The first truth about things that suck? They can really suck! But adversity is a part of our life’s journey and crucial to our growth.
By Mindy Henderson, Photo by Vanessa Todd
The very first truth about things that suck is that…they suck. I don’t want to breeze over that because it’s an important truth.
One of the first sucky events in my life happened when I was only 15 months old. I was diagnosed with a progressive neuromuscular condition called spinal muscular atrophy. This meant I’d continue to lose the (only recently acquired) ability to stand and walk. It sentenced me to life in a wheelchair. No reduction in sentence for good behavior. And I should know. I’ve been good, well, so much of the time.
This diagnosis clearly sucked for me. But it also sucked for a lot of other people: my parents, my sister. Even my future husband was touched 30 years later by the suckiness of this diagnosis when he fell in love with me and could not fathom an existence without me. (Okay, I couldn’t fathom it either.)
The Moment to Suck
For all of us, it reflected not only in the care that I needed, but in the homes we could live in, the cars we could drive, whether I’d be allowed to join standard/mainstream kindergarten classes, the kinds of vacations we could take. It was reflected in the treatment I received from other children, the lack of inclusion and the unrealized desires to climb the monkey bars and to win at tag.
The very first truth about things that suck is that…they suck.
Each of those outcomes of my disability warranted having their moment to suck. We needed to cry and to feel the pain and the impact of what these things did to our lives and to our life experience. I am not a psychologist. But I know feeling the impact of our challenges—the sadness, the fear, the anger and the frustration—is critical to our healing.
The tricky part is knowing when you’ve felt what you need to feel and knowing when to move on to step two. Here’s the thing. Sometimes “the suck” never completely subsides. But there does, and must, come a time when we no longer choose to give “the suck” of a situation the spotlight. At some point, we need to demote it to a supporting character in the story of our lives. Instead shine a light on healing, and learning, and growing, and humor, and constructive solutions. And gratitude for the good things also present and real in our lives but were maybe eclipsed by the thing that sucked.
Whole New Skill Set
I also realized along the way that, ironically, the very skills and characteristics we acquire and have to use to navigate adversity well become the same skills we need to employ in life to accomplish our goals and be successful. Determination, perseverance, problem-solving, creativity, humor, patience, etc.
The gaps my disability created in me left a longing to do big things. By unleashing these skills that my adversity gave me, I’ve become a person equipped to accomplish so many of my goals. Earning my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, driving a car that looks like NASA built it, singing on national TV and recording music with George Strait’s musicians. Getting married and traveling to one of the least wheelchair-accessible countries on the planet to adopt our daughter. Having a 20-year career in high tech and now becoming a motivational speaker, a writer, a coach, a podcast host, a guest contributor of “Morning Motivations” on the We Are Austin lifestyle show.
Learn from Adversity
Adversity is something we all experience. My disability has been a brilliant representation of adversity in mine and my family’s life. But challenges come in all shapes, sizes and forms. Adversity looks different to everyone. Some experience more than their fair share.
Regardless of what your challenge is, the truths remain the same. The first truth about things that suck is that they do suck. It’s okay to say so. And it’s okay to not be okay for a minute.
Second, there is a lot we can learn, we can do and a lot of gifts that the sucky things bring to our lives that empower us to live as our best selves and make the world better.
The third truth? You have to choose to let the second truth be true.
Mindy Henderson lives in Austin with her husband of 17 years, a puggle named Mr. PapaGeorgio and a cat named Birdie. She has a daughter in college who she misses terrible. Mindy currently wears a lot of hats and works as a speaker, writer, coach, host of “The Truth About Things That Suck” podcast and is a guest contributor to We Are Austin. This column is a tool she is excited to use regularly to help us all uncover those sucky but surprisingly beautiful circumstances. Connect with Mindy on Instagram at @mindyhendersonspeaks, or on LinkedIn.