The doctor glanced up at me after examining my daughter and gently explained, “We’re going to go ahead and make an appointment for her at the children’s hospital downtown.”
Well, that did not go as planned. The annual check-up was supposed to be a simple, no-big-deal event. Yet, we suddenly faced a situation we had never imagined. As my ten year old looked at me with wide, watering eyes, I had to quickly adjust my mindset. I fought against the hurricane of thoughts inside my head, attempting to locate some encouraging and uplifting words to offer my daughter. At the same time, I struggled to reconcile with the abrupt change in plans that had been tossed in my direction.
My first-born had just been diagnosed with Scoliosis. I didn’t know a single thing about the condition, and wasn’t even sure what to think at first. All I knew was that it was new and scary and unexpected. I didn’t ask for it and I couldn’t believe it was happening to our family.
Sometimes Life Takes a Detour
Life is made up of so many instances where things didn’t exactly go as we planned. Of course I think we can all agree that at this moment in 2020, COVID-19 is the big winner in that category. But pandemics aside, chances are you can instantly recall many moments when life just didn’t work out the way you had hoped. A broken relationship, a health crisis, or facing unemployment are all examples of circumstances we might encounter, but certainly didn’t plan.
Life can do a total 180 and you find yourself dealing with something completely unexpected. And then what? What happens after the unexpected has nestled its way into your daily life, and you’re forced to do something with it?
Take, for instance, the time I discovered a snake in our dryer. I didn’t expect to see it slither out when I went to grab my bundle of Snuggle fresh laundry. But there it emerged, suddenly a very real and immediate part of my life. I didn’t want it there. But I knew I had to figure out what to do with it.
If you must know, I actually screamed and ran like my hair was on fire.
The snake quickly became my husband’s situation to handle.
You Are Not Alone
We took timid steps through the sliding automatic doors of the children’s hospital for my daughter’s first Scoliosis appointment. That morning began in an examining room, outfitting our daughter in crinkly, blue paper shorts and a thin cotton tank top in preparation for her first round of x-rays. The black and white images revealed, without a doubt, that her spine was curved and treatment was a must. The orthopedist said that she would need to wear a brace at night until she stopped growing – potentially for the next 6 or 7 years. At one point, someone mentioned surgery, and I quietly zoned out.
In the moment, I struggled to process it all. I instantly invented worst case scenarios as the minutes ticked by. I couldn’t imagine how our life would ever be normal again.
They measured her for a brace, and let her choose the colors and design. The staff was as optimistic as they could be, but that didn’t prevent the heavy sense of dread settling in the pit of my stomach.
By lunchtime we began to make our way back through the main lobby, headed home with our new reality weighing us down like a backpack full of bricks. As we walked, I looked around and noticed several children navigating the cheerful, orange-tiled hallways carrying braces of their own.
What stood out to me was that most of them were smiling and laughing with family and the hospital staff, clearly regular visitors who had simply adjusted to their own new reality. I realized, in that instant, that we were not alone.
So many people had experienced their own, personal moment where life suddenly didn’t go as planned. And yet, it gave me so much comfort to see them all doing what they needed to do to simply take brave steps forward.
What Steps Can We Take to Adapt and Adjust?
A simple practice that helps when I’m faced with something unexpected is to simply name my emotions. And then, I go ahead and feel them deeply. Give your emotions a voice, and release them in a tangible way. This is an important component when trying to accept a sudden, new reality.
Sob into your pillow. Go for a run. Call a friend. Talk with a counselor. It doesn’t do you any good to put on an act and pretend all is well when it’s not. Feelings are real and they’re important.
While it seems like a bit of a contrast to what I’ve just described, I’ve also discovered that if I allow myself to focus on facts (once I’ve processed the emotions) I can begin to decide how to take forward steps. In the weeks following the diagnosis, I asked lots of questions and did some research. I realized that while surgery was a possibility, it was not as uncommon or scary as I initially feared. And at that point, surgery was just a potential solution, not a certainty.
I adjusted my mindset by committing to take one day at a time. I made the decision to stop attempting to wrestle with factors that were out of my control. This helped me take brave steps forward, and to focus on my faith rather than my fear.
It’s in Our Nature to Adapt
When life doesn’t go as planned, it can take some time to steady ourselves and come up with a game plan. But the human spirit is so incredible, isn’t it?! We adjust and find ourselves simply doing the thing we never imagined we would.
We never imagined a scenario where we would all wear masks to the grocery store, but we adjusted and we’re doing it. (Mine was pretty cute, by the way. Thanks, Pinterest!)
We didn’t plan to celebrate birthdays and graduations within the quiet walls of our homes. But we adapted by having drive-by parades and Zoom calls.
None of us planned to set up desks and study areas for our children to finish the school year at home, but we adapted with help from amazing teachers.
Canceled trips and vacations were not expected, but we adjusted. We discovered that quality family time can happen while sitting around on our back patio, going on a hike, or putting a puzzle together around the kitchen table.
We did it. We’re doing it. We’re always adapting. The only constant in life is change itself.
Adjust and Pivot to Find Our New Normal
The unexpected situations we face can certainly be painful and difficult. However, when I step back and take inventory of the challenging seasons I’ve come out of, I can proudly say that they’ve helped make me the person I am. Those tough experiences simply became a part of me, and I am more resilient as a result.
We’re created to adapt to our environment. We’re created to adjust and pivot, taking on our new normal. When life doesn’t go as planned, take heart and realize that you will come out of it, stronger than ever.
My daughter is now a teenager, and she’s still wearing her brace. She has an upcoming appointment to evaluate her progress and to take more x-rays. I asked her if she’ll be glad to finally stop wearing it when the time comes. She answered, “Yes, but it’ll also be a little strange. I’m so used to it now, it’s almost like a part of me.”
And so it goes for all of us.