Boundaries

My close friends and I were discussing the role that narcissists have played in our lives.

None of us have a Psych degree but we have all had issues with narcissists whether it was someone in our social circle, someone we dated, someone in our family or if they were in-laws.

Maybe you know a narcissists.  Narcissists do not know empathy to others, they think the world revolves around them and they will tell lies to people to turn them against each other.  If anyone makes them insecure, they try to change everyone’s opinion of the person that makes them insecure so people see them in a negative manner.

Research states that Narcissistic Personality Disorder is rare but it seems that our group of friends have encountered more than our fair share of narcissists.

I have a few theories.

The first theory consists on our influence of others.  I believe that we all vibrate at a certain level of energy.  It could be good energy or bad.  That energy ripples out and effects those around us.  People are affected whether we are spreading love, light and positivity or  if we are spreading selfishness, lies and negativity.

Our behavior affects others.  And other’s behavior effects us.

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Narcissists are confusing beings because they disguise their true selves and most people are fooled.  They pass as perfectly nice people. They are good at fooling people because that is their natural state.

When you are the victim of a narcissist, you feel alone because everyone else thinks that they narcissist is great.

Narcissists can cause a lot of damage in families and social circles.

One theory I have to the inflated perceived narcissistic population is that some people may grow up with a narcissist parent or grandparent and that a child may grow learning that manipulation is simply the natural way you treat people.  These people are probably not narcissists in their core but are merely using the “skills” that they learned from their narcissist parent grandparent.

This theory has a positive spin as a person may grow up with a narcissist parent or grandparent and learn that that is not how you treat people.

My second theory is that some social circles, including the one that I am belong to, are very inclusive and since narcissists are good at hiding their true colors which are not beautiful like a rainbow.  But my social circle does not want to be closed off so we will take the risk.

Widowhood has made me wiser.

When I became a widow, I began to examine every area of my life. Heck, I am still examining and learning.

I want to make sure I am living my life to it’s fullest potential and that I surround myself with love and not negativity.

I began to truly appreciate those who love me and my daughter.

But I also became really good at noticing people who are toxic, people who are phony and people who had an ulterior motive to our friendship.

Before widowhood, I would have brushed off those feelings and given the offenders the benefit of the doubt.

And on top of that, I would have gone out of my way to make sure they liked me because I was a people pleaser.

I ignored my intuition on so many accounts, despite the fact that my intuition is almost always right.

But now that I am a widow, I can spot a phony person right away.  I can tell when a person is trying to manipulate me.  I can see all the ulterior motives.

I have learned to listen to and trust my intuition.

I think it is a widow superpower.

So in the beginning of widowhood, I removed toxic people from my life.  Part of it was necessity.  But mostly because I didn’t have enough bandwidth to handle the drama.

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But then it became clear to me that I just didn’t want to deal with the drama.  I only have so many hours of the day and our lives only consist of so many days and I do not want to spend them with toxic people.

And while narcissists are toxic, there are other types of toxic people.  I just opened with narcissists because they were a clear example and my life had been affected by a narcissist for many years and I hold the greatest empathy for anyone dealing with a narcissist.

Some toxic people manipulate.  Some tear others down in order to make others look good.  Some argue constantly.  Some do whatever it takes to make you feel sh*tty about yourself.

So I took a stand.  It was one of the hardest things I have ever done.  Because I was never good at saying no to people.

I decided that I was going to say no to toxicity.

I had to cut some people out of my life.  I needed to keep positive people around me and my daughter and I needed to use what energy I had to focus on the important things.

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And toxic people don’t like being cut out.

They are persistent.

They will try to manipulate you and when they can’t manipulate you, they will try to manipulate those around you.  They will try to change other’s view of you to gain sympathy for themselves.

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Simply cutting toxic people out of your life isn’t enough.

I learned that you need to set firm boundaries.

I used to feel that boundaries were purely a physical matter like having people stay out of the master bedroom or deciding who has a spare key to your house.   Or when you are a kid and your sibling is annoying you and you say that there is an invisible wall that they can not cross.

But boundaries are also emotional, mental, and social.

How you let people treat you is a boundary.  Do you allow people to walk all over you?  Do you let people treat you poorly? Do you let people boss you around?  Do you let people make you feel small?

