Unbreakable

When it all falls apart

One day all was going well. I was making my way through my graduate school program, and I was working on lining up a dream internship for the summer. Then COVID-19 happened, and everything changed. As cases in Athens, GA continued to rise, my school chose to offer students the option to either return to campus and finish the semester or complete all coursework and internship hours in a virtual learning format. Being that I was immunosuppressed, I decided to go fully online. Even when this happened, I held out hope that things would get better. In contrast, things got worse. Cases seemed to hit a new record every day. Eventually, any hopes of having a somewhat normal summer vanished into the rearview mirror. There would be no camp Independence, there would be no internship of any kind, there would be no life as normal. It was during this moment that I asked myself a question. That is; how do you rebuild when it all falls apart? 

Gearing Up for A Psychological War

After classes were done for the year, the summer began. This was going to be a summer unlike any other. The hardest thing about it was I had to come to terms that there would be no Camp Independence. I have only ever missed camp one time in my life, and that was when I was sick. The thought of missing camp was extremely saddening and disappointing to say the least. While it was sad that camp was canceled, I could not let this get me down. Whether I liked it or not, summer was going to be quite different. Knowing this, I had a choice to either wallow in disappointment for what I had lost or choose to have a positive attitude and make the best of the situation.  I decided to make the best of the situation. Making this decision was easy. Actually, taking joy in the situation was going to be harder to put into practice. In my mind, I was going to overcome this challenge. In reality, I had no idea how this would look in real life. If I was going to get through the summer and be better for it, I needed a plan. 

Becoming Unbreakable

The first part of my plan to make it through the summer (and ultimately COVID-19) was to become psychologically unbreakable. Yes, I had to quarantine for quite a long time. However, I knew that quarantine and social isolation to be my downfall. To make it through the quarantine, I needed to approach the situation in a completely different way. The way I approached quarantine was as though I was engaged in a form of psychological warfare. Whether we like to admit it or not, we are constantly engaged in psychological warfare. If you are currently battling a chronic health situation, or you have ever battled an injury, you know how important it is to have a good mindset. Your mindset determines so much of your end result. If you let your mindset go, your will to fight and live the joyful life will quickly vanish. How do you prevent this from happening? After all, it is extremely hard to not give in. In this post, I hope to share a few things that helped make me unbreakable. Now, before you read any further, you need to know that you may fall at times. However, there is a difference between falling and completely breaking. It is about how to get back up after you fall. It is about bouncing back and winning the battle of the mind and becoming unbreakable. 

Step 1: Recognize your zone of control

The first step in winning the war of the mind is to recognize that you can’t control everything. This, of course, is one of the most difficult aspects of the human experience. Yet, in this lack of total control, we actually have more power over our lives than we often realize. No matter what happens, you can always control how you react. In controlling how you react, you have to recognize your zone of control (what you can directly affect with your actions and choices). When it came to preparing myself for quarantine, I had to first recognize that no matter how hard I tried or what I did, the situation as it existed was not going away overnight. To assume that I could single-handedly change the course of the virus would be delusional. After recognizing what was controllable and what was not, my perspective shifted towards what I could control. While it may not seem like it, I could control a lot during quarantine. I could control who I was around, the things I did to pass the time, and the music I listened to. To me, these were all big areas of control and in many ways served as protective factors against the virus and the quarantine blues.

Step 2: Create a schedule 

The second step that I took to become psychologically unbreakable was creating a schedule. Anyone who is an athlete or parent understands the importance of following a set schedule. Your schedule may seem like something small, but it is the small things that so often determine how you are with the big things in life. In the case of COVID-19, I knew that what I did with the little things would determine how I managed quarantine and social isolation.

In the case of COVID-19, the hardest thing I faced in creating a schedule was dealing with the dead space. This space was time that I was not sleeping, eating or doing schoolwork. In focusing on the small things, I placed a heavy focus on what I was eating and spending my dead time. Instead of playing video games and doing what I thought would help pass the time, I decided to read books and work out (mostly with a pull up bar and simple workout equipment). For me, I wanted to use the time I was quarantined to make myself better. Over the summer of 2020 I read 17 books, stayed disciplined in what I ate, and I stuck to a consistent workout schedule. Doing all of these things helped me get into shape and come out of the initial quarantine happier and healthier. Since doing this, I have been asked a few times how I managed to make positive health changes in such a short amount of time. My answer is that it all has to do with your mentality. I made a big deal out of the small things and because of that, I was able to create a schedule that worked for me. Finally, in creating a schedule, it is important that you remember that there is no right or wrong way to make a schedule. No matter what your schedule ends up looking like, be sure that it is a schedule that you can actually follow. In short, make it attainable.  At the same time, work something into your schedule that you enjoy or that challenges you. This may include reading a book, writing or creating art. The final element you need is some form of physical exercise. This may include walking, running or going to the gym.

