The other day I was on the phone with an old, old friend. And I mean “old” like we’ve been friends for too many years to not be able to laugh about really horrible things.
Which is exactly what we were doing.
Actually, we were laughing (and really only somewhat bitterly) about how completely miserable experiences so often turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you.
“Remember…?” she said, choking back another giggle. “Your nasty, nasty ear infection that lasted six months? The one where you were just gushing goo and blood, and we all thought you’re going to die?”
“How could I forget? That was hysterical. Ohmygod. The pain was so bad that I’d wake myself from my own screams,” I said, now laughing so hard that I was flailing around for tissues to wipe the tears.
Oh, hindsight. You are so funny.
Obviously, not all pain = gain. And not all gain comes from pain. But sometimes there’s a connection.
The truth is that I never want to know pain like that again. It was awful and I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.
And at the same time, I’m aware that there is a direct connection between that experience of oozing goo from my ear and the one we’re having right now, the one in which you’re reading something I wrote … on my blog.
Because it was that illness that ultimately caused me to realize that I’m a writer.
It was that illness that resulted in me essentially downloading the entire Fluent Self system, which is what led to me launching my business.
It was that illness that introduced me to half the techniques in my repertoire, just because nothing else would work. And so many other things.
My desperation was a matchmaker. Things worked out. Almost suspiciously well.
But back to right now.
It is completely clear to me that I’m going to be ridiculously grateful (at least, at some point in the future) for the past few months of agonizing arm pain.
So if I’m going to end up feeling all appreciative of the thing that totally sucks right now anyway, I might as well take a moment or two to acknowledge all the good stuff that I will be loving later.
Not as a way of negating what is true for me right now. Not as a way of bulldozing through my discomfort and pain.
And definitely not making myself commit to some cheesy gratitude practice for its own sake, because forced compassion? Not very compassionate.
I totally don’t believe in making yourself say thank you. You don’t have to find every silver lining. Or count every blessing. Unless, of course, you feel like it.
For me it’s more about just actively noticing all the things that this pain — and this painful experience — have given me.
And then finding out: If I’m already thinking about the results of this awful experience that I will be so happy about in a month or two … is it possible that I could just be happy about them now? Hmmm. Maybe not.
Okay, so — if I really can’t be happy about them yet (ahhh, that’s more like it) — why not get used to the idea of eventually being happy about them? Yes.
That I can do.
So I’ve been working on my “Things to be insanely grateful for much, much later” list. And I want to share it with you. Not today though.
My teacher has an expression for this (insert heavy Ukrainian accent and serious expression here):
“There is good experience … and then there is useful experience.”
This is one of those sticky philosophical points that is much easier said than internalized. Easier believed than implemented.
And when it doesn’t work for you … and there are certain situations where — in that moment — it just can’t, you have my permission to toss it.
As a general principle, though, I like it.
A lot. It’s kind of like my use of “the good” and “the hard” in the Friday Chicken posts.
Just looking at my own situation here … this ordeal with my arms and not being able to use them? I’m not ready to call it good. But definitely useful.
When I talk about it with my girlfriends in a couple years? Oh, by then it will probably have found its way to the “good”.
Either way, this pain is giving me some seriously great stuff. It’s not the way I’d have liked to receive either the information or the results. It’s the way that it’s happened though.
And I’m ready to (okay, fine, however long it takes) get to the point where I can look back on this as one of the big symbolic turning points. Because really, that’s exactly what it is.
My big, fat “Things to be insanely grateful for much, much later on” list. Coming tomorrow.
COMMENT ZEN for today’s post:
You are more than welcome, as always, to chime in with thoughts, ideas, insights, reactions, similar experiences, and so on. Support is always welcome too.
What I’m NOT looking for: It’s really important to me that gratitude always be a choice and never turn into a “should” for me. So I’m not interested in anything along the lines of “oh good, you’re finally being grateful like you should be and that’s what will make you heal and it’s about time you started attracting sunbeams and rainbows” thing. Thanks!
Sunbeams and rainbows. Totally ew.
You? And your awesome post? And you awesome insights? Totally not ew. Not here, not ever.
This has me thinking about my own turning points, including some induced/inspired by pain. That’s really helpful. So a big thank you to you.
