What I Learned From Tragedy Built Emotional Resilience

One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself.  ~Leonardo Da Vinci

What Is Emotional Resilience?

I learned some hard lessons last year, the first being that life changes in an instant.

My fiancé, Craig, left one morning for the dentist, had a freak accident and for some unknown reason stopped breathing causing him to end up in the hospital in a coma for 6 days.  

He suffered a traumatic brain injury and was never the same man again.

Once I hung up from the call from the hospital, I immediately went from my generally happy, carefree and secure state to feeling extreme fear, uncertainty and eventually tremendous sadness.

I learned some other important life-changing lessons through the process of desperately trying to help him heal and the painful process of letting him go.

Hard to believe, but I am now actually grateful for having had the experience because it helped me build strong emotional resilience. 

I got to see the kind of strength and character I was made of and got a unique glimpse into how people act and behave when they are in fear and feel out of control.

Trust me, it was not pretty.

So here are some of the things I learned about myself and about life:

I am powerless to cure or fix other people no matter how hard I try.  

I had a strong identity around being good at fixing and taking care of people and that got destroyed when I finally realized I was not God and was not going to be able to “heal him” and believe me I tried.

And despite all my good intentions, he viewed my help as controlling so he eventually cut me out of his life.

I do the right thing even when it’s hard.

I continued to stick by him and honor his wishes, even though his family bullied and pushed me hard to walk away, so they could have control.  

Sacrificing your basic needs for others is not healthy.

I barely ate, slept or saw family or friends the entire time I was taking care of him.  Prior to the accident I worked out everyday, ate very healthy and got a solid 8 hours most night. 

I thought I was being noble and caring by sacrificing my needs, but it left me feeling depleted and resentful.

In times of crisis, you become an expert.  

Out of necessity I became an expert in brain injuries and I continue to use the information on how to create new neuro-pathways to enable growth and change.

Be appreciative when life is good.  

I always had a strong practice of acknowledging and being grateful for the good things in my life and i think it gave me a strong foundation for what was ahead.

Even from the very first day when we did not know if Craig would live or die, I still found things to be grateful for.…  

Someone bringing me dinner at the hospital.

Finding a close parking space.

The kindness of a nurse.

How to completely rely on and trust myself.

When your foundation gets shaken, it is amazing how quickly you learn to be resourceful and figure things out.

You don’t need to worry…because, out of necessity, the side of you, you never knew, comes out full force.

I always had my own back, but this brought me to a whole new level of commitment to helping him and to myself.

You can lose weight without exercising.  

This was a complete surprise to me, since I had always exercised obsessively at least 5X a week to maintain my weight or so I thought.

But I stopped completely on the day of the accident for about 6 months.  

Instead of gaining weight, I lost weight and have easily managed to keep it off since with moderate exercise.

How to feel my feelings.

It was very tempting to distract myself with food or entertainment like TV or books, but I wanted to get the most out of the experience to learn whatever lessons I was meant to learn.

So instead, I forced myself to feel all the fear, anger, longing and sadness wash through me every day.  

It was not fun and those emotions still come up occasionally, but I know I am where I am at today because I allowed myself to feel deep hard feelings.

Virtual strangers can be extremely kind.

When awful things happen, it is amazing who steps up and offers support.  

Two men who had done business with Craig in the past contacted me and offered to help run Craig’s business, Mental Toughness Academy.  

An amazingly kind woman, Laura answered an ad I put on NextDoor for a driver and she regularly volunteered to drive Craig to doctor appointments so I could work.

A friend organized people I barely knew to make me meals so I did not starve.

I guess sometimes it takes extreme difficulty to allow yourself to receive kindness from strangers.

How the right people come into your life just when you need them.

I always thought I had to work hard to make things happen, but when I did not have the strength, time or energy amazing resources showed up anyway.

For instance, a friend found me the perfect personal injury attorney who specialized in brain injury and a psychologist for Craig who had personal experience with brain injuries.

How to be happy in spite of feeling guilty that I shouldn’t.

When someone you care about is suffering, it is normal to feel you should  not feel happy.

The truth is your being unhappy does NOT make the other person in any way feel any better.  

The opposite is true, if you are happy then you have the ability to be strong and give a healthy perspective to the other person.

Everyone goes through hardship.

When you’re experiencing tragedy, it is understandable to think everyone else’s life is so easy.  

Coaching has given me a unique perspective, having worked with people who seem to have it all.

But no ones life is any better of worse than anybody else’s. 

It is what you do when you experience hardship that matters.

How to be vulnerable and real with people even when I really didn’t want to.

I was used to being the one who had it “all together” and this got completely stripped away.

It actually helped me get closer to people and open up to kindness and love.

Trying to fix people never works. 

I had to come to the understanding that being human means that we have to experience pain throughout our life.  

It is not possible to avoid or change that for people.  

I learned that first with my kids and then all over again with Craig.  

How to ask for help and how it makes people feel good to help.

Asking for help has never been something I felt comfortable doing, but maintaining my business, helping run Craig’s business and taking care of all his medical needs left me drained, exhausted and with never enough time.

I had to regularly ask for help and to my amazement people gladly provided what I needed.

It is a gift for most people to be helpful.

What’s happening now…

Craig and I are no longer together, but I deeply value the time that we shared and I have no regrets.

I hope if there is a relationship in your life that did not end the way you had anticipated my reflections will help you see the silver lining.  

I believe we are here as humans to experience ups and downs, good and bad and it all enriches our life in ways we often do not see or understand at the time.  

By rolling with the punches and eventually accepting what is, is how I came out the other side. 

“Life is not linear; you have ups and downs. It’s how you deal with the troughs that defines you.” ~Michael Lee-Chin


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