I used to have a friend in my younger days who would cancel plans with me on a moments notice because a guy asked her out.  I would be upset but I let her do it.  And she would do it again…and again…and again.  I did not have the self-esteem to realize that this behavior was not acceptable and I did not set any boundaries.

In case you are wondering, I have not spoken to that person since my wedding.  It all makes sense to me now.  Before I was with Bryon,  I was a people pleaser and not only did I let people treat me poorly, I would try to get those people to like me more.  But Bryon set the boundary for me.  He would tell me when my friendships were one sided and he would advise me not to put any effort into those friendships.  And this friend did not like that she could not push me around if Bryon was in the picture.

But Bryon isn’t here to help me set boundaries.  It is a skill that I have been learning to implement.

This is my life.

It is okay to stand up for myself.  You don’t deserve to be treated like a doormat.

It’s okay to choose not to hang out with someone because they make you feel poorly.  Your friendship is a privilege, not a right.

It’s okay to delete someone from social media.

Not everyone deserves an explanation about your life choices.

I write in this blog and will continue to do so.  But just because I am open about my grief does not mean that everyone is privy to my personal life.  I have had to exercise my boundaries and make it clear that I determine what I share.

Setting boundaries is about taking care of yourself and protecting yourself (and those you love) from negativity.

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I still get sad sometimes

And it’s been 596 days since I have become a widow.

596 days since my daughter lost her father.

596 days since the world I knew ended and my future was taken away from me.

596 days where I have felt lost and broken.

596 days of wondering what I was going to do with the rest of my life.

596 days of guilt.  Even though my head knows I have nothing to feel guilty about, I still feel it.

596 days of wondering “what if…?”

596 days of guarding my emotions because other people can’t handle them.  Because making sure someone doesn’t feel discomfort for a short period of time is more important than the emotions of a person who deals with or had to deal with this hell every day.

596 days of rolling my eyes when people make insensitive comments knowing that they mean well.  I envy their naivety.

596 days of missing what I had and wondering if I will ever be loved again.  Though my love for Bryon was unique (as every love is) I wonder if I will ever feel that way again.

596 days of feeling like I am on a deserted island.  I know people try to understand but sometimes I really wish I could just be “normal” like everyone else.

596 days of having to work at being happy.  I will avoid anyone that makes me feel worse about my current state of life.

596 days since I have changed but people don’t see the real you.  They want you to be whatever version of you that they previously knew.  Or thought they had. Or they just see you as a broken widow, not the stronger person that you are really are.  The old me is dead or on sabbatical until I decide where those old versions of myself fit into my new life.

596 days of protecting my boundaries.  People will try to manipulate you.  Even people who you thought were friends.  People will pretend they are helping you in a public forum but never pick up the phone or text.  There are people who think that your private life is their business just because Bryon was popular and I have a blog.  But I choose what I write about on my blog and I choose what is private and will continue to enforce that boundary.

596 days of sadness.  And while my sadness rarely breaks me down anymore, it still runs in the background, kind of like an app you forget to close on your cell phone.  Once in awhile, it builds up and you have to deal with it.

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I remember being told that it gets easier.  And it has gotten easier.  But I still miss him.

Sometimes I wonder if it the grief is subsiding or if I am just getting used to Bryon being gone.  When Bryon first died, my whole world was rocked and I was in the “widow fog” for about a year.  Now I have gotten some of my footing back and the fog has lifted but I am more likely to miss the little things.  I don’t have my fog to protect me from reality anymore.

I am so over this whole widowed thing.

When I really died…

When I first started this blog, I said that part of me died on August 21, 2016.

That was the day that Bryon died.

And that is true.

But it is also a lie.

The “death” of me really began on a different day.

My death really began on March 29, 2016.

Two years ago today.

It was Bryon’s 5th day in the ICU.

He had spiked a fever of 105F the day before.

And on that day, his kidney’s shut down.

Then his other organs started to fail.

It all happened so quickly.

Septic shock.

“Your husband might not make it.”

I made phone calls to those close to us.  Friends dropped what they were doing and rushed to the hospital.

