Tougher and Stronger

This is a piece I wrote six years ago while we were living in Carmel California.


Enough, already. This was my answer to those who say that crisis tests character.  I really think I’ve been tested and could use a retirement from the whole adversity thing. Don’t I know myself well enough? Haven’t I paid my dues?  But I was to find out otherwise.

I always thought that I was one who went through adversity and came out the other end tougher, wiser, and stronger. Crisis, I believe, is not punishment and it is not really God’s plan. It is just the human condition.  Every human.  I never knew anyone who had a life without disappointments, illness, job loss, or death of a loved one.

It did seem, however, that some people had more than others. I felt, and honestly sometimes still do feel, that I am one of those.  I do feel that, when I look at my family and friends, that I have had more crisis and challenges than many of them have had.  I count among them the death of my father when I was a teen, an unwanted pregnancy, crohns disease, a mentally handicapped son, a difficult divorce, and breast cancer as those “biggies” that have been major events in the past six decades.

But I had successfully faced so many surgeries, therapists, bosses, and attorneys that I felt I really could chalk up a few trophies the Karen Shelf of Life. I always have come through with more understanding, and hopefully compassion, for those who suffer. It seems credible that one of the inbred qualities of my personality is now to be more cautious, less trusting, and more negative about life.  But on the other end of the spectrum, I also am less judgmental and more empathetic (empathic) of those who have gone through similar events.

While the adversity can make people stronger, at the same time it can make them more cautious.  I am less of a risk taker than I was 20 years ago. I have more irrational fears than I did then as well.  I think about mortality and do things to impact on the positive quality of my life moreso than I did then. Otherwise, why would I eat vegetables instead of chocolate and lift weights instead of a remote control?

I reject that I am unlucky. Someone implied that about me when I was dealing with cancer as a single mother.  Luck implies to me that there is some kind of divine order and some folks routinely fall in the good luck pot while others are destined to miss. I do still ask “Why me?” when things happen, but it is a rhetorical question and I don’t seek nor expect an answer.  Everyone asks “why me?” from something as insignificant as breaking a nail to as traumatic as the death of a child.

Last spring changed my knowledge of myself when I was inside an event that was completely foreign to me. I have never been able to explain how it started, why it happened or why it ended. I was physically sick with a chronic infection, I was having trouble finding help, the stress caused pain elsewhere in my body which lead to weight loss and a lot of anxiety.  I couldn’t do anything to change it, I felt alone even with the love of my husband, family and friends, and I didn’t know where it would end. I was afraid for myself.

Finally, through some rather dramatic intervention, I found the professional and personal help I needed. Rather quickly, I started to resume my life and pick up where I left off. I changed a few things about paying attention to myself. I began to realize retirement, moving, and the financial crisis impacting many of us, was physically having its effect on me. There were overwhelming circumstances over which I had no control that led me to a kind of breakdown. I had to face my vulnerabilities and myself. To the outside world and those who know me well, I seemed the same. Inside I was changed.

I’m not sure yet what this will mean in the long run. I know already that I am more dependent and tentative. I know more sharply that I miss working and the meaningfulness and fulfillment that I had in interacting with students.  I know that the kind and intelligent people I have met since moving here cannot replace the long shared history I had with people in Ohio where I lived for 62 years.

But I also know that I can get through one day at a time and that my life is more fluid than I ever thought it would be even 10 years ago. There has been clarification about the few very important people who mean so much to me.

Each day now is an intentional event. I think about what I’m doing and why each thing is a worthwhile pursuit. I know that I need to be involved with people, and less idle and introspective. While many recommend meditation and reflection as a path to peace and understanding, I realize my way is to climb a mountain or to write something that makes me laugh.

And I also realize that you can’t tell where the internal life of a person might be by looking at their appearance or their family and friends or any of their resources. A “biggie” to someone else could be trading in a car or losing a bid on EBay. It is all a mystery. Even to ourselves.