Adapting to Adversity

April 10, 2018

How one deals with adversity is very unique to the situation and the individual. I have faced great adversity at different times in my life, some of which I handled well and some not so much. For example, after being diagnosed with dystonia in 2001, I didn’t handle the first 5 or so years very well. Depression, anxiety, fear, anger, isolation, helplessness, self loathing, and basically wanting to die from the insane physical and emotional pain was my way of life. I gave up.

Deep pits of depression and darkness filled my world, the polar opposite of the person I once was; an optimistic, fun loving go-getter. I am getting more of that person back despite still living with dystonia and chronic pain, but it has taken a lot of work and, to keep in context with this article, I had to take a new and different approach when the you know what hits the fan.

Many of us have heard things like, “we are only given as much as we can handle”, “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”, and other similar sayings. I don’t mean to be cliché, but it’s hard to argue them. When adversity comes our way, it provides us the energy to be propelled to a higher level. Most anyone you meet who has insight and compassion and lessons to share, it is usually because they have faced tough times. Before continuing, I want to make it clear that I have not conquered the secret to living a pain-free life or am cured of anything. I am just trying to share some new perspectives that might help all of us feel better.

I try to keep in mind that adversity can be a great thing. Exhausting for sure, but always an opportunity to grow stronger if we view it this way. If you are familiar with me and what I write about, I try to pound home the notion that within every obstacle lies opportunity. In the very beginning of my book, Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey, I quote Herb Brooks (head coach of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team) who said to his team prior to the game against the Soviet Union, a David and Goliath match where the US miraculously prevailed, “great moments are born from great opportunity.” I try to remember this when confronted with challenges.

The concept that we can be propelled to a higher level in the face of adversity originally came from the Kabbalah, the ancient text of Judaism, which says, “The falls of our life provide us the energy to be propelled onto a higher path.” The belief is that the more challenging the obstacles, the more potential there is for personal growth. There are times when being broken down is what it takes to rebuild us to a place that is better than where we came from. As Ernest Hemingway said, “Life breaks all of us, but some of us are strong in the broken places.”

Instead of always fighting what we view is wrong with us, we eventually have to say something like, “Screw it. This is my life and I am going to live it to the best of my ability despite the challenges and what others think, and do my best to enjoy every moment. If all I do is focus on what is wrong with me, then I will live in a dark and depressing world. I accept that things are tough and it won’t keep me from being happy.”

This is so much easier said than done, but it all comes down to the choice we make about how we want to live. If we want to be happy, we need to learn to be okay that things may not be the way we want them to be; that they are the way they are and we can find ways to live with it, all the while remaining committed to our search for relief from our suffering. We need to embrace everything in life and feel it, and then find ways to be okay with what we view as not okay.

None of us are immune to the challenges of life. At some time or another we all endure tough experiences. When adversity comes, how we respond to it determines what happens next. Life experiences become tragedies if we make the conscious decision to make tragedies out of them. We can either resist or we can accept challenges. If we choose to view all challenges as opportunities for personal growth, they can be a driving force for positive changes.

Tom Seaman is a Certified Professional Life Coach in the area of health and wellness, and author of the book, Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey. He is also a motivational speaker, chronic pain and dystonia awareness advocate, health blogger, and volunteers for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) as a support group leader, for WEGO Health as a patient expert panelist, and is a member and writer for the Chronic Illness Bloggers network. To learn more about Tom, subscribe to his free health newsletter, and get a copy of his book, visit www.tomseaman.org. Follow him on Twitter @Dystoniabook1 and Instagram

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10 responses to “Adapting to Adversity”

  1. Marie Saenger says:

    Tom, wow…thank you for this awesome encouragement! I love all those quotes. And yes, I completely believe that the hard things we go through make us stronger and build our character. I used to think and believe the thought that we’re never given more than we can handle, but doggone it, sometimes we are! So we need help and a way to get through it which builds so much of that strength and character in us to help handle the next thing. Anyway, your posts always give me a boost and fill my “tool box” with something new to draw from. Thanks again!

    • Tom Seaman says:

      You are very welcome Marie! I agree that sometimes we are given more than we can handle… or that it feels that way when we are going through it, but things always have a way of working out as long as we are steadfast in our attempt to handle things to the best of our ability. Effort instead of outcome is the measuring stick I like to use to gauge how well we are doing. Wishing you the very best and thank you!

    • Tom Seaman says:

      You are very welcome Marie! I agree that sometimes we are given more than we can handle… or that it feels that way when we are going through it, but things always have a way of working out as long as we are steadfast in our attempt to handle things to the best of our ability. Effort instead of outcome is the measuring stick I like to use to gauge how well we are doing. Wishing you the very best and thank you!

  2. Karen S says:

    Tom, thank you for posting your very inspirational article. You are an amazing person. For some reason today, I needed to read this article.

  3. Tara Skeen says:

    Thank you Tom! You are truly an inspirational person to me. I have Cerebral Palsy, which I was born with, Dystonia, Chronic Pain Fatigue Syndrome among other physical problems. Sometimes it takes all I can do to face these problems on a daily basis. I live at a Skilled Nursing Facility.

    • Tom Seaman says:

      Hi Tara. Thank you for such kind words! I am in awe of you and your ability to keep fighting despite so many challenges. You are the inspiration!

  4. Janna says:

    Thank you for posting this–I really needed it. I’ve been having a tough time lately with my CD. Botox is wearing off and head is constantly in motion. Add failed Trigger Point injections and a very sore lower back and all I’m feeling is pain. It was great to find some words to inspire me to keep going!!

    • Tom Seaman says:

      I’m really glad this came at a time when you needed it. I’m sorry you are struggling so much right now. I know how horrible that pain can be. It can impact every single aspect of our lives and takes so much energy to keep battling. Please keep fighting and I hope your Botox injections are soon so you can get some relief. Warm wishes to you.

  5. Annette says:

    What a way to start my day. I am so inspired by this. Thank you Tom!!!!

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