We all have moments of failure. It’s part of life, and to expect that everything is always going to go our way is immature at best and delusional at worst. I have had my share of setbacks and have tried to be transparent in my shortcomings. My sisters and I had a rough childhood, and we have always joked that our blood must be made of rubber cement, because lord knows we bounce back like no other. Sometimes, I feel like I am better equipped for hardship than joy; I certainly feel more comfortable in the storm than in the sunshine.
I am working on that.
So, what happens when you experience a setback so profound that it literally knocks you flat? I mean, an over-the-handle-bars, gravel-in-your-face, I-think-something-is-broken kind of thing. In December, I went through a trial that left me so stunned, I couldn’t work, write, or create. I was so tired and shook up that I took five weeks of FMLA and did nothing for over a month. Normally, work is something I obsess over; I worry about the other people on my team, my patients, and my caseload in general. Not this time. This time, I couldn’t have cared less. I finally understood that I was very unwell and that there would be no “quick fix”. It was the first time that sheer willpower and stubbornness couldn’t get me though. I have never felt more fragile or vulnerable in my life, and I had no choice but to just sit with it. It was not super fun, to say the least.
There are some things I learned, however, that are definitely worth sharing. Things I hope will help someone else as they navigate their own unfamiliar and turbulent waters. I am by no means a sage or savant, but I know what I know, you know? I hope there is something useful to be found here.
1. Pay attention to your warning signs.
Over the last year, my body and spirit sent me numerous warnings that I chose to ignore, either out of fear or my belief that “this too shall pass.” I had stopped sleeping, gained weight, and grew quiet. The underlying fear and anxiety that I have always experienced, grew to an unmanageable presence in my daily life. Dark thoughts that used to flit through my mind only once in a while suddenly took up residence and plagued my every waking moment. My loved ones kept asking me if I was okay, but for some reason, I just couldn’t admit that I was definitely, seriously, not okay. I just put my head down and attempted to push through, except I couldn’t and didn’t, with nearly disastrous results. So, don’t ignore what your body is trying to tell you. Pay attention to what your mind, body, and soul are saying, then act accordingly.
2. Be honest with those in your inner circle.
Those who know me best were very aware that something was off. They asked me repeatedly if I was okay, if I needed to talk or required something from them. I just kept saying, “No, I’m fine, I’m just tired.” I truly believe that if I had admitted that I was struggling early on, things wouldn’t have gotten as bad as they did. Maybe it was pride or fear or denial or all three—I’m not sure. All I know is that not being honest about how I was really doing didn’t serve anyone, especially me. It’s okay to not be “the rock” all the time. You don’t have to have all the answers or know why you are feeling a certain way. But when someone asks you how you are, take a deep breath and tell them. They can’t help you if they don’t know.
3. Don’t be afraid to get help (just make sure it’s the right help).
I am a big believer in seeking professional help when it’s needed. Sometimes, we just need someone who is unbiased to help steer us in the right direction. I have received therapy many times in my life and have found it to be very beneficial. However, if you are not connecting with a therapist or feel they are not helping you, find another one. I participated in some therapy that was not only not beneficial, it actually did a great deal of harm. No matter how many times I said, “This isn’t working. I’m having nightmares and panic attacks, I want to slow down,” my words fell on deaf ears. This person just kept saying, “This is traumatic stuff, you need to push through,” and so I did, even though my gut instinct said, “This is a very bad idea.” In the aftermath of what happened, I learned that this therapist was not actually qualified to be doing that sort of therapy. I have since found another doctor, and he has been incredibly helpful. You wouldn’t wear a pair of shoes that are two sizes too small. If your therapist isn’t a good fit, keep shopping until you find the right one. You’ll be glad you did.
4. We are not alone, and we are strongest when we admit our weaknesses.
We put so much unnecessary pressure on ourselves to be perfect. We think if we admit that we are struggling, others will look down on us. We wrongly assume that “everyone else” handles their trials with a strength and surety we only wish we had. Little do we know, some of the people we think are the strongest are occasionally drinking entire bottles of wine before noon or eating their way through the pantry. We all have our struggles, and I truly believe we would be shocked if we could see inside each other’s true lives. In the last few months, those I am closest to have shared with me their most vulnerable selves, admitting to thoughts and behaviors that I would never have believed if it hadn’t come from their own mouths. My point is, we are human and no one is perfect and we all have scars. But scars don’t form on the dead, my beloved. Scars are for the living, for those who decide to keep going, despite what has happened to them. I choose to be one of those.
No matter what is going on in your world right now, please know that you are not alone. Believe me when I say that we have more in common than we think. The art of getting back up is often subtle and slow. It is deliberate and sometimes painful, but it is always worth it. Extend yourself some grace as you peel yourself up off the pavement and marvel at the wonder that is your unique, fighting spirit. I believe in you and I know you can do it. Know – truly, truly know – that you are loved and that you matter to me and to those who love you. Be strong, be brave, and make up your mind to get back up.