5 Ways to Survive the Death of a Dream


The doctor stares at you across the room, cocks her head to the side, and you already know what she’s going to say. You see the words form on her lips and you’re suddenly very aware of the feel of your own heartbeat. You try to arrange your face the way you think it should be during one of these big life moments but you can’t remember how regular faces look.

Do you smile confidently? You’ve got this. This new label in our lives is totally fine.

Do you scrunch up your eyebrows with concern? This is my robot caring face.

What about maybe a quiet pressed lip? Look thoughtful. Your vast knowledge and ability to research and make organized binders will get you through this. You have to look like you can handle it. I mean, parents of kids with special needs gotta have their crap together, so look capable and strong. But not too strong. What am I, a droid? I have to show that this is affecting me, that I care.

When Everything Falls Apart

When it came time for our big reveal, like an episode of some show on HGTV but for neuropsychologists, I fought a bizarre inner battle. In probably a telling display of my own mental illness, I had to stifle laughter. Stupid face, why won’t you work? Now is not the time to get the giggles.

I went through this wonky period of time when it felt like every day I was meeting with a different doctor, teacher, or therapist about various children. We had diagnoses flying at us faster than I could absorb them and I found myself sitting across from serious people over and over telling me things about my kids.

Everything was blowing up and we were playing whack-a-mole with behaviors and disorders. It felt like everyone in the family had some kind of issue. ADHD, ASD, OCD, ODD, RAD…we were a mess.

I wanted to laugh or run screaming out of the building. This idea of the perfect mom to handle all these things felt at odds with the actual mom inside my brain who felt like a JV player called up to the major leagues – oh good grief, I’m using a sports metaphor, pull the plug.

Maybe for you it wasn’t a child’s diagnosis. Maybe it was something else. You saw your life going one way, your career, your marriage, a relationship, your health, and it ended up somewhere totally different. Maybe you experienced the death of a dream. Maybe you’re going through your own personal gauntlet right now. What do you do when you feel like everything is falling apart?

For so many of us, we don’t get a big shiny bow on our lives. We live every day, a little banged up and bruised but still breathing, and we learn how to love our lives anyway, smack in the middle of the unexpected.

Life Is Never What You Planned

It’s been awhile now and our issues haven’t magically dissolved and I don’t feel any more qualified than I did at the beginning, but I think I’ve learned how to live everyday, how to keep breathing, and how to love my life, this life that’s ended up a little differently than how I thought it’d be. Here are five things I’ve discovered.

  1. Mourn your expectations. Before we can step into new territory and embrace the life we’re actually living, we have to mourn our expectations for how we thought things were going to be. Mourning my expectations for my kids doesn’t take anything away from them. In fact, it frees them from the burden of my expectations and allows me to embrace the amazing people they actually are.
  1. Count the wins. I’ve developed a daily practice of counting the wins. In the midst of loss, what are the wins? What are the things that brought you joy today, the places you can celebrate?
  1. You’re stronger than you think you are. I walked around repeating “I can’t I can’t I can’t” for weeks on a loop. But over time, I realized that not only could I do it, I actually was doing it, one step at a time, every day. You’ll surprise yourself with your capacity.
  1. Find your team. You’ll surprise yourself with what you can handle, but you will also need other people. Gather the right team. Get professional help, and also identify the safe friends in your life who can hold your arms up when they get tired. Don’t be afraid to admit when you need something.
  1. Laughter makes you brave. This is your actual life, so you might as well make it fun. I found an ice cream called “Chocolate Therapy,” and that kicked off therapy ice cream nights. Every week after therapy, we have ice cream sundaes. I work hard to cultivate a culture of laughter in my home. When things are hard, people expect you to cry, and crying is great, but sometimes you need a good gut laugh. Laughter makes us brave, so don’t be afraid to laugh in the face of difficult things.

For so many of us, we don’t get a big shiny bow on our lives. We live every day, a little banged up and bruised but still breathing, and we learn how to love our lives anyway, smack in the middle of the unexpected.


Guest Contributor

About {Melanie}

Melanie Dale is the author of two books and the mother of three kids from three different continents. For more about loving life in the midst of hard stuff, check out her latest book, It’s Not Fair: Learning to Love the Life You Didn’t Choose, and visit her blog, Unexpected.org, for a free 7-day guide to loving your life.