Get Gritty!

Does healing have you feeling like a hamster on a wheel? Trying really hard but never really getting anywhere?

Well, don’t quit just yet, even though your efforts might feel hopelessly futile, you are getting somewhere.

I just finished the book Grit by Angela Duckworth, a worthwhile read for anyone looking to amp up their stick to it-ness (pardon my made up words, I promise Duckworth is much more eloquent than I, so just read her book).

In the book, Duckworth explains how grit is the process of sticking with something and seeing it through despite many setbacks and challenges. While she doesn’t apply the concept of grit to healing, I believe the two are inseparable. In order to heal you must be gritty but don’t worry if you’re not, you can practice. Duckworth argues that grit is a learned skill and one that can be practiced and improved upon, which is great news for those of us who have trouble finishing things, like me (I make anyone nearby applaud when I finish a book, embarrassing!).

The whole act of healing is an act of bouncing back and every day I am surprised by how hard it is. Over and over again you get smacked down and then kicked while you’re there. The process is slow, mundane, frustrating, and non-linear.  A major setback seems to follow every tiny progression. Healing can sometimes feel like a useless pursuit something equivalent to running in quicksand. Take my own experience, I was regularly annoyed at my lack of physical, emotional, and mental improvement as seen in this excerpt from my journal approximately 8 months after treatment ended:

“As I try to return to normalcy my body fights back. The pain flares, the drugs make me nauseous, and the anxiety gets kicked up a notch so I spend another day feeling mindlessly useless. It’s awkward to be stuck in the patient role for so long. I watch husby go to work every day and I wonder what it must feel like to go and see new people and experience fresh things all day as if I’ve never done it before. Days go by and I don’t meet anyone new. I barely use my brain for anything remotely challenging. The most taxing thing I did today was call the Brick to set up a repairman for our shitty dishwasher, a task that has taken me 2 months. I think I’m officially failing. Fuck being sick anymore. This perpetual unproductive limbo is boring as hell. I’m lucky to be coherent enough to write a sentence with minimal spelling errors. Let’s get real, that’s all thanks to you-spell check :)! ”

Initially, post-treatment I thought feeling normal again would just happen, like a broken arm just heals itself once it’s set in the cast. Instead, I learned that healing didn’t just happen, I’d have to work for it. While I was frustrated, annoyed, and clearly quite bitchy, I still pursued normalcy. When my pain escalated I’d have a pity party for a day or two then I would pick myself back up and try again. I would go back to the gym, eat different foods, and push myself ever so slightly until one day I could reflect back and see improvement. In Duckworth’s words, I was practicing grit. Using my overwhelming desire to feel normal again to push through all obstacles.

Here is another excerpt from my journal from around the same time as the passage above:

“Well congratulations, normalcy is returning! Returning to normal is a slow and unsteady process. There was never a moment when I felt that I was through it all. Each day I had hoped I had turned the page a little more but that wasn’t always necessarily true. Yet, this morning, 8 months post-treatment, I feel pretty normal. So am I jumping up for joy? No… it’s more of an understated peaceful feeling like I can smile and enjoy whats going on around me rather than having to look inwards to categorize my internal storm. Right now I’m listening to the dog breathe heavily while he sucks on his blanket. I can hear the birds singing outside. The sun is glaring through the windows. It’s a nice bright day. It looks cold outside but its warm in here with the fire on. Everything feels serene and maybe that’s what normal feels like, at least in this moment. When you’re leaving trauma behind, I think its only natural to crave calm, serene stability. In this moment, I’m feeling it and I’m loving it!”

Many factors are outside your control: the type and stage of your treatment and your body’s physical capacity to heal. Not to mention your access to resources like time, money, and social support. On the other hand, you can impact your grittiness so while you may feel like a bag of shit right now, where there is a will there is a way! Even when it feels like nothing is happening, trust me, something is happening. Push through. Imagine better days. Get creative with your goals. It’s ok if some days you’re just holding on. Ther will be other days in which you will reach new milestones.

While the process of healing made me feel incredibly inadequate somehow I am still progressing. I am reaching a new normal. By continually trying despite frustratingly minimal progress or even worse, regression, I built grit. And if I’ve got this right, the mere act of practicing grit makes you more likely to succeed because simply put— you are less likely to quit.

So get gritty and heal up!

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