To know that we are valuable is vital to the health of our very substance. As social creatures with a heart that beats for compassion, relationship and significance, each one of us can be truly fulfilled only if we know that we have made a difference. Our Infinite Self is completely realised only in service of those around us, through the establishment of a legacy that allows our effects in the world to outlast our physical bodies. We need to know that our days counted for something bigger than us, and that in finding our Purpose, we have found a way to make some one else’s life better. We want the healing refreshment of Passion for outward service.
It was by enlarging my capacity for service that I was eventually able to grow beyond my voice strain injury, but this really was no walk in the park. My treatment involved over six months of voiceless silence, which crushed me. Even as the treatment progressed and permitted an hour of talking each day, this didn’t restore my classroom, or my singing, or my time with friends and family. I had been told that I would sing and work again only if I was dedicated to the treatment that silenced everything I loved. Even if this therapy worked, I faced more than one whole year of a life of isolation. I was lost clinging to the remnants of a life that could no longer exist.
I responded poorly. My first reaction of anger was quickly followed by despair and hopelessness. I knew that a full year was too long, and this surrender ushered in a dark depression. I cried most days. The deep pain of losing everything swallowed me whole. My days started with unbearable misery, so even the discomfort of normal feelings were unbearable. Dizzy vagueness was accompanied by stomach cramps, back pain, and butterflies that made me feel sick. I turned to alcohol to drown the tiredness of my daily grieving, and ate myself into obesity in an attempt to avoid the strain that hunger brought.
But this was just the start. After about six months I started to experience panic attacks and anxiety that sent my head into a spin and made my throat constrict till it hurt. In working through my counselling, my psychologist explained to me that I had developed an adjustment disorder. At that point, I simply couldn’t find a way to accommodate this new life of silence. I took a few months to absorb this diagnosis, but then I realised that my recovery required me to learn how to be an expert in psychological flexibility. My therapist encouraged me: “It’s hard, but it’s not too hard.” She was right.
What a wonderful opportunity! In taking up this challenge, I came to love myself in entirely new ways, because I started looking for the person inside me again. I embarked on a life changing quest to reconnect with myself as an Infinite person who needed the gift of a new voice. In this search I remembered I am kind, generous, motivated, intelligent, funny, enthusiastic, energetic, ambitious, outgoing, sensitive, thoughtful, compassionate, persistent. I realised that I am a unique person who loves words and learning and talking and reading and writing. I live to serve my family, and to connect in honest transparency with others. I am driven by goals that put my strengths to work to set me free.
Remembering this person set me on a pathway to recovery where I started to find new ways of demonstrating who I always was. I didn’t need a voice to write to my people with emails and texts and social media posts, to build my business with my husband, to study psychology and learn again, and to work out and lose weight. As my confidence and happiness started to return, so did my voice, and so did opportunities to teach. At first I taught in a small group homework centre, then at university with a microphone and adult students who quietly managed their own behaviour, and then in a special behaviour school with one single student who needed all of my softly spoken attention. In retrospect, this disorder was one of my life’s most disguised blessings, because it taught me how to pursue fulfilment with real world optimism, purpose-driven flexibility, and identity-driven passion. It taught me that the cliche of ‘being true to yourself’ can only be real if we acknowledge that we always have strengths and abilities that can be used to express ourselves in ways that serve others.
In this 18 month journey of recovery I learned that all roads lead to Rome, where Rome is my unchanging identity, and all of the roads are the twists and turns of life’s journey. In getting back there, I figured out exactly what my ‘Rome’ was made of, and I realised that psychological flexibility allows my unchanging core self to adjust to any circumstance that life throws at me. The road you take really doesn’t matter, as long as it is headed to Rome.
Zig Ziglar talks about the difference between long term happiness and short term pleasure. We all want to experience the profound happiness that comes from serving others because this lasts longer than the burst of short term pleasure that comes from seeking selfish, short term gain. We all can experience this if we combine a profound knowledge of ourselves with a defining commitment to serve others with everything we’ve got.