It’s not about the problem. It’s about how we cope with it.
Mary just seemed to be branded with perpetual bad luck.
There’s really no other way to put it. She literally seemed cursed.
She started therapy soon after sustaining a life-threatening injury and now needed to cope with the aftermath of chronic pain and forced unemployment.When we first met, Mary could hardly walk, her schedule revolved around various medical appointments, and the overall recovery prognosis was poor. She had been referred to therapy because one of her physicians expressed natural concerns about how her physical condition could impact her mental well-being.
This injury was just the latest crisis in a string of multiple family deaths, physical assaults, extreme financial despair, and general life tragedies.
I’ll tell you this: Mary never once complained about any of it.
To say this client was resilient hardly skims the surface. She was doing more than mere coping, more than optimistically taking it as it comes. By all means, Mary was a champion, a warrior of acceptance, a walking demonstration of utmost living life without expectation or entitlement.
She could embrace her feelings fully. She could cry when she was sad and smile when she was happy. She allowed herself to be scared without feeling embarrassed over it, and she allowed herself to feel anxious without justification. In many ways, she was almost like a young child before society shaped her how to feel or how not to feel. We laughed a lot. She joked a lot. She knew how to have fun, how to love deeply and extremely, how to NOT take life so seriously.
Like a child, Mary allowed the full embracing of natural human emotions. All of them were okay. All of them were embraced. All of them had room in her life and in her heart. And, because all of them could be so readily accessed and experienced, she could let them run their natural courses.
When we let something run its natural course, we can heal. However, when we try to control, numb, manipulate, suppress, intellectualize, or minimize the experience, we often experience emotional setbacks.
Unlike many people, Mary believed and lived in accordance with the mantra that life owed her nothing. Her perception of such blank-slate existence eliminated expectations and distortions. It also eliminated the fallacy that she deserved anything at all.
I’m so blessed to feel pain, she once told me after a particularly rough session, It means I’m still alive and still a vulnerable human.
Most people spend their lives around suppressing, numbing, or intellectualizing pain. They conceal it, wish it away, talk about how annoying and nuanced feelings can be. Few want to embrace these experiences, and she was actually grateful for them. She knew they were necessary, they were outside of her control, and that they were a natural shaping of human existence.
Had tragedy hardened her or had it forced her into a lifetime of extreme and radical acceptance? Perhaps, it was a combination of both. Crises that would have mentally debilitated most people hardly fazed her, and she was able to talk, process, heal through whatever life hurdled at her with grace and dignity.
She had made peace with any and all potential problems, and with that, she carried a zest and fire for life and all of its complexities. She was able to accept whatever happened. Fully, wholeheartedly, and gracefully.
Mary was so free, so free from the bondage of self, so free from the preconceived notions of what life should be and what life should feel like.
She inspired me. When I find myself obsessing, griping, or even questioning the unfairness of life, her smile often pops into my mind. Life owes you nothing, and that’s the beauty of it. You just go, you just be kind, and you just live.
*While this is based on a true story, all reasonable efforts have been made by this writer to protect utmost client confidentiality an safety. Because of this, names and identifying details in this piece have been changed, omitted, and/or embellished.