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Learn To Flourish When You Are Not In Control

Woman Throwing Arms in Air

“Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don't.” ~Steve Maraboli

On December 31, 2011 I experienced something I will never be able to blink away. I watched as my twelve-year-old daughter convulsed, turned blue, and stopped breathing on the floor of our living room.

Time stood still. I heard my blood whoosh through my ears. I became a helpless observer. This simply couldn’t be happening to us; she was fine only a moment ago.

I remember the exact moment when I realized that I was thinking that my daughter was dead.

I will never forget that choking fear that everything in my life had just changed forever. Nothing mattered in that moment other than her. I begged her to breathe for me. I needed her to breathe. Fear dug in hard and wouldn’t let me go.

After several moments of stillness, she took a very slow breath and then another. Her eyes were vacant and staring beyond me. Her arms and hands still twisted beneath her chin, against her chest. It would be hours before she would know who I was.

Little did I know this was the beginning of an unimaginable journey.

While I would lose her to a neurological conditional and medication side effects over the next four years, we would also learn and grow together, find happiness in the little things, and learn how to deal with the things we couldn’t control.

She was diagnosed with Epilepsy within a few weeks. I was hopeful we could manage this and get on with life. We followed her doctor’s orders diligently, and I was meticulous with her medications.

She had more seizures. We increased her medications. We changed her diet. I sought out alternative health practitioners and healers.

Time had a way of slipping by, first in days, then months, and soon years had drifted by without me noticing. We went to the best hospital in the United States and we were told there was nothing more we could do. This was not what I could accept. Instead, I continued to hope.

Her seizures increased. She couldn’t learn. She slept all the time. Depression and anxiety followed.

Her medication side effects were brutal, and I didn’t even recognize my daughter anymore. Her beautiful spirit had retreated, held hostage there by the thirty anti-seizure pills she took each day. I knew I couldn’t give up on her.

As her primary caregiver, I was sleep-deprived, anxious, terrified, and living in fear of the next seizure. She got worse, and I was drowning because I couldn’t control any of it. She required care, supervision and support that I felt I had no idea how to provide.

One evening, I woke to find her having a Grand Mal seizure in her bed. I sat alone in the dark with her, crying, because I had nothing left to give. I had no way to help her. I had done everything I could and it still was not enough. I couldn’t change things.

I crawled into bed with her so I could watch her breathe. Exhaustion settled over me, but I awoke with a shot of adrenalin when she began to seize violently against me. Again, I begged her to breathe.

I crumbled in the fatigue and the stress and knew that something had to change or we were going to be totally destroyed by this.

Surrender your desire to control.

In that moment, I knew that I had to surrender my desire to control the uncontrollable. I had tried for four years to manage the things beyond my control. This choice got me nowhere and stole my energy faster than I could refuel. I was now absolutely depleted.

I had to come to terms that I couldn’t control how long this beautiful child would have on earth. I could not breathe for her. I couldn’t watch her every single moment. This was not for me to determine.

This was the hardest thing I have ever had to do, but it made the greatest impact on my well-being, and ultimately hers, because I was able to show up differently for her.

In fact, while focusing on my daughter’s health, my son was hit by a car while riding his bike. This was a wake-up call to me that trying to control the uncontrollable was nothing but an enormous energy leak.

I couldn’t control the seizures, the side effects, or the memory loss. But I could control where I allowed my energy to flow.

Shift your focus.

I decided instead to shift my focus. I could control her schedule. I could make certain she got her medications.

I could get her to doctor’s appointments and scans. I could be supportive and give her my time. I could help her see moments of joy. I could help her with schoolwork. I could be her advocate at school. I could give her more of what she needed between seizures.

As I began to focus my energy on the things I could control, I regained some purpose.

I felt more energized. My hope returned. I was less depleted and more strategic. I began to see new options and opportunities where before my fatigue saw nothing but closed doors. I felt a significant shift. I was spending my limited energy stores in a different way.

Practice gratitude.

The other thing I did was I began to practice gratitude.

When you have something so massive pressing down on you, it becomes very hard to not be focused on that. We had been focused on her being sick. We fed the fears. We lived in anticipation of the next catastrophe. We forgot that we still had much to be grateful for.

I began to look for things every day that brought me joy: the sun on my face, a warm cup of creamy coffee, or hearing my kids laughing in the other room. The more I looked for these lovely slivers of joy and hope, the more I saw them.

Soon, I was focused on how blessed I felt and the joy that had always been around me but that I failed to see when I was looking the other way. Even in times of struggle, I continued to look for these simple things, and they were always there for me. I just had to decide to see them.

What this personal struggle ultimately taught me is that letting go of what you cannot control is hard, but holding on to these uncontrollable things and trying to manage them is much harder. My energy was best spent on things that could bring me desirable outcomes, not on trying to hold the wind in an open hand.

Our journey has taught me that I am in control of my thoughts, and when I pick my thoughts carefully, I can still flourish in challenging circumstances.

Over four years has passed since this journey begun, and I am pleased to say that my daughter has recently enjoyed a couple months virtually seizure-free.

