Happiness Through the Wars.

For the last 12 months, I have been in the compassion business and yet, so often I feel like slapping people straight in the face because they refuse to be happy. Instead, they’ve buried themselves in a deep hole and I’m starting to wonder whether they actually prefer it there. You see, all the means of escape are within easy reach, but they completely ignore them.

There are many reasons for this. Perhaps, they don’t feel they can change their circumstances. They have been given a diagnosis, or label, that supposedly renders them helpless. Or, they are just a bit overwhelmed, shocked and befuddled and might need a bit of assistance. After all, when you are going through a hard time, it’s easy to forget that you might only be passing through and this isn’t actually your destination.

If you are currently submerged in a crisis, you probably think it’s easy for me to say and that I just don’t get your situation. That I don’t know how bad it is. However, can you be so sure? What do you know about me? What’s my story?

red shoes

Me in my fancy red dream shoes. I’m usually barefoot, especially in Summer.

I’m not in your shoes. That’s a good thing, too. There are times when we need  that external tough nut who doesn’t give us what we want but what we need. That tough cop you don’t want to meet when you’ve decided everything’s hopeless and you’ve settled for a living death.

You see, as much as you might think you want someone to come along with a blanket, tucking you in and bringing you meals for however long it takes for you to die in a physical sense, that’s not what you need. Instead, you need that really annoying, irrepressible coach who tells you to: “Move it! Move it! Move it!”

You need action and probably even the proverbial boot up the you know where!

So, my question for you is this: “Do you want to stay where you are or do you want things to change…even if it is only those little annoyances you haven’t followed up?”

What we sometimes forget when we’re intensely focused on what’s gone wrong, is that it can always get worse.Somehow, we manage to shoot ourselves in both feet in addition to whatever adversity has come our way. Sadly, this happens way too often and while it’s tempting to play the blame game, we also have to look to ourselves.

What are we doing to actually improve our lot? To give ourselves the best chance?

You see, we are actually so much stronger than we think and have the means within ourselves to improve our lot. Moreover, as we feel more and more empowered, we in effect shrink whatever beast is bringing us down. Through these victories, however small, we also find a sense of happiness which can help us overcome further setbacks. This is what’s called resilience.

Of course, if you’d told me all of this when I was having a “dooner day”, I would’ve promptly slapped you in the face and retreated even further into my bed. I have to admit my Mum was pretty keen to get me moving again after those many colossal teenage break ups and I really thought she didn’t get it. Didn’t understand me. However, at the same time, when you’re older and you see the long-range, bigger picture, how can you let your beautiful daughter go up in smoke over a stupid boy? How could I do it to myself? That old phrase: “there are always plenty more fish in the sea” might seem heartless but it’s true. You just don’t appreciate that when you’re in it.

“When we are helping someone, it is so important to enable them, NOT render them disabled.”


When we are helping someone, it is so important that we enable them, and do not disable them. While we can gallop in on our white horse and save the day on their behalf and be the hero, wouldn’t it be better to teach them how to ride so they can experience the thrill of not only overcoming their particular adversity, but also gain the strength and pride of learning a new skill? Having a new experience which gives them a sense of victory and achievement rather than reinforcing: “You can’t do this. Let me do it for you.”

Well, this is all very well unless you’ve taken a direct hit. Sometimes you need intensive, ongoing assistance or you might know that someone who does. No amount of wishful thinking, prayer, medical intervention is going to change what’s happened.

Or, is it?

Rowena Quad bike

Here I am riding the quad bike. Of all the activities, this one took me most out of my comfort zone.

