If you google “five minute rule” you’re likely to find all sorts of things, from computer science to procrastination.
This is a different one.
In the podcast, Elrod tells the story of a night he was driving home along the freeway when he was hit head on by a drunk driver, at 80mph. His car spun around, and was then hit in the driver’s door at around 80mph by the car that had been travelling behind him. He broke 11 bones including his pelvis, and died at the scene for 6 minutes. When they revived him and got him to the hospital, he was in a coma for several days and when he woke up, he had brain damage from the impact and was told he would never walk again.
While he was recovering in hospital, the doctors spoke to his parents and told them they were worried about him because he was so cheerful. They said he must be in denial about his condition, and that they needed to talk to him and get him to face it because otherwise he would end up being hit by it later on, when he wasn’t in a hospital and surrounded by people who could help him.
His father came to see him and asked him, wasn’t he angry or upset by what had happened to him? He had been so happy and successful before the crash and now his life had changed forever.
When I heard Elrod’s reply, I immediately knew that he had hit upon something I really believe in.
He told his father, I live by the five minute rule. When something bad happens, you allow yourself to feel all of your emotions about it – to really feel angry or hurt or upset or whatever, but only for five minutes. After five minutes, if you can’t change it, you accept it and move on. Kind of like the famous Serenity Prayer recited by addicts the world over.
This is one of those things that’s easier said than done – but if you can manage to do it, it really can set you free.
For me, I know that when S was tiny and I was dealing with the aftermath of an abusive relationship, as well as trying to make my final recovery from a breakdown, something just sort of happened in my head. I was depressed and miserable, but I believed that if the health visitor even suspected I was suffering with PND she would take my baby away. I really believed that; I was terrified of succumbing to it. I allowed myself time to process what had happened, but ultimately I just said to myself, Right, time to get on with it; you can’t change any of that now. It was this pragmatic thinking that saved me, and has helped me to build the life S and I have now.
It sounds very glib and over-simplified to say that one can just look at their situaiton, accept what they can’t change, and then move on happily. When I was in the depths of depression if anyone had told me that I would have been so angry with them, for trying to reduce my suffering to something so simple. But the truth is that I ended up in the pit of eternal stench – and almost drowned in it – because I allowed myself to mull over things from my past that should have long since been put to rest. Rather than deal with things as and when they happened, I have always tended to hide how I really feel, lock things away and avoid dealing with them. If I had allowed myself to really feel things at the time, then to draw a line under them and move on, I may never have had a catastrophic breakdown.
I know this means very little to anyone who is going through a breakdown right now; when you’re in the middle of it, you can’t see a way out but more importantly, part of the illness is often that you don’t want to get better. The idea of the five minute rule is more about prevention than cure, for me. I never want to go back there; I feel like I’ve wasted half my life being depressed and miserable over things I can’t change. And I want to teach my daughter a better way of dealing with things than brushing them under the carpet for later, in the hope that she never has to experience the darkness so many others have suffered.
Thanks for reading. If you’ve enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy: Learning to Dance in the Rain