Traversing Your Personal Hell

personal hell

“If you’re going through hell, keep going” – Winston Churchill

I’ve heard that quote by Winston Churchill about a thousand times. I don’t know whether that’s just by coincidence or whether there’s some sort of higher being out there that really wants to ingrain a particular message into my head, but if it’s the latter, it’s starting to work.

You see, I never really believed in the quote for a long time – surely if you find yourself going through hell, you turn around and retrace your footsteps until you’re safely out of there … I mean, that makes more sense than blindly traversing a terrifying unknown world without the knowledge of when such an ordeal might be over, right?

Well yes, actually – in the literal sense it does, but if you’ve somehow managed to wrangle your way into the real hell your problems are slightly more convoluted than this post can help you with.

I am in fact referencing the metaphorical hell we are forced to traverse at various points in our lives – the kind of hell that accompanies finding a new job, moving house, having a child, and losing a loved one. These are situations we have no choice but to face head-on, battle through, and come out the other side – better off for the experience, I might add.

But what of the hells we do have a choice of shying away from? Losing weight for example, or learning a new skill? That sad fact of the matter is that for the majority of us, the easiest option is the most frequented one – we quit after a few days and the pounds start to pile on again, guitars sit in the corner collecting dust, and your ‘Spanish for Beginners’ textbook gets lost under the hoard of John Grisham novels. Of course, things are easier because we don’t have to worry about adhering to the regime that allowed us to lose that weight, or learn that skill – but are our lives really better for it?

We clearly attempted such feats for a reason – be it self-esteem, fitness, or simply the desire to better ourselves – and now we’re right back where we were, just slightly less fulfilled and slightly more used to failure. So the answer is no, our lives are not better for it – and if you can accept that fact then fine, but do remember our time on Earth greatly revolves around self-improvement in the grand scheme of things, and eventually your mind will torture you over why you never managed to achieve what you set out to achieve.

One hell in my life at the moment is the effort to become fit. I’m of average weight so I don’t want to lose any, but taking part in physical sports like football or tennis takes its toll very early on, and I find myself panting and out of breath after just a few minutes.

A couple of months ago I started jogging daily to remedy the situation – only my allotted half an hour was split up into jogging, walking, and crouching to the ground whilst my unfit life passed before my eyes. This was hell, and I was very aware of it, so every time my energy dipped slightly below the tolerable level, I stopped jogging and walked for a couple of minutes. I didn’t even dread the exercise because I knew that when things became difficult, I could just take the pain away – simple.

Imagine my surprise when I realised my fitness levels were going nowhere. I thought there must be something wrong with me – how could I be putting myself through such physical exertion without reward?

And then, I understood. I wasn’t pushing myself – I was accepting my limitations and actively preventing myself from breaking past them. I was traversing my metaphorical hell, turning back as soon as I realised where I was, and returning the very next day to repeat the process. The only way to get through this slump was to go straight through hell and stay on the other side.

And that’s what I did. From that day on, I ruthlessly forced myself to ignore the pain and charge straight past it. I go through hell every day for half an hour but this time, after that half an hour I can look back on upon an achievement rather than a failure, and it feels great – I’ve actually become pretty fast as well.

Slowly, hell is becoming a less intimidating place – making it easier to get by and providing me with new opportunities to become better and better. I’ve even applied this lesson to learning the guitar now!

Which personal hell have you been avoiding in your life? Do you have a good reason for failing to push through it?

Photo by Paul Chaloner

21 thoughts on “Traversing Your Personal Hell”

  1. My personal hell is looking for work at age 64. The rejection gets old and I have come to expect it….. I need to get out of the line of work I am in…. personal caregiver for Alz/Dementia cleints….. it has taken its toll on my mind, body and spirit…. have been doing this for over 20 years…..and I am taking a break from pushing thru my hell…. I am tired, old and just for today, haven’t got the energy to persevere….Ill get up tomorrow and try again…… but my soul is weary…. thank you for letting me share

    1. Hi ladee,

      You have every right to give yourself a break in the position you’re in – maybe for a day or two – but know that us human beings are so much more capable than we give ourselves credit for. If you want to make a drastic change in your life, there is no question – you CAN do it.

