The Power of Powerlessness
I saw a flyer hanging in our local “froyo” shop in town and it caught my eye. The flyer was advertising a fundraiser for a college student in my community who was in need of an intestinal transplant.
As a two-time liver transplant recipient, I felt immediately connected to his story and I was reminded of my own experiences.
After being introduced by our mutual friends, Thomas and I met to talk about the transplant experience. However, it became apparent that our connection centered much more on facing an uncontrollable and unknown struggle than it did about the specifics of a medical procedure.
As I sat down to meet my newfound friend and talk with him about my transplant journey, I recalled three actions that really helped me and, I believe, could help anyone in one of these situations.
I know when my world feels like it is crashing down before my eyes, all that I really want to do is go hide in a corner. I have encountered a fair amount of world-shattering, heart-stopping, gut-wrenching news. We all have.
It’s the feeling of the words “you have cancer” as they roll off your doctor’s tongue, the feeling of realizing that at this moment, nothing that you had planned or envisioned is reasonable anymore.
Your whole life is suddenly focused on one thing by which everything else is now determined.
There is nothing like a few words controlling your life to make you feel powerless. Whether it’s a divorce, the loss of a loved one, an illness, a job, or an accident, life throws some pretty tough curve balls.
Unfortunately, there is no training, no magic workout regime or emotional conditioning to prepare for them.
So what are we supposed to do when all we want to do is hide beneath the covers or crawl into our dog’s crate?
1. Let yourself have a very good long cry, but limit hiding under the covers.
A dear friend of mine, Anna O’Connor, battled Neuroblastoma for eight years. She never let her disease define her. Her attitude and advice provided a very positive example for me of how to be the right patient. She described the two different patients in life. The first type is one who “becomes very bitter towards their disease and dwells on their misfortune.” The other is one who has a good cry, picks themselves back up again and fights the good fight, “taking advantage of all that is good in life” along the way.
Anna’s advice can be applied to any struggle. While we should allow ourselves to cry, we cannot let our struggles define who we are.
2. Share your story.
I found strength in sharing my story with others. As I underwent two liver transplants during the summer of 2004, I enlisted the help of Carepages.com, a blog-like site that allows patients undergoing an illness or particularly trying time, to share their story with periodic updates. Friends and family can access the page and post messages back.
As I shared my Carepage updates with my friends, family, neighbors, and ultimately, strangers, their support gave me renewed strength. My favorite thing to do while in the hospital was to read the messages I had received. As I transparently posted about the worst time in my life, I began to receive messages from people I had never met, telling me the kind of impact my updates had on their lives and how they dealt with their struggles.
While a Carepage may not be the suitable outlet for every life struggle, I think that sharing your story with a support group—your friends, family, church, etc.—is therapeutic and a source of strength.
3. Give of yourself.
By far the greatest way to get through a struggle of your own is to give of yourself. While undergoing my liver transplants, I asked friends and family to donate money in lieu of gifts or flowers, to help vulnerable children in Africa. With the help of World Vision, I sponsored the village of Musele, Zambia. This effort was the greatest blessing to my family and me. Throughout the summer and, subsequently for the remainder of my life, it has provided the positive focus and sense of purpose that has helped me live a life with a chronic illness.
When you give to others, you find yourself, you find your purpose, and you lose sight of your own needs and worries.
We all have struggles, hardships that make us feel powerless, but we do have the power to do something, to rise above our situations and to define ourselves by something greater.
Join the conversation: Has a hardship or struggle ever made you feel powerless? What did you do to overcome it? Share your story and life lessons in the comments section below.
Kendall Ciesemier is the founder of Kids Caring 4 Kids. Today, she is a freshman at Georgetown University studying Sociology. Kendall hopes to pursue a career in broadcast journalism where she will use her voice to create effective stories that inspire others to act. Last summer, she began her experience in journalism by working as an intern for Oprah Radio and today she works as a MTV Global Correspondent and a Huffington Post blogger.