We have begun to reduce her medications and introduced homeopathic medicine into her daily care. I am hopeful, energized and optimistic about her future.

There is no doubt in my mind that had I not surrendered and let go of the things I could not control, I would never have had the energy and focus to continue our fight for a seizure free life.

I know it is hard, but letting go of things you cannot control does not mean you do not care. It means you understand that letting go can lead you to a happier, less stressful life.

Woman throwing arms in air image via Shutterstock

About Jennifer Sparks

Jennifer is a teacher, speaker, bestselling author, Ironman triathlete, certified personal trainer and life coach. She is passionate about reaching out to people who find themselves in a place of overwhelm and disconnect. You can read about her personal journey in WTF to OMG and learn about her work at www.swiftkicklife.com.

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  • You are SO spot on. What a wonderful article and reminder – thank you!

  • Hi Jennifer,

    Thank you so much for sharing with us. Being willing to surrender in such a circumstance, with your child being the focus of the surrender, is the most brave, empowering thing you can do.

    My mom has late stage Alzheimer’s and honest to goodness, I have felt better about ceding control over the situation than I have through any other approach. Letting go has helped me feel grateful for our time together, and for everything in my life. This level of gratitude has carried over into my online business activities too, from blogging, to writing eBooks and to my freelance business as well.

    I was taught a most brilliant lesson in control recently: I had written over 100 short eBooks and I published them to Amazon. I hadn’t promoted them much at all, being so busy with the writing side of things. After checking my sales I was bummed but really, it made sense because I tried to control the selling process through publishing alone versus feeling grateful to simple write the eBooks, and then, I’d naturally promote them to change more lives. I tried to control the system. I pretty much fell flat on my face in that regard. Now that I feel more grateful and happy and centered and loving of the whole process I am finding more of a sense of detachment sprouting from within my being. I am literally letting go. What a beautiful process.

    I have conditioned myself to become a goal-achieving, control freak. This has served me well, actually, because it has taught me that I am not in control, again and again, through disappointment, and through a few big time break downs. This letting go control, or surrendering, has also allowed me to live a spectacular life in paradise, even if I try to wrestle control from the Universe again. Like a dummy.

    Overall though, I feel myself surrendering a bit more each day and a bit more each week, through my circumstance with my mom, through my blogging business and through the fun, freeing and sometimes wacky life I live, hopping from paradise to paradise as a full time, pro blogging, digital nomad. This life slowly conditions one to let go, to be guided, and to be grateful for the entire journey. Goodness knows that we are whole and complete as is. When we cede control We return to Who We Really Are, and that being does not resist a darn thing. We really can live miracles when we give up, or when we try as hard on giving up than we do on trying hard to gain control.

    The cool thing is, as we surrender, we have a different perspective on the situation we tried to control. If I wanted to control my mom’s condition I’d work so hard and I’d judge her condition on appearances and each time I’d visit her I’d be on a rollercoaster, suffering through a rip roaring rapids of thoughts and feelings. Since I am surrendering a bit more each day from a loving, grateful space, I am more present, and that presence helps me to feel caring and loving so matter what seems to be happening, because I am a bit more non-resistant than I was, and with that non-resistance comes peace of mind.

    Again, ditto with my blogging business. I tried so damn hard for years, then failed. Then I made a nice chunk of change, and rested because I had a nice chunk of change socked away. Then that chunk dwindled a bit and I tried to control it. Then I slowly learned how to surrender into those feelings of panic, into those feelings of wanting to control it all and into those trust issues which I had suffered from for years.

    I am finally realizing that, a split second at a time, that if I can be present and trusting and grateful, in this moment, that I can embrace anything that happens with ease and grace, and that my business will grow itself as I really am connected to It All. Yes, for a split second at a time, I feel this, or I know this 😉

    Jennifer, thanks so much for sharing with us. I feel happy that despite the fears and terrors, you are being taken on a wonderful journey of surrender, of gratitude and of happiness, which will only continue to help you cede control, so that you may become more of who you really are, and less of who you thought you were. Goodness knows we are all on that same fascinating, freeing, interesting, and yes, at times maddening journey.

    I hope you and your daughter have a fabulous weekend.

    Signing off from paradise, which now means Nicaragua.

    Ryan

  • ravencomeslaughing

    Thank you. This was extremely helpful and the universe made it timely as well. My sister is dying of breast cancer and I’m going to see her for the last time in about a week. This has been incredibly hard, and a very similar lesson. Thank you for sharing this, it’s made me stop and think so I don’t lose everything to grief.

  • TM

    I feel for you when you talked about your daughter. Being out of control can be most frightening especially in a situation like that. Along with gratitude I would say trying to see things in perspective also makes a difference when not in control…

  • Jennifer Sparks

    Thank you! I hope this message helps others.

  • Jennifer Sparks

    So true, it changes everything! Thank you!

  • Jennifer Sparks

    I am so sorry to hear about your struggle. I hope these lessons can help you when you most need them. Thinking of you and sending strength!

