Life is hard. Life isn’t fair. It will knock you down and keep you down if you let it. We’ve all heard some form of these phrases from the time we were children, but it never rings true until we’re faced with one of life’s “real” trials. If you haven’t seen any really hard times yet, just wait, they will come.
I don’t say this to discourage you. Quite the opposite actually: I say this to encourage you to start living your life with purpose now instead of waiting until you have no other option but to fight back or roll over and give up. Take a short journey with me… I’d like to share some things I’ve learned through my struggles.
For the past 5 years, I’ve struggled with my health. For the first 3 years, I could claim the old saying that “ignorance is bliss,” but a month after I got married to my wonderful wife, we were given the news. Crohn’s Disease. Welcome to marriage, right? If you’re unfamiliar with this illness, I’ll let you do a little research on your own; no need to get down in the weeds on that right now.
I’ve seen some good health days (especially over the past 9 months), but for the first 4 years, we saw a lot of bad days. The first year and a half after my diagnosis was particularly bad. I’ve been on top of the mountain, and I’ve been in the lowest part of the valley. From entire days with no pain, to being in so much pain all I could do was kneel at the end of my hospital bed, screaming and vomiting into a trashcan beside me. I never thought it was possible to be in so much pain that you can’t even lie down, but I’ve seen those days too. It’s harder to say on the bad days, but I’m better for it; much better actually. I’ve been blessed to gain a perspective on life that I never would’ve been able to if I was completely well and everything was perfect.
Everyone handles struggles differently. Some open up to others, and some struggle in silence. I’ve struggled mostly in silence, but the time has come to be more vocal in hopes of being an encouragement to others going through difficult times. If this encourages you, please let me know and please share with others. You may not be going through a trial right now, but I can promise you someone close to you is, and we will all have future struggles. Here are a few things I’ve learned over the past 5 years that I’d like to share with you.
1) Hiding from your problems doesn’t make them go away.
The first 3 years of my battle with Crohn’s Disease, I lived in complete denial that anything was wrong with me. I made all the excuses I could to convince myself that I was fine.
“I’m just a little too stressed out.”
“I need to get more sleep and I’ll feel better.”
“If I take enough medicine, these symptoms will go away.”
I told myself these same things over and over for 3 years. I was at college and no one was there to tell me any different, so it was easy to hide. Whatever I was facing at the time, you better believe I had a good excuse for it. Right up until the day of our engagement pictures when I was running a nearly 105-degree fever, I told my now-wife, “I’m fine. Just give me a couple Tylenol and I’ll take a nap and be better.” Looking back, I see how ridiculous this was, but at the time, it didn’t seem so crazy to me.
Are you hiding from your problems like I was? Are you ignoring all the signs pointing to the contrary that “things are NOT all right?” Until you face your problems head on, there’s no way you can begin to start moving in the right direction. Honestly, once I recognized something was wrong, things got even worse, physically and mentally. Not only was I sick physically, I now had to emotionally deal with the fact that something was wrong with me, and the emotional pain is just as bad if not worse. Physical pain eventually goes away, but emotional pain is always there in the background, and it can come up by simply giving it a second of your attention.
Things may get temporarily worse once you’ve realized there is an issue to resolve, but that is when true healing can begin, whether physically, emotionally, or both. Fighting back is hard, trust me. The first year and a half after my diagnosis things got much worse than they had been. I may have been aware that there was a problem, but I was still hiding from the fact that I needed to make some serious changes in my life. Until my last hospital stay nearly a year ago, I was comfortably hiding behind the “wisdom” of my doctors and the hope that the medication they were giving me would make all my problems go away, but not much changed. Not until I realized that I was going to have to stop relying on others to fix my problems and start taking responsibility myself.
2) The more you focus on your problems, the bigger they become.
I am a natural worrier. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been this way — but it’s no excuse. It’s not just the big things either. Sometimes I catch myself worrying about some of the smallest and dumbest things for no good reason. Thankfully, my wife on the other hand has more faith and assurance than I’ve ever been able to possess. If I’ve learned one thing over the past 5 years, worrying doesn’t solve any problems. Whether it’s anxiety about your job, your family, or your health, worry can make all of these things worse, especially your health, which has been shown to be tied directly to your emotional state. If your mind is under stress, your body is likely under stress as well.
