Born at 25: Finding Meaning in Adversity

alanna, adversity
Alanna Gardner, happy and healthy after surviving a heart attack & open heart surgery last year.

Written by Alanna Gardner, MFT

“Sometimes you have to kind of die inside in order to rise from your own ashes and believe in yourself and love yourself to become a new person.”
Gerard Way

Just a year ago today on April 15th 2012, I was quickly moving towards achieving everything I wanted for the upcoming summer. At 25 I was in my last semester of graduate school and would be receiving my MS in Marriage and Family Therapy the following month. I was in the best shape of my life due to my diligence and dedication training for the Broad Street Run. But most importantly I was ready to start my career as a therapist. I had worked hard for the past two years to get to where I wanted to be and I wanted to finish out the academic year being the best woman I could be. But on April 15th, 2012 life took an unexpected turn when I collapsed and went into cardiac arrest after completing a 10k race.

I was blessed to have had an on call nurse cross the finish line just seconds after me and she was able to resuscitate and care for me until the ambulance arrived. I don’t remember any of it. I was unconscious in the hospital for four days while my heart fought to recover from the massive heart attack I had experienced due to a congenital anomalous artery. Upon waking up I was notified of what happened to me and that elective open heart surgery to perform a bypass would have to happen as soon as possible. Two months later on June 6th 2012 I underwent surgery. Needless to say it was a rough time for me. However during that period I had an amazing support system of family, friends, medical teams, mentors and people I didn’t even know extended their prayers, well wishes and love. I survived the 43 days I spent in the hospital due to all of that support.

Even though I am fully recovered, the last year was hell for me. Not just physically but emotionally as well. The life I had known was torn from me. I hadn’t achieved the goals I wanted but more upsetting was that I was no longer the person I believed myself to be. I had gone from being healthy, energetic, and an independent woman that helped everyone around her to a sickly, depressed individual that had to depend on everyone just to do simple everyday tasks. Even though the physical pain faded I was still emotionally in pain, still in recovery. However it was all worth it. The events of this day kick started my quarter-life crisis placing me on a course to grow in ways that I never thought I would. I could go on for days about the lessons I learned while facing adversity but here are three things that stood out the most:

All Things Happen for a Reason, Deal With It & Accept it
As grateful as I am about surviving the heart attack, it was difficult for me to accept the timing of it. Adversity struck on the eve of some major life changes and I felt like I was at such a loss. I lost all control and independence. I felt like I was in a constant state of limbo with no end in sight. But as time went on I was able to see that God had a better plan for me than the one I had created for myself. Not everything goes according to plan and we won’t have control over it. Having setbacks along the journey doesn’t equate to failure or that you won’t ever get to where you’re going.

Accept Help When It Is Offered
When times of stress and difficulty arise it’s always great to have amazing people in your life to support you through it all.  Even though I am blessed to have such an amazing support system I struggled with being on the receiving end of so much love. I learned that I was fiercely independent, too much so for my own good. I struggled with asking for and accepting help because I felt that I was now indebted in a way to so many. After talking about it with a number of quality friends I realized that people are going to support you because they want to and it is for that reason that they are giving from their heart; not because they are expecting something in return. No one gets to where they’re going without the help of others so asking and accepting help was a valuable lesson to learn.

Be Still, Reflect and Purposely Live Life
Sitting and reflecting on my life was something that I have never really done. I can say that I’ve looked back on situations and thought “I’ve could’ve done that differently” but I never deeply reflected on my life until I had no choice but to do so. Many nights laying in a hospital bed watching the OWN network made me discover something: I really was just existing. Going to school, going to work, paying bills, occasional partying and enjoying myself here and there but not really living life purposefully. I was functioning on auto pilot and didn’t take time out to really focus on how I wanted my life to be in all aspects. It wasn’t until this incident that my life was forcibly put on a stand still, that I began to reflect and gain perspective on what I wanted and who I wanted to be.

In the end things turned out better than I could’ve ever imagined. I achieved more than what I originally sought out and gained something valuable in the process: a new outlook on life and who I am as a person. Because of the adversity in my life I am more loving, self-aware, appreciative, and accepting of how life unfolds. Adversity is a part of life, and how you choose to respond to it will determine how much meaning you find in it. Stay grateful, remain resilient, and appreciate the lessons that come with life’s struggles.

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