þetta Reddast: Turning Adversity Into Adventure

By Jonah Cedar

The Intro:

For the last couple of months, I’m sure you’ve heard the new buzzword sweeping the nation––and no, I am not talking about the C-word. I am talking about resilience. Every politician I listen to, every optimistic voice on a podcast, and even me in countless emails is proclaiming that in a few months time, we as a nation will come out of this new normal with a resilience we have never had before. But what is resilience, really? How do we measure it and how do we achieve it? These are questions that I attempted to answer as I was trying to support gap year students who had to end their experiences earlier than expected. I thought this would be easy for me, because my life has been defined by situations I had no control over and the more situations I go through, the easier it is for me to take a few breaths and say, “okay, how do I make this better?” I think this is a key question because resilience can also be seen as being able to return to normal in the face of a crisis but I think returning to normal is not the point.

The most important thing I learned on my gap time was that change is the only constant thing in life, and the key to absorbing change is understanding that life is only 10% what happens to you, and 90% your attitude towards what happened. You don’t have a choice in what changes, but you do have a choice in how that changes you. My favorite perspective on resilience is by Elizabeth Edwards and it’s, “resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that’s good.” This is what I want to talk about. I realized when trying to give advice on this, that I have not properly reflected on the fact that while my gap time gave me the best three years of my life, it also gave me the most challenging three years. But what a gap year all about? It’s about adventure and giving yourself a moment to breath and figure out who you are and where you fit in this world. While I had the most incredible experiences of my life, it was those unexpected moments of adversity that allowed me to reorient my goals and not just return to normal, but transform into a better version of myself.

Track 01: Chronic Sunshine

I had two broad goals when I started my gap time: learn more about myself and say yes to adventure. I had no idea that from the very beginning, physical pain would be at the center of the first goal. Within the first month of my two and a half year gap time, I was diagnosed with a type of painful bladder syndrome known as Interstitial Cystitis. This is a chronic inflammation of the bladder and to put into perspective how this condition feels, imagine if a little troll was in your body and set fire to your bladder on a daily basis for 10 months, and then punched it repeatedly until the next day when he set it on fire again. It was agonizing to say the least. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I did my best to go to work everyday and explore my interests, but the pain drove me crazy. Then later on in my gap time, I was riding my bike from Chipotle where I worked at the time to IUSB to go to my classes for the night, and I fell off of my bike head-first into a ditch and got a concussion. I dealt with the aftermath for almost half of that year. After I recovered from my concussion, I had begun training again, and decided I wanted to attempt to run the Chicago Marathon in 2018. My training was going perfect. I was a vegan at the time, and had been following a marathon training guide of a vegan ultra-marathon runner. I was at my peak physical shape, and having run since I was 14, I decided to try and up my weekly mileage from 35 miles to 50. But the luck of the Irish was not on my side. I was running on beautiful Notre Dame campus when I felt my left leg start to give out. I started to feel this searing pain and could barely walk back home much less run.

I had suffered a stress fracture in my left shin bone; putting me in months of physical therapy, and forcing me to drop out of the marathon. Of all of the physical ailments I suffered, this one was the worst for me. Running has been my main source of meditation for years. Suddenly not having it in my life caused me mentally to spiral.

My goal of learning more about myself quickly became learning how to properly take care of myself so I could go on the offensive in preventing these types of situations from happening again. I adopted a diet of all whole foods to bring down any inflammation in my body. I worked with a physical therapist and a trainer to gain strength back in my leg and returned to running with way better training regimes. I left these ailments stronger and healthier than I have ever been; turning chronic pain, into chronic sunshine.

Track 02: Somebody to Love

At the same time I was fighting through my IC, I was also going through heartbreak. My ex partner and I broke up about 8 months into my gap time. We met in high school band. I was in charge of the band program at the time, and was in 2 hour long meetings with the directors after rehearsals. She would wait for me after every meeting, so I asked her on a date. That one date turned into two, which turned into three, which turned into nearly 2 years that I would not give back for anything in the world. In the words of Freddie Mercury, she captured my heart, stole my love, and changed my life fundamentally. This is why I felt the way anyone feels when they lose somebody. I felt lost, angry, sad, and confused. Our relationship ended mainly because I never let myself be vulnerable and share my feelings because simply put, I didn’t give myself as much love as I was giving her or anybody else. This is a hard fact to reconcile when you have just been broken up with, and even harder when you then tour Western Europe with that person after the fact. Needless to say, I got to know French wine and German lager very well. But the very next day after our breakup, I learned that she was right. It turned out to be one of the best days I can remember having. I had called my cousin to tell him what happened, and I went out to South Bend where he was and spent the day with him and all of his friends. We spent an entire day eating great food, playing dungeons and dragons, magic the gathering, Mario Kart, and listened to records. I felt like myself for the first time in a long time. So I moved in with my cousin a couple of months later and focused on my new goals of figuring out what my values were, and how to be vulnerable with the people I cared about. With the constant support of my family and close friends, I did figure those things out, and formed the best relationships I’ve ever had.

Track 03: More Cowbell

In September 2017 I had a fever, and the only cure was conducting for the Phantom Regiment Drum and Bugle Corps. I had wanted to be a conductor since I was 7 years old. Specifically, I knew I wanted to be the drum major of my high school marching band. I rode my bike a half an hour from our house to the high school every summer to watch the band’s rehearsals. My brother was a drum major, and I would watch his videos, and videos of other drum majors to mimic what they were doing starting at 10 years old. I loved everything about music and band and conducting. I now believe that stories are the most powerful tools by which to change the world because they connect the world, and music is all about telling stories. It didn’t matter who you were or where you came from. You mattered in the band.

