Are you hurting right now? Has life destroyed you? Are you teetering on the edge?
Take my hand. Come along with me for a few minutes. Let me tell you a story.
I wasn’t supposed to live. When I was born I wasn’t breathing at all. I barely survived, and it came at a price: brain damage. Brain damage that led to cerebral palsy and epilepsy. Even once it was clear I would live, I wasn’t supposed to function. I was faced with severe physical and cognitive impairment.
When I was a kid I often felt like an outsider. Having a disability, I was often called a fa**ot by the other kids in school because I was awkward. Instead of doing “boyish” things, I preferred to sing and act, which only intensified the isolation.
My life fell apart in my junior year of high school. Several friends died, all at a very young age. I had never lost anyone close to me before, and it nearly destroyed me. I tried to kill myself twice. I didn’t get along with my parents. I couldn’t be with the woman I wanted. Although I was a bright kid, I stopped caring about school and saw my grades plummet.
I felt desperately alone; caught in a fog of nothingness.
I could have ended it all. I came close. But I was saved. Not through any program or quick fix or bullshit platitude. Through others. Through the collective brokenness of those around me. Through the act of gifting myself to those who needed me, even when—especially when—I felt like I had nothing to offer.
I not only survived, I found a way to thrive. It wasn’t an easy process. It took years. But I made it.
I let myself live.
I won’t bullshit you. My adult life has hardly been a walk in the park. I spent too many years doing well-paid but unfulfilling work. I didn’t “make it” as an actor. I lost several more friends to accidents, suicide, and war; every one of those deaths piercing me with such terror that I almost collapsed into desperation, again. After suffering with epilepsy as a child it came back with a vengeance, threatening my sanity.
I’ve ballooned in weight, I’ve been cheated on in relationships, and I spent my early 20s accumulating a preposterous amount of debt, nearly crippling my ability to pursue my dreams. I spent years engaging in a cycle of perpetual self-sabotage.
I’ve stood on the abyss of hopelessness numerous times. I’ve spent thousands of hours in isolation, not letting myself be seen even by those who loved me because I was so consumed with shame at my lack of “accomplishment.” I’ve often not stood up for myself when I should have. I’ve given up on passions I had no business giving up on. I’ve felt like a consummate loser more than you can imagine.
To borrow from Thoreau, I spent years living in a state of quiet desperation.
My life has been one hell of an adventure, and I am immeasurably grateful for the unbelievable blessings my life has thrust upon me. In the past few years I’ve affected more people than I had in all of my previous years combined.
I’ve traveled the world. I’ve trained at one of the world’s elite gyms. I’ve sung on some of the world’s great stages. I’ve paid off tens of thousands of dollars of debt. I’ve saved myself from ruining my health. I’ve worked with many of the same people who inspired me to change my life.
Most importantly, I’ve reached millions of people with my writing, and I’ve helped hundreds of people, one on one, navigate the most brutal forms of trial and pain I’ve ever seen.
Not bad for someone who wasn't supposed to live.
But the reality is that this didn't happen because I’m special at all. It happened because the paralysis became unbearable, and the cost of not acting became too great to ignore.
I had become injurious to myself, and I knew the only way to stop the atrophy was to face it and fight for my life.
I'm not feigning modesty when I say I'm just another guy. I still get scared all the time. My weaknesses are on full display, smiling at me every morning. Yet I know that my fears and pains are not my master. When I'm recoiling in fear and paralyzed by shame, I take refuge in the words of my friend and mentor Julien Smith:
The truth is that judgment and fear never stop, but they don't actually do anything.
That's right. I know that fear will never go away, but I've chosen to not allow it to keep me away. I’ve developed a philosophy of life that has dramatically changed me for the better, and allowed me to embark on this ridiculous journey that I never in a million years would have thought possible.
I’m now doing things most people don’t. But that’s not because I have any particularly exceptional gifts, it's because I’m making the deliberate choice to act, in the face of the adversity within.