      Good luck.

      1. Thank you Zachery John, I have no doubt I will push forward…. a new day, a new beginning….. no time for wallowing….. have great things to do !!! Thanks again for the encouragement…

  2. Uncomfortable known complacency feels so much better than the unfamiliar new territory you speak of that scares the bejesus out of me. It’s like…we all know we can’t play victim all our lives and need to be consciously responsible.

    But I’ve bought furniture and prettied up this home where I host all my pity parties at? *sulky face*

    I don’t feel brave enough to air out my ‘issues’ a.t.m…but…thanks for reminding me to increase my tolerance for crazy sensations. At the end of the day, a feeling is just a feeling.

  3. Such a great post, thank you so much for this article.
    It’s just what I needed to read right now even though I was not expecting it at all to just receive an email out of the blue that starts with “If you’re going through hell, keep going”
    Math exam is my personal hell, and now thanks to you I’ve got motivation to go through my hell.

    Thanks again :)

  4. Hell, is it personal, or mandatory pathway to self actualization?
    I procrastinate procrastinating. My effort seems fruitless, as it never catches up to my expectations.Hence a self defeating catch 22. I look at the large picture rather than breaking it down into manageable parts. It is good to know others are in their own hell but i would love to traips through this hell. Or learn to live with it. Good article

    1. People will usually tell you that anything worth doing or being will always be preceded by a challenge you must overcome, so in that respect I guess it is both personal and mandatory.

      I don’t actually believe it’s that black and white – that certain things in life do come easy and you can get pretty lucky on occasion – but if you ever realise you’re in a situation that requires overcoming for the best, I will always recommend persevering.

  5. Virag Padalkar….,thank you soooo much for recommending the article by Mark Manson…. I got my answer and didn’t know I had a question… how awesome is that !!!!! I know what I am willing to struggle for and have never looked at it like this before…… I can finally breathe…… thanks again…When the student is ready, the teacher appears….. you are my new best friend….. !!!!

  6. When I look at what I have accomplished in life, I realize the things I value most are the things I really had to work hard for, not the things that came easy. So there is something to be said for perseverance and not giving up. With infinite patience and kindness towards yourself you can achieve anything you set out to do.

    I try not to give what I am trying to do too much power. Life is filled with good and bad days. When I feel overwhelmed I stop and take a deep breath…the safest place is always in the moment.

  7. I’m not sure my current situation should be called hell, but I have to admit it feels that way. I’m in the process of closing my psychotherapy practice. It’s time to do other things but this is a painful process. I have my own fears about it but the most difficult part is the pain I’m causing my clients. I have many clients I may have seen for years (off and on) and they have counted on me. For example, I have a woman with serious, serious recurring depression that I have seen intermittently for 24 years when she’s in the midst of an episode. I’ve been through suicide attempts, life changes, and so on. Now I’m leaving her and while she can be happy for me it’s so hard for her. And this story plays out hour after hour, day after day in my clinical work as everyone processes their feelings. Simultaneously I’m dealing with a health issue and all I want to do is sleep. But I’m putting my head down, figuratively speaking, and I’m keeping going. This will end at some point.

    1. There is no manual for what you’re going through at the moment Holly, and it does take a tough character to make it through to the other side. You’ve spent a large portion of your life dealing with the problems of others so it’ll probably feel slightly alien to refocus your attention primarily towards yourself.

      However, don’t forget that, as much as you feel responsible for your clients, you have every right to think about yourself when it comes to such life-changing decisions. I know it’s not cut-and-dry, especially in an occupation like psychotherapy, but it’s definitely workable.

      Stay strong!

