The greatest outcome from sharing my story with the world has been the opportunity to help others. Since I finally opened up about my condition four years ago, my life has taken a turn for the better. Through writing and speaking about my patient story, I’ve had many wonderful people come into my life, from high school classmates I’ve reconnected with to complete strangers who were moved to contact me in some way. I am not terribly comfortable as the center of attention, but I do it because I believe that I am part of something much larger than myself.
To be honest, I don’t consider my story to be more inspirational than anyone else’s. I’ve said that many times before. Have I dealt with a lot? Absolutely, and I won’t sell myself short there. But at the same time, I am not the only one who has persevered in this world. I don’t have the market for inspiration covered, as I know of countless others who have dealt with even greater burdens. They are the people I turn to when I need to be picked up after a tough day.
Rather, what sharing my journey has shown me is that there is a great unmet need in society for impactful stories. Everyone these days is struggling with something, and far too many suffer silently. They walk the lonely road that I stumbled down years ago. People need to be reminded that they are strong enough to get through whatever it is that gets them down, and the best way to accomplish this is to hear the stories of others. People need to hear the good and the bad, the successes and failures. Meaningful, authentic stories connect with people on an emotional level like no other story can.
The need is great. I don’t say that as an exaggeration or as an indictment on society; it’s my observation from firsthand experience. Everyone is struggling with something. This is a favorite phrase of mine. My disease has (thankfully) made me more empathetic, to the point where I can identify easily when someone is having a tough time. It is sort of like my sixth sense.
Lately I have been receiving around 1-2 emails and messages per month from complete strangers. They usually ask me for advice or thank me for sharing my story. I am flattered, sure, but more than anything I want to help each person. Sometimes I have answers, sometimes I don’t. But if I don’t, I try to at least steer them in the right direction. I don’t want anyone to encounter me and not have their situation improve in some way.
I’ve thought a lot recently about how I can help people on a greater scale. For everyone that reaches out to me, I wonder how many others read or hear my story but are hesitant to reach out. I wonder even more how many people out there would benefit from hearing anyone’s story, let alone my own.
I realize that I can do a better job of communicating on here what has helped me on my journey these last few years. As a result, I am going to write about, in a series of posts, various pieces of advice. Each post will cover a specific topic that I will briefly outline below. You can find these posts under my new column heading, “The Adversity Playbook”. My hope is that, for anyone who stumbles across my website, they can use my experience as a starting point on their journey. Bumpy roads don’t have to be lonely roads.
I am not an oracle who has all the answers. I have made my mistakes along the way, and there are some days I go against this very advice I am about to tell because I am tired, stubborn, and/or frustrated. In short, I’m human.
I make this list as a jumping off point. It is only meant to scratch the surface of what I hope to write about in future posts.
Without further ado:
- Don’t go at it alone!
I can’t emphasize this enough – life is not meant to be lived in isolation, especially when you are going through a tough time. It is natural to feel isolated when the world around you cannot relate to your situation, especially if it is a disease. But the sooner you recognize that you can’t go at it alone, and more importantly, that you are not supposed to go at it alone, it changes everything. I am living proof of that. I wouldn’t be where I am at today if I didn’t reach out to my family, friends and coworkers and humbly admit I couldn’t handle my situation anymore. I needed a helping hand, and I got hundreds of them in return.
Asking for help is not easy, but it is crucial. Trust me.
- Seek out others who are going through a similar ordeal
Another helpful piece of advice is to seek out others who are going through something similar to what you are dealing with. If you Google the issue – whether it’s a disease, a failure, a setback, whatever it is – you will undoubtedly find someone who has gone through it or who understands how you feel. It builds off the first point – community is essential. If you have a disease, rather than shut yourself in (which is the natural human reaction), seek out others who can understand what you are dealing with. Join a Facebook group, or an organization whose mission is to find a cure or provide services and support. It seems intuitive, but I know of many people who don’t do this, and it makes me sad.
- Don’t be afraid to fail
I am no longer afraid of failure, which is a good thing because I’ve encountered it over and over and over again, especially this year on my job search. I can stomach it because I have come to realize that anything worthwhile in life requires risk, and nothing worthwhile is given to you on the first try. If you fail 99 times out of 100, the one time that you succeed outshines the other 99 failures.
This notion has sustained me every time I fall. I am past the point where I can pick myself back up on my own. Every fall is a reminder that my body is failing me. But every time I end up back on my feet, and I take my first step on solid ground, I realize how worth it it is to get back up.
- Share your story!
When you get through the difficult times – and you will – share your story with others. When I finally opened up about my journey and wrote my first article – a piece for the Jain Foundation (whose mission is to find a cure for my disease) – a weight was lifted off my shoulders. Sharing your story will empower you and give you confidence, and just as importantly, it will help others. It doesn’t take much. Trust me, your story is not boring, and it will have an impact. Any small impact, even if it brings a smile to one person’s face, makes it worth it.
Keep in mind, the moment you overcome your difficulties, someone is experiencing that hardship for the very first time, and they don’t know where to turn. You can be that beacon of light for someone else, as only you can.
If you have any questions about any topic on here, or anything that is not covered, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me, firstname.lastname@example.org.