Can you remember a time in your life when worrying ever solved a problem? I honestly cannot. So what can you do instead of worrying about all your problems? Begin focusing on solutions. Until I understood this, nothing changed, but once I started working on solutions to my problems, things started to get better. Once you’ve found a solution, get laser-focused and work your butt off toward it. My solution to a lot of my health problems was radically changing my diet. I haven’t had a complex carbohydrate (bread, pasta, potatoes, rice), nothing with added sugar (literally everything but fruit, veggies and some meats), and nothing with preservatives in nearly a year. Yes, it was hard for the first few months, but I am focused and determined to work on the solution instead of focusing on my problems. The more you focus on the solution to attack the problem, the better things will become. Guess what? I’ve never been better and never been on less medication. I went from 20–30 pills daily to taking 0 daily pills and am cutting way back on my other medications. I’m almost completely medication free now!
3) Tying your happiness to your current circumstances is a sure way to be unhappy a lot of the time.
Life is hard, and sometimes for very long periods of time. For the first 4 years of my health issues, my happiness was directly tied to how I felt on a given day. If I felt good, life was good. If I felt bad, life was bad. It was a terrible way to live! One day I’d be on top of the world and loving life, and a couple days later I’d feel about as low as possible. It wasn’t until I started finding my happiness in things outside my circumstances that I truly could be happy, even on the bad days.
Where do you find your happiness? Is it in the things you possess or the money you make? Guess what, neither of those last, and one day, your health will fail you too. You can very easily lose your job and all your money along with it. One thing I’ve learned is that NOTHING is permanent, not even the things you think you’ll never lose. The things we possess are temporary, and most of the time they never bring us as much satisfaction as we thought they would.
For me, I try to find all of my joy in my faith, family, and relationships with those around me. The more I find my joy in these things, the less I focus on my current circumstances and myself. If one of these things isn’t going well, I work hard to find out why and try to solve that issue, because I’ve learned that buying more things and accumulating more wealth doesn’t really satisfy. There’s always more money to be made and more things to buy, but in the end, they’re all empty and none of those things can love you in return. What good are all the possessions in the world if you don’t have someone to love and share them with?
4) While inner strength and discipline are important, if your strength comes only from within yourself, you’re bound to fall at some point.
No amount of “self-help” books can prepare you for life’s toughest trials. I thought I could power through my trials myself by mustering up enough will-power to do the things I needed to do, but I fell so many times before I realized I can’t do everything myself. I haven’t told many people, but I failed my diet twice before I was able to stick to it with the help of my wife. I needed people around me to help support me, especially during the hardest parts of life.
Where do you find your strength? Is it family and loved ones? Your faith? Whatever it is, you have to find something outside yourself that can help you push through when you’re at your lowest point. As you climb out of the valley, you will come in contact with people around you who will need your strength and support as well. Be willing to lend a helping hand and share your inner strength with others. “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.” (Eccles. 4:9–10).
There are people we come in contact with every day who are hurting. I’ve been blessed to come across people in my own life who are dealing with struggles far greater than mine, and we’ve been able to encourage each other to keep moving forward. The only other option is to give up and let life keep you down. Don’t let your pride isolate you from others during your struggles. Everyone is human, and to be human means to struggle. Reach out to the ones you can trust, and be honest with them about your circumstances. More often than not, people will be more than willing to listen to you and help you through life’s darkest moments, but you have to be humble enough to reach out for help.
The past 9 months have been life-changing for me, all because I changed my mindset and what was important to me. I quit valuing things so much and I started to focus on the things that are really important. My faith, my family, and how I can impact the people around me for the better. Jobs are lost, health is diminished, and things on this earth decay and break down, but the positive impact you have on those around you will last and bring you more joy than you could ever imagine. Since changing these things, my health has never been better and I’ve never felt so alive and on a meaningful mission. Now I work hard for the right reasons.
It took a long time and a lot of heartache before I learned these truths, but I can honestly say I wouldn’t trade the lessons I’ve learned from my struggles. Of course on the bad days it’s harder to say, and sometimes I struggle to believe them, but I just have to keep reminding myself of them every day. The only other option is to give up, and I’ve never been much of a quitter. You don’t have to be either.
I hope you find encouragement in these words. I have been debating for months about sharing them, but if I can help one person fight through their struggles, it’s worth it.