How a little hole changed my perception about life with pain
When you look very closely at life events and really think about the outcomes they produce, there is no such thing as a “big” or “small” thing. Everything makes a difference in our lives. I think all of life is a tapestry, where events occur and people we meet along the way are meant to be there for a reason, and the decisions we make help steer the direction our lives take. I also believe that life always has a way of working out. Sometimes we may not like our current circumstance, but each is a doorway to another chapter in our lives if we choose to view it this way.
As some of you may know, my town and home in North Carolina were hit very hard by a hurricane last September. The outside of my house was covered in trees and one tree limb found its way into my living room through the roof, causing water damage and other issues. Just the other day, 7 months later, my roof was finally replaced, and the interior ceiling, walls, flooring, and windows were repaired from all the water damage.
The hurricane was a major inconvenience with many days without power, water, or food. With flooding and trees down everywhere, it was a mess in and around the house. Look at the photo below showing how small the hole was that was in my roof. The small size of the tree limb that created this hole to make its way into my house is an indication of how powerful the storm was. Although this is a little hole, not much bigger than the size of my hand, it is what set so many things into motion.
This is what I mean by “big” and “small” things in life. Size is irrelevant. The hurricane was huge and the hole was tiny in comparison, each providing a different, yet equally challenging, set of circumstances. If this tree limb did not pierce through my roof into my living room, my life would have gone on as normal. I would not have had to temporarily move out, repair or replace damaged household items, and spend weeks cleaning mold and other damage in order to make the house safe to live.
I also would not have been as motivated to get the new roof that I needed, new flooring that I also needed, and a new paint job that was overdue in that part of the house…all because of a hole no bigger than my hand! This is what hit me as I saw all the work being done. Check out the picture below showing all the tools and supplies to fix the house… all because of a tiny hole! To get everything done, it took 4 teams of workers and me having to move out again, along with days of me cleaning and putting the house back together after all the work was done, which is not something my compromised body from dystonia and chronic pain handle very well. However, I did it and I’m proud of myself for the effort.
Some people may look at the hurricane and see it as a complete tragedy, and in some ways it most certainly was. From my perspective, I believe events like this can either bring us down or make us stronger, and you can read more about this in an article I wrote shortly after the hurricane. It is called, Nature’s Resilience After a Hurricane: A Metaphor for Life Challenges.
So what does all of this have to do with pain, as it says in the title of this article? For nearly 20 years, I have lived with chronic pain from a neurological movement disorder called dystonia. For me, it was a massive obstacle which led to severe anxiety, depression, and isolation for many years. I eventually learned that I needed to change my perspective about the cards I was dealt (the “hole in my roof”) if I wanted to work out of the painfully lonely place I was in, and it was a very dark one in many ways.
When I developed dystonia, I deeply grieved the life I lost. I let pain and other symptoms dictate my mood, attitude, and approach to all things in life, which led to some very tough times. I believe I had to go through all of it to get to a better place, but I could have gotten there sooner had I made the conscious decision to view my circumstances as a lesson, think differently about my situation, and make different choices. When I began to do this, my life changed for the better and I found meaning and purpose again; in many ways, more meaning and purpose than I had before developing this life altering health condition.
But no one told me any of this was possible or to look at my situation in a different way with a more open mind to see the opportunities it might present, which is why I am sharing this message with you. I very well might not have listened given the grief I was going through, along with the severe physical and mental pain, so I totally understand if this is not hitting home for some of you, but it sure would have been good for me to hear a different perspective than the negative broken record playing over and over in my mind.
I have learned many things from pain and dystonia, including perseverance, patience, courage, compassion, strength, humility, and a never give up attitude. What I have also learned from dystonia, pain, the hurricane, and many other challenges in life is that whenever an obstacle gets in our way, if we don’t look for the opportunity it might be presenting, it creates more suffering and we remain stuck. To prevent this from happening, my ongoing thought is, “how do I make the best out of a difficult situation.” This keeps me in a proactive state of mind so I can see my options.
I was the total opposite for a very long time where life to me seemed like it was over and I would never have the chance to enjoy anything ever again. My ongoing thought back then was, “everything in life completely stinks and I don’t want to live.” This is why it was so hard to see a way out and why I wrote this article, because I know so many people who are suffering the very same way.
Perhaps your life needs to go in a different direction for reasons unbeknownst to you at the moment. Do not resist it and you will begin to see doors open that will lead you to a better place. Resisting any adverse circumstance, rather than flowing through it, will increase its power over us, make the problem linger, and create more pain and suffering than we are already experiencing. And no problem (or hole in the roof) is too small or too big to change the course of your life in negative or positive ways. The direction life takes is our choice. In other words, it is not what happens to us in life that defines us, be it a health challenge or something else. It is what we do with what happens in life that defines us and our character.
Of course I have days when I want to throw in the towel, as we all do, but by knowing that there is value in the obstacle, the obstacle turns into an opportunity for personal growth, and that awareness keeps me going. For those of you who know my story, you know how severe my pain was for years and how far I have come… and you can too. There was a period of over 5 years where I could barely sit or stand for a few minutes, so I spent most of my day rolling around on the floor.
I have since become a life coach, motivational speaker, and author of numerous articles all over the world about dystonia, pain, anxiety, depression, and other topics, as well as writing a dystonia book that was recognized by the Michael J. Fox Foundation and featured in different pain magazines. I still have pain so I have to carefully balance my activities, but these are things I never thought possible when my life took a complete 180 when dystonia and chronic pain came into my life out of nowhere at the age of 30. To help me come to terms with it and change the circumstances of my life, I had to learn how to turn my mess into a message, which is now my life passion.
The following is a wise quotation attributed to Abraham Lincoln about perspective: “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” As with life, the outcome of all experiences in all situations depends on our perspective. We can allow obstacles to tear us down or lift us up. It is all about how we think and the lens through which we choose to see things.
Tom Seaman is a Certified Professional Life Coach in the area of health and wellness, and the author of 2 books: Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey (2015) and Beyond Pain and Suffering: Adapting to Adversity and Life Challenges (2021). He is also a motivational speaker, chronic pain and dystonia awareness advocate, health blogger, volunteer for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) as a support group leader, and is a member and writer for Chronic Illness Bloggers Network, The Mighty, Patient Worthy, and The Wellness Universe. To learn more about Tom, get a copy of his books (also on Amazon), or schedule a free life coaching consult, visit www.tomseamancoaching.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dystoniabook1 and Instagram.