My parents took my daughter, then 18 months, out of school because they decided that she was probably the only person who could bring me any sort of comfort, which she did.

I remember saying to my mother that Bryon couldn’t die because my daughter wouldn’t remember him.

I was told that my husband had to be rushed into emergency surgery.

A surgery he might not survive.

It did not seem real.

How could the strongest person I know, both mentally and physically, be clinging to his life?

My parents left with my daughter because everything seemed too hectic for someone that small.

It all seemed surreal.

My husband might not survive.

He came to the hospital to get better and all he seemed to get was progressively worse.

And now I was told he might die.

He couldn’t die.

I needed him.

I couldn’t do this alone.

Our daughter was too young.

Some of our closest friends sat in the waiting room.

In silence.

With fear in our eyes.

Waiting.

Everyone in that room fell somewhere on the Catholic spectrum and we learned what “purgatory” meant.

After what felt like an eternity, we got news that Bryon survived the surgery but it was uncertain if he was going to make it through the night.

It was during the flu season and only two “visitors” were allowed in the room with him so everyone took turns sitting with me by his bedside.

He did make it through that night.

And the next 145 nights.

And while part of me died 145 nights later, the death began on that day.

I lost innocence.

My naivety.

I lost my sense of safety and security.

The old me is dead.

A new me has emerged.

A wiser me.

A more grateful me.

A person who takes life a little less seriously.

A person who isn’t so concerned about being a people pleaser.

A person who has no trouble telling people who go “eff off”.

But today marks the day that where I was forced give up the safe life I knew.

And I am okay.

I am surrounded by those who truly love me.  People who embrace the “new me” and strive to understand what I went through the best they can.  All while they mourn the man they knew too.

But I would be lying if I didn’t say that today was tough.

Because it reminds me of all the pain I went through and the loss of a great man.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I was having moments.

But it is okay.

I keep those moments to myself.

I only cry when no one is around to see it.

 

My last normal day

Two years ago today was my last normal day with Bryon.

It was a Tuesday.

I can tell you that it was the day of the Brussels Explosion but I learned that from Google.

And of course, the 2016 election was going on.  But I don’t remember watching the news or talking about it with Bryon.

I probably did mundane things like change my daughters diapers and feed the cat.

I know I worked that day.

I don’t remember what I wore.

I don’t remember driving into work and parking my car.

Maybe I got a French Toast Bagel with plain cream cheese and a medium light roast coffee from Panera for breakfast like I did most mornings.

No clue what I ate for lunch.

I don’t remember leaving work.

I know I must have picked my daughter up from daycare because Bryon wasn’t cleared to lift her yet.

I don’t remember arriving home.

We probably watched some TV that night but I can’t remember what we watched.

I don’t remember what we said to each other before bed.

For the life of me, I can’t remember a single specific about that day.

It was the last normal day of my normal life and I can’t remember a single thing.

I did not know that the very next day, my life would change forever.

 

 

Three and a half and asking questions

My daughter officially turned three and a half yesterday.

Where has time gone?

Yesterday she asked her first questions about her father.

We were talking and I mentioned that I missed him.

She asked me why.

I said that I missed him being here.

I could see her wheels turning, trying to remember him.  I told her that she was too young to remember him.

She accepted my explanation.

She then asks “Did you touch his hair?”

I said “Yes.”

Then she asks “Did you touch his body?”

I said “Uh…yeah…”

Then she asks “Did you touch his face?”

I said “Yes.”

She seemed satisfied with that knowledge and went back to watching Paw Patrol.

I know this is only the beginning to the questions she is going to ask about her father and why her father died.

If I can give you one piece of advice- this would be it

When one goes through a trauma and/or profound loss, it changes every aspect of your life.

It changes your daily routine.

It changes your sense of security.

It changes your health.

It changes you sense of identity.

Everything you have ever believed gets questioned and your life goes into turmoil.

During my time of turmoil, I have decided to question everything I have ever believed and there have been changes to my thought patterns.

I learned not to worry so much.  I can’t change my past so I no longer obsess about my past choices and regrets.  There is so much about the future that I can’t control, so I don’t worry about that.  There was no way I could foresee what would happen to Bryon and it happened.  I can’t control what happens tomorrow, next week, next month or next year.  I can just live my life and try to make the best decisions I can.

