Resilience In the Face of Adversity

The words that are responsible for nothing less than emotional, spiritual and psychological violence: Everything happens for a reason.

That’s the kind of bullshit that destroys lives. And it is categorically untrue.

It is amazing to me that so many of these myths persist—and that is why I share actionable tools and strategies to work with your pain. These myths are nothing more than platitudes cloaked as sophistication, and they preclude us from doing the one and only thing we must do when our lives are turned upside down: grieve.

You know exactly what I’m talking about. You’ve heard these countless times. You’ve probably even uttered them a few times yourself. And every single one of them needs to be annihilated.

Let me be crystal clear: if you’ve faced a tragedy and someone tells you in any way, shape or form that your tragedy was meant to be, that it happened for a reason, that it will make you a better person, or that taking responsibility for it will fix it, you have every right to remove them from your life.

Grief is brutally painful. Grief does not only occur when someone dies. When relationships fall apart, you grieve. When opportunities are shattered, you grieve. When dreams die, you grieve. When illnesses wreck you, you grieve.

So I’m going to repeat a few words I’ve uttered countless times; words so powerful and honest they tear at the hubris of every jackass who participates in the debasing of the grieving:

Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried. 

These words are so poignant because they aim right at the pathetic platitudes our culture has come to embody on an increasingly hopeless level. Losing a child cannot be fixed. Being diagnosed with a debilitating illness cannot be fixed. Facing the betrayal of your closest confidante cannot be fixed.

They can only be carried.

I hate to break it to you, but although devastation can lead to growth, it often doesn’t. The reality is that it often destroys lives. And the real calamity is that this happens precisely because we’ve replaced grieving with advice. With platitudes. With our absence.

I now live an extraordinary life. I’ve been deeply blessed by the opportunities I’ve had and the radically unconventional life I’ve built for myself. Yet even with that said, I’m hardly being facetious when I say that loss has not in and of itself made me a better person. In fact, in some ways it’s hardened me.

While so much loss has made me acutely aware and empathetic of the pains of others, it has made me more insular and predisposed to hide. I have a more cynical view of human nature, and a greater impatience with those who are unfamiliar with what loss does to people.

Above all, I’ve been left with a pervasive survivor’s guilt that has haunted me for a couple of years. This guilt is really the genesis of my hiding, self-sabotage and brokenness.

In short, my pain has never been eradicated, I’ve just learned to channel it into my work with others. I consider it a great privilege to work with others in pain, but to say that my losses somehow had to happen in order for my gifts to grow would be to trample on the memories of all those I lost too young; all those who suffered needlessly, and all those who faced the same trials I did early in life, but who did not make it.

I’m simply not going to do that. I’m not going to construct some delusional narrative fallacy for myself so that I can feel better about being alive. I’m not going to assume that God ordained me for life instead of all the others so that I could do what I do now. And I’m certainly not going to pretend that I’ve made it through simply because I was strong enough; that I became “successful” because I “took responsibility.”

There’s a lot of “take responsibility” platitudes in the personal development space, and they are largely nonsense. People tell others to take responsibility when they don’t want to understand.

Because understanding is harder than posturing. Telling someone to “take responsibility” for their loss is a form of benevolent masturbation. It’s the inverse of inspirational porn: it’s sanctimonious porn.

Personal responsibility implies that there’s something to take responsibility for. You don’t take responsibility for being raped or losing your child. You take responsibility for how you choose to live in the wake of the horrors that confront you, but you don’t choose whether you grieve. We’re not that smart or powerful. When hell visits us, we don’t get to escape grieving.

This is why all the platitudes and fixes and posturing are so dangerous: in unleashing them upon those we claim to love, we deny them the right to grieve.

In so doing, we deny them the right to be human. We steal a bit of their freedom precisely when they’re standing at the intersection of their greatest fragility and despair.

No one—and I mean no one—has that authority. Though we claim it all the time.

The irony is that the only thing that even can be “responsible” amid loss is grieving.

So if anyone tells you some form of get over it, move on, or rise above, you can let them go.

If anyone avoids you amidst loss, or pretends like it didn’t happen, or disappears from your life, you can let them go.

If anyone tells you that all is not lost, that it happened for a reason, that you’ll become better as a result of your grief, you can let them go.

Let me reiterate: all of those platitudes are bullshit.

You are not responsible to those who try to shove them down your throat. You can let them go.

I’m not saying you should. That is up to you, and only up to you. It isn’t an easy decision to make and should be made carefully. But I want you to understand that you can.

I’ve grieved many times in my life. I’ve been overwhelmed with shame and self-hatred so strong it’s nearly killed me.