Excellent points all on their own.
Probably good to let us ponder on the bigger philosophical point before we get distracted by the specifics of your arm pain.
The mere thought of a 6 month ear infection is kind of painful though.
JoVEs last blog post..How Professors Think
I could not agree more with all the sentiments in your heartfelt post. It is my experience too that the biggest challenges bring the deepest lessons and instigate the greatest (and, in hindsight, best) changes in my life. Sometimes, though, I really wish the universe could find a way to motivate me with a gentle nudge rather than an over the head wallop. But, as I’ve learned, it takes what it takes.
I wish you speedy recovery in the use of your arms and eradication of pain! And look forward to reading the gratitude list. Good reminded. Think I’ll go write one of my own.
emmas last blog post..Pleasure Finds Friday: Lotus Chandelier
Oh! Yeah. I get it!
Like when people tell me ‘you’re so resilient!!’
They mean well.
But what I hear is, “Wow! You’ve got MORE crap to bounce back from. AGAIN!” (And in all fairness, they don’t know that sometimes, these days, I might still bounce back, but it’s taking me a little longer to get back up. Yeah.)
Or my friend whose kid ended up in the hospital two weeks ago and everyone kept telling him, “Don’t worry…..”
As if he was going to stop worrying about his kid!
Oh! Or when people say, “You know? It could be worse.”
Because yeah, it COULD be worse. But when you’re comparing your situation to say…..starving people in Africa? That still kinda means whatever is going on in my life sucks!
People generally mean well. But rainbows? Ick. No.
But I love the idea of just acknowledging that ‘someday I might feel grateful about this’…..maybe. Maybe not. But there it is.
I do hope the arm pain thing is somehow magically over for you like…..today.
And hear ya on all the rest of it.
All the best!
Deb Owens last blog post..question of the day
Love this. Very pertinent. Permission to feel the yuck & be in it, but also acknowledge that things will shift in time (if given a chance; no square-peg-round-hole; and no forced optimism etc.). Best to you & your arms & your process.
mels last blog post..A shawl and a remembrance
I love how nearly every post I read of yours inevitably leads to me thinking “Oh man, I *completely* know what Havi means!”
This reminds me of that awful saying, “It’ll build your character.” As though envisioning all that growth of character will make it easier to babysit a bratty 4-year-old for free on a Friday night or work a shitty barista job for $5/hour. Of course it probably will “build” your character — I suppose everything we do does something to that effect — but like this, it’s not what you need to hear in the moment. But you can secretly think about how cool it’ll be when your character’s all big and strong… or when you’re crying laughing about previous maladies.
Sheesh, I came here for sunbeams! and rainbows!… and all I got was genuine and useful modeling of how to meet-yourself-where-you’re-at…grumblegruble 😉
(Much love and support for you and your arms!)
Eileens last blog post..Kansas
Yes, pain, even though it may bring good things in its wake, is a VERY hard teacher. Like Eileen said, thank you for this example of meeting yourself where you are, even if that somewhere is in pain.
Jenny Ryans last blog post..How Far My Standards Have Fallen
Oh hooray. You guys totally get me. As usual.
@Jenny – man, you are so right. A *hard* teacher.
The whole “pain is a teacher” thing was such a huge understanding for me, but naming it a HARD teacher is a big deal. Because, like Emma said, maybe one day we’ll get to the point when we can have other, gentler teachers and be better at listening to them.
@Eileen – *kiss*
@Zoe + Deb + Mel – completely! All the character-building and comparisons and forced optimism … they have truth in them and at the same time they don’t always work. Or end up making you feel so much worse. It’s such a relief to me that you know what I’m talking about. Whew.
@JoVE – oh, good. Look out because it’s a long freaking list. May have to be two separate posts … we’ll see. 🙂
@Emma – can’t wait to read yours!
@Fabeku – Yeah! To hell with rainbows! Wait, what am I saying. Anyway, hi! And, for the record, I adore you. Excited for when your site goes live (no pressure, whenever it happens …) so I can tell the entire world about you …
Oh, I know what you are saying! I agree that experiences are either good or useful (bonus points when they’re both at the same time!). I’ve had my share of not-so-good experiences that later turned out to be very useful, and even – sometimes – blessings. Actually, it has happened often enough in my life for me to think that I have internalized the principle (please, Life, don’t feel like you have to prove me wrong on that one!).
