When Things Go Wrong: We 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.

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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