Editor’s note: The following is a speech given at the Miracle Mile Toastmasters Club on July 13, 2017.
We all experience events which render us vulnerable – as if caught in a vortex, incapable of controlling everything swirling around us. At moments like this we find ourselves thinking, “How will I survive?”
In her book, “Option B,” Sheryl Sandberg states, “We plant the seeds of resilience in the ways we process negative events.” What are the narratives we tell ourselves about the event? Are we personalizing it – perhaps even blaming ourselves? Do we believe the event is pervasive – that it will affect all areas of our lives? Do we tell ourselves that we will feel like this forever? The negativity of the 3P’s (personalization, pervasiveness and permanence) can impede our ability to recover.
I have 3 stories to tell you. In my first, he is 33 years old, 6’ 11” and a remarkable basketball player. One of the Heat’s Big Three, he was number 1 in more ways than one. In 2014, the first sign of a career ending problem – pulmonary emboli were found in his lungs. Imagine that. When most people his age are in careers that are just taking off, his was coming to an abrupt end. The game he loved, that was his passion would continue, but without him. In May, it was announced that Chris Bosh and The Heat would part ways. In July, Chris wrote on his website, (http://www.chrisbosh.com) an extraordinary open letter to Miami.
He spoke of the support he’d received from his family, teammates, coaches, fans and the entire community. He thanked Miami for welcoming and encouraging him as “we” traveled together on this journey. While he spoke of his discouragement and “down” moments, he somehow broke through the 3 P’s and made a conscious effort to dwell on all the wonderful moments he had here.
Wow! Chris Bosh took a bunch lemons and made lemonade.
My second story is about someone who is part of our Miracle Mile family – Susan Racher. Some of you are aware of her story – some not. Susan has an MBA in accounting and finance, and is Vice President of the Walter H. Coulter Foundation. As such she is in charge of the endowment’s investment portfolio and has experience in obtaining grants. Little did she know that these skills would help her in a larger way.
A few years ago, her son became ill and was hospitalized. As Susan puts it, “if he had kidney stones there would have been a good deal of support.” However, her son had a mental illness. There were support groups for families overwhelmed by other illnesses, but nothing to support families of people with mental illness. As a family member who was dealing with new problems and concerns, Susan recognized the need to do something and do it NOW.
A friend suggested she get in touch with NAMI – the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Unfortunately the organization in Miami was practically non-existent, what she called a “zombie organization.” Susan started from scratch – at first going to Broward to get better educated and then worked with others to rebuild a new Miami-Dade NAMI organization. This group is providing support to families throughout Dade County, raising awareness and educating the community.
Susan observed that when the unimaginable happens, we feel like victims, Working to help others is empowering. When she was given lemons, she made lemonade, and has helped many people she doesn’t personally know.
My 3rd story is about me. As most of you know, in January of 2016 I had a heart attack. I made many lifestyle changes and thought I was doing great. Almost a year to the date, I was exercising and felt pressure in my jaw. Since the heart attack presented as intense pain in my jaw, I mentioned it to the staff at cardiac rehab. Before I knew what was happening my cardiologist had me scheduled for another cardiac catheterization. The result was an additional stent. My medical records indicated an occlusion in the LAD (left anterior descending artery, sometimes called the Widow maker).
What a shock! What did I do wrong? Whoops, there goes that narrative personalizing the event and blaming myself. Changing that story wasn’t easy, but with some outside help and persistence I did. In the last few months, I’ve done more investigation on my specific condition and worked with a number of medical professionals at the Miami Cardiovascular Institute at Baptist Hospital to improve my health. A couple of weeks ago, I was nominated by the Institute to represent Baptist as an educator for the WomenHeart organization.
What a journey this has become. It was surprising, then frightening, then depressing, but now enlightening. It was as if the Universe was waiting for the right moment to give me this opportunity. I was telling my friend Leisha about this possibility and she said, “You’re just like Susan — taking lemons and making lemonade.
I may not have made the lemonade yet, but I’m working on the recipe. How cool is that?