more but decided that I didn’t want to pay the price: inevitably waking at 2:00 AM with restless anxiety. I also thought about making myself a large hot fudge sundae, because I felt I deserved it. In the end though, I realized I was going to feel bad enough the next day, and I didn’t need to feel pudgy too. So I ate a healthy dinner and left it at that.
3) Speak positively to yourself: A key aspect of healthy coping is positive self-talk. Talking to oneself with a kind, encouraging and gentle tone is vital. Often when we are disappointed, we blame ourselves harshly, or tell ourselves its hopeless. Or we assume that it is only us that suffers failure and everyone else is always successful.
I have worked for years to be as kind to myself as I am to my dear friends. This skill has not come easily, but I’m getting better. So, in my disappointment, I said to myself, “This sucks. You have worked so hard. It is really disappointing. But remember that publishing is difficult for everyone. Many people go through this process! It isn’t just you struggling here. And you are trying; there’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
4) Seek Support: One characteristic of resilient folks is their ability to connect with others. They tend to be out-going and extroverted. Because of these traits, resilient people can gather precious social support when they are down.
My first outreach was a text to my husband: “I didn’t get the offer.”
“WHAT?” he texted back immediately. His shock mirrored my shock, and I felt less alone. After that, I texted a couple of friends who knew I was anticipating the offer. “I didn’t get it.”
“F--. I’m so sorry.”
And “I’m so sorry. Stupid people. Feel like talking?” Virtually, friends gathered around me, expressing sympathy, validating my shock, radiating warmth.
The next day, I still felt terrible, and I wanted more support. I made a post on Facebook, indicating I was distressed, and asking my Facebook world for cheerful thoughts. The results were hilarious. Friends posted photos of skateboarding dogs, Monty Python skits, and grinning marmots. One dear friend, who knows me inside and out, posted Gene Kelly dancing in the rain. Others made kind statements, letting me know that they value me. Support came rolling in, lifting me up, and straightening my spine.
5) Problem-Solve: Resilient folk do not collapse into their problems; they actively work on finding solutions. They keep their heads up, and look for ways, large and small, to improve their own situation.
I connected again with my wonderful agent and thanked her for the time she is putting into my project, for which she has thus far received no payment. Face forward, I refocused on what I could do to improve my chances of attracting a publisher. I connected with more people on social media, shared a podcast I was in, and announced a new speaking gig.
Let’s be clear. Publishers like my book. I get all kinds of compliments: “Great story!,” “Fascinating!,” “The writing is top notch!” The real problem with my project is that I am an unknown author. Publishers are wary of memoirs by unknown authors. If I were Michelle Obama, I would have offers galore. But I am not Michelle Obama, and the life story of this not-famous person sounds inherently unmarketable to most people. All I can do is to keep writing, and keep speaking, and keep connecting with as many people as I can.
6) Find your Sense of Humor: Humor is one of the best coping tools we have. Being able to laugh diminishes distress. Laughing with others is bonding. And when you laugh, you can rise above the problem at hand, and see the issue from a broader perspective.
I stayed on that porch until my husband came home. He gave me a hug and sat down next to me while I had a good cry.
“I feel so defeated. I have done everything I can think of to get a publisher.”
“I know, you have been working and working on this for so long.”
“I really thought this one was going to be it!”
“Yes, you got your hopes up.”
“I just don’t know how I can keep going like this.”
There was a pause. We sat next to each other, both looking out into the distance. Then, he said, kindly but wryly, “Well. I guess that could be the end of the story. You were this incredibly resilient person. You went through years of trauma and did fine. But you tried to get your book published about resiliency, and it was too hard, so that was the end of you.”
I tossed my head back and crowed with laughter. My crisis began to seem a lot less serious. The pressure came off my chest. The haze of hopelessness lifted, and I was suddenly hungry for dinner.
Problems will come and problems will go. That’s life. I hope that these concepts and tools I have laid out help you get through your next crushing disappointment. There will be others for you and for me. But onward we go, face forward and chin up.
Lise Deguire's multiple award-winning memoir, Flashback Girl: Lessons on Resilience from a Burn Survivor, is available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Newtown Book Shop and The Commonplace Reader.