There is a saying, “You win some, you lose some”. But what the saying doesn’t tell you is what to do WHEN you lose, especially when you lose again and again and again and again.
I have discovered that in reality the only person who can give you life tips on how to react when life gives you losing experiences over and over again is yourself. You show yourself your own true nature with how you react to hardship and adversity. For some, this can be very revealing. It was for me.
In a recent session with my therapist, I was lamenting over my current health situation (my double lung transplant had officially failed, I had been diagnosed with chronic rejection and bronchiectasis, back on oxygen, and was not eligible for another transplant, among other things… but that’s another post entirely…) Anyway, I was feeling sorry for myself and very stereo-typically whining and carrying on; “But this isn’t the way this was supposed to happen! This isn’t the way I wanted it! I didn’t want this!” Then, almost immediately, I felt pangs of guilt for all my griping. “I’m supposed to be the strong one. I’m supposed to be The Girl Who Smiles despite everything and keeps on going, no matter what happens. I’m the positive girl. I’m the girl who shows everyone it can be done!” And then I sat there in silence, feeling despondent, disappointed in myself, a failure to my peers and chronic illness colleagues.
“What if you weren’t those things?,” he asked most decidedly, “maybe you’re the girl who suffers.”
At a Bible Education event we attended recently we learned about the perseverance of the butterfly. This seemingly delicate insect is actually a strong, resilient, determined marvel of creation. This tiny creature can lose up to 70% of its wings and will still continue in its work of flittering from bud to bud, pollinating and making sure the circle of life continues. It doesn’t matter that it’s damaged. It doesn’t phase it one bit that it is difficult to go on, maybe even to the naked eye impossible to go on… it just keeps going! It knows what it has to do, so it just does it. Despite being battered, beaten, torn, and scared – it still flies. The question to ask ourselves is: does it matter to the flowers which butterflies are damaged or not? Should It matter to us?
The Girl Who Suffers?
What in the world was that supposed to mean?
I looked at the man blankly. He waited patiently, knowing it would sink in eventually “So, I’m supposed to show people the me that just sat here in this office and went ugly cry on you like a mad-woman? How would that help anyone?” He smiled. After leaving the office, I thought about that concept for a long time “The Girl Who Suffers.”
I thought about the damaged little butterfly who perseveres despite all odds and keeps going in her work, determined to fulfil her purpose. I thought about how learning about that butterfly had helped me.
I relate a lot to that little butterfly. I’ve experienced many terrible things in my lifetime. Many are related to illness, many are not. Either way, I too am battered, beaten, torn, and scarred by everything that’s happened to me in my life.
However, just like that deceptively delicate butterfly, I don’t want these things to affect my purpose. I am determined to keep going. I am determined to continue. I will not let my adversities, my problems, my past stop me from doing my best or from fulfilling my purpose and completing the work that I know I am meant to do.
But does having this determination and perseverance mean that it’s easy for the butterfly to fly with torn wings, and at the same time does it mean that it’s always sunshine and rainbows for me?
Most days, I am positive. Most days, I am happy and smiling and feeling determined and hopeful about the future.
But, not everyday.
Some days my body is wracked with pain. Other days, I’m throwing up from side effects from medications. Sometimes, it hurts simply to breathe. Yes, occasionally my spirit is low, and I feel like my wings just cannot beat anymore. That’s just reality.
Overcoming adversity is about your reaction to the hardship. Part of the reaction needs to be having a positive attitude. The other vital part must be believing that you will come past the trial, even if it takes time, and and on the other side you will be a better person, a stronger person, knowing more about yourself.
This is what I’ve discovered about overcoming adversity – the hardest part of it is being the victor over your own self. Your own weaknesses, your own doubts, your own insecurities – dealing with The Self and all the emotions that go along with it is possibly harder than the trial itself.
Being triumphant over a trial in itself is useful because it teaches a person who they really are, what they can handle, what they need to work on in their personality. But in my case, it taught me that what I need to do in my life is to help others through their struggles with my own experiences. I never want anyone to ever feel alone.
What I have come to learn, and what I want to teach other people, is that during your adversity it’s OK to feel what you feel. In the midst of your trial, your problem, your tragedy, you’re going to have days when you feel terrible, you’re going to have days where you snap at people because your situation is so bad, you’re going to have days where you don’t want to get off the couch, you’re going to have days where you feel like this is never going to end and you want to give up, you’re going to have days where you cry so hard that you feel like you’ve literally dehydrated yourself, and you’re going to have days where you feel like the man Job in the Bible (who I think is the person who’s experienced the worst of all aspects of life) where he even wished he had never even been born. And guess what? It’s OK to experience all of those things! It sounds a little cheesy, but be open with yourself and give yourself permission to feel all those things. Don’t hide them.
The Big Thing – the tell-tale – is after you’ve experienced all the crying and the pain and the bad feelings and you’ve got all of it out of your system (for the moment) – do you then brush yourself off, wash your face, drink a little coffee, have a cuppa tea, (whatever) and then put on your game face on and get ready for another day? Or, do you chose to allow yourself to remain in a negative abyss? What does your reaction to what happens to you tell you about yourself?
In a sense, I realized that by trying to force myself to be The Girl Who Smiles, I had been lying and being dishonest with myself, placing on a lot of unnecessary pressure, thereby not letting my adversities be truly and fully overcome.
I decided I didn’t want to be afraid any longer of showing people this real side of myself, the whole reality of going through what I go through every day. My reality. Through my journey to help others who deal with transplant and chronic illness and immune system disorders (etcetera), I discovered that I don’t want to make people feel bad by putting on the impression that I am positive and happy and sunshiny all the time. That’s not realistic. I have realized that being The Girl Who Smiles is a façade and that by contributing to the portrayal of that facade, I will make other people feel bad about their own journey and their struggles instead of helping them through their adversity. In the end, this would be, not accomplishing what I have set out to do, but the complete opposite.
And so we come to The Girl Who Suffers. Perhaps it sounds very bleak. But, in reality it’s because it’s my true identity. My life since the time I was born has been speckled with suffering. Suffering through severe illness including lung diseases, severe immune deficiency disorders, autoimmune disorders, constant life-threatening infections, severe allergies, bladder problems, sinus problems, bone problems, muscle problems, rheumatoid arthritis, neuropathy, chronic pain, etc….. Suffering through over 30 surgical procedures including a double lung transplant. Suffering through a very painful divorce. Suffering through childhood trauma and medical procedural trauma and emotional abuse and now having to deal with a new diagnosis of PTSD having to attempt to heal myself from this emotional and mental brain injury. Suffering from disappointment after thinking that doctors found a fix for my problem only to find out that was not the case and getting sick again. Suffering from the loss of friendships after people couldn’t deal with my terminal illness – which was probably one of the most painful things to have to deal with – the disappointment of human failures. Suffering, suffering,suffering. The Girl Who Suffers.
I have suffered and that’s terrible, of course. However, through my suffering I can ease the suffering of others. And to me that’s made my own hardships worth it. It has shaped me and helped form me into who I am, and has given me the ability to be empathetic, sympathetic, and emotionally sensitive to those around me. I can show people through my experiences, my past, and my adversity that it can, in fact be done; you can get through it, we all can.
No, it won’t be easy. Just like that broken little butterfly, we may have to flap our little broken, torn, scarred wings harder than some of the others around us to get from flower to flower, but it can and will be accomplished. It will be accomplished.
C’mon. We’ll fly together.
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