2020-11-20 Posted By Jenna Reed-Cote
Who feels like they have found balance in life? It's not easy, is it?
One of the biggest reasons I think it's so hard to do is because it requires a certain respect for the hard times. Just as it ultimately shows in The Good Place, the easy stuff loses its magic if that's all we have, with nothing to compare it to. Recognizing this, does it mean we're jumping for joy at what 2020 has thrown at the world because it will make us all so grateful for anything less than a pandemic, discrimination, violence, and being unable to provide for our families? In fact, when the challenges have been unrelenting for such a long time, we can start doubting that it'll turn around and just hope we survive. "What's next?" you may start to ask the universe, "am I going to be hit by a train in the middle of my living room?!".
"What's next?" these two words have so much power that ultimately give us a status report on how our spirit's doing. Some might call it the "Phoenix Attitude Test". Well me, I'm calling it that. How's your spirit doing these days?
When I started to create Phoenix Attitude Inc. I wasn't a practitioner yet, I was celebrating 24 years in my career as a "professional" patient, wanting to honour other patient experiences. So, what made me pick "What's Next?" as the Phoenix Attitude tagline? Did it come from trying to find humour in all the stories you may know about my expansive career as a patient? Did it come from a place of my trying to remind myself (and all of you) that after everything we've been through, we've survived and levelled up from what tried to break us?
My answer still changes from day to day, and it all comes down to how my spirit is doing and what it needs.
The Phoenix Attitude innovation--Medical & Motivation (now a free app on the App Store and Google Play)--was designed to provide support for your physical, emotional and mental needs (with a HUGE dose of spirit). In fact, I'm shocked that more health sidekicks out there don't focus on supporting the spirit as an integral function or even as a luxury. Based on my experience navigating health challenges, I find it very hard to get to where I need to be physically if I don’t have the drive and my spirit isn’t primed. Try pushing your body to the brink while your head is filled with doubt. It doesn’t work. “Your body hears everything your mind says”, or so says Naomi Judd. It's a balance.
I knew when I was really young that I wanted to join the healthcare system as a practitioner. I knew I wanted to be the practitioner I feel I needed. I knew that bringing the patient perspective into the role of practitioner would be an asset to the people I supported--not a liability that many people in the system still feel it can be (although this is changing slowly). Every day, in my role as patient and practitioner, my fascination and passion to recognize the whole adventure we journey on to come back from rock bottom; it enriches my ability to be that effective patient and practitioner I strive to be. My goal--now more than ever--is to try and stay open to new ways I can facilitate our reigniting the fire in our spirit when it wants to tap out. But I've found it usually involves some sort of focus on how we can integrate on a cellular level what we've learned having descended to rock bottom--and got out alive.
Recovery doesn't mean we forget what we've recovered from or that we don't "let" it have power over us anymore. It wasn't just a dream, and if I've learned anything in the crisis counselling I've done, even when we think we've buried the bad stuff, it comes back up and can hold us back. Yes, it can be terrifying looking back on our past descent towards rock bottom, even if it means learning more about how we'll kick butt during the next big challenge knowing what we know now about ourselves. How will we approach similar circumstances of the next challenge? What have we learned works for us? What have we learned about what doesn't work for us? How will we find the confidence to share with our future partners during challenges what we've learned about what we need so that they can truly have our backs? If you're ready to take that journey back the next day or 50 years later--it doesn't matter--because it only really has the most benefit when we're ready (not when other people tell us we should be ready).
How did I stumble on this? Let's take a look back!
When I was starting 10th grade my shunt started playing games with me. What did that look like? Well: I got lethargic, I felt like there was a bowling ball in the front of my head, I was sensitive to light and sound, I had vision problems and I was nauseated--all the time. When this grouping of symptoms came up it usually meant one of about 3 things for me: my shunt tube was blocked with skin cells that could be cleared out by throwing up (disclaimer: this hasn't been something doctors have told me to do, but something we accidentally stumbled upon during another shunt episode when I was younger and was given Advil to chew instead of swallow--because I refused to learn how to swallow--and, well...there you go. Also, guess who learned how to swallow pills later that night?); the shunt is malfunctioning; or the shunt is broken. Also, just for fun, I have always been in a small category of people who can have all the right diagnostic tests performed to diagnose a malfunctioning shunt, and pass them all with flying colours (when there is actually something really wrong). My only option at this point is having my family and doctors try to trust that I know my body and when I say something is really wrong and get me scheduled for exploratory surgery.
