In 2012 I was lifting weights at the gym when I felt my spine pop like a helium balloon. Although it was extremely painful and scary, I had no idea at the time how drastically that moment would change my life forever.
Back then, I was a 26 year old go-getter whose whole existence was truly to “live life to the fullest.” I had a job I loved and was passionate about, worked out almost every day of the week, and frequently traveled the world for both work and pleasure. The world was my oyster, and it felt like there was nothing I couldn’t achieve.
Despite the severity of my injury, I truly had no idea that within a few years I’d be unable to work, leaving me broke and in debt, or that I wouldn’t be able to drive and would have a blue disability placard hanging from my rear view mirror.
Fast forward three and a half years and two surgeries later, and I have slowly come to terms with the fact that I may never walk normally again. The loss of control over my lower extremities makes this realization a daily reminder. Instead of frequenting the gym, I frequent surgeons, pain management doctors, and various types of rehabilitation therapists. Not to mention, since my disability allowance exhausted at the beginning of this year, I’ve had no income and no ability physically to live the life I had lead before my injury.
Because I am now unable to walk without aid and require a special foot orthotic, cane and sometimes a wheelchair everywhere I go, people stare and ask the same questions over and over — inquiring about what happened to me. This can get old quickly, but when you learn to accept change, you also accept what those life changes entail.
In this day and age, we work so hard to try and prevent disease and disaster, yet it seems one can never be prepared for the worst. It always catches us by surprise and when we least expect it. So, what can we do when our beautiful lives come unexpectedly crashing down around us? It may not be chronic pain you are dealing with, but whatever pitfall may be disrupting your life, how do you muster the strength to continue and keep going?
… what can we do when our beautiful lives come unexpectedly crashing down around us?
In these past years, I have been forced by my physical condition to spend two of those years bedridden and house-ridden. At times this can be extremely lonely and depressing. It’s easy to look at the lives of others around you and feel like your own life is passing you by. Life is short, and when you have a life-altering injury or illness, that quickly becomes all too apparent. We have plans for our lives and have worked so hard to achieve them; yet, when we are suddenly held back by our physical, mental, emotional, or even financial limitations, it can seem like the light has gone out.
But, the light has not gone out. Happiness is a choice. We can choose to be happy, or we can choose to be sad, just as we can choose to be the victims or the heroines of our own stories. Our stories can involve terrible things that we can’t prevent from happening, but in order to start healing from these things, we must focus our minds on what we can do to move forward. Do not let your tragedies define who you are.
One thing I strongly recommend is to keep a “gratitude journal.” Every morning or evening, I write down three things that I am grateful for that day. Keeping track of these things can help us gain perspective and is a reminder of the blessings that we do have. It has helped me significantly to overcome the mental battles of living with chronic pain.
For example, although I am unable to move my right foot due to nerve damage, I am grateful that I can move my left foot. Or, although I am unable to earn money to pay my medical bills, I am grateful that I have people in my life that can pay them for me. Having an attitude of gratitude may give you a new outlook. In fact, it is scientifically proven that gratitude boosts both the dopamine and serotonin neurotransmitters in the brain. Even if we can’t find anything to be grateful for, the mere attempt is what matters. Gratitude is a form of emotional intelligence, and the more we search for it, the easier it becomes.
So, what can we do? Keep a gratitude journal to promote thankfulness, focus on having a positive attitude, and throughout it all remain grateful.
Do not let your tragedies define who you are.
If you are feeling like the light has gone out and there is nothing more to be grateful for, I challenge you to search for these small blessings. Gratitude is a continuous process and is especially important in trying times. Use your trials and tribulations as a tool for growth, and live in the present moment instead of worrying about the future.
Will you let the bad things that happen to you destroy you, or will you use them to shape you into the person you are meant to become? The decision is yours.
How have you used trial to find growth?
Images via Ana Albores