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Fierce Joy: Choosing Brave over Perfect to Find My True Voice

Susie Caldwell Rinehart

August 18, 2016

I lie here after thirty-six hours of brain surgery wondering, Who am I? I am not a wife, not a mother, not a leader, not an athlete. I am a lump in a bed. I can’t even help my daughter make breakfast.

I have always identified with the hero role. When I go to the movies, I don’t just watch Indiana Jones, I AM Indiana Jones. I am Jason Bourne. I am Katniss. I am never the one standing by, wringing her hands, waiting for the hero to come. I am out there, in the adventure, making things happen. I have plenty of courage. I get shit done. I start companies and lead schools. I win races. I can push through anything. I am not even sure I am alive unless I am striving to make something happen. But there are consequences to pushing, striving, fixing, saving everything and everyone. Right now, my health is at risk. If I don’t find a different way, I’ll die.

Before now, I never thought I was a perfectionist. My house is too messy. Perfectionists don’t go to the grocery store without makeup, in their giraffe pajamas. But when it comes to the stuff that matters: relationships and work, I see now that I am a perfectionist. I never believe I am good enough. I judge myself and I judge others. I get stuck looking for the single, right way beyond criticism to success, before even beginning. I loop around the same questions: Am I in the right job? Do we live in the right place? Are the kids in the right schools? I assume that if I do things “right,” my family will be safe. No one will get hurt. I act as if life is a Sunday crossword puzzle and I have the only pencil. I put so much pressure on myself that I get sick.

This time, my health isn’t just telling me to slow down. It’s telling me to transform completely.

The trick is my journey feels like the opposite of a hero’s journey. While the classic hero is called to adventure, I am called to lie down and let go. But like the hero, I resist. Lying down doesn’t feel brave. It makes me feel useless. I grew up wanting to make everyone proud of me. How, if not by doing and achieving, do I earn my spot on this beautiful earth? How does anyone?

My husband Kurt comes to check on me. I am propped up in bed in a head bandage to prevent spinal fluid leakage and a neck brace to protect my skull-to-shoulder fusion from breaking. I am supposed to be sleeping. Instead I am on my phone, searching the internet for a way out of my current situation.

“What are you looking for?” Kurt asks.

“Lindsey Vonn’s workout schedule, after her knee surgery,” I say.
Kurt laughs and asks, “You’re just days out of surgery and you want to work out like an Olympic downhill skier?”

“I am tired of sitting here, doing nothing. Strong people get up and do something to heal faster. They don’t just lie here and wait.”
“Is that true? I bet if Lindsey Vonn had two craniotomies and a neck fusion, she’d lie down for a few days.”

I am not convinced. The only way I know to get through something difficult is to get back up and push through pain. I feel like if I just work harder, I can throw off the bed covers, rip off the neck brace, and go home.

In the hero’s journey, the hero has sword fights and light-saber battles to fend off bad guys. My battles are internal. I fend off fear and anxiety. I barely move an inch.

Do I deserve to be here if I can’t do anything?

Let’s look back in order to go forwards.
It helps to start at the beginning.

“Breathtaking. Raw. Real. This is a memoir about what it means to have a voice. When Rinehart loses her ability to speak, she learns to listen to herself.”

Jen Pastiloff, author of On Being Human


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