Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Trials Make You Grow?

As many of you have figured out by now, my time in Palau has been sort of a roller coaster for me in a lot of ways. This experience has been so much more difficult than I ever expected it to be. I've talked here about sometimes feeling isolated and lonely. I've also talked about the anxiety I have had recently from not knowing where my life is going next.

As a result, about every two weeks Stranger basically turns into a Lifetime movie. Except less teen pregnancy. And no drugs. No affairs either. Also no breast cancer, domestic abuse, amnesia, sexual assault, cougars, or abortion. Ok, so maybe it's more like a Disney movie. But one of the serious PG ones that could totally be PG-13 if just slightly edgier.

Overall, I'm a pretty happy person. But some days I can't help but feel the effects of going through one of the toughest experiences of my life. On those days, I'm full of anxiety and my stomach feels like it's tied up in knots. And I want so very much to do something to get back the control I have usually been able to find in my life, even when going through a difficult experience.

Somewhere deep down the masochistic voice in me encourages the pain and discomfort and sooths my fatigued soul by saying things like trial is good and you can't grow as a person without struggle. Then it usually trails off singing the words to the Full House theme song because I have watched WAY too much bad tv in my life.

I occasionally want to beat that voice. But I'm not really the violent type. I'm more of a condescending lecturer. So my more common reaction is to scold it while waving a finger. Why are you saying these things at a time like this?! This seems more productive than being passive-aggressive and giving it the silent treatment. But I guess none of those reactions really get me anywhere helpful.

Because whether I listen to or ignore it, I know from personal experience that those things that that little masochistic voice inside of me says are true. I know that all of the excitement and stress and heartache and exhaustion I felt during law school made me such a stronger person. It all turned me into something I was really proud to have become. I know that in darker times in which I have experienced other tough things, the struggles have led to the same result. I grew up and got stronger. I felt more comfortable with myself. I started facing my weaknesses with more confidence. And because of this, now I actually cherish the memories that sometimes brought me to tears in the moment because those memories keep me from coming to tears in similar moments now.

But something about my Palauan struggles have felt different than the trials of life past. Something about them has felt more discouraging and less productive than usual.

Maybe it's because the kind of support I've had in the past is less available deep in the quiet Pacific and I just haven't quite figured out how to handle that yet. Maybe it's because the struggles of today are unlike the struggles of the past so I just don't know how to deal with them productively. And maybe I'm having a harder time navigating these trials because I'm just more tired now than I was before.

In any event, I've been telling myself that my Palauan struggles are good for me. That they are benefiting me in some way. And that later I'll be happy they happened.

I had a small epiphany the other day though. It was basically that trials don't make you stronger just because they happen. Trials only make you stronger because of what you're able to make happen during them. They only help you grow if you work with them and resolve to learn from them. And stop them from defining you.

Nobody ever got stronger because they had cancer. But plenty of people have become stronger because they've persevered, and stayed positive, and served others, despite having cancer.

I'm not exactly sure what that means for me right now. But I expect it at least means that I must take some of the hard things that are causing me pain and find a way to make those experiences my catalysts for positive change. Because, guys. There are two things I've learned so far in life. One, the hardships never cease. And two, number one is actually kind of a good thing, if you can just find a way to laugh through it. And it's ok to shed a few tears every once in a while too, if needed.

Today, I may be doing a little of both.

(For a good online resource on the topic, check out Better Help.)

~It Just Gets Stranger


  1. Hi :)

    I should be in bed, it's 1:00am here and I have 4 cute ankle biters that will need some food or love or attention or something in the general good-moms-nurture-their-kids area tomorrow/today. I can still say tomorrow because I haven't gone to bed yet.


    I was still up when you posted this. I feel a little silly commenting. We are strangers after all and such a post requires more than a "You are soooooooooooooooo funny!" response. Also, I'm not sure why you would care about what I think, but here goes.

    I subscribe to the whole doing hard things is good for you mantra as well. Still, having that belief doesn't make it easier, but it does make it doable. Conquerable.

    But why is it bad to admit it's hard to do and it's a struggle to find the happy parts? I don't see any problem with that. Own it! I think we stay sad longer if we try and hide the sad. So hug the sad,admit it's here, wrap it up in it's favorite cat themed snuggie, and then make a change.

    Maybe YOU start only paying for groceries in change to fully, FULLY, experience the life style of the people around you. Start listing all the things that bug you and why you will miss them when they aren't around to bug you anymore. List all the things you DON'T want to do as a job when you leave and see what is left.