  • Jennifer Sparks

    Ryan, thank you! You have made so many great points above – and yes, this is taking me to where I can be who I was meant to be – for sure!

  • Peace Within

    Thank you for sharing. Just by reading this I could tell how strong you are and how much love you have for your daughter. By letting go of control we gain a tremendous amount of freedom. Take care. <3

  • Krithika Rangarajan

    Well, you made me cry #HUGSSS

    Your daughter is blessed to have you as her mom. You are blessed to have two loving children who are growing into confident individuals <3

    Thank you so much
    Kitto

  • Jericho

    Thank you for this wonderful article. I am father of 4 year old daughter with Charge syndrome.So many health problems and I still feel that I should do something more to help Manuela. Unfortunately I can not cure syndrome. Doctors and therapists are doing the best they can. All I can do is love, and do what I can. Thinking of you and sending understanding!

  • lv2terp

    Beautiful post, that you for sharing your journey to surrender!! 🙂 May health and wellness continue to flourish for your daughter!! 🙂 What a wonderful role model she has! 🙂

  • satpal

    I used to say few words to me daily – that I am care taker only not a owner of myself so my duty is just to take care but dont have controll over my own body. Breathing is automatic ,heart is beating at its own, everything is controlled by hidden force. So we are designed to take care only rest is taken care automatically. Same is the teaching of Bhagvad Gita.

  • Terika

    Oh My God what a great story! I know I need to learn so much from this ! When I let myself feel victim of my own situation , everything looks dark and negative. But steps by steps Im trying to react . This only confirms what a friend of mine once told me: Imagine yourself in a circle with you in the middle. Then imagine another bigger circle around it. The one where you are IN, is the one where u can control things; the most outer one, is that one where u have absolutely no control over. So, all of it – including your story- makes perfect sense. I am trying to do so…you are such a great example of courage. Beautiful, I hope I gain the same strength as you have. 🙂

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  • Mellissa

    Love this! Thanks so much for your openness and vulnerability. These messages sound very much in line with a lot of personal program work I’ve done in the past. I guess when it works, it works!!!

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  • Jennifer Sparks

    Thank you for your kind words! All the best to you as well!
    Jennifer

  • Jennifer Sparks

    So true Mellissa – there are truly some things that produce a sense of calmness. I have found that I struggled to find my own way to these conclusions but not when I read books from thought readers I can see my journey in their messages! All the best! Jennifer

  • Jennifer Sparks

    I hope you can gain the strength to surrender too – it just shifts the world 🙂 Take care Terika!

  • Jennifer Sparks

    Danny, I love that saying – lose control to gain control – but boy can it be elusive!!!!! I often say, “Sometimes you have to let go to get a better grip!” Thank you for sharing your own experience with this! Jennifer

  • Jennifer Sparks

    Jericho – all the best to you in this journey. There are blessings to be found where ever you are! I hope that you can see them! xo Jennifer
    All the best to Manuela too!!

  • Jennifer Sparks

    Thank you Kitto! What a compassionate world we live in when we can reach out and HUG across the world!! Jennifer

  • Jennifer Sparks

    🙂 Thank you!! <3

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  • Jericho

    Thank you so much!

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  • Sandiana Chomroo

    Hello Jennifer, your blog is amazing! This post is so beautifully written and inspires me so much. I actually find no reason to being depressed only because of my work and my boring routine when people like you are going through so much. It is indeed very true that we only feel liberated when we decide to go with the flow and accept things how they are. We usually look into complex ways to make ourselves happy and joyful but the truth is happiness is found in the little habits to which we don’t pay attention to. Since we don’t even have time to sit back and relax, we take over a lot of stress and start panicking and anticipating how are we ever going to control everything.
    Your daughter and your wonderful self are very strong and I’m sending much love to you and your family from Mauritius 🙂 We have much to learn from you.
    Keep it up!

  • Angie Ford Jones

    I am a Nurse Practitioner and I stood beside my baby brother as he battled a life threatening disease he never asked for until it took his life this past December. The hardest thing I have ever done was watch the nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals take over my brother’s care and eventually provide his comfort/palliative measures so that he could pass from this life pain free. I had absolutely NO control. I felt almost as if I had failed. I have struggled with it since and not until I spoke with a friend and counselor that I realized that was my biggest hurdle. I was not in control…Thank You for the article!

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  • Jennifer Sparks

    Angie – no words but all my heartfelt compassion xox

  • Jennifer Sparks

    Thank you for your kind words and you are so right when you say “We usually look into complex ways to make ourselves happy and joyful but the truth is happiness is found in the little habits to which we don’t pay attention to…” Love and happiness is in the little things! Jennifer

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  • Wow, thank you for sharing your story. It’s a powerful and amazingly uplifting reminder that sometimes all we can control is our attitudes, so we might as well have the best ones we can. I hope your daughter continues to improve and that you both share more moments of joy together!!

  • a beautiful post. This story is so inspiring. Control, can I really release you? For a happier lif, maybe…. 🙂