Chronic Illness · Chronic Pain · Grad School · Mayo Clinic · Mental Health · Personal · Recovery

Why and How It’s Life-Changing to Have People Believe in, Encourage, and Love You

Have you ever felt imposter syndrome – like you didn’t really belong with your peers because you couldn’t possibly be as good as them, despite evidence to the contrary? Have you ever sold yourself short because you were scared of failure? Have you ever had someone invest in your growth, or if not, have you wanted that? This post is for you.

My beloved readers, these pictures represent a few of my most important #squads and people in my life. God has blessed me with a wide array from family and friends from places like K-12, summer camps, travels, college, study abroad, social work school, church, Mayo Clinic, and now, my newest – seminary. This is dedicated to them and the countless indescribable impacts they’ve had on my life. I owe you more than I’ll ever be able to say or repay.

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[image description: my family – my mom, sister, dad, and me – on the date of my senior piano recital in college].

It may seem like an obvious statement: To go through life well, you’re going to need people to struggle, triumph, laugh, cry, travel, sit, and grow with. We as human beings were never meant to do life on our own; no man is an island and no matter how introverted or shy you may be (note to self, to everyone in my life’s surprise), we cannot thrive in constant solitude.

However, it’s not just emotional and social health benefits that come with this territory – there are also occupational, spiritual, and physical benefits that come from having a cheering squad (and actually believing the lovely things that they tell you rather than trying to shoo them away because they clearly can’t know what they’re talking about; you’re honestly not that great. [YES, my friend, YOU ARE]. Most of the time, when people hand out free compliments, they’re being sincere, so take them at face value). So, let me tell you a little bit about how God, Mayo Clinic and the beautiful cohort I was part of, my family and friends, and the faculty/staff and students of Princeton Theological Seminary have been making me a better, stronger person this summer because they won’t let me sell myself short; they love me too much to let me stay exactly where I am and they’re willing to (gently) push me toward greatness if I’m too scared to take the first step.

“A true friend never gets in your way unless you happen to be going down.” – Arnold H. Glasgow

From November to June, I was, indeed, going down. I had stopped doing pretty much anything that resembled an adult task because I was just too overwhelmed, exhausted, and pained. I had exciting plans for my future, but I didn’t believe in myself to complete them because of how unstable my health was and how anxious I felt about it. By the time I got to Mayo Clinic for diagnostic testing, I was ready to buy a motorized scooter because I didn’t trust my body’s ability to walk far because of my symptoms. However, the doctor who managed my case told me that there was hope for me yet. Since he was *quite* knowledgeable about all of this stuff, it wasn’t just an empty statement, the kind that sounds promising but leaves you feeling hopeless when it fails to come to fruition (like when people kept promising me a cure for fibromyalgia at the beginning of having it. There is none). It was truth. I didn’t necessarily know what it would look like, but I was willing to give it a shot with my whole heart.

Next came a month at the Pain Rehabilitation Center, where the staff members from all different disciplines poured more truths into me, none of which were empty statements. They may have sounded ridiculous at first. Me, going to grad school FULL-TIME rather than part-time? Me, making and keeping a reasonable schedule that involves less than 9 hours of sleep/no napping and be out of the house at least 8 hours a day, when at the time I was considering it a feat to be out of bed for more than 2-3 hours at a time? Me, doing my own chores again and eventually living on my own? Me, lifting weights and doing cardio exercises even though my heart rate goes too fast for its own good? Me, focusing on other things beside my pain and symptoms for the vast majority of the day? Me, taking responsibility for the times that I let the ball drop when I was sick over the past few years and promising to do better (and keeping my word)? ME? They weren’t empty statements. Every single thing has happened because of the people who were willing to tell me that they could happen, as well as the amazing, inspiring, loving peers who walked alongside me cheering me on as God and I worked (and are still working) to make them happen. They built me up with words and deeds and reminded me of my truest self. I was able to return to being a dreamer, a mom figure, an encourager, a future hospital chaplain, a social butterfly… Many of the things I had lost and some that I didn’t even realize I had.

It hasn’t been perfect, but what is? And it’s gotten me to where I am right now: about to enter my second week of grad school at Princeton Theological Seminary, where they’ve also spoken words of encouragement that have kept my feet moving. As I sat in our first chapel service, the minister talked about how scary it is to accept the call to ministry – that every single one of us is probably terrified, just as Moses was petrified at the burning bush, just as Jeremiah tried to tell God that he wasn’t good enough, just as Jonah sailed halfway across the world to avoid his assignment. She then said something that I’ll never forget in my life: Each of us was in that chapel because the admissions committee had seen God’s hand on our lives and believed in His call in us to do this. They had invested in us – literally, figuratively – because of the fact that they see us having the potential to grow.

Whenever I feel lost, down, or insecure in this process, that line will be one of the ones that I come back to. I was invested in. Not just by Mayo Clinic or by PTS, even, but all throughout my life and in so many different contexts and places by so many different people. How’s that for beating imposter syndrome?

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[image description: Me standing in front of the sign for Princeton Theological Seminary].
I’m going to be honest: Doubts don’t just go away. Anxiety doesn’t just creep out the back door because people show up and speak life and truth. Mean words I’ve heard and actions I’ve endured in my past, along with my own mean thoughts about myself, still roll though my mind on a more consistent basis than I’d like to admit, and can even try to invalidate wonderful compliments (even if these far outnumber the mean things). If someone says 5 kind things and one that is constructively critical, I’m far quicker to remember and dwell on the one thing than any of the 5. I know this isn’t just my story; we’re all like this, to some extent, because it’s part of the human condition. But the more that other people tell you that you are enough, you are worthy, you are beloved, and you are capable of more than you could dare dream – so get on your way; we’ll be cheering for you and you won’t be alone! – the more you can believe and hold it to be true in your mind. The quicker you can knock out your doubts with your moments of faith. The more productively and effectively you can shape your thoughts to get you somewhere you want to go rather than being your own worst enemy and the one who holds yourself back the most.

So, let me tell you: You are enough. You are worthy. You are beloved. You are capable of more than you could dare dream. 

Friends, if you don’t have people in your life who build you up, if you are lacking this kind of encouragement and push toward betterment and on the path of recovery, I couldn’t recommend more that you seek it out. Try going to something like Meetups or, if you’re going through a rough patch, support groups for people going through similar things in life to you.Look for the people who are going to respond to challenges by saying, “Okay; how do I respond? What next?” rather than being halted in their tracks. Look for the people who look at life with a glass half-full or even overflowing. Write notes of encouragement to others and remind yourself that there are others out there who could easily fill a card for you. Try building acquaintanceships into friendships. Be bold and get to know your neighbors from the beginnings of “Hello, my name is ____”. Contact me and I’ll give you words of joy and hope about you and your life. Believe the kind things you hear and let the negative thoughts or words be overwhelmed over time by the good.

You just may get to new heights because of it.

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[image description: looking out from Humpback Rock, a mountain peak in northern Virginia in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s a mile each way to get here with an 800 foot elevation change].

Thank you to everyone who’s helped me get here.

“You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,
So… get on your way!” – Dr. Seuss

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