    I am a stay at home mom as well as a fabric designer who plans on working towards someday being a writer, an interior decorator, an ASL translator, a professional organizer,a Psychologist or counselor, a chef, and a furniture builder (are they called carpenters---I'm sure I'll find out). I truly believe I will try my hand at all of those ambitions at some time in my life. Not all at once and I may not succeed at any of them. But they represent things I'm interested in and want to learn more about. My point is, what you choose next doesn't have to be it. In your wildest dreams what would you love, love, love to do? And then go for it! If it doesn't scare you spitless the dream isn't big enough.

    See, you aren't so alone. :) Some random girl just wrote you a novel. She felt you needed a virtual hug. Sorry, it came from a stranger, but it's a lovely thought to think people can be physically so far apart and still be somehow connected.

  2. Thank you for this. I needed to hear it!

  3. I think the pain and suffering can only make you stronger if you are in a place where you can learn and grow from it. Sometimes, you aren't in that place, and the struggles you go through don't make you feel like you accomplished something by overcoming them. They make you feel like you are tired and sore, and sick of being poked with a stick by life when all you want to do is just lay there for a bit without being run over. Sometimes you just can't do anymore for a while because your struggle muscles need recovery, just like your regular muscles after a marathon. Whether that recovery is a day in bed with our good friends Ben and Jerry, watching childhood movies, giving yourself permission to feel sad for no good reason for a few days, or letting people know the truth, "no, I'm not ok right now...BUT I WILL BE," recovery is a seriously important step in becoming a stronger person. I don't know if this helps...my struggle muscles are a little tired too, but I will be ok. :)

  4. I have found this very insightful. I'm experiencing similar anxieties as well (you know the spiel from my recent comments), and I have had frequent panic attacks because of them. Today is another one of those anxiety ridden days. I'm really glad that you posted this to help me put things in perspective :)

  5. Three words. . .Ukraine, Dracula's Castle. You shall escape this too sonny!

  6. Love your post today...you actually sound a li'l more positive than last time. And thanks for sharing...your words made a lot of sense, even to this old lady! As I always tell my daughter, you're never to old to learn! One of the other things I always say, is that crying never hurts anything...God gave us tears as a natural release and I always feel better after having a good cry. As you continue on your journey, please know that you're in our thoughts & prayers. And thanks for always making us laugh.

  7. Am I the only one who sometimes confuses the Full House theme with the Family Matters theme? I was gonna quote something here from that Full House theme but I wasn't sure if it was actually Full House or Family Matters and I didn't want to totally embarrass myself.

  8. It's been a long while since I've commented, though I do still read your entries and chuckle and laugh at all the times you imagine your readers chuckling and laughing.

    In dealing with my own life, isolation has been one of the hardest challenges I've ever faced. And while I'm sure I'm getting "stronger" somehow during these long stretches of alone, when it feels unbearable I've found myself asking, "Stronger for what? What's the point of being stronger? So I'm becoming stronger for the long run, so what?"

    In talking this out with a friend at the hospital a few weeks ago, the conclusion seemed suddenly obvious. It doesn't really matter how strong or weak I am unto myself. I exist as a dot. Muscles, no muscles, I am what I am. What matters is whether, through my own trials, I can recognize and then empathize with and serve others in their moments of need. Perhaps it's not our strength, in and of itself, that matters as much as the knowledge of what it feels like to be weak.

    To this end, whatever weak times you have as your own little island on an island, you've already reached out to serve with your strength of writing, and I have no doubt others, in their own need(s), are buoyed by your words of wisdom and your comedic interludes. And you’ll always remember your Palauan experience (to waning degrees) as you continue your service into the future.

    Would you look at that! Drama begets drama…

    Enjoy the sunshine! We are (once again and again and again) plastered in snow.

  9. I wonder if our normal all-the-time troubles feel worse when subjected to miserable weather? I wonder if the heat is amplifying your emotions? Up here in Utah, we are just glimpsing the sky and sunshine after weeks of lung-damaging inversion and I realized I'd been feeling moodier and more quick to emotional reaction than my normal self because of the moody weather.

    I think if I lived in the super-humid heat AND felt lonely and/or isolated, it would only make it worse.

    Hang in there. God loves you.

    And even when you feel alone, you're not really. You have thousands (well... at least hundreds, right?) of Strangers keeping an eye on you. :)

  10. I think you're going through a quarter-life crisis.

    No, really, it's a thing.

    You're 27 and you don't have your next move figured out. It's stressful to you because a lot of other people in your life are settling into whatever it is they're going to be for the next 30, 40, 50 years. It's hard to deal with. But it gets better.

