Finding Strength In The Struggle...
Have you ever thought...whose &*#&$?! life is this...because it's NOT mine?! You know the moments - when you look around and things are so surreal that NOTHING looks familiar - nothing feels familiar. Sometimes, it comes with the good - walking across the graduation stage, reciting your wedding vows, the birth of your child...
But the bad ones...those are the ones you are forever changed by - the death of a loved one, signing divorce papers, or the confirmation of a difficult diagnosis. Those are the uncomfortable, clunky and awkward ones - the ones that make you want to throw yourself on the floor like a 2-year old having an epic temper-tantrum - flailing arms and legs and all.
I've had both...in fact, I'm currently living one now. Within the last few months, I launched my first business, lost my beloved 12-year old chihuahua to congestive heart failure, received a terminal diagnosis for his big brother and my 14-year old Peke, given a chronic cardiac diagnosis, and ended a 6.5-year, on and off again relationship...I think. (haha, get it?!) Seriously?! What the $#!?
One night last week I realized what was going on - the chapter I worked so hard to write after the last time my life fell apart 7-years ago was coming to an end. All of it. Every piece of it. And, I'm mourning the closure of it all.
As though I haven't endured enough, I woke up yesterday morning to find my beloved little Peke, completely paralyzed. Yep. We went to sleep with one set of problems and woke up to an entirely new set of them. He's dealt with chronic pain since he's been 4-years old and I have always worked to ensure his chronic pain was well managed...until yesterday morning...when, whether I was ready or not, needed to face that my little guy may become one of my angels much sooner than anticipated.
The truth of the matter is, I'm scared as hell. Louie's imminent passing seems to be the "other shoe" I've been subconsciously waiting for. I have grappled with clinical depression and anxiety several times throughout my life, and though I now have the appropriate and necessary coping skills needed to navigate through life, I still wonder...is this going to be too much for me to handle? Is one more hit going to be the knockout Life seems to be looking for? Frankly, between you and I...I just don't know. I'd like to think I know...but there is no way of knowing exactly how you're going to react in any given situation until you're in the situation.
Seven years ago, I would have done anything to go back to the life I knew instead of creating the one I had to...the one I'm currently mourning the end of. I could have NEVER expected that the recent chapter I wrote for my life would have been one that I seemingly loved more than the last one - but it was. One of the biggest reasons? I learned how to rewrite plot twists - plot twists intended for my derailment, actually gave way to me learning how to become my own heroine - and nothing has ever been as empowering as that...except perhaps, sharing what I learned, in the hopes that it can help you.
As some of you may know, my life exploded right before my very eyes in 2011 and 2012. I had been diagnosed with a rare form of a common women's reproductive disease, named deep infiltrating endometriosis in 2008 and was already grappling with how drastically my life had changed because of chronic illness and chronic pain. Then, in early 2011, my Dad was diagnosed with glioblastoma brain cancer and tragically passed away 7 months later. Soon after, my marriage unraveled. To this day, I still struggle to find the words to describe my hopelessness, bitterness, anger, and depression during that time. With the pieces of my life scattered all over the floor, I had no idea what to do. Finally, in early 2013, after my 4th surgery, my family afforded me the opportunity to attend the nation's leading inpatient chronic pain recovery program - a program that would teach me a variety of holistic, non-pharmacologic coping skills to help manage chronic pain.
I remember the first few days I was there, I cried morning, noon and night. I was horrified at the life I was looking at. My Dad was gone, my marriage was gone - I didn't have a home I could realistically return to - my career was derailed thanks to my illness, so financially, I was screwed - I didn't even have a close group of friends any more thanks to isolating myself from the depression and grief...
Decide To Be a Shark.
Evenings during my stay at the chronic pain recovery center would end with us all watching TV in this cozy great-room. At the time, I was the only woman attending the program so needless to say, my TV consumption was everything "manly men" - and I was too tired by the end of the day to argue for the remote. It just so happened to be "Shark Week" and so, I found myself learning about...sharks. It was during that time I heard a fact about sharks that intrigued me: Did you know that sharks can't stop swimming or they die?! Seriously! The American Museum of Natural History (amnh.org) explains that "some sharks must swim constantly in order to keep oxygen-rich water flowing over their gills." To add insult to injury they also can't swim backward?! Really!
I became obsessed with the concept that for sharks to live, they MUST never stop moving forward. Right then and there, I promised myself that I wouldn't either. I didn't know how I was going to do it...or what I was going to do...but I committed to being "sharkish." It suddenly seemed so logical. If I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, eventually, I'd wind up in a new place - instead of helplessly watching as my life burned to the ground. Outside of that, there was no plan - in fact, the only plan I had was to just not go back to the life I had to leave behind. Seems simple enough, right? Wrong!
The Theory of ONE.
Writing a new chapter for your life is scary enough...now add a chronic illness to the mix...and the fear can become paralyzing - literally paralyzing. Able-bodied people don't realize the additional obstacles we face in starting over. The endless "what-if's" consumed me. Who was going to help me run errands? Or help with household chores? Who was going to help me manage my illness? Or help me make health care decisions? How was I going to get a 9-5 job stuck in such an uncooperative, unpredictable body? If I didn't get a full-time job, how was I going to support myself? Wait. How do I even get a new job if I have such a large gap in my resume? Omg. Dating! Do I tell someone on the first date about my health problems? The third date? Did I even know how to balance my bank account anymore?! - after all, I had been married for 7-years and grew accustomed to making all financial decisions as a "team." The truth of the matter was, I had no idea who I was anymore. I didn't know my capabilities, limitations or expectations...talk about scary.
However, here's the thing about "scary" - our minds look at the entire situation, which can be downright terrifying and stupidly overwhelming. However, life doesn't work that way. The only thing we have to do is "get through" the day and even that is too ambitious - we really only have to "get through" the moment we are in. So realistically, there was never going to be a moment where, at once, I had to start a new career, find a new home, move into that home, fall in love, create a new routine for all household chores, run errands and become a millionaire. It's why I often say in the advice I give, "ONE" - do ONE, learn ONE, try ONE, etc., because ONE step, begins a new direction and ONE day, a few of those steps brings you to an entirely different location.
Get to Know the New You.
With my newfound perspective, I decided to sit down and begin thinking of what I wanted the next chapter of my life to be - who I wanted to be. What morals and values did I want to embed into my life? What principles did I want to live by? If I could do anything, absolutely anything, what career would I choose? Who did I want to help? How did I want to help? What did I want to accomplish? What was I too scared to try? Why was I too scared to try? What mattered to me? What no longer did? What did I learn from the demise of my marriage? The death of my Dad? My illness? What mistakes did I make? Why did I make them?
Today, faced with a whole bunch of scary, I think back to the lessons I learned, the perspective I gained and the absolute hell I fought through and it's the ONE thing that brings me comfort - knowing I did it when I didn't know what the hell I was doing. I would imagine that I'll apply those same learned principles to creating my next chapter today and ONE day say that I'm proud of myself for writing this chapter the way in which I did the last.
Today, you may be grieving the end of one of your chapters. Today, you may not know how you're going to write your next chapter or even begin closing the one you're currently in. Today, you may be terrified and overwhelmed by the circumstances you somehow have found yourself. But. Today, you can join me in doing ONE thing to write your future...just decide to be a shark.
Christina H Chororos founded Kairos Chronic Pain Coaching in the fall of 2017 after obtaining her Integrative Wellness Life Coaching certification from the Integrative Wellness Academy.
She is a decade-long deep infiltrating endometriosis sufferer, speaker and, suicide prevention + chronic pain patient advocate.
For more information, please visit kairoschronicpain.com