What I would like to suggest is that you try to find a way around the hurdles and see what is possible. A few years ago, I went away on an Adventure Camp with the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Beforehand, I wasn’t very confident about my physical capabilities and was very wary of trying new things. Of course, given my diagnosis, I had every reason to pull back. However, I knew that the staff knew and understood my limitations. This provided a sort of safety net, which allowed me to take on all sorts of unexpected challenges which took me way beyond my comfort zone. Ironically, probably the most challenging activity was going down a waterslide on the boat without my glasses on. I am so short-sighted that I’m literally blind without them and yet I went flying into the water and pulled myself back onboard. Did I feel weak, powerless and useless after that? NO! Of course, not! Rather, I felt triumphant…even after smacking the water nose first and getting water up my nose. That success propelled me onto further physical successes including riding quad bikes and ultimately skiing down a mountain (an Australian mountain so it wasn’t Everest but it was Everest to me).

These were huge monumental changes for me as I’d never been a physical person and was much more comfortable living inside my head and being the writer.

So, being in the compassion business but also being a survivor, the most compassionate thing I can say to you is… NEVER GIVE UP! I’m not talking about reaching dreams like becoming a millionaire or even one that’s very important to me…getting a book published. What I am talking about is never giving up on YOUR SELF and your ability to pull yourself out of the rabbit hole. This is not to deny the power of prayer and God’s strength but God didn’t make us powerless. He didn’t want us to be victims. He said pick up your mat. NOT… I’ll carry it for you and keep carrying it for you. We are so much stronger than we ever thought possible but we need to use and exercise that strength. Not let it go to waste.

While tough love might seemingly fly in the face of compassion, building strength instead of weakness is an incredible gift of love and what ultimate leads to a more enduring form of happiness.

P.S. The Back Story.

Sometimes I wish I had badges or scars which acknowledge the challenges I have overcome and survived. They would give me the credibility to share my story without people thinking: “What would you know? She’s happily married with two kids. She even has two dogs for heavens sake…and a roof over her head.” You probably wouldn’t even notice any physical proof of my struggles at all.

Yet, if you touched the side of my head, well camouflaged underneath my hair of course, you’d find a bump. That’s the shunt which manages a neurological condition, hydrocephalus. When I was around 25, I had brain surgery and it took a good 12 months just to get back to square one again…let alone fly. The doctor had marked my file with “full recovery” at the time and after six months, those words almost seemed cruel. What was he talking about? I still wasn’t back at work and that’s what a full recovery meant to me at the time. AND…it meant now!! This instant. I was stuck in a dreadful state of suspended animation, which is hard enough for anyone to deal with let alone when you’re young. I picked up photography in a very serious way during this time and looking through the lens, you see what you see and somehow become absorbed into it and out of yourself and your problems. I have no doubt that it helped my recovery. It also bridged that gap with the rest of the world who was working. It turned out that when I went to parties, people were much more interested in hearing about photography than work! I was interesting. Moreover, my stories about the flip-top head were also fairly entertaining.

Throwing humour at your bad luck, also turns things around. Prior to my surgery, I was living in a veritable twilight zone straight out of Oliver Sacks: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for A Hat. Even the horizon moved up and down when I walked, so it’s no surprised that I walked like John Wayne with a broad gait just to keep my balance! This wasn’t the kind of poise you wanted as a young woman or teenager! However, once I was on the mend, these stories were quite funny.

However, as much as we like to believe lightening doesn’t strike the same place twice, it can and it does. Just because it only got your head last time, doesn’t mean that it can’t try and claim the rest of you as well.

Following the birth of my daughter, my immune system went haywire, as it usually does. However, instead of returning to normal, my body started attacking itself when I developed an exceptionally rare auto-immune disease, dermatomyositis. It took 18 months to finally diagnose this beast. By then, most of my muscles had wasted away and I couldn’t dress myself, roll over in bed or put my daughter back in her cot. Ironically, she was still being breastfed and due to the nature of the muscle breakdown, I was still able to look after the kids and get them dressed. Because this thing had snuck up on me and we had no idea what it was, I had no appreciation of just how incredibly hard every single move had become. My feet felt like concrete trying to lift them upstairs and my body felt like a bag of rocks trying to lift myself out of the car yet I just kept going. That’s what you do. It wasn’t like I had a choice. I had two kids to look after so I was also fighting with all that I had, to keep them As soon as I was diagnosed, I was put in a wheelchair. Full stop.