“So if I’m going to end up feeling all appreciative of the thing that totally sucks right now anyway, I might as well take a moment or two to acknowledge all the good stuff that I will be loving later.”
is something that will be good to remember next time that I’m in the middle of a not-so-good-and-yet-not-turning-into-a-blessing-soon-enough experience.
I’m looking forward to reading your list. And thanks to JoVE for making me realise how clever it was of you to not publish it today.
The worst experiences make for the best stories. I realized this some time in my thirties. For example:
– The time we got stuck in the mud on scooters in the woods in the dark.
– When the wind blew my jetski into the weeds on the far site of the lake and I had to get towed out.
– When I rolled my mom’s truck.
– All the trips to the hospital – hooo boy, do I have some great hospital stories.
Since I identified this theme, it’s become a little bit easier to be IN a bad situation – because I know that if I survive, I’ll have a great story! Strangely, remembering that makes any bad not quite as bad.
Love this post. Just last week my best friend and I (we have been best friends for 40, yes, 40 years) were laughing so hard we had stomach cramps because: a dear, dear friend/relative who is battling cancer just found out he also has diabetes…and his wife is recovering from a disabling back injury…and my friend and I are both falling apart physically as we approach 50…and her mother just had surgery and now needs the Exact Same Surgery again, only on the other side of her body…and it just got to be too much. So what can you do but laugh?
Seriously, though, the hardest things for me have always been the ones that brought the most growth. Yet even with that knowledge, it’s still hard to keep calm when cosmic shit rains down.
And finally: About three years ago, my oldest daughter went through a very difficult time emotionally for about six months (she was in fifth grade at the time), complete with panic attacks and psychiatric help. About a year later she told me she was actually glad it had happened because, as she put it, “I know so much more about myself now.” As her mom, I wish she could have gained that self-knowledge some other way, some less-painful way. But I don’t get to call the shots.
I can’t recall how I found your website, but it (and you and Selma) has been a lifesaver these past few months. I’m in one of those situations where I’m sure that someday I will look back and laugh, but right now just want to run away and hide.
It is one of those icky, sticky situations where my boss is facing an investigation. This has been going on since last summer when the first allegations began to surface. I’m in a terrible dilemma as I cannot fully support him as I feel that some of the allegations have merit. However, I don’t agree totally with the accusers either. The boss is a “you either with me or against me” sort. He has ranted, vented, spewed, etc. about how mean, insane, vengeful, etc. his accusers are endlessly over the past 9 months. I’m mentally exhausted from dealing with his paranoia and insecurity. I’m also consumed with fear much of the time that somehow I will lose my job as a result of this.
In little over a week, I have to meet with the committee conducting the investigation and I’m terrified. I’m trying to remind myself to stick 100% to facts and leave any opinions out of any statements I make.
Deep down I realize that I will experience great personal growth out of going through this situation, but right now I really just want to withdraw.
Thanks for blogging about your fears and how you approach them. It helps.
Ah thank you! You speak sense.
It reminds me of the annoyance I get when people say “if it wasn’t for Bad Experience X you wouldn’t get Awesome Experience Y!” or “If you have gotten Unfulfilled Dream D you wouldn’t have met Pretty Cool Thing E”. As though my original dreams didn’t matter, as though my original pain was worthless! Especially when it comes to uni (which I dreaded, but went through anyway because all my other options fell apart): “see, it wasn’t so bad, was it?!”
It’s not about that. It’s about making the best of your situation no matter what it’s in. Making the best of any situation doesn’t invalidate what you feel about the situation you’re in; it just ensures that whatever it is, you’ll be able to survive and find ways to smile. It’s not Either-Or.
Tiaras last blog post..Alternatives to Amazon (please update!) #amazonfail 
Knowing that it will be great later doesn’t make it more fun, but it does make it a little easier to bear. I think that all of my biggest growth has come from things that I had to “endure” at the time, and today I count myself fortunate to have had those experiences. It’s part of the process, I guess. Thanks for the reminder!
