“When something bad happens you have three choices. You can let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you.” ~ Unknown
Most of us have experienced a day or event in our life that changes us forever.
I remember that day vividly, and it still invokes incredible pain in my heart. It was the middle of the night in February. I was twelve years old, and I awoke to my mother screaming and crying to my brother that our dad was dying. He died in his sleep from a massive heart attack.
I will never forget watching the paramedics carry his lifeless body down the stairs into the ambulance.
Things happened fast after that: a quick trip to the hospital, watching the priest enter the room where my dad’s body was, and returning home where we congregated in the living room. No one wanted to go upstairs, and no one slept the remainder of the night.
That was the day that changed the course of my life forever. My happy, carefree existence abruptly ended with my dad’s death. Instead of looking forward to a bright future, I fell into depression that I struggled with for decades.
I let my dad’s death define me and my life. It was a horrible, tragic event, but life does continue after losing a loved one. That’s the part no one ever told me—that it was okay to go on living and be happy again. Instead, I gave up and felt that life was not worth living.
Life at home was not the safe, comfortable place it had once been. Now it was full of endless arguments between my mother and brother. I hated being there.
My once perfect grades were now mediocre, I lost friends, I dropped hobbies, and stopped playing sports. I was no longer interested in life because all I could see and all I could feel were hurt and hopelessness. It wouldn’t go away.
For the next two decades (yes, decades), I drifted through my life as though I was simply a spectator in it.
Nothing brought lasting joy or happiness; I always chose the safe, responsible path with the predicable outcome. Paths that would never hurt me, where I would never fail, where my heart would not be broken.
Where did that get me? Absolutely nowhere. I was as miserable as ever. There were a handful of unfortunate times where I thought suicide was a viable option.
I briefly sought treatment for depression, but quickly quit when I didn’t see immediate results. Quitting was a common occurrence in my life if I didn’t see results or feel happiness fast enough. As you can imagine, I started and then quit a lot of things in my life, usually quitting when the going got tough.
I searched for happiness through the usual channels: shopping, eating, drinking, smoking. Nothing worked because I wasn’t looking in the right places. Depression is relentless, but I vowed to move past it and live a happier life.
I still felt sad, angry, and scared, but I was beginning to feel hope for my future. Or maybe I was just tired of feeling miserable. I definitely was tired of feeling like a victim in my own life.
I never had a light bulb moment, but I did have perseverance. I consider myself to be a survivor. That’s the only thing that kept me going.
Life experiences brought new lessons for me. Some were fun, some were not, but they offered an opportunity to learn about myself. It wasn’t always easy to accept when things didn’t go my way, but it provided growth and wisdom that I needed. They always say that life gives you what you need, not what you want.
Slowly (very slowly), I began to build a life for myself. Fate brought me together with the love of my life, and marriage is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I’m fortunate to have found such a great partner to share my life with. Sharing my life with pets has offered endless amounts of unconditional love.
More recently, I quit a job that I hated. My past history of journaling developed into a love of writing. I self-published two eBooks and created a blog that serves as an outlet to share ideas that mean the most to me.
Managing life’s ups and downs is always challenging, but through it all, I have learned more about myself and found better ways to cope. The list below is what I work on daily to bring more happiness and meaning to my life.
Accept yourself for who you are.
I am an introvert and at times have been made to feel that something is wrong with me because I am quiet, reserved, and sensitive. It’s taken a long time to accept that there is nothing wrong with my desire for quiet, alone time to think and reflect.
Do things at your own pace.
Never feel rushed or that you need to go at someone else’s pace. It took me a long time to process the sadness I was feeling, but I spent too much time continuing to wallow in past hurt.
Don’t make the same mistake. This is your life; you have to learn, experience, and grow to get the most of this journey. Deal with things in your own way, take your time, but don’t make it an opportunity to live in the past.
Don’t fear change (and don’t fear the future).
Life doesn’t stay the same; change is inevitable. Fear of the unknown can paralyze us to never take action, to never live the best life we can have. Know that you have the strength to deal with whatever will happen.
This is the only way to add value and find meaning in your life. Cultivate creativity, help others, do anything that feeds your soul and is important to you.
Remind yourself daily of the good things in your life: be it a spouse, partner, family, friends, pets, gratifying work, a comfortable home, or food in your kitchen. Never take for granted the things that matter most, for they can be gone in a heartbeat.
For years, I waited for wonderful things to come into my life to restore happiness. It has been a long journey of discovering that only I can control my happiness.
My life and everything in it is up to me alone. That was a hard lesson to learn. I regretted wasting so many years waiting for good things to happen, when I had the power to make things better all along.
The answers are not outside of us, but inside, waiting to be discovered.
Photo by Laura