A lesson learned during one of the darkest seasons of my life


It was the lowest point in my entire life. A season filled with a whole bunch of sad things and hopelessness and the worst of all, loneliness. One late night, I was walking down the stairs from our bedroom and as I got near the bottom my foot slipped and I fell on my back, hit my head and slid down and underneath the dining room table sitting just a few feet from the base of the stairs. I stood up and looked behind me because it happened so unexpectedly and rather aggressively and I was convinced someone had pushed me. I was home alone. It was just me and exhaustion. It was winter, Corey was in the thick of his residency and working ridiculous hours and I had just returned home from one of the saddest weekends of my life. My close-knit family was falling apart at the seams and we had all spent the weekend in Wisconsin for three intense days of family counseling. We all returned home more hopeful than we had been before we arrived, but we were reminded again that the only way past heartbreak is to walk right through the grief of it. And after over a year of trying, we were still very un-pregnant which only added to my feelings of brokenness and loneliness.

We were new to the city and friendships were pretty non-existent so I spent my days looking for meaningful work to fill my free time. I kid you not, I couldn’t find anybody who wanted me. Not even a non-profit, looking for volunteers. I’m telling you, it was sad.

This depressing season of life drug me through the mud for two more years. And that’s only because it took that long for me to grasp the lesson I needed to learn:

I can’t control all of my circumstances, but I can control what I see.

Life sucked because my husband worked all the time, I hated living in the Midwest, I didn’t have any friends and we were battling unexplained infertility.

I couldn’t change my husband’s schedule or change the climate we were living in or make people want to be my friend or make my effing body work. It suuuuuucked.

And I felt totally sorry for myself. Some days I didn’t get out of bed until 3:00. In the afternoon. And, the only reason I would get out of bed was so that I could take our dog for a walk and make a sandwich before I sat down to watch Ellen on TV which came on at 4. It was so bad. And so sad. And there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

But then one day I started writing. And I realized for the first time in my life that I really liked to write. And I started taking pictures for just myself and I got pretty good at it because I wasn’t creating art for anyone but myself. And, then I started doing house projects and I taught myself how to lay tile and refinish cabinets and I realized I was pretty good at working with my hands. And then, there was an unofficial final moment where I symbolically threw my hands up and surrendered every last bit of what I was longing for. I said to myself that if this is all I ever have then it’s enough. And I believed it.

Because in college after I nearly flunked out my first semester due to all of my pre-med classes that I sucked at I wrote in my journal that I would just marry a doctor instead. And look, somehow I had! And he loved me with a fierceness and made me laugh really really hard all the time. And I ordered a Happy Light to combat my self-diagnosed SAD and I started taking rides around the city to learn it better and as much as I didn’t want it to it started to grow on me. I started taking our dog to a nature preserve near our house every few days and every time we winded through the giant trees and wildflowers my hopefulness for life would elevate ever so slightly. And, I learned that you can’t expedite the type of meaningful friendships that take years to build so I made the choice to be patient with the process, knowing that every encounter was adding to the time log.

And we all know that there really is something so true about the stages of grieving and so maybe it was just me finally getting to the step of acceptance. Or maybe it was just me gaining a fresh outlook on life. But, one very big and important day I mustered up the courage to look my worst-case scenario right in the eyes.

Worst-case scenarios are really just a code word for fears, you know. My fears were never being a mother, going through the treacherous years of med school and training alongside of him and then having God tell us to move to a third world country and lastly, I feared I would never make close friends in our new city.

Of course this sounds a little ridiculous written out, but most fears are. I’ve since learned to write my fears out on paper. Because it’s only then that I can really see which ones are in fact legit (barely any), while the rest almost instantaneously lose their power as soon as I see them in writing.

On this big and important day I thought about all my fears happening and then I had this vision of us living in a hut in Africa, him working on sick people, and me being an unofficial mother to orphans. The vision alone made me actually long for a life like that. I even went so far as to ask Corey if we could move to Africa when he got done with his training!

And in its glorious and proverbial way the last frost melted and the leaves and flowers returned.

I was happy again.

My circumstances looked nearly identical as they had two years prior. Truly, very little had changed. Except for in my mind that is. My mind had changed drastically.

