Finding light amongst the darkness
By Amber Jurek
If you had asked me five months ago where I sat with respect to my mental health and wellbeing, I can guarantee the answer I would have given would be vastly different to the answer I give you today. I would have responded that I had respectable mental resilience as a consequence of evolving through challenges faced in high school and early university. I believed at the time I possessed a solid inventory of wellbeing weapons—including regular yoga, journaling, reading, meditation and a refined sense of self awareness. This was true and is still true—although this inventory has been purposefully expanded.
Five months ago almost to the day, I experienced an acute traumatic event which not only significantly rocked my mental health, but also vastly shifted my perspective on my life and life in general. In the weeks and months that followed—to try and battle the demons which now plagued my everyday environment, thoughts and even dreams—I ramped up my self-care routine and boosted my inventory quota as sufficiently as I knew how. The problem was, nothing was working. The challenges I was encountering were completely new to me, well beyond my scope of control or understanding and quite frankly, this scared me immensely. I knew that this was not me, that this was not a life I wanted. I craved so badly a cure to this disease which was slowly but surely eroding my life.
This was when I sought help. Looking back, reaching out and admitting I couldn’t traverse this alone was one of the most important decisions I have made to date and also one of the most powerful. It took every ounce of strength I had left to commit to a journey of healing, and I am so immensely proud of myself for having the courage and will to do so. Fast forward five months and numerous sessions of targeted counselling, I am well and truly back on track. As with every adversity in life, the path less travelled is typically far from easy and thus has taught me a great number of lessons—five of which I wish to share with you today.
Lesson # 1 – Suffering is always shared. None of us are alone or unique in our experiences of hardship. Yes, the circumstances around our challenges may differ however, not one single person on this planet would not have experienced suffering in some way, shape or form in their lifetime. When we are in the depths of loss, grieving, fear, hurt or any other range of negative emotions it can feel as if no one else understands, that you are alone or that you are suffering the most. What I have learnt is that believing you are unique in your experience of suffering only perpetuates the pain and creates a sense of isolation which is entirely self-inflicted and often manufactured. Remembering that suffering is shared means connecting more not less, and suffering less not more.
Lesson # 2 – No one is a mind-reader so don’t expect them to be. No one can ever know you as intimately as you know yourself. Loved ones not reacting how you expect to your trauma, or not understanding or supporting you in the exact, specific way you believe you need to be supported is not good reason to isolate yourself or sever that connection. Having people around you who want to or try to understand is far more important than the understanding itself will ever be. Having a network or even just a small handful of people who support you irrespective of understanding is pivotal to supporting your journey of healing and mental wellbeing.
Lesson # 3 – Life is a series of hardships. There is no “easy path” and there is no magic recipe to navigating life unscathed. The key to being successful and traversing hardship is a commitment to mental resilience and an acceptance of the seasonality of life. Resilience is not your ability to bounce back from hurt. Rather, it is your ability to sit in the darkness knowing it will make way for daylight eventually. I for one, wholeheartedly believe I will face hardship again in the future however, these past five months have gifted me a sense of acceptance that “such is life” and “what will be will be”. This may sound pessimistic but in reality, this acknowledgement has set me free.
Lesson # 4 – Resistance is the enemy of progress. Often when a challenge or change to our habituated routine crops up we resist against this for a period of time. Resistance may present itself as denial, stubbornness or the old chestnut “it can wait”. Whatever the circumstance or reason, resistance is the first responder to the scene, and is more often than not hidden in our subconscious minds. It is hidden beneath layers of excuses or justifications and it isn’t until we really examine our thoughts and feelings that we uncover the roots of these weeds. The problem is resistance is really easy while acceptance is really damn hard. However, as long as we continue to dig our heels in and harbor resistance, there can be no forward progression. I confess, I still grapple with resistance every day because like I said before… it’s really damn hard to kick it. In saying this, I am allowing acceptance to gain more traction and the results speak for themselves.
Lesson # 5 – The single most important asset you possess is hope. There goes a saying “believe you can and you will”. Even though there were times soon after my experience with trauma that I hurt so badly I felt I would surely break, I never, never lost hope that I would one day be okay. The minute you let go of hope, you lose your power and sacrifice yourself to a life of pain, perpetuated suffering and misery. If you don’t feel as if hope is something tangible for you in this moment or current climate—I urge you to reach out and seek help, to borrow hope from a professional or even a friend until you can find yours once again.
Some final “words of wisdom” I would give my former self are these:
It’s okay to be an incomplete jigsaw puzzle and to still be searching for the missing pieces. Even when you feel like your world is falling apart around you; in the greater scheme of life it’s all just slowly, steadily falling back into place.
Seek solace in the people around you for they will be your strength in times you can no longer find your feet.
Practice self-compassion when you are hurting because this is when you need it most.
Reach out and seek help when things are spinning out of your control, because there is no web that cannot be unspun by the right people.
Most importantly, keep holding onto faith that there are brighter days at the end of the tunnel, even if you can’t see them just yet—and in the meantime celebrate the little wins you conquer along the way.
When I was in some of the darkest days I had experienced soon after my encounter with acute trauma, my auntie shared an ideal with me which soon became my motto and lifeline. She said “if you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t there. In the meantime, you can create your own source of light shining from within, to guide you through the darkness along the way”.