I'm merely choosing to honor the grief that I carry with action. The action is protean, imperfect, and messy. But it happens. Every. Single. Day.
I want the same for you.
The reality is that what's brought me the greatest meaning hasn't been money or recognition or working with famous people. It's been in the trivialities: the connection with a stranger, the embrace of a woman I adore, the friendship of literature, and above all, in the brutally painful, vulnerable work I do with others. My greatest gift is not sexy at all: I have a deeply innate ability to aid people in pain.
It's incredibly difficult. It provides no accolades. And it demands all of me. Yet it is my Calling, and it is the one and only way I can honor who I truly am. When the weight of the work I do with begins to overwhelm me, I'm reminded of the achingly beautiful words of the writer Sarah Manguso, who spent nearly all of her 20s fighting for her life in the throes of a vicious autoimmune disease:
I want to get better so I can be with the other people, the other dying people, who know the things they know.
And when my epilepsy gets the better of me—its symptoms devouring my brain and begging me to fail—I turn to Marcus Aurelius:
It can ruin your life only if it ruins your character.
These words are just a sampling of so many that travel with me; that provide solace in times of despair.
So I ask only one thing of you: Let yourself live. Fight the demons that wage war against you, and choose to act when things are not ok. I can’t promise you it will be easy. It won’t be. But please understand that you are not alone.
You’ve got only one chance here. No matter how messed up life gets, I want you to use the chance you have.
The pain isn’t fair. It never will be. But you always have a choice. Always. Adversity is forever going to want to convince you otherwise. But it’s unquestionably lying to you. Don’t believe its lies, no matter how despondent you might feel.
So many people need you. You might not believe me now, but trust me on this. Many of those whom you will touch most aren’t even in your life yet.
Remember that a time will come when you will meet your end and you will be hidden from us for eternity. So don't hide now.
Let yourself live. Take your brokenness and allow it to be on full display. Sit with it, in the haunting majesty of space-time, and allow it to become part of your imprint upon the world.
Life is a series of movements that cannot be reclaimed. So it is imperative that you claim them as they cross your horizon.
If you've lost a loved one, you do not have to try and make it ok. It's not ok. And you can honor their death by acknowledging that it's not ok, but acting anyway, in whatever form that takes.
If you're dealing with heartbreak, mourn the loss with the fullness of everything you are. When what Dani Shapiro calls the beast of memory visits you, do not flee from it, but stand with it. Allow the pain to fill you, and in that pain choose to love. Love in your pain. Channel it into action and service.
Do you have any idea how beautiful this is? How consequential? Yes, it's really hard. It won't make everything better, but it will serve the other pilgrims who need you. It only requires that you rise from the depths, and offer a bit of your soul.
If you're reeling from job loss, injury or any other adverse circumstance, focus only on what you can control. Most of us go through our lives obsessing over what we have no control over whatsoever. This is an unnecessary scandal. Evaluate where you are every day, and focus your energy on one thing you can control. Only one thing. I guarantee there is something you have control over, so pour the entirely of your strength into that, and allow it to bear fruit. You have no idea how powerful this can be.
I know it might feel like no one hears you, sees you, acknowledges you. Perhaps you feel you will never amount to anything.
I want you to know that you are heard, you are seen, and you are acknowledged.
I want you to feel less alone.
Let yourself live. Acknowledge the horrors that exist inside of you, and begin to weave something beautiful. Be gentle, tender and gracious with yourself. But choose to act. Choose not to hide. And step into the darkness with a heart of compassion. Many a wounded soul are waiting for you.
Don't keep them waiting forever.
And know that no matter how much it hurts, I’m right here with you.
I'm Tim, and The Adversity Within is a blog dedicated to examining the topic of resilience in the face of adversity, while inspiring readers to stand headstrong in their grief and fight for their own evolution. Living with cerebral palsy and epilepsy, I explore topics like post-traumatic growth, survival, and self-reliance. No one should face adversity alone. Subscribe to my mailing list below for free weekly writings delivered to your inbox, and follow me along on Facebook and Twitter.