Find it easier to hide in the shadows rather than face up to your own reality? You could be missing out on the sun. We caught up with Kelly Terranova, Business Owner and Author of The Bees Knees Journal for her experience and tips…
In July 2004 at the age of just eighteen I was summoned to the family table, where I would receive the devastating news that my mother was terminally ill with a rare and fatal genetic condition called Huntington’s disease. I would also learn that I was 50% at risk of inheriting the same condition. My reaction was a concoction of breezy shoulder shrugs for my own fate and comforting words to my mother that it was ok. I walked back out into a world that kept spinning just as it did before, wholeheartedly committed to living life by the same rules I had lived before. Unfortunately, a free-spirited approach that required throwing caution to the wind wasn’t a remedy for acceptance; something I would only come to realise several years later when it would rear its head in the form of ‘failed resistance’.
What We Resist, Persists
Navigating adversity for the first time, I can now see why so many confuse coping with ‘being on top of it’. I spent a huge proportion of my first years at risk of Huntington’s disease witnessing my mother’s decline telling myself everything was fine. I threw myself into a career as a dance school owner that became much of what I was defined by and busied my life to such an extent that there was no space to sit and be with my thoughts and feelings.
Unbeknown to me at the time, I began to develop adverse reactions to other people’s pain, often struggling to be anything other than practical about it. I channelled my energy into being a positive force within every place I went, pushing through walls to make others feel better with little to no acknowledgment of the crumbling walls within me that were begging to be attended to. What I see now, is how we live in a society that marks success by the things we might get publicly acknowledged for. I had become wrapped up in the need for my life to ‘count’ no matter what this disease was going to do to my life, but at the tender age of 25 hadn’t the scope to really evaluate exactly what success looked like. Success in its truest form; the accomplishment of an aim or purpose. I wanted to live a full life, even if a short one, but I hadn’t stopped to consider what ‘full’ really looked like.
Nothing Is As It Seems
By the time I was 30, I had recognised a few fundamentals in terms of coping well with what life had thrown my way. By this point I had been through a divorce, lost tens of thousands in property through my marriage breakdown and had weathered living back on my parent’s sofa whilst watching my mother’s decline rapidly take effect. I was now living in a new town, with a partner I loved very much and practising everything I knew to be true for ‘coping well’.
From regular exercise, to positive affirmations and gratitude right through to harnessing real friendships and doing work that I loved. I was in essence, ‘living my life to the full’. I noticed the small things day to day, found peace in focusing on what my body could do and enjoyed work that felt like my purpose in life. But a big part of me felt in the shadows.
Unacknowledged, waiting to burst open with forces beyond which I would have the tools to handle with ease. A year later, I found the courage to take the long anticipated genetic test I had waited for over thirteen years to take to be given the news, I was gene negative. I would never inherit the condition. At a time when that shadowed part of me ‘should’ have evaporated into the atmosphere and my shoulders should have dropped, I became increasingly aware of how prominent its presence was within me, and how if I didn’t tackle it head on, I was going to crumble. Not long after this monumental day, my body and mind took the control out of my hands and I spiralled into what was emotional and physical burnout.
Here I share the real things that help face up to my reality and find a way back out.
#1 Let Go of Comparison Culture
It always appears like everyone else has it all worked out, especially with social media. What I came to realise was that people only share their highlights, and although different, everyone has their challenges. Life ebbs and flows, so be wary of comparing your bad day to someone’s good day. Comparison, especially when tied to material success will always steal joy, because there will always be someone with more.
#2 Reject Toxic Positivity
Perhaps the golden ticket so far. Sometimes “keep your chin up”, “keep smiling”, “stay positive” does nothing but invalid things that are hard. Everyone meets times that are hard; often harder than they know how to navigate. Staying happy is like building a dam against a massive volume of water that needs to pass through in order to level out and not overflow. “I can’t be at peace with this, but I can accept it”, “This is not in my control, but other things are”, “How can I make this more manageable” are words that are much more helpful to use with yourself.
#3 Accept Emotional Fluidity
Thinking you have to be sad or happy exclusively will only serve to breed resistance of the other. If you are locked into being only happy, you will resist happiness and miss out on healing. If you are locked into sadness, you will resist happiness and prevent your recovery. Allow all your emotions to be fluid. You are allowed to be happy and sad (and all the other emotions we feel) about different things at the same time. They are not mutually exclusive.
Not just about the bad days and not just about the good days. Acknowledge the good days, what you were doing and why it felt great so you can look back next time you are struggling. Likewise, acknowledge the challenges. Remind yourself, lean in, let go and give yourself a pat on the back for the successes you might not post on social media or win an award for.
#5 Build a Toolkit
Nobody ever got a medal for not seeking professional support. Therapy provides tools for navigating those things that are beyond which we are meant to have the tools to support ourselves. By investing in therapy, you are investing in the value you see in your own wellbeing. Some feelings, such as grief are not ones with which we are taught to navigate. It’s hard, because it’s hard. Ask for help.
#6 Celebrate the Chip in Your Cup
Too often we see things that don’t go to plan, painful experiences and personal failures as a chip in our cup. In Japanese art, broken crockery is pieced back together with powdered gold, silver or platinum treating a breakage as part of the objects history rather than something to disguise. This is a great metaphor for life. The richness you bring to the world following any of the above must be celebrated. Not to be confused by referring to these chips as silver linings. Sometimes not everything happens for a reason (see toxic positivity) but the is growth unearthed that you wouldn’t have without it.
Overall, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is, I couldn’t outrun life. It’s not always easy to lean in, but only by facing the reality in the shadows can we truly feel the aliveness that comes with fully immersing in all that life has to offer, bringing a richness that cannot exist without it.
You can buy The Bees Knees Journal Kelly created from her own tried and tested methods of how to not only survive, but thrive in adversity and uncertainty via www.thebeesknees.co.uk