The funny thing is that my “spring” happened well into the fall, when most of the trees had shed their leaves. But, I didn’t fear winter anymore. I looked forward to it. I wanted the excuse to spend more time writing in front of the fire and having new friends over for coffee and spending evenings with Corey drinking beer under a shared blanket and watching movies without feeling guilty. And in all of my other spare time (which was a lot) I played Dr. Mario on the Wii. And I gained weight. Kind of a lot. But, it was the happy type of weight gain. The kind you gain when you’ve gotten really comfortable with someone you’ve fallen in love with or are traveling through a country that makes really good food. It was by far my most favorite winter ever. Same circumstances, different mind.

I’m not discounting the fact that sometimes we just need a bit of time in a dark valley to regain a fresh perspective on life (which is why I never feel sorry for people who find themselves in dark valleys. I’ll never hesitate to hold your hand there, but I won’t rush you out). But I also know that my season of sadness was prolonged by my own doing.

It was the first time I couldn’t control my circumstances and it was really pissing me off. I felt victimized by life and I wanted everyone to feel sorry for me. One day I told a new friend all about my super sad circumstances and she said, “well yea, you know what you want and you can’t have it. It sucks not getting what you want.” Her words pissed me off because I thought she made me seem awfully bratty. I mean all I wanted was a husband who didn’t have to work so much and a baby and a few friends. Was that really so selfish to desire?!

I stewed over what she said for days and then with humility seeping from my pores I realized that she was right. So so right. I was pissed I couldn’t have what I wanted and I was throwing an adult-sized temper tantrum over it. This doesn’t mean it’s not okay to long for something, but I was doing more than that. I was saying without saying that I wasn’t happy with what I did have. That’s why her words pissed me off so bad.

My gratitude for life had been replaced for feelings of victimization and ultimately, with little effort, every day became about me and what I wasn’t getting.

It was then that I finally learned the life lesson I’ll never ever forget: You can’t control all of your circumstances, but you can control what you see.

As soon as I started to look at my free time as a time to learn more about myself and my husband’s long days as a result of him pursuing a life goal and my inability to get pregnant as the chance to really learn compassion I started to see my life as extraordinarily meaningful. As meaningful as every other human I marveled. Suddenly I was a well of talents and a wife that played a really important role in their husband’s dream-chasing and a friend that could handle any less than happy news by meeting them right there in their dark place with ease.

I went from sadness to kickassness.

And hell shuddered because there’s nothing scarier to Satan than someone who knows their worth and can find happiness regardless of their circumstances.

This was over five years ago. Of course now we know my worst-case-turned-wishful-life turned out quite different than I had expected. Two children later, both adopted, a husband done with his training and around more than ever, a house on a little bit of property and although we’re not living in the Midwest any longer some of my very biggest soul sisters were found there.

Don’t be fooled though. I still battle daily desires to victimize myself. I’m still infertile with no explanation, I often feel like I have dreams that will never be pursued because of the demands of motherhood and there are diagnoses within our family that tempt to paralyze me with fear. But, I’ve learned now to really see and what I see makes me well up with joy over how amazingly beautiful this life is. And on the days that’s not enough I allow myself to look my worst-case-scenario-fears right in the eyes and I’ve yet to see anything in my potential future that keeps me from finding happiness.

Life is without doubt sad and hard and cruel sometimes because sometimes we need things we can’t get or we’ve lost things we can’t get back, but this life is also tremendously beautiful. Sometimes it’s not easy to see the really beautiful and that’s okay. Because for some of us (hand raised) we need a little time to trudge through the darkness to fine tune ourselves before we’re willing to look upward. And for some of us we’ve forgotten how to walk uphill because our muscles have atrophied and walking on a flat surface feels like the easiest option. But for all of us we need the same thing: a heavy dose of empathy (not to be confused with sympathy), a lot of love and a whole lot of patience. Because we’re all moving forward, it’s just that sometimes our terrain looks different than the person’s next to us.

Yet no matter our terrain or our pace one thing remains the same: we see what we look for. And that season of life lasted just long enough to never let me forget that I cannot control my circumstances, but I can control what I see.