How adversity and obstacles change our lives
I often hear people say how much they miss the person they were before they developed a particular problem and they want that person back; or that old life back (in my case it is a health problem – dystonia and chronic pain). I can totally relate to this mindset because I grieved the loss of so many things after developing dystonia. I couldn’t keep up with my life anymore. So much of it fizzled away… friends, work, money, traveling, playing sports… I had no identity and my only “friends” were pain, anger, debt, anxiety, and depression. It took me years to find my bearings and see life from a different perspective. One that I feel compelled to share.
Many of us intensely focus on the person we once were, but in what way does this serve us? This is a somewhat rhetorical question because I understand why we think this way so I don’t mean to sound aloof. I grieved intensely for the life I lost when I developed dystonia, which led to years of anxiety and depression. I know we need to grieve and it is a process that takes time, but for how long do we allow ourselves to suffer more than we might have to by always living in the past?
At some point or another, we have to let it go and focus on now (please click here to see my article about choosing better for ourselves). At some point we must stop looking back in despair and look forward and prepare. Focus on the problem at hand, whether it be a health problem, relationship issue, financial debacle, or anything at all, and use the lessons they teach us to become a better person than we were before the problem began. At least please be open to this possibility.
Many of us have heard of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but there is also something called Post Traumatic Growth (PTG), a term coined in 1995 by Richard Tedeschi, Ph.D., and Lawrence Calhoun, Ph.D., psychologists at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. PTG refers to people who become stronger and create a more meaningful life in the wake of tragedy or trauma. They don’t just bounce back, which is resilience; they bounce higher than they ever did before. For centuries people believed that suffering and distress can yield positive changes, so this concept is not new.
All of us can use this tool if we so choose. We must first be open to the possibility that even though life may stink right now, it can get better if we learn to let go of what once was. This provides emotional freedom that allows us to begin healing broken parts of ourselves.
My way of thinking now versus when I was suffering with blinding, persistent pain, crippling anxiety, panic attacks, and depression, is like night and day. I wish I thought more like I do now back then. I didn’t because I didn’t have the information and the tools to do it, which is why I am sharing this with all of you who may be in the same boat as me. I don’t want you to go down the same dark paths I did. They are so easy to get into and so hard to get out.
Before I continue, I want to clarify that I am still dealing with pain from dystonia, as well as other symptoms. I have not mastered anything I am sharing. Not even close. I have just learned to better cope with my problems because of my change in perspective about many things, which has helped me come to terms with it, and it is an ongoing, daily practice. Daily practice with anything is the key. It cannot be a willy nilly approach. We must be committed. Some days I am successful and other days I fall flat on my face. That is why it is called a “practice” because we are always in a perpetual state of learning and adapting and growing.
Years ago, I heard a quote by Wayne Dyer that I keep near me at all times: “When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change.” When I began to look at things differently, my life improved and being sick and having lost so much didn’t matter as much anymore. My perception about the life I had and the life I could potentially create totally changed, which was critical for my healing journey. Our perception and how much we believe in that perception (about anything), are powerful beyond our wildest imaginations. The perception we choose to embrace, and the strength with which we embrace it, will dictate the path our lives take.
I deeply embraced this quote, which really helped me see things differently and create a new life. Opening my mind to new possibilities has opened new doors, and what I do with my life NOW is what matters most. Past experiences have helped me work through today’s problems, but I don’t live in the past in a mournful way. When I focus on the past like this, the worse my health becomes and the more I reject the evolving person I am today. Please click here to read my blog on the topic of letting go of the past.
This is what I am stressing to you. Use your current problem/challenge as an opportunity to become a better version of yourself and create a better life for yourself than the one you had before. This is the opportunity in the obstacle and the value in the obstacle. Embrace it as a part of you and then you can transcend it. I encourage to fight, but don’t fight against your problem. Please work with it and not against it. If we fight against it, it will fight back and make life more miserable.
I believe that with any challenge, when we embrace it, we erase it, creating a whole new outlook where life takes on a fresh new meaning with purpose. As crazy as it may sound, we must learn to embrace our pain for us to minimize the pain. As Nelson Mandela said, “if you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
Another powerful message comes from the opening line of the book, The Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck: “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, please understand that we don’t need to suffer as much as we do by focusing so much on the past and rejecting the person we are today. Work very hard to be grateful for what you have now so nothing is ever taken for granted again. And again, please work with, not against, whatever pain you are experiencing. I promise that this will help you heal in ways that may at this point seem impossible. I know because I was once there.
Tom Seaman is a Certified Professional Life Coach in the area of health and wellness, and author of the book, Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey, a comprehensive resource for anyone suffering with any life challenge. He is also a motivational speaker, chronic pain and dystonia awareness advocate, health blogger, and volunteers for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) as a support group leader, for WEGO Health as a patient expert panelist, and is a member and writer for Chronic Illness Bloggers Network. To learn more about Tom and get a copy of his book, go to Amazon.com or visit www.tomseamancoaching.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dystoniabook1 and Instagram.