As a conductor, I felt like I was not only crafting stories, but I was a part of them. When I achieved being the drum major of my band in my senior year, I was immensely proud. I have never been more proud of anything in my life. It was everything I wanted it to be and more. When I graduated, I felt so lost because I had spent 11 years of my life striving for this goal, and I didn’t want it to be over. Every morning I would conduct Phantom Regiment’s performance of Elsa’s procession to the cathedral. Phantom Regiment is a drum corps which is basically a professional marching band. You can start performing in drum corps when you are in high school, and then age out at 22. About a year and a half into my gap time, Phantom had all of their conducting positions open and were holding open auditions. I signed up immediately, and for half a year, really focused on improving my conducting skills and music theory knowledge. The audition was in December 2017 in Wisconsin. It was a three day audition with eliminations happening at the end of every day. The auditions were held in a high school, and we had to sleep on the gym floor at night which was rough to say the least. There were over 50 other hopefuls who showed up to be a conductor.

After a rigorous weekend performing, I had made it to the final 5 contestants. I gave it everything I had, but unfortunately was cut at the end of that day. All I remember was congratulating those who hadn’t been cut and getting in my car and driving the 3 or so hours home trying to ignore the aching feeling in my stomach. I was embarrassed at first that I didn’t make it. But the more I thought about it, the more at peace I was with what happened. Getting so close was a huge accomplishment, and I felt at ease knowing that I knew, and would never have to regret the decision to not try out. I told myself to never let music go, and focus my energy on the next goal, which was a road trip to the west coast.

Track 04: Dude, Where’s My Car?

I have never been known as a record-setter. That all changed in the fall of 2018 when I became the first driver in DineIn history to be a victim of grand theft auto. Take that Hicham El Guerrouj! (World’s fastest mile) DineIn is a local food delivery company in St. Joseph County, Indiana that has been around for almost 30 years. I was a delivery driver there for almost 2 of those and loved it. It was the best job I have had so far. I was making a delivery one night from a Texas Roadhouse. The meal was well over $100, as it had 3 steak dinners. My left leg was in a boot due to my stress fracture and everything seemed business as usual that night. At the time, I was driving a Buick LeSabre that was nearing the end of its life. It had an issue where sometimes when you turned it off, it had a hard time starting back up, so if I was close enough to the door of a house I was delivering too, I would often leave it running.

So when I delivered the Texas Roadhouse order, I was giving the customer their change because they paid in cash when all of a sudden, I heard a car door shut behind me. I turned around to look, and saw another car parked next to mine. I watched as the passenger of this vehicle got out of their car, jumped into mine, and drove it away. I immediately laughed. The police who I called to help me laughed. My roommates who picked me up from the police station laughed. I couldn’t believe it. I had running shoes in there, a tent, the other half to shoes, and most unfortunately, my birth certificate and social security card. I actually wasn’t aware that last bit was in there. I found that out later when I was borrowing my cousins car and got pulled over because my lights were off. It was 1 in the morning and I was heading home from work. When the police took my license, they informed me that my license was suspended which I had no idea of, and is a long story that for now I will avoid. But at 1 in the morning, and a few miles from my home in South Bend, the cops told me to park the car in a nearby bank parking lot and “walk my ass home”. Which is what I did. I was in and out of court for a while trying to dispute my license suspension and when I was trying to apply for a loan for school, which I had been working towards the whole three years, I was denied. I was denied because my once 800 credit score became 350. This is because I owned 5 houses and 3 credit cards. What happened last night dude? What happened is that when my car got stolen, so did my identity.

Track 05: Stand Tall

I could have given up in any one of these instances and trust me when I say, there were times I really wanted to. It’s difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel when you are in constant pain. It’s difficult to allow yourself to be vulnerable when the person you were most vulnerable with leaves you. It’s difficult to not be scared and fight your mom as she tries to pull you up from your bootstraps after you watched your car get stolen. It’s difficult to not get angry when you have worked 12 hours a day 7 days a week to afford to go to university and have it all literally stolen from you. But you know what I realized after each one of those things? I was still standing and I was laughing and I was persisting.Because in between all of these adversities, I was building homes with habitat for humanity and running half marathons and camping with friends in Yosemite National Park. There was a light at the end of the tunnel for my IC and my leg injury. I am healthier than I’ve ever been because I understand what my body needs. I may not have been able to run in the marathon representing the American Brain Tumor Association in honor of my father, but I still held the shoe drives to raise money for their cause. I may have lost a relationship I cared about, but my ability to walk away brought me closer to so many wonderful people who have joined my support system. My identity may have been stolen but my heart wasn’t. Resilience does not come easy. In fact, it comes with a lot of pain and a lot of patience. The point of this was not to encourage you to avoid the negative feelings that will come from experiencing hardship like COVID-19.

The point is that you lean into those feelings because they are what make you alive. You take those feelings, and you use them to produce a better outcome. Lean on your support system always. Nothing is worth tackling alone. Listen to podcasts like Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People where you can hear about what others are going through. Figure out what your values are so you have a foundation going into adversity and so you can always stand tall. More importantly, remember to challenge yourself to have gratitude for something in your life. I started doing this after my concussion and it has helped me to make sense of my past, bring peace to my present moment, and create vision for tomorrow. Keep all of your dreams and stand tall. The path may not be what you thought it would be when you started, but that is the adventure of it all. Remember my friends, þetta Reddast which in Icelandic means, it’s going to be fine..you will find a way.

Want resources for reorienting goals? Check out our COVID Page here.