My tolerance for bullsh*t is so much lower, if it even exists at all.  I have learned that life is too short to deal with inauthentic people who have no regard for your feelings and are trying to make your life more difficult.

I had always been a rule follower.  Bryon used to give me hard time about it.  Some rules are meant to be bent, some broken and some are silly and shouldn’t be followed at all.

During this season of my life, I have thrown myself into a period of soul searching.  I have learned so much from reading books and blogs, from heart to heart talks with close friends and from watching YouTube.

I am always up for a conversation pondering the meaning of life and how to live one’s life to the fullest.

I am not a guru but if I were to offer one piece of advice, it would be that you need to love yourself.

It might sound cheesy but you can never be happy if you don’t love yourself.

Too often, we are taught that the needs of others should be put above your own.  Any mother knows this.  Our kids come first and we neglect ourselves.

But we are actually doing our children a disservice by not allowing ourselves to be happy.

If my baseline is to be unhappy, my daughter will pick up on that. She will grow up learning that you are supposed to be unhappy.

People often think that I am a happy person because I have a cheerful disposition.

I had them fooled.

I was never truly happy.

I have always relied on others to make me happy.

Happiness was measured by how many friends I had and who I was friends with.  For someone focused on that, I never had many deep friendships.

And when I was married, I relied on Bryon to make me happy.

The whole part of Jerry McGuire where he says to Renee Zellweger “You complete me” is complete and utter bullsh*t.

No one can complete anyone.  We have to be happy and complete within ourselves.

I grew up with very low self-esteem.  I didn’t date much and I measured my self worth by this.

I had one long term relationship at the end of college.  I often refer to this guy as the “Anti-Bryon” because they were opposites on many things.  The “Anti-Bryon” did not appreciate me and tried to extinguish my spirit.  Though I don’t think he necessarily did that intentionally.  I think he just vibrated on a lower level of energy.  When we broke up my Grandma Sullivan expressed that she was disappointed that we had ended our relationship.  She had liked him.  I told her that the Anti-Bryon had no intention of marrying me.  My grandmother just said “You’re right.  He didn’t have enough zip for you.”

God, I miss my grandmother.

Needless to say, I let how the Anti-Bryon viewed me to affect my self-worth.  When I am in love, I like to express it verbally.  (Actually, I am told I express a lot of things verbally, not just love.)  I would tell the Anti-Bryon that I loved him and he would get annoyed and respond with “random.”

And it was random, but I was expressing my love.  Which I feel should be done when you feel it.

If you express your love, the recipient should appreciate it.  I mean, as long as you are doing it in a non-creepy manner.  If you express your love to a complete stranger in a public place then that recipient would be justified for not appreciating it.  But if you are in a committed relationship, then you should be able to tell your significant lover that you love them, gosh darn it!

I began to realize that the Anti-Bryon was with me for convenience.

Eventually, I decided that I deserved better.  I deserved to be loved.

The Anti-Bryon and I were supposed to stay friends but that didn’t last long.  Our friendship started to take after our relationship.  As in, I was doing all the work.  I remember chatting with him on Instant Messenger in Late October in 2004.  I told him I was volunteering on the 2004 Bush Campaign and that I had just been diagnosed with bronchitis but I was still going out to wave signs.  I was excited.  I was telling him because we were friends and he barely seemed interested.  I mean, he also was a Democrat so that may have played a little bit into it.  But it was at that moment that I realized he didn’t even deserve my friendship.  That was the last time we spoke.

I dated a little over the next 4-5 years.

Whenever I let my guard down, I was rejected.  This took a toll on my self-esteem.

I got strung along.  Like on How I Met Your Mother.  I was always on some guys hook.

Then one day I said “F*ck it.”

Inspired by one of my favorite movies of all time, Kate and Leopold, I decided to take Leopold’s Victorian dating advice and not give a man my time unless he made a “proper overture”.

Enter Bryon.

Bryon did not string me along.

Bryon did not keep me on his hook.

Bryon made a proper overture and made his intentions known.

And we should have lived happily ever after and in some respects we did.

We loved each other fiercely.  We were good for each other.

But no relationship is perfect.

