Tuesday Tales: There can be gifts in our pain – Donna Thistlethwaite

How fantastic is it to feel amazing? To feel connected with yourself and engaged with life. To experience contentment, joyfulness, fulfillment …

I love spending time in this energy and right now I am making the most of such ‘feels’ – practicing gratitude, maintaining my other resilience practices, and leveraging the energy to move in the direction of my goals and dreams.

Thankfully I spend a lot of time in this zone but it’s not always where I’m at.

In the first quarter of this year, I experienced the most challenging period of my life since my suicidal crisis 10 years ago. You may have noticed me share about my pain in Tuesday Tales, or on social media, in an attempt to normalise such experiences.

The struggle was real. There I was delivering Mental Health First Aid, facilitating discussions about the signs and symptoms of a mental health problem, acutely aware that I was in the grips of many of them during the discussions.

Several months on, life is dramatically better, providing a valuable reminder about the constantly changing nature of life.

I’ve spent a bit of time recently reflecting on the painful start to my year, observing that not only is life better but that what I went through has actually helped to get me to the state, and improved circumstances, that I’m currently experiencing.

I’m sure you’ve been there too. Can you recall when you went through a really crap time only to see the positives in the experience in hindsight? I’ve observed it in both myself and my connections, for example, the devastating relationship breakups which led to a much more satisfying union. The unforeseen and unappreciated redundancy later proving the pathway to a dream job.

In retrospect, I suspect that I probably had to go through those challenges in preparation for this next stage of my life. For one, I’m appreciating feeling good like you wouldn’t believe. But beyond that, here’s just a few benefits that came from my pain:

  • Our family now has a weekly meeting to check in with each other and to understand what we need and how we can support each other.
  • I had honest conversations with my partner about needing more support. I’ve found “I statements” (I’m feeling overwhelmed; I need more support at home) incredibly valuable for honest communication. He’s stepped up, allowing me to put more of my energy where I wanted to. I’ve also become more assertive, “Can you please organise dinner tonight babe?” rather than begrudgingly doing it all myself.
  • We are in the process of building an outdoor entertainment area on a little duplex we own on the Sunshine Coast and are in discussions about putting it on the holiday rental market, a dream we had when we purchased it six years ago but that we hadn’t acted on because of the security that came with a long term tenant. It’s hard to believe that the painful financial distress I experienced could lead to our dream situation.
  • The same financial distress became the catalyst for me signing up for a sales and marketing course which is building my skills and confidence to talk to people about the work that we do at Mentally Wellthy and how we can help to create safer and more productive workplaces. Maybe I would have got to it eventually but the pain forced my hand and I’m so grateful.

As I reflect on the gifts that have come from my quarter from hell, I am reminded of a Steve Jobs quote, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward: you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future”. Often, it’s only by looking back that the past makes sense.

Hopefully the next time either of us go through a major challenge we can take comfort in the thought that we never know what gifts will later be revealed and that generally the only way out is through.

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Donna Thistlethwaite is a Brisbane-based speaker and trainer specialising in mental health and resilience. She is an accredited Mental Health First Aid Instructor and Resilience at Work Facilitator with a passion for suicide prevention and for helping individuals, teams and organisations to THRIVE. You can find out about her next Mental Health First Aid courses here.

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