“You can only do the best you can do. Sometimes that is survival and sometimes that is stellar. And that’s okay.”
This has been a mantra of mine for years. Until my twenties, I had always marveled at how charmed I felt my life was. Things generally went well if I worked hard. When they weren’t as great, I knew that it was temporary and soon I would feel back on top. I was lucky. I had a good family, good friends, a good education. And then, really for the first time, life got in the way.
When I was 24, my first husband and I decided to have a baby. We went through almost 4 years of infertility and 2 miscarriages before I finally had a successful pregnancy. My husband was deployed for about half of that time, so I was left to cope on my own. This was my first real survival mode. I got up every day, went to work and went out with friends. But emotionally, I was just trying to get through the day. I was grieving the miscarriages every moment of every day, and all I wanted to do was to get to the end of the day so that I could go to sleep and not think about it. I did what needed to be done and only what needed to be done. And that was okay.
Over the next few years, we had a baby, he got out of the Navy and went to law school, we had two more children and moved back to my hometown. When the boys were 2, 4 and 6, my marriage fell apart. He moved out on Halloween and confessed his infidelity on Christmas. I filed for divorce the first week of January and by early February, my youngest son began to have seizures on the hour every hour for two weeks. This was real survival mode. If my children were clean and fed, that was successful day. And that was okay.
The process of the divorce and getting my son healthy both took about a year. Once we got a good diagnosis (epilepsy) and the right medication, his seizures slowed to once each month for a year and then were well controlled for nine years. He is now seizure free and has been released from his neurologist.
There is nothing wrong with survival mode. When life gets tough, we need it to kick in so that we can get out of bed each day and do the things we need to do. We need to survive. We need to keep putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward. But we also need to be aware when it is time to move out of survival mode so that we can get back to life.
My son was diagnosed with epilepsy for ten years. I also had two other boys who went through the normal ups and downs of childhood. And I was a single mother for eight of those years. But there is a point at which you realize that you are through the worst or at least managing it, and survival is not enough. For me, it took some time after the seizures were controlled to get out of survival mode. I still had to grieve the loss of my marriage and accept my own situation and new reality. I probably spend most of 4 years in survival mode. This is not to say I didn’t have stellar days or experiences, but mostly I was getting through. When I began to realize I needed more, I started dating and started writing. I started putting myself out there to market my writing and eventually wrote my book. I got married. I blended a family with my new husband. And I am still going.
What I learned is that survival mode is a necessary part of life. I learned that the more you survive, the less you feel set back by life getting in the way. I learned that when you decide it is time to get on with it and live your life, make plans, set goals and then go after them, you start to achieve stellar. Stellar is defined by knowing it is time to step up and take charge and then doing it.
I tend to be a perfectionist. This quality is both productive and destructive. When you are in survival mode and you are beating yourself up for not excelling every day, you are destroying your own self-esteem, and it becomes self-defeating. You have to be able to accept that survival, when that is all you can do, when life gets in the way, is an accomplishment. But when you are headed into a stellar period, that same perfectionism acts as drive to do more, learn more and keep pushing forward. The key is to recognize when it is time for these shifts. You know when survival is all you can do...but you also know when it is time to do more than just survive. So do it!