  8. Zachary,
    At first I was a bit reluctant to read your post, based on the title, but as I read the intro, I decided to read your whole post. What a nice surprise. I just had not considered these challenges in life as personal hell. I have to admit, some did feel that way, mostly overwhelm. I too lost my job at the age of 61 last year. I was 3 months into the process and realized that companies did not want to hire one close to what they thought would be retirement. I always loved work and never considered retirement. I was stared to feel depressed like Ladee. Yes, that would have been a personal hell for sure, major overwhelm.

    That road of lack of hope, was a catalyst for me, which I think is the point of your post. Can we use that catalyst to grow and change in the most wonderful of ways? So yes, I allowed that challenge to help me find a path for fulfillment. I had to look at why I was looking for work in places where I just was not wanted, and did I still desire to do that work. I didn’t. I had to look for what was my new passion coming forward. That was why I was depressed. I had this part of me that was involved in personal development and self improvement all my life. I had years of being involved in all this training and had insights that were unique to me. So I decided with no skills to learn some new ones. I started my own products called Miracle Grids and a website .

    I had so much fun learning how all the ways the internet worked. I had to learn to write differently because my old skills were for writing specifications, regulated information documents and process instructions.

    You are so right about moving past the point of your limitations. I wanted to stop right where I was, but made a conscious choice that I was going to exceed my limits. It takes some perseverance and determination not to give up. I think so many get real close and give up before giving themselves a chance to succeed.

    I guess it is about, can we love our self enough to fight for us. I think that is also what you are saying here. Fight for you! Be who you want and don’t give up. Susan

    1. I’m so pleased you liked the article, Susan.

      What a great way to push past your predicament! There’s a whole world of new opportunities out there that people never think of exploring, so changing direction so dramatically and pushing yourself to learn new skills was the perfect thing to do.

      Thanks for highlighting what I was trying to get across with your own experiences!

  9. My personal hell is my marriage failing and I am living in a new state by myself with my two kids. I dont have my family around me to support me through this difficult time. I am supposed to be strong for my girls.
    It was supposed to be our lives together after my husband got out of the military. We bought a house and living contently or so I thought. We have not even lived together in our new house. My husband left out of state to pursue a job opportunity.
    I tried to be the supportive wife but it soon became overwhelming. Between my girls getting sick and emergency room visits, I work full time and trying to get a promotion.
    My husband has told me and shown me in several ways he does not want to be with me. Yet i have no divorce papers coming to me and he doesnt want me to go after him for child support. I cant afford daycare and mortgage and utilities by myself. Yet little by little he is putting more bills on my plate.
    I pray and pray for the pain to end. I do not argue with him because it doesnt help.
    I feel so stranded and alone and I really cant do anything about it.

    1. Dalena, you can do something about it.

      You’re in a bad place right now and that allows your mind to assume the worst – that nothing is going to change and that you’re going to be miserable forever.

      You’re not going to be miserable forever because you’re going to realise that – whilst there is no quick fix or magical cure for the situation – your many problems can be faced one at a time and dealt with individually.

      The most important thing to remember is that you must do what’s best for the long run. Facing each problem head on as opposed to skirting around them and allowing them to consistently reappear will make you feel so much better as soon as you start doing it, I promise.

  10. Thanks Mark for such an inspiring quote. I have the opposite problem to yours. I love to exercise. I do it every day, rain or shine but my down fall is I love candies. it might sound crazy but I would eat a bag of candy each day and wake up at 4am every morning to run it off and believe me I do at least 5 miles up and down hill.

    After reading your post I realize that if I try to become more discipline I could still do my five miles but do it just because I love it and not because I am trying to burn off the candy from the day before.

    I never thought of it that way even though I know a bag of candy a day is of no use to me. Thanks for your post as it has helped me to see the error of my ways.

    1. Hi Rose,

      I think everyone has their own vice/guilty pleasure. Whilst it’s important to take steps to better yourself in whichever way you want, life is also about living and being happy.

      So (depending on what you’re trying to achieve) don’t cut the candy out altogether if you love it. Maybe just cut down to a bag every three or four days so you still have that little something to look forward to – it makes the difficult parts slightly easier.

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