As I began working on my book proposal, I got note cards and wrote the title of each chapter one by one on each card. I laid them out on my desk and beamed with excitement. There it was, my whole book. It had taken shape and I just needed to fill in the details.
Then something bugged me. I noticed that chapters 4-14 were all within the last year. This last year I have been the happiest I have been since the accident and I consider myself to be in a really great place emotionally. As I looked at my chapter titles, the realization washed over me that I would not be in this happy place if it wasn’t for the previous 4 years which I will lovingly refer to as the “shit years”. Even though there were some incredible moments such as becoming a wife and mother during that time, I recognize I was just barely treading above water, with denial being my biggest defense.
There is bliss in naivety. If you don’t fully see how happy you can be, you also cannot see the depths of how sad you can be either. Without one extreme, you can’t find the other. And so I would carry on day by day with a smile, which I used to hold back the tears. I desperately wanted to push away the depressing thoughts which had become my regular internal dialogue. When others would ask me how I remained so happy, I told them my secret was to just not allow myself to even step foot in the sadness, for it could very possibly suck me right in.
In November 2016 I embarked on a journey of awareness. In the beginning, it was about really exploring how incredibly happy I could still be, despite having my new disability. I gained a whole new perspective on my circumstance, one that was driven by gratitude, compassion and resilience. I was on a new high fueled by an addiction to meditation. Going into a peaceful space gave me clarity on the doors my new normal would open, and I was soaking it all up. Rather than barely surviving, I had been catapulted to thrive status and could feel the aftershocks in all areas of my life. I was actually enjoying the motions, instead of just going through them.
Just as what goes up must come down, and I began to do the same. The sadness I had tried so desperately to avoid in the previous years was now staring me right in the face. I couldn’t understand what had happened. Where did I go wrong? What step did I miss? I couldn’t figure out why I was so sad when I had just discovered a new sense of what I thought was true happiness. It was the polar opposite of my high and it was really uncomfortable.
A big part of me wanted to go back to the numbness. I wanted to just melt back to the way things were before. I wanted to just melt away period. There was even a small part of me which didn’t want to do anything at all. It all felt too daunting and there were pieces of me which really considered ending it altogether. If being numb wasn’t the answer, and if to feel really happy meant I had to feel really sad, then what on earth was the point?
It was in that moment that I began to feel horrible regret for becoming a mom. In those times of feeling beyond depressed, I would get to the point of contemplating suicide, and the only thought that was keeping me from really diving into that possibility, was my little Charlie. I thought, “Well shit. Now that he’s here, I can’t kill myself. I have to keep plugging through this and I have no idea where I’m even headed.”
As I looked at Charlie with regret, it slowly dissolved into guilt for even thinking such a thing. The guilt has a terrible way of taking over me, and luckily it didn’t last very long. Once I got the regret and guilt out of the way, I was able to see the big picture. I saw these extremes as a sign I was finally really feeling. Just when I thought I was doing something wrong, I realized all this crap was because I was finally doing something right.
If I were to continue on an even keel, without really diving into my feelings, then I would remain in that safe place of denial. This is where a lot of us tend to stay. It is in the comfort zone, it is chill and no real harm can take place. None of my old wounds or traumas will come up to be processed, yet true happiness cannot exist either. Denial is numbing. It offers no growth, strength or courage. It is paying no attention to the man behind the curtain and it remains in the make-believe land of Oz.
On one hand I wanted to go back to Oz. I wanted to go back to make-believe where I made myself believe that I was OK. I did a really good job of keeping a smile on my face and the tears behind closed doors. On the other hand, I craved those moments when I felt sublimely happy. I wanted so badly for my son to know his mom was brave enough to dive into the places which scared her and then come out stronger on the other side. If Charlie was going to be the force to keep me alive, then I wanted to show him what it looked like to truly live.
Staring back at my notecards, I began to rip up chapters 4-13 and decided to keep the happy ending that existed in the last chapter. I dove into the shit years and began to dissect where the growth occurred throughout them. As I went back in time and experienced them all over again, I began to see them from an outside perspective, seeing how my loved ones were affected. I lived these moments through their lens, crying hard along with them. I shared the car ride with Sean while he drove to the hospital right after the accident. I was on the phone with him as he called my friends and family to tell them the painful news. I was on the phone with my mother when I told her I couldn’t feel my legs. I walked into my hospital room with my Aunt and felt her burden of me asking her the loaded question, “Why?” I watched with my friends and family as they wanted to help me, yet had to hold themselves back while I learned how to be independent again. I sat with my employees who saw me trying desperately to prove I wasn’t weak, yet killing the team’s morale along with it. I watched with strangers as I declined every offer of help as I had to prove I could do it all on my own.
The hardest of all was witnessing the last four years from my own perspective, yet with the wisdom and strength I have gained over time. I watched with compassion as I pushed away friends and family for fear of being a burden to them. I watched as I found every excuse possible to not put my physical therapy as top priority, out of both fear of failure and success. I relived all of the tearful nights with loving appreciation for the motivation I was gathering to really do something great with the hard hand I’d been dealt. I wanted to tell my old self how worth it all of the shit years would be towards my growth. I wanted to reassure myself during those times when I tip-toed at the edge of my comfort zone of all the possibilities that would come if would just dive in.
The crap is so worth it. Without really going through the crap, we have no idea what we are capable of. We cannot discover how strong we really are if we are not faced with the shitty times. When I see someone going through the crap, I just smile and want to tell them it is all worth it. Don’t rush the crap, don’t fear it, and by all means, don’t deny it exists. Denial just delays the beautiful process.
I’m a strong supporter of the crap. I love what the crappy times provide to our prosperity. I recognize that some people prefer to keep the crap at bay, to brush it all under the surface in order to remain naive to any real highs or lows. That is exactly where I was the day I was injured. I thought my life was perfect, yet I was perfectly ignorant. I chose to never really go where the growth happened. Everything in life had always come easy to me, and if it didn’t, then I simply chose not to do it.
So instead, life decided to wake me up. Life chose to shake things up and show me what happens when you get uncomfortable. The last five years have shaken me to my core. I have been more uncomfortable than I ever thought was possible, and whether I liked those moments or not, they still resulted in deep improvement in my quality of life. I have seen first-hand what is really important. It is the relationships, most importantly the one we have with ourselves. We have to be our own biggest fan because no one is more invested in us than we are. We may as well make the crap worth something because it’s going to happen anyway.
Now, when intense feelings wash over me, I can smile because that means I am doing something right. Out of it will come growth, strength or a blessing, and more often than not, all of the above. As uncomfortable as it may be, I now embrace the feelings that come up and appreciate them for what they are. They may be crap, but they are so worth it.