Ericas last blog post..The beginning of the end, part II
@Havi – You are all kinds of awesome. I adore you too. Thank you for the support. (And I now I want a t-shirt that says “To hell with rainbows!” )
Don’t know if you’re familiar with StoryPeople- the brainchild of storyteller and artist Brian Andreas (see http://www.storypeople.com) but he has a story/drawing that your post reminds me of. You’ll have to visit storypeople to see the drawing- but here’s the text:
Maybe I don’t want a Happy New Year, he said. Maybe I want an intense New Year with a lot of growth experiences
& I had to admit I’d never thought of that
kind of reminds me of dissing the rainbows and sunbeams up front!
Thanks for sharing your process and perspective!
Thank you for sharing this!
Just the other day, I started working on a “Future Gratitude” list with my husband around some things that are happening that appear to be not so great, but, we suspect, will be catalysts for future coolness!
It’s such a pleasure to read your posts!!
Everyday Yoginis last blog post..Peace by Peace: A Nationwide Yogathon
First time poster – OK, I feel like those people calling into talk shows that have to bring up the point that this is the first time calling so if they make a mistake in etiquette or something they are forgiven because after all, this is their first time.
I was lead to your blog from Seth Godin who lead me to Chris Guillebeau who lead me to you, and I have been devouring your archives all weekend. Yeah, I am now an official stalker. But in a good way, if there is such a thing.
I am walking away with this for my readers – “There is good experience … and then there is useful experience.” – as in I am truly walking away with it, I am stealing it, is that proper etiquette? I will credit you and your teacher, but this was profound.
Funny how you can read something like your experience with your ear infection and BAM, there is kindred spirit juice flying all through the air. Had ONE ear infection – lasted a good 5 or 6 months – finally got it fixed thru acupuncture of all things, and it taught me many MANY valuable lessons – one is to never get another ear infection for as long as I live (going on 35 years without a repeat performance) – there are others but why bother you with my mundane rantings.
Enjoyed the post, you can add me to a faithful follower to you and your duck. Looking forward to your post on being insanely grateful much later on. Great to meet you!
@Biz – Oh, sure! You can absolutely use/borrow/steal away. That’s what universal knowledge is for – to share. Giving credit is always the best way to do that, obviously, but yeah, use use use!
Glad to hear that your ear infection is done for good. Blech. Sorry you had to go through that too!
@Tiara – absolutely. That is so true. And it’s so tempting to make it an either/or thing when everyone around us is doing it.
It’s also hard to stand up for what you need and say “hey, I’m upset *right now*. I need support, not a lecture on how this is actually a good thing”. People who want you to be grateful way before you’re ready to are trying so hard to help that they can’t even see how violent it is. And then explaining that is also kind of impossible too.
@Gadgetgirl – oh nooooo! Good luck with that. What a hard, uncomfortable situation to have to go through. Sending you love.
@Weehoo – wow. Wow. What a story. And glad your girl is okay now. Learning stuff the hard way. Hug.
I totally understand.
On my “Things to be insanely grateful for much, much later on…” list, my separation from my husband which has been an incredible learning experience and yet an incredibly painful experience in general. And my current difficulties, the root of which is Fear and getting to know it.
I will be thankful for this opportunity to grow. Much, much later.
This post means a lot to me, especially the part about being grateful now since you know you will be in the future. That is so wise, it’s earth shattering. I’m going to work on this too. Thank you!
Wow, finding your site could not have come at a better time for me. I’ve been struggling to find my “things to be grateful for later list” for almost three years now. At that time I was a successful old house renovator telling my clients that I was at least six months out from being able to take on new work, and then was in a car accident in which I broke my neck, and like you I’m having difficulty because my arms don’t really work any more.
So I did what anyone does who suddenly has too much time and no money…I got accepted to grad school and will finish my thesis by the end of next month. Next time I ask the universe for more time, I’ll definitely ask for the money to live on with all that time.
I get really tired of people telling me it could have been worse, at least I’m not in a wheelchair. And I say yeah, thanks for telling me how great life is for that reason. I want to find my lessons from this, but hearing other people tell me what those lessons “should” be makes me cranky!
Thanks so much for sharing yourself and your journey. It let me realize that I don’t have to discover all my blessings right now, but can anticipate the discovery of each one in their own time.