Finding the light in the dark
My good friend gently complained about the trials of living with his elderly, somewhat demented, mom. “She keeps asking me the same thing over and over again” he exclaimed, “Sometimes it just drives me crazy!”.
My oldest daughter, a new mom with a 4-month-old, grumbled about waking up to soothe her daughter 4 times a night in the last two days. She was so tired!
My wife, who is recovering from a rare condition that resulted in a moderate hearing loss, shared how terrible it can feel.
Some years ago, after decades of running, I developed a rare, crippling orthopedic condition in my foot. I underwent extensive surgery and a year of painful recovery. Ultimately, I did get a good result but I do have some chronic pain in my foot. Some days, when it is particularly painful, I can feel good and sorry for myself!
We all had righteous reasons to feel discouraged about our situation. Life’s circumstance can throw us a curve ball, even if it’s a result of our own choices.
It’s natural to first focus on the negative side of a painful or distressing experience. Sometimes it’s helpful to vent to others. We may hope for sympathy or acknowledgment from family or friends that we are suffering. It’s easy, particularly when a negative experience is long lasting, to feel sorry for ourselves. We can feel angry too— “Why is this happening to me?” We may feel like a victim, even if our challenge is of our own making.
But many troublesome experiences can also have a positive side too. It’s difficult to see in the midst of our pain, fatigue, or anger. But if we look carefully, It’s there.
My experience taught me the value of finding alternative ways of meeting my goals. When I couldn’t run, I could swim. When I couldn’t practice Aikido, a martial art, I was able to take yoga classes. I learned that I could tolerate a high degree of pain without taking medications. I learned many things about myself that I hadn’t known before going through the trials of a long surgery and painful recovery. It also helped me recognize some areas that I can grow in—particularly in being able to ask for help from others. I developed a far greater appreciation for disabled adults who won’t recover but must learn how to live with their handicap.
My friend recognized that living with his elderly mother was teaching him how to be more patient, a trait that does not come naturally to him. My daughter thought about those hours with her new baby as an opportunity to have special time with her daughter, alone, in the still of the night. My wife realized how her experience taught her to take advantage of the present—not to put things off into the future. Health problems can arrive, without warning, and change your life on a dime. If there is something that you want to do, do it, don’t put it off.
Recognizing that painful experiences can have a positive side doesn’t mean that one should minimize the challenges. Both are present.
How can we discover the constructive aspects of life’s challenges?
- Don’t see yourself as a victim. When bad things happen, it hard not to feel victimized. Visit that feeling, but don’t linger there.
- Step back from your distress and consider what you have learned from your experience. Whatever wisdom we accumulate often comes from trying to hit life’s curve balls. What we learn about ourselves can make us better people.
- Be a student of your own life. Adult life presents unlimited opportunities for continual growth and personal development. See adversity as an opportunity for personal growth.