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When Things Go Wrong: You Can Thrive, Not Just Survive

“Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness.” ~James Thurber

Ever thought you had achieved everything you wanted to? I did.

My teens had passed in a blur of self-loathing regarding my body. (Tape measure, thighs, and many tears; need I say more?)

I stumbled through my twenties not exactly sure what I wanted to do, but never feeling quite good enough—for what, I didn’t know, but surely I should have been better.

By my thirties, though, I had settled into a career of holistic therapy and had three happy, healthy children, great friends, and a beautiful house in a village environment.

What could possibly go wrong? Um, quite a lot. Somebody crashed into the back of my car, and in seconds my seemingly perfect life unraveled.

Although I was in too much pain to stand or walk unaided, it never actually crossed my mind that I could stay in that state permanently.

After numerous tests, X-rays, and MRI scans, when my consultant uttered the words, “I am sorry, there is nothing we can do for you,” I felt such a huge, blind panic that I could literally feel myself retreating inside of myself. That’s where I intended to stay.

It isn’t hard to be invisible in a wheelchair. I felt like nobody saw me anymore, but then I didn’t know who I wanted them to see. All the words I thought defined me—like dog walker, Kinesiologist, runner, and kick boxer—no longer applied, and I didn’t know who I was.

If I was popping into a shop I could make do with crutches, but people frequently asked me, “Have you hurt your foot?” I had to reply, “No, I am disabled.”

People were embarrassed at my answer, and their response made me ashamed of myself. I became more and more insular until there was virtually nothing of me left.

I constantly questioned who I was; and what was the point of, well, me? I missed the person I had been. The only time I came out of living in the past, wishing I were still there, was to feel total blind panic about the future and what would happen to me.

When I was at my lowest I came across the story of The Starfish Thrower, which was a pivotal turning point for me. 

For those of you who don’t know it:

A boy is walking along the beach when he stumbles across thousands of starfish that have been washed up. He starts to pick them up and throw them back in. A man approaches him and says, “Son, don’t bother. There are too many. You won’t make a difference.”

The boy picks up another, throws it back in, and says, “I made a difference to that one.”

I read this and thought, wow, I don’t have to do anything amazing to make a difference. I don’t even actually have to be mobile. It’s the tiniest thing that can make a change. For the first time in a long time I felt a flicker of hope, and I didn’t intend to let it extinguish.

Fed up with lying on the couch, watching bad daytime TV, and snacking all day (I was heading back to the teenage trauma of thighs and tape measures again), I started to explore my own consciousness. 

I spent hours meditating, reading up on the mind/body connection, and attending talks and workshops when I could.

I began adding new tools and qualifications to my repertoire as a therapist and decided to re-launch my career, not standing at a therapy couch as I had before, but in a different, more gentle way.

Overcoming my physical limitations has been hard, but overcoming my emotional reaction to it has been the hardest obstacle to overcome. Learning to live in the now has been my salvation. I want to share some of the things that have helped me on my journey.

Love yourself like you love others.

I would never have thought so negatively if a friend or relative had found themselves in my situation. I had to learn to be kind to myself—to accept that I am doing the best I can do, and that’s okay.

Think about how you talk to others and how you talk to yourself. Give yourself a compliment. We all need to acknowledge  that we are amazing.

You can’t change things that have happened to you but you can choose the way you feel about them.

I spent hours and hours wishing my accident had never happened, longing to be my former self. Accepting that would never happen but realizing I have a choice on how I feel about it was really empowering. Yes, it was sad, but life goes on.

I have a different kind of life, and it is more spiritually fulfilling than the one I had before.

You really can survive anything. We are all stronger than we think. 

Too many people have said to me, “I could never cope in your situation.”

The truth is, you could. The human instinct is to survive, and we always do. Things can only break you if you allow them to.

We forget sometimes we have a choice about how we feel. I felt really sad, but then I made the choice to change that. It’s not always easy but with the right support, you can do it.

There is absolutely no point in worrying about the future.

I was in a constant, stomach-churning place of anxiety, worrying about how complete my recovery would be. Although I am a long way from healed, I am better than the doctor initially predicted.

Truth is, nobody ever really knows what the future holds. Think back to situations you have envisaged and fretted over. Did they actually happen? No, probably not. We can’t predict forthcoming events, and it’s a waste of energy to even try.

Don’t label things “good” or “bad.”

Although my accident seemed unfair and tragic at the time, I have grown so much as a person. I have a new business and I have found love.