I've been really right about needing surgery because the shunt isn't doing its job properly, but not every time.
But getting me scheduled for exploratory surgery isn’t the easiest thing to do. Think about it, all my tests are saying there’s nothing wrong (even when there is) and yet, there are other people waiting for surgery whose test results are conclusively saying Patient X needs surgery NOW. Who do you think is going in first? You guessed it, Patient X (along with every other letter of the alphabet before me). So, when it came to the Shunt Games: 10th Grade Edition, I ended up spending most of first term at home, waiting for a surgical slot because I couldn’t function at school.
There was a silver lining, though, I had gotten into a tiny show called The West Wing around this time, and thus began the binge watching to end all binge watching--before Netflix. Every day as I waited for surgery my dad would rent me a new The West Wing disc on his way home from work; and in a dark room, with the volume on low I was transported to the fast paced halls of the west wing, where people were fighting for good, while taking their own share of blows.
At the end of the first season, a main character is shot during an assassination attempt. He's losing a lot of blood and needing a ton of surgery and becoming more altered by the second, leading to flashbacks to earlier times. It's here where we see “What’s Next?” take on a a deeper meaning.
Jed (a presidential candidate in the flashback) snaps, "When I say 'What's next?', it means I'm ready to move onto other things.”
*SPOILER ALERT* Josh (the main character who was shot) survives surgery and is visited by the now elected President, Jed, in the recovery room. Josh tries to say something, but Jed has to move in closer to hear it. Another character, Leo, asks, “What did he say?”
Jed responds, “What’s next?”, meaning Josh hadn't been defeated and his spirit was willing to get back up
I have spent a lot of my life struggling for moments, for days, for months, some times for years, waiting for the signal from my spirit that it's time to rise from the ashes again--that this isn't what ends me. But rebuilding from ashes isn't easy--it's dirty, it's dark and it's hard. So, it would just drive me nuts when I’d need to vent (a legitimate part of recovery) and people would say, “It’ll be ok!” or “It could be worse!” Not because I didn’t think they were coming from a good place and maybe even feeling a little (or a lot) helpless to help me. Of course it’s a place where you’ve sustained loss: loss of identity, loss of vision, even loss of the people around you. This isn’t like losing your keys--you deserve the time and the permission to grieve!
But, I also suggest that you consider this after you've hit rock bottom--it didn't kill you, and you're actually bored of processing and rehashing what's happened--you’re still here, so what are you going to do with the time you have left?
What do you need to be the person you feel you're destined to be after what you've been through? How are you going to accomplish what you want to accomplish? These aren't trick questions--only YOU know what YOU need to move on. In fact, they are really important questions to ask yourself because if you're not trying to figure out, all that people around you have to go on and try and support you are assumptions, until you tell them otherwise. From rock bottom on, you might have a completely blank canvas in front of you, which can be daunting or liberating. You can paint a picture that honours what once was, grieve what you’ve lost, appreciate what you still have and embrace what still can be. It’s up to you.
And because I believe it's important to recognize everybody's journey, while you're hitting rock bottom the people who love you are not having the easiest time either, seeing you damn near broken. It’s hard to see your loved ones hit rock bottom, almost completely swallowed up by darkness and hopelessness. They (instinctively) want to bombard you with the "positive" side, as if you're actively choosing to focus on the negative. They're most likely also scared, as they recognize that they don't know the answers or how to give you the space to test the boundaries of the darkness you feel, without losing you to that darkness. Remember the days where someone would kiss our boo boos and that made them all better? Those were the days!
Whether you're the one hitting rock bottom or watching it happen to someone else, it does not mean you've failed if the best thing you can do is reach outside those closest to you for some more specific help--you can't be everything to everyone; you can't be choosing how you recover based on what hurts the fewest feelings. Counselling, reaching out to people of faith, support groups etc. can help facilitate your journey to hell and back more wholly and safely--for everyone's sake. You can have your “What’s next? When am I going to be hit by a train in the middle of my living room?” moment(s); hit rock bottom; and then that question of “What’s next?” turn into an opportunity to move on, having survived rock bottom, with the potential to be stronger than ever.