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Tuesday, September 30th, 2014 | Author:

Tackling Myths & Cliches: Whatever Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

50 MPH speed limit. That seems fast for this road. But OK. I’ll go 50.

Shoot this hill is long. I hear my dad’s mantra: “Don’t ride your breaks. They’ll burn out.” Ok, I’ll keep it near 50. 53. 54. 55. 54. 53. 54.

Green lights all the way.


Large truck turning into our path. Going fast. Too fast. We’re going fast.

Break. Break! BREAK! My foot can’t move that fast.

This is it. We’re going to die.

I see the panic on the blond girl’s face through the passenger side window of the truck.

My world goes black as I hear the deafening sound of metal colliding.

Silence. I am gone.

I come to in a car filled with airbag dust. I look, horrified at the passenger seat. What will I find there?

I see Kate. Her eyes like deer in headlights. Staring at me. Alive. Conscious. In shock.

I see smoke starting to fill the car. More and more. I’m still looking into Kate’s wide eyes. She does not blink.

I look around at the smoke, and back to her. “GET OUT! GET OUT OF THE CAR NOW!” I order her. Movie scenes of cars exploding in flame race through my mind. No.

“GET OUT OF THE CAR!” I say again.

Our doors open. I step out of the car and struggle to stand. Something is wrong with my foot. I hobble to the median of the broad intersection. It is at Kate’s side of the car. She is there already.

I slump down. People flood to our sides. Are we OK?

What’s my name?

Who can we call?

I don’t know. We don’t live here.

Where are my shoes? I get up to walk. Can’t. You, fireman. Can you find my shoes? Where is my phone? Can you find my phone?

Ambulance. Kate and I laugh lots of shocky laughs that make us cry out from the pain of moving. Emergency Room. Exams. Long, painful night.

Two years ago I was in a head on collision at around 50 MPH. I broke my foot, and suffered what we later learned to be a concussion which began giving me daily migraines.

My foot healed within 8 weeks. My migraines, though I have made MUCH progress, still punctuate my life several times a month.

It is one of only two times that I was certain that was it, that I was going to die.

But we didn’t.


Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Right?

No. I don’t accept that. That’s BS.

After my sister died, after my car accident, after my life imploded, after I moved because of a bad living situation — people told me I was so strong. And I’m starting to see that they were right. But I thought that they were saying these things were making me strong (some did say that). And deep down I knew that wasn’t true. These things, they were testing me, sometimes they threatened to destroy me. They weren’t making me strong. I was strong through them, not because of them. Those life obstacles were revealing to me the depth of strength that I had to find to survive those times, but they were devastating me in the process.

Pain doesn’t make you strong. It reveals your strength. You don’t actually need the painful things of life to be strong. But sometimes you don’t realize how strong you are without them. It’s the revealing that has value.

We should be honest that pain sucks. Bad things suck. That there are things that we wish we never had to live through.

It’s not about the positive spin. It’s about the true revealing of who we are so that we can go forward as the person we want to be or become.


photo credit: mcandrea via photopin cc

But whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger is false.

The first person to ever run the distance of a marathon was actually running to the city of Marathon from the battle field to tell that the battle had been won. He ran the whole way, and the myth says that he died immediately after delivering the message.

Many strong people run marathons all the time now, but marathons don’t make you strong. Actually they temporarily damage your body, having pushed it so far. But they reveal the strength you’ve built up in training.

In the wake of the things that are destroying you, it is OK to not feel strong.

Sometimes, the strength that is revealed doesn’t feel like strength, it feels like taking one ragged breathe, one faltering step at a time, one after the other. And we slowly move forward. We slowly discover how much strength there is in us. And undoubtedly, we all have times where we feel too weak to carry on, and we have to sit down and take a break, or sometimes collapse and weep. But then we discover that we might have another morsel of strength. So we continue.

That is the true strength that is revealed when we think we might just die.

Marathon runners make it to the finish line, and their body takes a toll.

Broken bones, when re-healed, still ache sometimes, even years later. Strong people walk through the ache. But when they walked without ache, they were just as strong.

