Dear Carolyn: I was having a hard time with work recently, and a hard time in my relationship, when my mother had a stroke in my presence. She is fine now — fully recovered. It was the scariest moment of my life. I rushed her to the hospital thinking I was going to lose her.

Now, she is (thank God) okay. I am not. I feel so much whiplash. It is so hard to focus on work — it seems meaningless in the scheme of things. I had been so focused on my problems with work and my relationship that the week before her stroke I was stressed, preoccupied, and sad. If the stroke had been worse, that might have been my last week with her.

I don’t really know what I am saying — or asking — I am just having a hard time dealing right now. Nothing seems important except health and happiness, and spending quality time with friends and family. My thoughts aren’t coherent, my head hurts, and I am tired. I don’t feel like I can dig back in and fight another day for the things I was pursuing before the stroke.

— Spinning

Spinning: That’s okay — and completely normal. We’re not supposed to walk away from a catastrophic event and pick up our lives as usual.

I mean, some people can do that, bless them, and our entire health and labor systems seem to have been built on the assumption we all can do that, but that doesn't mean we have to treat ourselves like machines.

So, first question: Can you get any kind of a break? Any vacation or personal days coming? You’re overloaded, it’s normal, you have a lot of emotions to either untangle or allow to settle — so, postpone anything postponable and clear space for yourself to rest.

Some of that space-clearing can just be an emotional gesture, where you let yourself off the hook for not being on your A-game every waking minute. Suspend all inner critiques of your performance. Feel no guilt when, at your first opportunity, you play life-hooky to read or watch something cheesy and entertaining, or profound and moving, or whatever it is that reliably distracts you from the present and gets you out of your head.

Second question, are you ready to rethink the job and the relationship? Just because the crisis has passed and the grief was just a preview doesn't mean you have to go back to your old way of thinking. Maybe your trauma was right, maybe the things you thought were important before were the wrong things for you, and it's time to move stuff around.

But first, the rest, the time, the settling.

All the same heavy questions will be waiting for you when your time off is up, of course, but you will handle them better if your mind has been somewhere else for a while, off the problems, even just a few hours.

Since 'tis the season, note how this approximates “It's a Wonderful Life,” where the facts stay the same but your viewpoint transforms overnight. Good luck.

Re: “Distracting” TV: Subtitles! I think it’s because I really have to focus 100 percent on the program. Just sharing in case that helps anyone else.

— Anonymous

Anonymous: Genius, thanks.