Finding the Hidden Gems in Life’s Difficult Experiences

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A few years ago I was working full time, pregnant with my second child, and generally following my life plan, when suddenly, without warning I was confronted with an experience that took me into the deepest levels of pain.  At nearly 34 weeks pregnant, an abnormality was detected during a routine ultrasound. Immediately, a series of medical tests began in order to detect the cause of the problem, and I sank into a deep depression, overwhelmed by a tidal wave of fear, guilt, shame, and anxiety. I lost all hope of having a healthy, normal baby.

It was the first time in a while that things had not gone as planned, and I was distraught. If it weren’t for my three-year old son, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to live through the experience. The range of potential negative possibilities seemed infinite, and I did not know how I would survive if my baby died, or was born unhealthy. I desperately wanted an end to the agony I felt, and I began to pray incessantly for the best end possible to the situation, although I had not idea what that might be.

I am not a religious person, but being in the depths of emotional crisis, frankly there was nowhere else to turn but to something greater than my individual self. Rationally, I simply couldn’t make sense of what was happening to me. Given my young age and good health, any complication was statistically supposed to be very unlikely. The doctors could not give me any answers, as test after test came back “normal”. A psychiatrist prescribed medication to help me calm down. It helped, but it was not enough.

Of course, what I wanted in truth was an end to my nightmare. I wanted that the whole experience turn out to be a false alarm. As the weeks went by, part of me began to intuit that somewhere deep inside, and perhaps hidden and buried for lack of use, I did have the inner resources to handle and survive this experience, regardless of the outcome.

What I learned is that these times of emotional crisis that we strive so hard to avoid are actually opportunities. For me, this emotional crisis held an opportunity for growth and understanding. What do we do when we have to face crisis?

We can find our faith in the order of things.

There is a part of us that wants to control the course of our lives and choose what to experience. Actually, we think that we do control our lives, but in the midst of times of acute crises, it becomes clear that this is not the case. We don’t get to choose what happens to us, only how we will face the experiences that arise. Crisis gives us the opportunity to practice this. Without these difficult times, how would we put our faith, truly, into practice?

We reach for our inner resources.

We are always given all the tools we need to handle any situation, but not necessarily in advance. It is often a difficult experience that pushes us to look for these tools, or unearth them or recognize them. If I had been told in advance, this is the experience you must face and these are the tools you will use, I would not have been reassured but rather frightened. But in the midst of the turmoil, the only thing to do was an inner search, to find these inner resources that I didn’t know that I had.

We come to a place of acceptance.

Even in the depths of the most difficult life experiences, growth can occur. Actually it is almost as though these are the times that offer the greatest opportunity for growth. During the last few weeks of my pregnancy, I would have given anything to escape my situation and I could hardly see how it would benefit me in the future. I came to be grateful for the experience later on, reflecting back on what had happened. What brought me out of the fear, grief and shame I felt at the prospect of either losing my child or raising a child who was different, was coming face to face with my own limiting and false beliefs and discarding them. After all, who was I to say what kind of life is worth living? Who was I to know how the grand plan should be carried out?

* * *

I ended up having the baby, a few weeks after the first signs of trouble, and the first years with my daughter were not easy. She was born with a disability that would affect her lifestyle and ours. But these perceived limitations quickly faded away in the presence of our love for her.

As human beings we all face limitations, and out of these arise opportunities to grow. Nothing that happened during her first year was worse than that initial experience of overwhelming crisis. Over time, I was first able to accept, and later be grateful for, the way things had worked out. As I came to a place of gratitude, the last vestiges of my fear and anxiety began to dissolve. I came to a place of peace that I hadn’t known was possible a few years earlier. Difficult experiences are a part of being human, and in fact, we all have the resources to survive whatever we are given. Finding the hidden gems, such as love and resilience, was thanks to that difficult- and very human- experience.

Photo by Maximo Lopez