It’s 2016. I am the happiest I’ve ever been. For the first time in my life, I know what it’s like to have things finally “fall into place” and I’m thriving, loving life like I’ve never loved it before.
Then, at the end of the year, I experience loss for the first time. It breaks me.
While still trying to pick up the pieces, six months into 2017, I get into an accident, which doesn’t seem like a big deal. At first.
Within weeks, I went from giving 100% to everything I do, to being in constant crippling pain, whenever I did something other than lying on the couch.
I’ve tried (and failed) to get up and do the things I’ve always loved doing, literally hundreds of times. “I’ll try again tomorrow” I’d tell myself when I couldn’t get through a workout. “I’ll try again tomorrow” I’d tell myself when I couldn’t hold my camera for longer than 10 minutes, when doing my blog work; or when I couldn’t finish folding the laundry; or when I couldn’t even get out of bed, or when I couldn’t sleep through the night, with my mind racing 100 miles per hour. Tomorrow would come, and I’d just lie on my bed, trying to force myself to get up and live my life.
I felt almost as if I was losing everything that made me, “me.”
But that’s the thing about life, isn’t it?
Sometimes things get ugly. Things get tough.
Frustration growing inside me, I’d constantly ask and wonder: why me? Why now? How am I supposed to move on from this? How do I move on? How do I get back on my feet? Will I ever be able to be the person I was before all of this happened to me?
It felt like that entire year was put on fast-forward, while I stood by, watching my life pass me by.
Finally, I’ve had enough and reminded myself: you are not what happens to you.
A GENTLE REMINDER THAT YOU ARE NOT WHAT HAPPENS TO YOU
When I was a young girl growing up, I never thought that I would ever be able to look in the mirror and like what I see. Truthfully, I never thought that I’d like anything about myself. I had a very unhealthy relationship with myself for the most part of my life. Years of being controlled to the point of it being pathological take a toll on a young person growing up. You end up believing everything you’ve been told. Even if at first it’s something you know to not be true, hear it often enough, and you’ll eventually believe it. It will become your reality. And that, stays with you for a very long time.
With enough courage and work along the way though, you finally learn to forgive. You learn to move on, you find peace and you surround yourself with good people who help you see yourself for who you really are. You learn to leave the past behind and start over.
After years of hard work, I was finally in a place where I felt strong, I felt beautiful, I felt confident. Then, after the accident, I felt like I was slowly losing everything I’ve worked so hard on. Day by day, I felt like I’m becoming just a bit less of myself. Despite my eating habits staying the same, my body started to change. I didn’t believe it when my doctor kept telling me it’s high cortisol and stress and that the only thing to do is to just relax and reduce my stress levels. I couldn’t deal with the fact that I couldn’t go for a run, or spend an entire day in my little home studio taking photos. Hell, I couldn’t even stand for longer than 10 minutes without being in pain. I wanted to continue to thrive and my body was betraying me; I no longer felt strong or beautiful.
Then, the mind followed. Months of being medicated for my post-accident anxiety left me feeling… nothing. There was so much I wanted to do, I wanted to continue to write and work since those were two things that always brought me so much joy. The thing is… I felt nothing. I felt numb. All my confidence was gone. I’d sit down to write, and I’d stare at a blank page for what seemed like hours at a time. It just seemed like everything I’ve worked so hard on was being slowly destroyed and taken away from me.
It wasn’t though. It was being put to the test.
I heard myself talk about things I struggled with, more than I talked about things that made me happy. I kept telling the same sad story, over and over again. One day, I realized that the only way move on is to practice what I myself have preached for years: life is what you make it.
Change doesn’t always happen at your hands. Sometimes you’re forced into it and that’s when you have to stay resilient. That’s when you have to focus on the things that you CAN control. All the tools you’ve equipped yourself with- cutting out negativity from your life, mindfulness, gratitude– they all come into play when you’re facing a sudden hardship or misfortune.
Stop asking: why me?
Whenever shit hits the fan, whenever something bad happens to you, this is one of the first things that come to mind: why me?
You probably already know that the world does not revolve around you. When something truly bad or scary happens to you though, sometimes it’s difficult to actually believe it. At times it might even feel like it’s happening to someone else, and you’re just watching it all unfold, somewhere from the distance.
Life isn’t what happens to you, but how you respond to it. This is not to say to your pain and suffering are not valid. What you choose to do in the face of adversity though, is entirely up to you. Remember that it’s okay to not be okay. You don’t have to be strong all the time. So long as you don’t end up being stuck in that mentality until it suddenly becomes toxic. It’s okay to have a cry, to slow down- but after you have your cry, you have to get up again and keep fighting.
If you keep feeling sorry for yourself and telling yourself that you can’t get up and move on, you won’t be able to get up and move on. Don’t allow yourself to become the reason you’re stuck.
Remember to keep a grateful heart
The other day I was listening to the radio on my way to work and heard an interview with a 19-year-old Jarielys Quijano who is battling Osteosarcoma in her spine. Despite being told she has about a year and a half left before she gets her wings, she was so full of life, excitement, and gratitude. Then she said something that brought tears to my eyes. She said that she’d love to be able to just take a walk down the street, to be able to cook dinner with her husband without him having to carry her from place to place, to be able to dance again. Go out there and have fun, do the things you love, be thankful that you can dance around, that you can run, that you can swim in the water, live your life for you, and not for someone else- that was her message to anyone who was listening. I sat in my car, feeling ashamed for feeling sorry for myself. That served as a reminder that there are people who are fighting battles much larger than mine, yet they won’t allow it to slow them down.
Over the last year, I’ve met so many amazing people who are either permanently disabled or fighting a disease and let me tell you- those were some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. People who despite their suffering or physical limitations seemed limitless. People so full of life you could feel their energy infect you. They are not what happened to them.
Maybe there were in the past, or there will in the future be times when you feel like you’ve hit rock bottom; when you feel like giving up. Well, the good news is that the only way to go from a rock bottom, is up. There might come days when you will want to ask: “why me?”
Don’t let that stop you.
Sometimes it takes something bad happening to you, to understand just how much you already have in life. And, sometimes, you don’t realize just how strong you are, until you have no other choice but to be strong and fight, and grow.
You are not what happens to you. The bad, difficult and ugly moments are tough to go through; they test you, they wear you down, sometimes they make you fall apart, sometimes they break you. You cannot let them define you, too.
You are not a failure if you’ve failed at something. You are not unworthy of love, because someone breaks your heart. You are not “not good enough” just because it’s a story you’ve been telling yourself for years. Let go of the bitterness and the resentment. Pick yourself up, as many times as it takes. You are not what happens to you, you are what you choose to become.
I want to end this post with a huge thank you to all of you for sticking around, even though my posting schedule was all over the place during the last year. Thank you for your comments and emails and the love you’ve been sending my way. I also wouldn’t be able to make through it all without my husband, who is my rock and my better half; my beautiful mom who’d drop me off and pick me up from my treatments and always brought in donuts for my awesome nurses (seriously, nurses are amongst some of the most amazing people on this planet!!), and my sister, who made sure I had my favorite snacks and Harry Potter movies ready, each time I came home from the hospital.
Love you all. Mean it.