2001 was a dumpster fire of a year for me. My father was terminally ill and my family was going through hell. At the same time, I had been unemployed for six months. Financially, we were reaching the point of desperation and I couldn’t even get an interview anywhere. I wasn’t sleeping and I kept getting sick. I tried to fight off the black cloud of depression that engulfed me, but I was losing the battle. In the middle of all of it, our family dog died. I remember looking up at the sky and yelling, “Are you fucking kidding me with this?!”
During this bleak time, when I could not see the light at the end of the tunnel, several probably-well-meaning-but-still-lame people gave me platitudes - “Keep your chin up.” “Everything happens for a reason.” “God never gives you more than you can handle.” “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” If I could have mustered the energy to punch them, it might have made me feel better, but I couldn’t. I had been given way more than I could handle and it was breaking me.
But, as is life, eventually, the darkness lifted. My family and I grieved our loss. I did get a job. Things got better. In retrospect, there were quite a few lessons that came out of that time. I learned what was most important to me. I got closer with my siblings. I got more in touch with myself. I stepped up and did some things that I didn’t think I could do it at the time. I got stronger.
I do believe though that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…eventually. First it just feels like it’s killing you. And then eventually, it doesn’t. You make it through and you keep going.
Struggle, pain, grief…you certainly don’t choose it, but it’s in the darkness and muck of life that wisdom and growth are found. Falling apart feels so terrible, but after enough time passes, having fallen apart gives you the opportunity to rebuild yourself. It teaches you want really matters and what really doesn’t. There’s no such thing as a strong and wise person who didn’t go through some serious shit. Thih Nhat Hanh puts it better than I do:
“Everyone knows we need to have mud for the lotuses to grow. The mud doesn’t smell so good, but the lotus flower smells very good. If you don’t have mud, the lotus won’t manifest. You can’t grow lotus flowers on marble. Without mud, there can be no lotus.
It is possible of course to get stuck in the “mud” of life. It’s easy enough to notice mud all over you at times. The hardest thing to practice is not allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by despair. When you’re overwhelmed by despair, all you can see is suffering everywhere you look. You feel as if the worst thing is happening to you. But we must remember that suffering is a kind of mud that we need in order to generate joy and happiness. Without suffering, there’s no happiness. So we shouldn’t discriminate against the mud. We have to learn how to embrace and cradle our own suffering and the suffering of the world, with a lot of tenderness.”
After life has broken you down, this where you come to a crossroads - after you go through something awful and don’t die. You can either stay stuck in the mud of life, hurt and resentful and angry, or you can flip it around and let your experience build you up. It’s hard. Really hard. But it is a choice.
So, a few thoughts for when your life is crashing down around you:
- “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” (said Winston Churchill.) It will get better. Just keep living.
- Treat yourself with compassion, patience, and love.
- Allow yourself to feel the feelings. You are entitled to feel how you feel. There is no shame in not being OK.
- Ask for help. You do not need to struggle alone.
- Borrow the strength of others while you need it. Let your tribe love you.
- In time, when you’re ready, look for the lesson.
- Eventually, look back and celebrate the fact that you made it. You are a survivor and you are indeed stronger.
- Pay it forward and offer your support to someone else whose life just crashed.
So, my Wise and Wonderful Women, when life dumped more on you than you could handle, what did you learn?
As I said, finding the lesson in pain is hard and you don’t have to do it alone. If I can help to support you on your journey, please reach out - firstname.lastname@example.org.