So much of winning the battle of the mind has to do with not allowing your mind the space to go against you (during the dead space). Ever notice how our self-doubt and negative thoughts come to us when we are alone and not focused on something? Ever notice how easily we can go from an emotional high to an emotional low (or even depression). How do we deal with this? I believe one of the many steps we need to take in not letting ourselves fall in the dead space has to do with your schedule and the positive habits you create.  I ask you two questions. (1) what does your schedule currently look like? (2) How can you change your schedule to take control of the dead space? (3) What is one thing you can do that challenges you and contributes to your overall health? 

Step 3: Turn off the news

The third step I took (and that you can take) in becoming unbreakable is turning off the news. Why should you do this?  During a global pandemic, is it not important to be informed? Well, it is significant to be informed,, but I found that the news was not informative. Rather, I found that every news source was negative and seemed more interested in promoting fear and negativity rather than hope and encouragement. It is for this reason I turned off the news. Now, I would follow the COVID-19 numbers as they rose and became a concern for my community. However, my days of constant worry were over.

We have a choice in who we let speak into our lives. 

What voices speak into your life?

For me, turning off the news was the best thing I could ever do for my overall health. Without the news, I found myself refocusing on what mattered most, my own wellbeing. With the time I would usually spend checking the news, I spent reading, writing, and running. In short, turning off the news allowed me to retake control of my own life and my own mind. Yes, the world around me was falling apart. Yet in that, I had a choice. I could focus on the negative aspects of life,, or I could accept that bad things happen in the world and move on. I chose the latter. Life is not always easy. Yet, we have a choice in whom we let speak into our lives. Who will you listen to? Will you listen to the news that does nothing but paint grim views,, or will you listen to voices of hope and encouragement?  

Step 4: Reconnect 

During the early stages of COVID, I had a decision to make. That was to either be bitter about what was lost or look for new ways to appreciate life for what it is. I decided on the second option. In doing this, I started reaching out to friends I had not talked with for quite some time. In doing this, I found that almost all of us were facing our own challenges with quarantine and navigating the pandemic. In connecting with my immunosuppressed friends, I found that we all were having a hard time with the adjustment to quarantine. The biggest challenge we all faced was not seeing many people outside our main family. Some of us were blessed to have family nearby. However, this was not the case for all my immunosuppressed friends. Even for my non immunosuppressed friends, I found that they too faced challenges being in quarantine. Since reconnecting with friends at the start of the pandemic, I have gained a renewed appreciation for the small things in life. Most importantly, these friends helped me become unbreakable during the hardest times of COVID-19. 

Step 5: Find Your Community 

To say the summer of 2020 was a challenge would be a major understatement. This was by far one of the most difficult times in my life. However, I was able to come out of the summer of 2020 better than when the summer began. How did I do this? The answer is simple, I just resolved that I was going to take back my health and be a better version of myself. In many ways, I think having this willpower to never give up and make yourself better is key to helping someone navigate a chronic medical challenge. In the words of Anthony Reed, “it’s 99% in your head” and “when you lose the battle in your mind you will lose it in your heart”. Don’t let this happen to you! Yes, life can be extremely difficult. However, this is no excuse to give up. Rather, this is a reason to fight. If you need help in your fight with chronic illness (or life in general) don’t be afraid to ask for help and find your community. It is in community we will truly become unbreakable.  

The Challenge

So much of winning the battle of the mind has to do with not allowing your mind the space to go against you (during the dead space). Ever notice how our self-doubt and negative thoughts come to us when we are alone and not focused on something? Ever notice how easily we can go from an emotional high to an emotional low (or even depression). How do we deal with this? I believe one of the many steps we need to take in not letting ourselves fall in the dead space has to do with your schedule and the positive habits you create.  I ask you two questions. (1) what does your schedule currently look like? (2) How can you change your schedule to take control of the dead space? (3) What is one thing you can do that challenges you and contributes to your overall health? 

Challenge questions.

(1) what does your schedule currently look like?

(2) How can you change your schedule to take control of the dead space?

(3) What is one thing you can do that challenges you and contributes to your overall health?

Wills Porter

Kidney Trails Author

Published by Wills Porter

Having been a transplant recipient of over 20 years, Wills is a living example of the life-transforming power of organ donation and transplant. While life after transplant has not always been easy, Wills believes that the challenges he has faced since his transplant have made him stronger and helped him take joy in his own transplant journey. As a KT author, podcast host and the director of research and development for Kidney Trails, Wills is focused on advancing the conversation around organ donation through innovative and extra organary ways.

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