  11. “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”
    - Corrie Ten Boom

    Don't worry. you are on the right track.

  12. Karen's on the right track, here. Eli, I'm old enough to be your muuuuuuuuuuuch older sister, and frankly your angst made me smile...and okay, I giggled a little at the sense of self-importance that came through.

    Please don't misunderstand - I'm not insulting. I'm commiserating.

    Everyone goes through these crises. The mature ones come out the other side, look back, and realize to their chagrin that it was all so much crapola.

    It's easy to say 'relax', so I'm gonna say it.


    Next week/month/year will happen whether you fret over your place in it or not. Trust yourself, trust your instincts, and remember that in life things happen and things don't and we must trust that we each deal with 'things' as best we can when they come barreling our way.

    We didn't get owner's manuals, and we don't have a help desk to call when stuff overwhelms us. All we can do is trust God, and know He is right there.

  13. Mm. Yes. All those things are ringing true. It's when I've overcome the crazy inside of me that I've felt the strongest.

  14. "...I'm not really the violent type. I'm more of a condescending lecturer."

    I love that ^

    Sorry your Paualan trials seem more out of hand and less easy to figure out; maybe it's the nasty heat? My brain shuts down completely in humid heat; it is, I think, some sort of self-preservation?

    I can't give you any great nuggets of wisdom at present; I'm in a mood. (Maybe my brain shuts down in icy weather, too? Eli, be glad you're not here right now! This weather lately has been ridiculous!)

    Good luck, stranger. It WILL all work out in the end, I figure you'll make sure of that...

  15. This line: "trials don't make you stronger just because they happen. Trials only make you stronger because of what you're able to make happen during them." I so needed to hear today. As always, you are really helping me work through some stuff. Thank you so much. Jason

  16. I know this comment may get lost in the slew of ones much like it, but I wanted to sort of go along with what you said.
    God knows everything there is to know about you, which means he probably knows more than even you do. He doesn't send you trials so He can learn about you; He sends them so YOU can learn about you. Are you really the person you want to be? The only way to find out is if you're tested beyond what you think you can handle, and then handle it. The way you handle it can teach you so much about yourself.
    And from where I sit, you seem to be handling it wonderfully. Thanks for your outlook. It not only entertains me but helps me along my own crap to deal with. You're great.

  17. WELL Eli, I can completely relate to your post.

    "To be great is to be misunderstood." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

    If you're not being "understood" in Palau, well it's because you're the freakin' greatest. You're just too smart and too awesome to feel fulfilled on that wee island. Plus as you've mentioned before it's scorching hot there...and that must make you feel like a real lunatic some days.

    Everything that you ever post on here, from the posts that have me in stitches in the library to the thought provoking bits that I read on the bus in the morning and that linger with me all day, is greatness. Don't lose sight of that. It may be meaningless to you, but it makes my day a fair bit brighter. I can tell that you have the same effect on many others.

    And go figure, I read the comments above and your readers are all very insightful.

    Birds of a feather I suppose.

  18. I'm posting this at the risk of seeming too preachy and self-promotional but its easier than writing the whole thing in a comment. Long story short, I hear ya. http://hilarygthomas.blogspot.com/2013/01/faith-in-age-of-self-doubt.html

  19. I really love reading your blog every day, and the commens are always pretty awesome too. Yay to awesome blogs and yay awesome strangers.

  20. So about 2 and a half years ago I apparently lost my mind and decided to quit my job and go back to school to get a PhD (in accounting - don't ask). Anyway, I was reading this post with my office mate (we allow Stranger to distract us regularly from all the stuff we're actually supposed to be doing), and we both kept saying, "It's as though he lives in this office!" So, we hear you, and we totally sympathize, but most of all we thank you for helping us laugh through the hard stuff (like statistics, and dissertations).

  21. My favorite saying: "Fortunate is the man who can laugh at himself, for he shall never cease to be amused." I found that sign after my 2nd divorce and the ensuing anxiety about past failure and future failure and all the self doubt that comes with growing up just enough to know you really don't have the world by the tail.... I still have it 20 years later sitting on my vanity and I read it every morning and take comfort and just laugh at myself. It helps a lot to not take myself, both successes and failures, so seriously.

  22. Eli- it is hard to be in a new place. You don't have friends there (besides the always amazing Daniel) and that IS difficult. But flash forward 10 years- wife, kids, mortgage, job. Enjoy your solitude while you can!

  23. We learn from our struggles, and this in turn, makes us wiser and stronger. You will overcome the trials.