Actually, it could well have been a full stop but it wasn’t. I had treatment and while there is no cure, I am better.

chemo sonata bw

This disease has been a determined blighter and I’ve had several close calls. I live with about 60% lung capacity and had chemo two years ago. I am still here. Not just the shell of who I was, but ME. I am very much alive. Life isn’t perfect. I am content but I am also reflective. I am conscious of my journey and how different things would have been but I’m equally conscious of the depth and wisdom I have gained, which I believe can only be gained through adversity. I also know that I am not the only one. That pretty much everyone has their lot, their burden to carry. So, now the question for me is less about the nature of the load and much more about how I’m going to get to the other side.

Rowena skiing downhill Fri

Skiing down the mountain at Perisher in August 2013.

How about you? Can you be happy in the midst of adversity?

xx Rowena

This month, 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion continues to work toward a better world with a focus on Compassion and Happiness. And, our monthly link-up date aligns perfectly with International Day of Happiness. How perfect!

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17 thoughts on “Happiness Through the Wars.

  1. Midwestern Plant Girl

    You’re a huge inspiration to me, Rowena!! Huge!!
    Although I don’t have major medical issues, I do feel like I’m in a rut lately and can’t get out. Can you throw a line from your quad there? 😉
    Do you think that some people (like myself) are always never content with where they are at in life? Once I reach a goal, I can’t wait to set the next one. If I can’t think of the next goal (lately) I flounder. My husband loves his life the way it is. If he dies 30 years later and nothing has changed, he’d still be a happy man. He doesn’t understand my drive, but it haunts me daily.
    I don’t think I’m a Downer Donna on the outside. Not many know about my thoughts. If asked, I bet they would say I’m the happiest person they know.
    Thank you for writing this super encouraging post! 😃
    I really appreciated it! !

  2. merrildsmith

    I laughed at your sentence about wanting to slap people because they refuse to be happy. 🙂

    I think though there is a difference between laughing in the face of adversity and being clinically depressed. And for people who are truly depressed, it might not be possible for them to be happy.
    I do admire your zest for living, and how you live life fully, despite obstacles.

  3. tj6james6

    Ooopooo, another happiness link! Woot!
    My happiness post was Sunday but you can bet that when I get home it will be added to the list :).
    I’m in that meh stage right now, helping my boyfriend through his depression and anxiety and looking for a job but I KNOW I have it good so I’m doing things which relax me and allow me to just space out for a while.

  4. carolschepper

    Wonderful post, Rowena. I do get frustrated when people seem to wallow in misery, and sometimes that’s when it’s useful to remember that kindness and sympathy are not the same as compassion. And that sometimes the right way to deal with a situation may not be the one that seemed kindest and/or nicest. So perhaps sometimes that virtual slap might be the way to go. Not always. But sometimes.

  5. roweeee Post author

    Thank you so much. I really do try to encourage others through my journey. It helps when you know someone has walked the hard yards and even though they haven’t been through the same experiences as you, they get it. Take care & best wishes,

  6. New Journey

    great post….so nice to read….makes me think….thanks for that…I like topics that get the wheels moving…..gives me something to naw on as I go to sleep…LOL love, love, love the red shoes….xxkat

