Sometimes problems can seem overwhelming—but you are stronger than you think
Editor’s note: The Good Doctor is on a well-deserved vacation, so we are re-running a popular column from a few years ago.
I want to share a few stories with you.
This afternoon, I received a call from Keith, a good friend of mine, who told me he had just lost his job. He is a very conscientious worker, had a lot of responsibility in his position, and was recently promoted at his company. And he was fired. Suddenly. No warning. With very little explanation.
He was not only doing his best, each and every paycheck to work his way out of debt, and eventually, to get ahead in life, but he was also sending money to his parents—currently providing care for his elderly grandfather—who counted on his help.
About an hour after that phone call, I received another call from a long-time friend, Craig, whom I’ve written about before in this column. He was a heart transplant patient several years back, and recently became an amputee. He lost part of one leg due to complications from diabetes, but was on the mend and learning to get around quite well in his new wheelchair. He was very distraught, understandably, as his doctor’s visit today provided him with more painful news: They would have to amputate more of his leg due to infection.
Then, just before bed, another dear friend from up north, Sarah, called and told me about her pending divorce. The couple is raising three young children, and had for several years been experiencing serious difficulties in their relationship. After couples counseling and a lot of painful soul searching, they made their decision. Sarah is understandably worried, not only for their future but for the mental and spiritual well being of their children.
It’s been quite a day. And isn’t it agony when you want do badly to do something to help “fix it”—and you can’t?
It’s one thing to have the kind of problems we probably all share to one degree or another, at one time or another, like occasionally coming up a little short on rent; catching a cold that won’t go away; dealing with poor grades at school despite hard work and perseverance; experiencing communication snags in a relationship and stressing about why you don’t “click” anymore.
Much of the time, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. “This too shall pass” is a helpful 12-step mantra. And it’s true. As Buddha said, “Everything changes.”
But what do we do with the big tough stuff, the kind of issues that really challenge our coping skills, our reserves of determination and resilience? How do we navigate the various life-altering losses that are a part of life and emerge not bitter, but better? What’s the answer when the answers aren’t easy?
This is the stuff we are made of. This is what tests our mettle and forever changes our worldview. It’s not fixable with a Band-Aid; rather, it’s helped through a re-shoring of inner resources; is tackled with a degree of vigilance and fortitude previously uncalled upon; is healed only with a change of perception, a softening of the heart, an opening of the mind. From the pain of these life challenges we hope to learn how to re-fill our inner coffers to the point of overflowing so there can be, once again, enough.
At such times, I remember a fact taught to first-year medical students: The first task of the heart is to pump blood to itself. In my books, I refer to this as “healthy selfishness.” It’s not selfish at all, however—it’s simply good self-care.
There are moments when we need to learn to prioritize our own care, for without enough sustenance, how can we be of use to ourselves or anyone else? We have to find our way out of the hole, return to ourselves, and rediscover a healing, abundant path for the mind, body, spirit and soul.
Not always easy. They say that scar tissue is tougher than the original tissue. Sometimes that’s the only hope there is.
I don’t have the answers. But you do. And from outside of you, loved ones, your spiritual practice, inspiration, can come support, the fresh air of clarity, and a renewal of strength, so that you can, in the quiet, find exactly what you need.
After some dust has settled, and once their internal resources have begun to re-fill, my friends will be OK. Keith will find another job. Craig will once again regain his mobility. Sarah’s life, after parting ways, will continue.
With inspiration. With persistence. With faith.
Until next month: “Unexpected grace may provide beauty and healing during strenuous moments of truth.” — Rob Brezsny
Dr. Rick Pimental-Habib, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist, author, minister, and educator in private practice in Chattanooga. Contact him at DrRPH.com, visit his wellness center at WellNestChattanooga.com and follow his daily inspirations on Twitter: @DrRickWellNest