I’ve learned recently that triumph doesn’t exist without some degree of grief, and that acknowledging the accompanying grief is crucial, no matter the level of triumph. When something goes right, we tend to abandon all of those other possible outcomes in favor of focusing on the task at hand. Although it’s understandable to lean into the good things, everything comes with some degree of trade-off and I’ve found it helpful to acknowledge this.
In my initial recovery from my accident, I only allowed myself to focus on the fact that I was alive- and mostly unscathed- despite this horrific event. There was no room allowed for sadness about my new face, or frustration over the way my relationships were changing, because I was alive and that outweighed everything else. That gratitude for my life is what fueled my physical progress and makes my story inspirational to some, but I realize now that this mindset stunted my emotional growth in other ways. Of course, the other outcomes of my accident included death and therefore weren’t worth worrying too much about during such a fragile time. But what if the accident had never happened, and I just continued my life along the trajectory it was going? Although I’m not sure that path would be my preference, it’s certainly worth honoring. “But you’re here now, and with such an inspiring story and purpose!” some might say to me. Well, yes, but I can still miss my wide, symmetrical, smile sometimes. And I can still miss the simplicity of my life before my physical disabilities. Because I am a survivor, I compartmentalized these feelings and kept a laser-focus on the road ahead. It got me through recovery but I never gave myself the space to feel these things, and I am reckoning with the consequences in other aspects of my life.
This survival instinct has prevented me from feeling truly present throughout this entire application process. Even now, as I stand at the cusp of everything I’ve ever wanted- becoming a physician- I find myself stifling the associated grief. When I mention to anyone that the medical school I’ll attend isn’t my dream school, or that I was rejected from what I thought was my perfect fit, I am met with one response: “Yeah, but you’re going to medical school! You did it!” Yes, I did, and I am so incredibly happy and proud. But I also worked hard enough to have imagined better. So I hoped for better. I’ll do what I’ve always done, and bloom where I’m planted, but it’s important that I acknowledge my pangs of disappointment, too. Regardless of how things work out, I know I will create a path that is perfect for me, and that these concerns won’t matter in the long-run. As an optimist, I tend to avoid spending time/energy worrying about negative outcomes because I don’t think it’s helpful to worry about that stuff.
But, I want to make the distinction- acknowledging disappointment that might accompany a major triumph, honoring these feelings, then moving on- is not the same as shutting down, ‘focusing on the negative’, or straight up rejecting a win. I sincerely hope that this blog isn’t interpreted as ungrateful or focused on the negative, but I just wanted to share in case some of those reading see this pattern in their own lives. I think that, by failing to acknowledge the hard parts that come with triumph, we rob ourselves of the freedom to be fully present for the good stuff.