  7. roweeee Post author

    Thanks so much, Kat. Those are my magic red shoes. I can wear high heels at times but also go through periods where they’d essentially kill me. That photo was taken at my cousin’s engagement party right on Sydney Harbour near the Opera House. Not long after that, I broke my foot and was in the boot for about 3-4 months and then in joggers seemingly forever.
    Those red shoes are great because the have wedge heels so they’re flat and high at the same time. That makes them deceptively good to walk in. Unfortunately, the flowery bit at the front is unraveling and they need a bit of surgery.
    Thanks for yur enthusiasm, by the way. Had a stressful morning. The lad couldn’t find any of his school books or sports uniform and I had to dash off to drive his sister to violin. Her school is 45 minutes drive away. I only take her on Wednesdays…thank goodness! I was so stressed driving up there not knowing what he was up to. Was planning to return straight home but saw a sign for the charity shop and sucombed to a detour. Found the warehouse…yippee! Found myself a little black dress, black shoes and some books including “Forever Free: Elsa’s Pride” by Joy Adamson 1961. Very excited about that! I also found a stunning dress for my daughter. It must be a bridesmaid dress. It’s white and classy yet lacy and a bit boofy. I want to take photos of her wearing it down at the beach running along, staring at the waves and also playing her violin. I think it’s going to be a bit big so I might have to wait and she doesn’t always appreciate my photographic sessions so I might have to bribe her.
    Ooh. Almost forgot. I found a bib with London bound which fit’s around Lady’s neck like a cape…stay tuned. I’ll take her down to the beach for a photo and post it on the blog xx Rowena

  8. New Journey

    what fun….I love it when you find such a fun detour…I do all the driving when we are out traveling around and I am always on the look out for fun places to stop…my husband is great about those unexpected stops…LOL a little bribery for the kids is allowed…we have all done it, over and over again…can’t wait to the pictures…as far as the boys…sometimes they just need to fret and stew and be late…might help them be a little more organized in the end…it sounded like a scene from my son….LOL you must repair the red shoe flowers…they are vintage and lovely…..happy Thursday to you my friend….xxxxkat

  9. roweeee Post author

    That’s very much, Kat. I actually bought the shoes new about 5 years ago but they are quite vintage in style. Do you remember cork heels from the 70s? I was too young to have them myself back in the 70s but I remember an older girl at my Church had them and I thought they were so cool. Still do.
    Hope you’re going well. I’ve gone a bit underground on the blog front as I’m working on my posts for the A2Z chalenge and it’s spinning out into a book, which I’m thrilled about but it’s certainly not light reading. I’m not going to spoil the journey but quite a few of my dead poets committed suicide, which has really got me thinking! It’s proving to be such an incredible journey.
    Hope you have a Happy and Blessed Easter. We are taking things quietly and are just about to head off to the beach. The poor dog keeps jumping up on me in the mornings with great expectations as I head back to bed for a nap. Anyway, had betterget moving xx Ro

  10. New Journey

    Happy Easter my friend….beach sounds absolutely delightful….I miss living on the ocean…..man are you aging me….I had the good ole cork wedges…several pairs, they were so comfortable to walk in….stilettos were never for me….I live my life in very comfortable shoes….mostly own clogs all my life, even in childhood my parents always shook they’re heads as they couldn’t get me in tennis shoes…but I did own wedges for dress up…now I live in Crog’s and Birkenstocks….my knee is so much happier with the flat, soft cushion…and oh my…don’t they do a lot for an outfit…LOL I am an old hippy after all…LOL look forward to reading you A2Z challenge….sounds interesting…but way over my head….Happy Sunday to you…..xxxxkat

  11. Minuscule Moments

    Rowena as someone who has been through so many ups and downs with your health, I imagine you live life with such gratitude. I wake up every day and give thanks that I am here for another day, many do not. Find the HAPPY in the smallest moments. I agree that moving and MORE moving can help with depression, anxiety etc etc. When my anxiety visits I know I need to get moving. If I sit around thinking about it, it gets worse. If I MOVE and get busy it loses interest in me and does not harass me as much. Enjoy the holidays.

  12. roweeee Post author

    Thanks very much, Thomas. I am currently writing a series of Letters to Dead Poets who have inspired me over the years and you might enjoy it. I was quite amazed by what Roald Dahl went through and that he wrote “Charlie & the Chocolate Factory” at the very lowest point in his life. It’s encouraging but also quite startling xx Rowena

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