Light always follows darkness. Trust me on that.

Stay in the present moment and live life fully.

You never know when, if, or how drastically things can change in a heartbeat. Appreciate what you have right now. I never put off things until the future anymore. My accident has proven that there is never a future like we think. Now is all we can guarantee.

Life is an adventure. Don’t fear it; live it.  

Losing my mobility is probably one of the worst things I thought could ever happen, but it did, and you know what? I’m okay.  I’m living my life and it’s awesome. Live yours too.

Photo by thephotographymuse

About Louise Jensen

Louise Jensen is an award winning holistic therapist. A regular writer, Louise has overcome living with a disability and has 12 years of experience helping others to heal. Louise recently co-created The Happy Starfish, an online community dedicated to celebrating health, happiness and peaceful living.

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  • There is so much wisdom in the words that you have written and I think that you are an increadible human being!

    But as much as the words are true… They are darn right difficult to live by and they are often conclusions after a long time of suffering and stuggle.

    How to really live by them all the time is a totally different story. I think that it might take a lifetime to master…

    Thanks for a great post!

  • Andrea

    well put and nicely written….having chronic pain from 8x being hit (mva’s) and cancer survivor, this resonated.

  • Thank you so Much for this post it’s truly beautiful. Love and light to you.

  • lau

    thank you, You´re a warrior!

  • inspiredgreatness

    Lovely article! Thank you!

  • radicalreminders

    This is beautiful, thank you.

  • Paige Tomkinson

    Dear Louise,
    Oh, my God. This is too strong to use the abbreviation.
    I had a fall at work, on a wet floor, a little over five years ago. Although I am not in a wheelchair, everything changed for me, too. Terrible things were done to my lower back when I fell.
    You’ve written part of my biography in your story!
    I wish that I could say I’ve moved ahead as much as you have, but I am still “stuck” in the trying to live like I used to mode. I am still trying to force my body to be what it was, even though I, too, am disabled. However much I hate that word, I am disabled.
    Yes, I have tried to move past this place, because it is not a pretty place to live. However, I still go over the accident, treatments, surgery, etc, time after time after time, and have continually “beat myself up” for not being able to be who I was.
    Finding a new me, one that works for me, has come to be a challenge that I cannot, as of yet, conquer. I know that I am so rooted in the “who I was,” which to me is the “who I am supposed to be,” that I can’t manage to move ahead.
    I give you all the kudos and congratulations, and “that a girl”s that I can, because I know just how horrifically difficult it is to move past, and create a new self after such a life changing event.
    I wish I could meet you, and learn all the details about how you did what you did, which in my eyes is truly miraculous. However, this post does give me a little more hope, a ray of light, coming from someone who has lived it! If you have not considered it, writing a book about your experiences would be a wonderful gift to the community of people like us who were once one person, and in an instant, someone else we didn’t even recognize.
    I have a lot of support from friends and family, and even a wonderful therapist, but it is different to hear from someone who has been there.
    Thank you so much for opening your heart and sharing your story, and giving another “disabled” woman a model to follow, and an example of how it really CAN be done.

  • Joy

    Great article, thank you for sharing your story!

  • Louise Jensen

    Thanks for the feedback Joy. Please check out my Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/happystarfishpublishing

  • Louise Jensen

    Hi Paige,

    Thanks for your feedback. Positive comments make everything worthwhile. I do have bad days too, I am only human. Living in peace is a lifetime work and one I am very dedicated to.

    Yes I do intend to write a book when I can slot it in.

    Please check out my Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/happystarfishpublishing

    If you want to chat about anything please feel free to email me through my site http://www.thehappystarfish.com. Would be happy to share what I can with you.

    Louise xx

  • Louise Jensen

    Thank you. It is straight from the heart.

    Please check out my Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/happystarfishpublishing 🙂

  • Louise Jensen

    Glad you enjoyed it.

    Please check out my Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/happystarfishpublishing 🙂

  • Louise Jensen

    Thanks Lau.

    Please check out my Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/happystarfishpublishing 🙂

  • Beautiful. I especially like the idea of not labeling things as good or bad. Things just are. It’s how we react to situations that makes them good or bad.

  • Very inspiring Lousie. 🙂

  • What right or reason has any of us to complain about our lot when there are people like you to inspire us to be positive?

  • Rod

    I was actually trashing about how work sucked today and all these nonsense things, and until I read your post, I have to admit a tiny tear came out of my eyes. You are so brave and I wish you all the best. Thanks for reminding me my problems are nothing and I should appreciate the small things in life.