Our relationship was not perfect for many reasons.

One of the reasons our relationship wasn’t perfect was because I did not love myself.

I recently read Don Miguel Ruiz’s book , The Mastery of Love: A Practical Guide to the Art of Relationship: A Toltec Wisdom Book.  It is a continuation of The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book) which is based on Toltec Wisdom.  I highly recommend both.  (The link is an Amazon affiliate link which means if you click on it and decide buy it, I probably get, like, $0.04 or something.  Why not?)

In The Mastery of Love, Ruiz discusses how there are two people in every relationship and we are only responsible for our happiness.  The other person is responsible for their happiness.

In order to thrive in a relationship, one must look inward and be happy and complete with themselves first.  Ergo, Tom Cruise was full of sh*t in Jerry McGuire because no on can complete you.

So Bryon and I were in a marriage and I was expecting him to complete me.

I wasn’t happy with myself.

I relied on Bryon for my happiness.  This was not fair because he was not responsible for my happiness.  I was.

He definitely tried to make me happy.  He offered me the world and I still wasn’t happy with myself.

I know I frustrated him.

I was unhappy with myself and often, that unhappiness would spill over into our relationship.

Any other guy probably would have left me but Bryon made it clear that I was stuck with him.

I felt so poorly about myself that I never understood what Bryon saw in me.

I felt he could do better.

I can’t speak for Bryon’s half of the relationship and his thoughts.   Those thoughts died with him. It is easy to put your deceased spouse on a pedestal but I know he wasn’t perfect.  But I would love to be able to discuss this with him.

I wish he could see how much I have grown.

Though if he were still alive, I probably wouldn’t have grown.

But I can’t help but wonder how much stronger our marriage would have been if I had been happy with myself.

Bryon loved me at my worst.

My next husband will have the better version of me because now I love myself.

I just don’t want people to have to go through what I did to realize how important it is for you to love yourself first.

 

 

Emotional hangovers, the passage of time, and destiny

In the past week or two, I have gone from being incredibly sad to being depressed to being angry.

It has been a roller coaster.

(And of course, I can’t mention roller coasters without thinking about Step by Step.)

The roller coaster started on the day I realized Bryon had been dead for 18 months and it ended (I hope) yesterday when I realized it was the second year anniversary of Bryon’s original surgery.

I am emotionally hungover.

It was something I had to go through. I had to get those emotions out. I think I am coming out of it and I feel very different about myself and my life.

I have had to take a step back. I didn’t deactivate my Facebook but I am currently what I call “Facebook-lite” right now. It felt like the more I engaged Facebook and all the happiness of others, the more isolated I felt. I had to turn inward.

I am lucky for my friends who knew the exact amount of space to give me. They have been giving me enough space to work through my mood but they know I don’t really want to be alone. My friends also did not take my mood personally. And for that, I am grateful.

Lately I have been thinking about the passage of time.

Widows are very keen on noticing the passage of time. It’s like a widow super power.

We notice it beyond the Facebook memories.

Facebook reminded me that Bryon and my love story began ten years ago last weekend.

I realized that in a period of ten years, Bryon and I spent a total of 8 living years together, almost 4 of those years we were married. And the last 2 of those 10 years were spent in trauma and then grief.

Since Bryon fully entered my life, 20% of that time has been engulfed in sadness.

That blew my mind.

It also blows my mind to think that when my daughter turned three, she has essentially spent an equal amount of time without her father than she had with her father since he went into the ICU when she was 18 months old.

This July she will officially pass the period of being alive longer without him than she had with him. Two months before her fourth birthday.

It also blew my mind the other day when I walked into my daughters daycare. I saw my best friends younger son and he walked over to me. I picked him up. Then I thought about how he was born after Bryon died. He never knew him. And he’s getting bigger every time I see him.

When Bryon first died, it felt like we were still married. His clothes were still hanging in the closet. I still had Bryon’s shows recording on the DVR. I still wore my wedding rings.

Eventually the clothes came down as I needed a place to put the clothes I bought during the retail therapy sessions.

I started deleted his shows on the DVR to make room for recorded Disney princess movies and episodes of Doc McStuffins.

