When I developed dystonia in 2001 at the age of 30, my world completely changed.
I went from a private business owner, athlete, a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in counseling, someone who traveled, and an all-out go-getter, to almost completely disabled. I could barely sit or stand for more than a few minutes without constant, excruciating pain shooting through my skull and radiating down my neck, shoulders, and back, I literally rolled around on my floor all day.
My neck and body were also distorted from severe, involuntary muscle contractions, the main feature of dystonia. Everything I was doing with my life ended. I lost my will to live. Depression and anxiety were my only “friends.” This lasted for over five years until I found numerous ways to help manage my symptoms that I still utilize to this day. For those of you familiar with my story, I have come a long way from some very deep, dark holes, but confronting our suffering can be a monumental task. We prefer to shield ourselves from pain and trauma, which I did for many years to my detriment.
One of the most popular self-help books of all time is called, The Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck. It documents how confronting and solving problems is a painful process, which most of us attempt to avoid. This avoidance results in pain and the hampered ability to grow both mentally and spiritually. Dr. Peck provides strategies for confronting and resolving our problems, and how suffering through changes can enable us to reach a higher level of self-understanding.
The opening paragraph of the book clearly states, “Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”
With this in mind, when I am faced with a challenge, I like to say, “how do I make the best of a difficult situation?” Life always has options if we choose to see them, versus seeing a wall in front of us. This is why I like this question. It puts me in a proactive rather than a reactive mindset.
Our health and other circumstances do not have to rule our lives unless we let them define who we are.
As is often heard, it is not what happens to us in life that matters, it is what we do with it. I made some very poor choices in my life, especially when I got sick with dystonia. I’m sure you have as well. We are human and that is what happens. It’s totally okay. If we use the outcome of these choices to make better ones going forward, then we are growing. This is how we find meaning and purpose in our lives.
I am not saying that this shift in thinking can change overnight or will change who we are overnight. It is a lifelong practice. Acknowledging the so-called “baby steps,” which to me are giant leaps given some of the very tough circumstances people live with, is critical for us to see that our efforts are paying off. When trauma occurs, we all need time to grieve and vent, so allow yourself to go through this process.
As lonely as life can sometimes feel when we are hit with any kind of trauma, please understand that you are not alone. There are people all over the world who are living with the same struggles. Reach out to them. Share your story. Educate yourself and educate others. Helping others is also a big part of helping ourselves.
Please refrain from comparing your life now to how it was before it changed.
Compare your life now with your darkest time in life. Many of us compare our lives now to who we were before life changed. This is a mistake. One, it neglects who we are today and the efforts we make, and two, the true measurement of who we are is how far we have come from our toughest struggles. Not when life was easy.
Be kind to yourself. Self-care is critical to our well-being. When looking for outside help, do not leave any stone unturned because anything and everything, or anyone, could possibly change your life for the better. Be willing and open to all things.
As M. Scott Peck also says in his book, “Until you value yourself, you won’t value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.” I didn’t value my time for years because I didn’t value myself. When I became sick, I felt like a failure, so I didn’t do anything of value with my life. When I chose to value myself, my time became precious and I took better care of myself. This was the clincher for me. I had to learn to value who I was, no matter what was right or wrong, for my time to be better utilized. I now use that precious time to make myself the best version of me that I possibly can.
This is the opportunity we all have every day. The only thing that matters is the first step we take out of bed in the morning. Then the next step and so on. Our days, weeks, and years are all built on moments. Be in the moment!
Resistance to what is rather than learning to work with and be okay with what we may view as not okay will always increase our suffering.
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