    All the best

  • CS

    Up to the point where you write that you spent the day on the sofa watching TV sounds just like my story. Instead of the TV, I spend my day on the computer. I have made little to no emotional progress since a horrible car accident eleven years ago. My two children and mother were also in the accident. My children were also horribly injured and my mother died. I have had so many surgeries I’ve lost count, my daughter has had several surgeries and now has epilepsy, my son shattered three of his four limbs and lives in increasing pain as he ages. I frame my life before the accident and after the accident.

    Only last night I found this site and tonight your moving story. I wish you were near me because I would call you tomorrow to set up an appointment to see you. I have not had luck with therapy — physical nor mental.

    I can only say I keep trying to heal emotionally. About the only progress I have made here is to accept that I will never be pain free and both my children, now adults will live their lives to the fullest. Maybe, if I keep trying I will make it.

  • Gary

    Can I hug u ?? Your story is so very impressive and inspiring. I am absolutely normal but often lament about my issues. The most difficult part for me is to forgive myself. I have been the worst critic to myself. Thanks for your inspiring article and I hope for the best for you and to many others who have commented below.

  • So true.

  • Thank you Louise for sharing your simple wisdom and strength.
    Jonathan

  • lv2terp

    SO inspiring! Thank you for sharing your story and recovery/growth process!!! Wonderful tips 🙂

  • Just amazing and inspiring. Gratitude for sharing your story and wisdom Louise.

  • Amazing and beautiful message. I’ve had my experience with a car accident, and while it’s not as severe as this, it did leave me immobile for 6 months. I chose to not let it bring me down. And I used many of these ideas to do it. Worry, especially. Its such a waste of time.

  • Liz Roberts

    “Love yourself like you love others”… this resonates with me. Great article Louise, thanks for posting. Sending you much light and joy, Liz

  • It’s true: after darkness comes light…every cloud has a silver lining….and just when the caterpillar thought it was all over, it turned into a butterfly 😉
    Great post…very inspirational 😉

  • Louise Jensen

    Virtual hug accepted and one returned Gary. Thanks 🙂

  • Louise Jensen

    Absolutely Sage, we can’t control situations but can always control the way we react.

  • Louise Jensen

    Thanks Andrea – wishing you good health.

  • Louise Jensen

    I love that, after darkness comes light. I will pass that on 🙂

  • Louise Jensen

    Thanks Liz. Not always easy to put in to practice but worth it.

  • Louise Jensen

    Hoping you are fully recovered now Kim.

  • Louise Jensen

    Thank you David 🙂

  • Louise Jensen

    Thanks, hope they are useful to someone.

  • Louise Jensen

    Thanks for your kinds comments Jonathan.

  • Louise Jensen

    Thanks Mimi.

  • Louise Jensen

    Please mail me privately on balancinghealth@hotmail.com. Louise.

  • Louise Jensen

    Ahh all problems are important to the one experiencing them, you can’t scale them. Wishing you better days though 🙂

  • Louise Jensen

    That’s lovely Denis. Thank you.

  • Louise Jensen

    Thanks Justin.

  • Louise Jensen

    Same to you Julia. Thank you.

  • Louise Jensen

    Great name! Thanks for the lovely feedback.

  • I am, thank you!

  • Claudia

    Thanks for sharing!!! 😉

  • Tzuo Zhang

    It is through obstacles that people make one step closer to perfection

  • Faith

    Wow I came across your story and inspirtation flickered within me… i love with a passion boxing and was pretty good at it to the point where i really started to belive in myself and everyone else around me did as well.. however right before my first fight a longstanding injury gave out, i had to get shoulder surgery to ensure i would b able to box again 3 months in I hurt my other shoulder my good shoulder the docotrs told me my injuries are inevitable due to “lax loose joints” and that they do not think i will be able to box again because i will keep injuring myself more and more.. Now i cant even throw a punch to prove to somehow how good i was, a women in my life who i deeply cared about left me because she felt i was neglecting her too much while trying to cope with the fact that i wont be able to box for a very long while.. All of this hurts because life seemed so sure and good for me just 6 months ago and now i fear that i may be alone and never return to my former self full of confidence and vigor as before… However stories like these allow me to keep pressing to write my own comeback story and to have faith in myself! Thank you

  • Carol

    I constantly worry about the future and end making myself and the people around me miserable. Several things have been going wrong and I keep imagining the worse possible outcome so that I don’t get hurt if it happens. But as you have so rightly written one cannot predict the future.