And eventually I stopped wearing my wedding rings because I needed to stop being reminded of what I lost.

Now our marriage feels like it is in the past.

Sometimes I forget what it was like to answer to someone else.

It feels like another lifetime that I had someone to email in the middle of the day to figure out what they wanted to do for dinner. I used to love to cook but now dinner usually consists of some heated up chicken nuggets or if I am feeling fancy, I actually cook spaghetti.

When I see my daughters classmates and all their new baby brothers and sisters, I think about the fact that if Bryon had never gotten sick, we’d probably have a new baby brother and sister for my daughter.

Maybe in some parallel universe that is still happening. Maybe in some parallel universe we are a family of four. Maybe in some parallel universe we buy a bigger house with a real fireplace. Maybe in some parallel universe Bryon’s career is really taking off. Maybe in some parallel universe we have gone on more Caribbean Cruises.

But in this universe, I tell my daughter that a baby sister isn’t happening. Obviously for reasons she doesn’t understand.

The bigger house also isn’t happening either. Nor the Caribbean Cruises. And I no longer have the husband with a successful legal career.

As time marches forward, I have to let go of the life Bryon and I had. At times I do okay but at other times it is a slow and excruciating process that can only be done one day at a time. It can only be done on a timeline that only I can decipher.

I am in a weird place where I am starting to feel distanced from my married life and dead husband yet I cherish the memories and am trying to remember everything I can so I can pass them onto our daughter.

I am emerging to widowhood trying to find my place. I look at my surroundings and see the shell of my old life.

When I see all the perfect little intact families at my daughters daycare, I see my old life.

Now I am a single mom who feels compelled to tell the other parents that I am widow because I don’t want to be judged for being a single mother. I find myself wanting to say “My daughters father isn’t a deadbeat. He’s just dead. That’s why he isn’t at this party. Though he probably is here and we just can’t see him or hear his wise-ass comments.”

But now I am searching.

I don’t know where I belong. I don’t know what is next.

This is new territory for me. Because the old, non-traumatized, pre-widowed Kerry did not know how to live in the present. She only knew how to dwell on the past and worry about the future.

There is no point in dwelling on the past because it is past and there is nothing we can do to change it.

And there is no point in worrying about the future because there is so much of it we can’t control. We can’t control the economy or national politics. We can’t control the housing market. We can’t control other people or their actions. So we might as well not worry about it.

We only need to worry about the present. Now.

That is hard to do when you are working through grief. How are you supposed to focus on the present when you are dealing with sadness, anger and guilt?

That is what I have been struggling with. Since Bryon died, I knew I wanted to live again. I want to love again.

But wanting to live again and actually living again are two different things.

And I don’t even want to think about actually loving again. Not because I don’t want that. I do.

But I haven’t been on a first date in ten years. Yeah…

(And to my next future husband who googled my name and finds this- I am really not crazy. Well maybe a little but really, I am just grieving. Actually I am kinda smart and kinda funny. People tell me that I am a good cook and I will stay by your side should you wind up in the hospital. Sickness and in health…I nailed it.)

This brings me to destiny.

I believe we all have a destiny.

Bryon lived a short life where he made a different and touched so many lives. His time on earth ending with a wake (viewing? I grew up saying wake and I am going with that.) where the traffic was backed up so bad that the police had to come and direct traffic.

My daughter has a destiny that is unfolding. She wants to be a doctor. I told her that’s awesome as long as she makes sure patients get better care than her father did.

As you saw yesterday, she is also an author.

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Whether she becomes a doctor, an author or changes her mind completely, I just hope she becomes a productive member of society and that she does her best at whatever she does.

And while I spend a lot of energy fussing about my daughter, trying to be a good mother and fill the void left by Bryon, I know I will never completely fill that void. But I have to believe that the circumstances of her childhood are going to impact her in a profound way that she becomes a resilient and compassionate adult. And she will do great things with that.

And all this late night rambling has me wondering what my destiny is. If Bryon wasn’t meant to be here very long and yet he was still in my life, maybe there is a reason for all this craziness? Maybe it was supposed to happen this way and after I am done wading through this mess of grief, I am supposed to take my newfound resiliency and compassion and do something with it?

That is the real question that I am trying to figure out.