Recently, I was talking to a friend who’s had a hard year. As the conversation flowed, I started thinking about the way we talk about ourselves when we’re dealing with difficult things. We say things like, “isn’t it great I could handle that schedule despite all the stress?” and “isn’t it so cool she got that job despite those grades and he made all those friends despite being new?” But when we talk in this way, we feel proud only after we separate our accomplishments from our hardships. We tell ourselves that we are successful despite the challenges we face.
The more I’ve thought about this, the more I’ve come to hate it. By separating our successes from our difficulties, we invalidate a part of ourselves. We fuel the narrative that hard things need to be overcome- that we can never accept them, instead we must eradicate them. That we can’t let them change our path, because that would be accepting defeat.
Throughout my life, I’ve been told by all sorts of people-my family, my friends, my teachers, even my doctors-that the things I’ve done are impressive “despite” everything that made them hard. It was always so impressive I could do well in school despite being so tired, or play on the soccer team despite my joints hurting so much. For much of my life, I would actually crave this kind of compliment- I wanted people to see the things I could do and ignore all of the reasons why they were harder for me than everyone else. But the more I’ve come to understand myself and my life, the more uncomfortable I get when I hear the word “despite.”
Despite means without being affected by. But none of us are living in a perfect world where we’re never affected by bad days, bad weeks, or bad months. And when we only recognize achievements done that are separate from hard things, we erase the most important part of ourselves: the part that adapts, the part that perseveres, and the part that reminds us everything is going to be okay.
I am me because of the hard days I have lived through, not despite them. And we are human because we face challenges and we live with them, not despite them. We are all deeply affected by pain in our own way, yet we achieve incredible things while living with the hurt. I don’t wake up and go to class despite feeling like crap, because it does affect me. I wake up and go to class while feeling like crap and I feel proud of myself because of it, not despite it. Every single one of us has accomplished something great while dealing with something hard, and we owe it to ourselves to recognize the strength that takes.
When I think of my proudest moments, they all tie back to what comes after the word despite. I could say I had a blast as a camp counselor despite having to leave the year before because I was too sick. But it’s the fact that I went back after that one hard summer and didn’t let it stop me from loving camp again that makes me feel good. Every hard day, week, and month I’ve lived through has made me the person that I am right now. The person that wants to be a doctor so that I can tell kids that they’re impressive not despite the things that make life hard, but because of them.
I’m done with the culture of beating hard things. Of “fighting” diseases and “battling” depression. There are some struggles that are just going to be around for a long time, and it’s okay to accept them as a part of life; it’s actually good! I’m not going to be proud of myself despite the hard days, because the hard days are part of life, not just for me but for everyone.
We are not merely a list of the things that we’ve done despite a challenge. We are people who adapt, who persevere, and who remember that everything is going to be okay. We are not despite; we are with. We are the ups and the downs all together. We are whole, and we deserve to realize that.
3 thoughts on “We are not despite”
Becky- you are who you are because of the everything you have faced in your life- not despite of it. Crohns, and all that comes with it is a part of you, and probably what motivates you to work so hard to make the world better for everyone in it. I love having a front row seat watching you throughout your life… love you.
You continue to provide motivation, inspiration and an important perspective on life. You have chosen a path for your future because of the person you are and the importance of doing good and helping others.
So glad I’m still here and able to be a part of your journey.
Becky, a very inspirational and thought provoking blog. I will keep this in mind when talking with others.