“The beautiful thing about setbacks is they introduce us to our strengths.” ~Robin S. Sharma
This has been the worst year of my life. Financial stress. Relationship problems. Being separated from my family because of the pandemic. Mentally I’m a mess. I thought I had hit rock bottom. But the worst was yet to come.
I had been ignoring health issues for years and finally dragged myself in for an ultrasound. I already knew I had a fibroid and had booked the ultrasound to check on it. However, as the sonographer explained, I now had innumerable fibroids. They had taken over my uterus and ultimately my life.
I remember starting to feel numb as she talked me through my scan. I knew there was no other option. I needed a hysterectomy, and I was terrified. I was scared about what this meant for my body and my future, but I also have extremely high anxiety about doctors and hospitals. You can imagine how I felt about surgery.
One of my favorite motivational speakers, Eric Thomas, talks about how pressure creates diamonds. Just when you think you’ve had enough pressure and all you can bear, life turns up the heat. I felt like I was burning.
I knew surgery was inevitable and I needed to get my mindset right. As much as positivity eluded me the past year, I had to be mentally and physically strong going into the surgery because I wanted to come out a diamond.
The Japanese call this kensho, which means growth through pain or finding positivity in life’s challenges. If you want to become a diamond or a stronger version of yourself from whatever you are facing, here are some strategies that will help.
1. Allow yourself to feel everything. It’s normal.
When coping with health challenges, you’ll probably filter your feelings with shoulds:
I shouldn’t feel anxious (angry, sad).
I shouldn’t act so irrationally.
I should think more positively.
I should feel grateful it’s not worse.
I should hold myself together for those around me.
Truth is, though, you are going to feel all the emotions. You’re also going to feel your body’s symptoms. It’s easy to get stuck in the pain because, until it stops, it’s hard to see the good in life.
Give yourself permission to feel everything. If life is continually knocking you down, of course you’ll feel angry. In fact, some anger is probably going to help. It’s the fuel you need to rise up and change things.
When I started to cry in theatre before surgery, I felt guilty and embarrassed. The nurses kept telling me it’s perfectly normal. And, you know what? It is perfectly normal to feel scared before surgery. It would be weird if you weren’t.
Allow yourself to feel every miserable thing without the guilt. It’s part of grieving and healing. You may need some time to grieve the loss of something physical or a way of life you imagined that now has to change. You may need to set aside some quiet time to check in with yourself and feel whatever you feel. Grieve what you need to let go.
But the way you make sure it doesn’t consume you is by allowing yourself to feel the good too. And it’s the good that you want to blow up and make bigger in your mind.
I bet there are so many little things you can appreciate about your life. You can take a moment to savor a healthy meal or feel the sun on your skin. I find a lot of happiness in my cat’s funny antics and cuddles, so I always make sure I am fully present around him.
Small goods won’t fix your big problems. Believe me, I know how hard it is to find the positives when anxiety takes over. No amount of mindfulness is ever going to fix the misery of a health problem that confines you to bed or the house. Nor will it take away the physical pain that you have to endure daily.
But the good can soften the bad and give you strength to keep going.
2. Build your mental fortitude.
You have a choice as to how you are going to face this health problem. You can let it take you down or you can use it as an opportunity to become a stronger version of yourself.
Surgery was inevitable. Anxiety was inevitable. Pain was inevitable. Despite all this, I made a promise to myself that I would face it with strength and hope for a better future.
Unfortunately, after a really difficult year, I knew I wasn’t in the right headspace for it. I had to start “training my brain” in the same way you might train your body for a big mountain climb or fitness event.
You can train your brain in a variety of ways. You can get support from positive people in your life. You can get counseling. But you also need something you can do daily on your own.
One of the best ways to train your brain is through selective use of social media and Google.
If you Google your health problem, you’ll find positive stories, but you’ll also find a lot of negative and scary information. In my case surgery was inevitable and I knew the risks. Why needlessly worry about outcomes I couldn’t control?
Instead, I ignored my inclination to over research everything, and in preparation for surgery I decided to read or watch one positive hysterectomy story each day. That’s all I allowed myself to look at. This was one of the best things I did for my mental health.
I also trained my mind by going for a walk everyday and listening to a motivating video or podcast. This was a way to calm and connect with myself and to keep building my mental strength for surgery and recovery. I really felt the benefits of this practice the day of surgery.
You have to find videos and speakers that speak to your soul, and everyone will be different. I prefer a tough love approach, and as I mentioned before, one of my favorite speakers is Eric Thomas.
On the day of surgery, whenever I would feel a wave of anxiety, I would say to myself “pressure creates diamonds.” This idea gave me strength and reminded me that this surgery was a gift I was giving myself so I could have a better future.
3. Put one foot in front of the other.
There will be days it seems impossible to get out of bed. You will start to feel better and then you’ll feel worse. You will get overwhelmed and discouraged. No one is perfect, but you can be better day by day even with setbacks.
In the gym you build strength through progressive overload. This means doing a bit more each time you train. When I coach my clients, I teach them that little steps lead to big results. It’s all about consistency and patience.
When I was recovering from surgery, I had to apply the same principles. First, I had to learn to sit up. Then I was able to walk around my hospital room. A few days later I was walking around my yard and eventually I started walking down the road. Each day I literally walked a few more steps. I set my sights on being able to walk to a bridge down the road and two weeks post surgery I got there.
Before surgery I was hitting personal bests in the gym with big deadlifts, squats, and presses. I know it will be a long time before I have that strength again, but I will get there. Step by step I will build myself up to be even stronger than before.
Along the way I will be patient and kind with myself and give my body what it needs. Some days I have to give in and just sit in the sun with my cat because that’s all I can manage.
I know how hard it can be to deal with health challenges. Sometimes you have to let yourself cry and feel angry—or whatever else you feel. In the face of setbacks always remember this is your opportunity to get stronger and healthier than ever before. Pressure creates diamonds, and you are on your way to becoming the most beautiful gem.