We all know what that is, right?
Hell week is a time when people submit themselves to mass torment, extreme physical exertion, sleep deprivation, enduring pain and exhaustion.
Some do this in the hope that they will be granted admission into an elite organization, others do it simply to test themselves
And they all do this voluntarily.
Only the fittest and the toughest survive. Those who succeed have lifelong bragging rights. Those who don’t, console themselves by telling themselves they tried their best.
And whether they succeeded or failed they all agree on one thing – it is appropriately named.
And yet not one of those brave souls who submit themselves to this legal form of torture would exchange their Hell Week with the week from Hell that I heard about recently.
A long-time client of mine called recently and asked if I would be interested in meeting a friend of hers. Her friend was visiting for a short while and my client thought I would like to hear her friend’s story.
We arranged to meet for coffee.
Her friends name is Anne, she lives in Fort Worth, Texas and her Hell Week took place almost 4 years ago. As I listened to her story it was extremely hard to believe that all of this could happen in one person’s life over such a short period of time.
It was as if the universe had conspired to inflict as much physical and emotional pain as possible on one person.
It all began with a frantic phone call from her mother early on a Sunday morning to inform her that her father had had a heart attack and was en route to hospital in an ambulance. Her mom was leaving home to drive to the hospital and was calling Anne to ask her to meet her there.
She immediately left a voicemail for her two teenaged sons who were visiting with friends, to tell them what had happened and she and her husband Mitch got in their car and headed to the hospital.
They were only five blocks from the hospital when a vehicle ran a red light and broadsided their car on the driver’s side, killing Mitch instantly.
Not too long afterwards, while still dazed, confused and in shock, Anne’s phone rang and this time it was her mother, hysterical, calling to say that her dad had passed away.
Somehow Anne had found her way to the hospital where she spent several hours in a small room with her mother and sons trying to understand how their lives could have been turned so completely upside down in such a short time.
Mitch had been laid off from his job as an electrician almost a year earlier and the family had been living off their savings and the small salary that Anne brought home from her part-time job at a local florist.
They had fallen many months behind in their mortgage payments.
With their savings almost depleted they had been thrilled when Mitch had finally found a job with an electrical contractor and was to have started work the very next day.
The next morning the owner of the flower store emailed Anne to tell her that due to the economic slowdown her part-time position was no longer available.
On Tuesday morning, Carol, Mitch’s sister and Anne’s best friend and the single parent to a nine year old and a twelve year old, succumbed to the breast cancer she had been battling for several years.
On Wednesday a letter from the bank informed Anne that foreclosure proceedings were about to begin.
On Thursday, her mother slipped in the parking lot of the funeral home and broke her leg.
Anne told me that the next few months were spent viewing the world through a dull fog.
She told me of the humiliation she felt moving her family into her mother’s house, the time spent between trying to settle two estates, constantly worrying about how she was going to feed her newly enlarged family, looking after her mother and desperately trying to find a job.
She said her world consisted of two emotions: exhaustion and depression.
And she kept seeking an answer to the question why?
Why did her husband have to die?
Why did her father have to die?
Why did Carol have to die?
Why couldn’t she find a job?
Why was there no-one to help her?
Why was life so hard?
Why was life so unfair?
Why was all this happening to her?
What had she done to deserve this?
And life continued like this for quite some time with each day being an exercise in survival culminating in a bottomless descent to despair.
She told me that she contemplated suicide on several occasions and that it was only the thought of how much additional pain she would be adding to the lives of her mother, two sons, niece and nephew that prevented her from doing so.
And she kept asking why?
Why was this happening to her?
Anne told me that late one evening she was at home sitting on her bed in her small bedroom, running through her nightly routine of why, why, why when all of a sudden it happened.
At this point, while telling me her story, Anne paused, looked straight at me and said, “I know you will think I am crazy when I tell you this but I swear this is what happened.
“I heard a voice in my head, a loud, clear precise force speaking directly to me.
“And the voice said, ‘Anne, you have to stop asking why this is happening to you. Nothing is happening to you. Everything that happened, happened. There is no why. There is no reason that can ever make sense. Now, it is for you to grow through this experience and become the very person you are capable of being.
‘Things don’t happen to us, when things happen, they happen for us. They happen for us to explore our own resilience, for us to explore the range of our own capabilities, for us to tap into the vast reservoir of inner strength we have all been blessed with and for us to rise above adversity and shine.
‘Anne, what has happened is your real life – it’s your reality – and the rest of your life is filled with positive potential.’
She continued by saying, “I’m sure you must think that I am crazy but that voice was as real as any sound I have ever heard.”
Anne went on to say that in that moment she knew she had to start living again. She knew that if she continued doing what she was doing, her life, and the lives of her family members, would be forever spent painfully viewing the world through the distorted prism of self-pity and sorrow.
And she said that she immediately began to believe that happiness would become a part of her future and, with great excitement, she walked down the hall into her sons’ room and woke them to share this experience with them and, for the first time in months, they laughed together as a family.
Over the next few weeks Anne worked hard at trying to live the way “The Voice” had told her to live.
She applied for every job posted online or anywhere else, networked like a person possessed and finally found a part time administration position in a local community center.
It wasn’t much, but it was a start.
And then she picked up a few shifts waitressing at a nearby restaurant and earned more in tips than any of the other staff members.
And she did one other thing. She had long had a passion for writing and so, at the end of each day, alone in her bedroom; she began writing about her life experiences.
And after several months, with the help of a friend who knew someone, who knew someone, she sold an article to a local magazine.
And a few months later she sold another.
And each day she scheduled time to be a great mom to her four kids.
And a terrific daughter to her mother.
And, while still very much present, the financial burden seemed more and more manageable.
And then she landed a full time job.
And has since been promoted three times.
And as I listened to her story I struggled to reconcile this vibrant, energetic life-loving person with the one she had described herself as being.
She had done an amazing thing. Her Hell Week had caused her to believe that her life was joyless and that sorrow and struggle was her destiny.
She had believed this to be true and it certainly was.
And then one day, “with a little help from a friend”, she began to believe that she could have a life of happiness and abundance.
She started believing that to be true, put enormous energy into its creation, and made it so.
Oh, I forgot to mention, over these past few years, while magnificently transforming her life and the lives of her family, she was diagnosed with, treated for, and recovered from breast cancer.
“It happened, I dealt with it and moved on.”
Her final words to me as we left the restaurant were, “I think it’s amazing what can happen when we think differently.”
What do you think?
Till we read again.
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