The ones who helped—the only ones who helped—were those who were there. And said nothing.

In that nothingness, they did everything.

I am here—I have lived—because they chose to love me. They loved me in their silence, in their willingness to suffer with me, alongside me, and through me. They loved me in their desire to be as uncomfortable, as destroyed, as I was, if only for a week, an hour, even just a few minutes.

Most people have no idea how utterly powerful this is.

Are there ways to find “healing” amid devastation? Yes. Can one be “transformed” by the hell life thrusts upon them? Absolutely. But it does not happen if one is not permitted to grieve. Because grief itself is not an obstacle.

The obstacles come later. The choices as to how to live; how to carry what we have lost; how to weave a new mosaic for ourselves? Those come in the wake of grief. It cannot be any other way.

Grief is woven into the fabric of the human experience. If it is not permitted to occur, its absence pillages everything that remains: the fragile, vulnerable shell you might become in the face of catastrophe.

Yet our culture has treated grief as a problem to be solved, an illness to be healed, or both. In the process, we’ve done everything we can to avoid, ignore, or transform grief. As a result, when you’re faced with tragedy you usually find that you’re no longer surrounded by people, you’re surrounded by platitudes.

XOXO

April

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Chivalrous Acts

Congrats!

I’m a modern girl. I’m independent and I’m single. I have built a career from the ground up, read everyone from C.S. Lewis to Suzanne Collins, can navigate social media with relative ease, and watch New Girl every week like it’s my job.

And? I know I can take care of myself. But hey, call me old-fashioned, too. It’s fine. I can appreciate aspects of feminism, but I prefer gender roles. I like when a guy volunteers to kill a massive spider without complaint, or lift a heavy box in my stead.

I find chivalry to be a gorgeous thing. 

Most women I know are a little like that. We love our modern independence in life and in love, but deep down, we want guys to treat us like ladies. As most women will attest, it’s become increasingly rare. Gentlemanly behavior sets our hearts aflutter. We want to see it, and many of us are waiting on it.

Some men make us question why chivalrous acts have died out. However, other men prove that sweetness still exists. I want a guy to court me a bit. In fact, I’m sort of holding out for that. Someone to sweep me off my feet? No, gosh no. Grand gestures are wholly unnecessary. I just want someone I can count on. I just want him to do little things to make me sure he’s the real deal.

Dating today is tough, and we women always seem to have doubts about the guys that roll into our lives. Does he like me? Are his motives genuine? Can I trust him completely? Guessing means you usually can’t, and confusion isn’t a good thing.

Most women would like to erase that. So if he puts in the time and does the little things, it’s like a screening process for us. He’s more likely to be into us as human beings, not hookups. He’s more likely to be Mr. Right when we’re over dealing with all those Mr. Wrongs. That’s why chivalry is as important now as it ever was.

Here’s to all the women who are looking for that chivalrous, good-hearted guy. He’s out there. These are the things he does to make us swoon. (And to all those chivalrous, good-hearted guys, keep doing what you’re doing. We love you for it.)

Here are a few of the cutest ones that would make any girl swoon:

1. Call. It would be nice to receive a phone call instead of text messages. While a text shows you were on his mind, a phone call is more personal. Call, don’t text a date invitation. Just the fact that you would take the time to actually call a woman to ask her out on a date will put you light years ahead of your competition (of which there is a lot).

2. Offer you his jacket. When the weather turns colder, and you have on light clothing, it’s cute when he offers you his jacket. It’s a sweet gesture.

3. Put your hand on the small of her back when introducing her to someone. This is something I read a long time ago and it stuck with me for some reason. This is a passive sign of affection and isn’t inappropriate in a public setting, but it bonds the two of you together and helps her feel more comfortable.

4. Open the door for her. The door to the restaurant, the car door, the door to the car picking you up. Whatever door is relevant to you both walking through, please do not lose sight of this simple but often overlooked act of kindness.

5. Suffering through a girly movie. When a man volunteers to endure a girly show or movie because he knows you’ll enjoy it, he earns major bonus points. (Even more if he does so without complaining or expecting something in return.)

Women in turn should respect the act of chivalry. I know many women out there who do not want the door opened for them because it makes them feel like their power or independence is somehow being taken away from them. They are aggressive and headstrong in society. It may not be because they want to be, but because to make it in the world, they have to be. This is true. However, can you imagine a world where chivalry didn’t exist at all? Would you want your daughter marrying a man that didn’t show her this appreciation for being the amazing, strong, supporting, dynamic woman that she is?

In short, that’s what chivalry is — a choice. The choice to do the right things, for the right reasons, at the right times.

XOXO
April McManus