Our lives would be better without conflict. But the conflict reveals us to ourselves. And when we live as revealed people, we use the strength we’ve always had more fully.

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014 | Author:

Tackling myths & clichés: When Life gives you lemons, make lemonade

First of all, life doesn’t give you lemons.

But since we’re talking about them, you know who has a lot of lemons? The Italians. And they’re some of the warmest, happiest people out there. Go to Sorrento in Italy and tell me that you do not love all of the lemony things. I dare you. Lemon scented soap. Lemon chicken. Lemon liqueur. Lemonade. Lemon candies. Lemon paintings and tables and glasswork. Lemon towels and pottery. Whole shops full of lemons and lemon-inspired things.

Lemons are not a bad thing. But the pain of life, unfortunately, is not like lemons at all. Lemons, if eaten plain, are pretty sour, but to be honest, they still taste pretty good in the realm of things.

And that’s the reality — you can make lemonade out of lemons because they taste pretty good to start with.

You know what life gives you that you can’t make lemonade out of? Crap.

Ever heard that saying, “You can’t polish a turd?” It’s true (I’d imagine). You can’t. You also can’t make lemonade out of it.

You can’t make lemonade out of your life falling apart.
You can’t make lemonade out of your loved ones dying.
You can’t make lemonade out of betrayal.
You can’t make lemonade out of a broken heart.
You can’t make lemonade out of losing everything.
You can’t make lemonade out of abuse.
You can’t make lemonade out of poverty.
You can’t make lemonade out of a fatal diagnosis.

You just can’t. You can’t make lemonade out of those hard, painful, gut-wrenching things in life.
Nor should anyone persuade you to try.

It’s ok to let the bad things be bad.
It’s ok to let the painful things be painful.
Don’t be persuaded to try to act like the silver lining is all that matters. Because your pain, your ugly, horrible plot turns of your life that you’ve had to endure — those matter. Suffering matters.

Redemption matters, too. But your suffering matters in its own right, even before you may see any good come from it.  If you’re experiencing pain or suffering right now, I am so sorry. You matter. And this season of life may not last forever, but I am sorry you are in it right now.

Beauty does come from pain. (It exists apart from pain, too.) But it’s not that your pain has to be beautiful. It’s not that you have to use lemons to make lemonade. You don’t have to transform your grief into a sweet summery treat overnight.

The reality is that when the hard pain of life comes, and you endure, beauty and life can spring forth again. Your story doesn’t have to end in pain. But you do not have to sugar-coat those painful times. It’s ok to not be ok.

It’s ok to not be the ever-singing optimist lemonade-maker.

And there’s one more thing. While those hard pieces of life are more like crap than they are like lemons… crap is good fertilizer. You can’t make lemonade out of the crap of pain. But as you journey through these hard pieces of life — as you grieve and are honest about the fact that this feels like something you never wanted to go through — your life is being fertilized. You don’t have to make lemonade. Just journeying through your pain will fertilize your life for potential beauty to bloom forth in the future.

origin_5807957068photo credit: DanieleCivello via photopin cc

So in your own life and in the lives of those around you, let the hard parts of life be just what they are. Hard. Painful. Heart-breaking. Life-altering. I-wish-this-never-happened saddening. I-want-to-punch-a-hole-in-this-wall maddening. I-just-don’t-think-I-can-take-another-day-of-this-reality exhausting.

There is hope for healing and new life in the future. But in the midst of fresh pain, that’s hardly a refreshing drink of consolation. And that’s OK to admit.

Later, when you have grieved, when you have slept, when you have plodded forth for what felt like too long and you come into a new season of life where you’re ready to rebuild, re-dream, and to come alive again, you can plant a lemon tree later in that fertile ground of your life and make lemonade if you really want to.

Or just ignore the rules and plant something sweet like oranges or berries to begin with.

Revised saying:
I’m sorry life is so painful and crappy right now. I’ll sit here with you in the stench of heart-break and life-ache. And I’ll be here still when you want to plant something new. But no rush. Take the time you need.

It’s not as catchy, I know. I’m OK with that.

Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.