You know that feeling when your life gets turned upside down in an instant?
Let’s be honest – that’s underselling it. I’m talking about when your entire existence completely changes.
Everything was going so well. Almost too well. You thought you had sure-footing but it turns out that you’re in quicksand.
Is this the end of the road? Are you destined to be one of those foul-smelling people you see at McDonald’s every morning, hugging their stuffed Minion and having their fifty cent coffee?
“A bend in the road is not the end of the road unless you fail to make the turn.” – Helen Keller
I thought that would be me. At least until about a year after my diagnosis with Multiple Sclerosis, a debilitating and progressive disease that cannot be stopped.
Until then I had been an active musician, marathoner, family man, I made a decent living, and I even had a master’s degree. I was living the life of an all-American guy!
But when I got the news that my life had taken a turn for the worse – much worse – I assumed it was over. I figured that my days of supporting the family were finished. That any hopes of being a role model for my boys – my legacy – we’re gone for good.
So what do you do in that situation? What do you do when your hopes and dreams have been shattered? When you lose a loved one, or a job, or are diagnosed with a disease?
I did the obvious thing…I went into a bit of a depression.
Ok, so it wasn’t the most appropriate thing, but it seemed right at the time. My life had changed forever and I wasn’t going to be the person that I once was. Close friends and family weren’t going to remember me as the person I used to be.
“Unless you’re the lead dog in the sled, the view never changes” – Bob Mitchley
Have you ever woken up at three in the morning with the answer you were trying to come up with all day?
Well, that’s how I felt when I realized after a year that I shouldn’t spend the rest of my life dwelling on what could have been. After all – it COULDN’T have been. I didn’t have a choice in the matter!
Hard as it might seem, my only option (besides having an eternal pity-party) was to figure out a way to help others while helping myself.
Cliché? Maybe. Necessary? Absolutely!
I couldn’t bottle all of this pain and emotion up – it would just make things worse!
It’s easy to feel all alone. Like you’re the only one that’s going through this.
Well, you’re not (and I wasn’t, either), and sharing or even leading that charge became my new purpose in life. I made the decision to start driving around, sometimes for hours, in order to spend time with different groups with similar experiences.
It’s like ripping off a Band-Aid. It’s an uncomfortable thought but once you do it you realize there was nothing to fear.
I’d tell them a story about my life and show them how to draw a positive from it, and then they started sharing experiences. Before you knew it, we all felt better and had a network to lean on when we needed support!
Power in numbers, right? Maybe focusing on my problem… by myself… WAS my problem.
Time to make the donuts!
I found that having that goal in mind – that feeling of helping others as well as myself – was like a magic pill. Making the decision and having a passion for something instantly made me feel better.
Just the thought was energizing.
I sat down to put together some talking points. I included some stories that were funny (to break the ice) and some that people could relate to. I focused on lessons that I had learned along the way through books, blogs, discussions, contemplation, you name it. A year of living inside of your own head turns up a lot of valuable lessons!
I found that, once I was able to open up about my experiences, people were inclined to ask questions and share their’s. It was self-perpetuating. I didn’t need to put everyone to sleep with a long, boring lecture but could just get the ball rolling if I used the right approach.
I wasn’t alone in this process but part of a much larger group. A group that had been through the same thing as I had and had strategies for dealing with it. A group that was happy to listen to me, without expectations, and that became my friends.
“The force is strong in this one.” – Darth Vader
It has made me a better person. This was a new beginning, not an ending.
That traveling turned into me teaching a class at a state-wide gathering of people that were in my situation. That led to some local interviews which turned into some national and international interviews, followed by some TV appearances, a college graduation speech, and a documentary!
I didn’t go looking for those things, they just happened. When you are willing to get out and talk to people – to tell your story – you become recognized as the person that will do that. All you need is a willingness to talk, to listen, to teach, and to learn.
I challenge you to do just that. We’ve all experienced tragedy in our lives – some more than others. Connect with those that have had similar experiences.
The one thing that I’ve always been sure to do was to make myself available. I learned that from a college advisor – “never say no,” he said.
There is power in numbers. Once you are identified as THAT person, people talk.
Jim Turk, of jimmytheturk.com, has been featured in several publications, on the radio, and on TV. He began his health and wellness journey when he was diagnosed with MS in 2008. He has used his research knowledge and positive attitude to achieve balance in his life and help people make lemonade from lemons ever since. You can learn more about Jim’s methods and get his free CONTROL video series here. Also, you can find him on Twitter & FB.
Featured image courtesy of Aaron Burden.