The survival instincts of a cockroach

Originally Published April 2010 – www.butterfly consultations


Quite often when I am asked to speak to a group about motivation or working through adversity, I start off my speech the same way. I ask everyone in the room to close their eyes and promise not to open them. Then I tell them that I am going to ask them a series of questions and if they can answer yes to the question they are to raise their hand knowing that everyone else in the room has their eyes closed too and can’t see their answer. Then the questions start.

Have you ever watched a family member suffer with and die from a terminal disease? 

Have you ever had to explain the death of a parent to your children?

Have you ever had to deal with infidelity? Domestic Abuse?

 Have you ever been diagnosed with a mental illness?

Have you ever had to wonder where you were going to spend the night because you had no money and no where to go?  

Have you ever lost someone you loved to  suicide? 

Have you ever wondered if you were going to get beaten when you got home?

Have you ever gone to bed hungry because there just wasn’t any food?  

Have you ever had to cope with sexual abuse or abuse of any kind when you were a child?   

Have you ever seriously attempted suicide because you thought the world would really be better off without you?

Have you ever been abandoned by a parent? 

Have you ever watched your child in the hospital – not knowing if they were going to live or not?

Have you ever been raped?

Have you ever been a single parent, working and going to school with no help physically or financially?

Have you ever been institutionalized?

Have you or your spouse ever had a miscarriage?

Have you ever watched someone die violently?

Have you ever had to choose between paying rent or feeding your child?

Have you ever had to bury a spouse?

Have you ever been told you could never have children naturally?

Have you ever been addicted to a drug of any kind?

Sometimes I ask all the questions – sometimes only a few depending on the crowd but they never vary much. Then I ask everyone to put their hands down and open their eyes. I ask them to think seriously about the questions that they did say yes too and then keep in mind for the rest of the conference that I said yes to all of them. Every single one.

The reason I tell people these things isn’t for sympathy or pity – those are two things I don’t want, don’t need and don’t ever give – I am open about my history in order for people to understand where I have come from and how I have gotten to where I am without sitting locked up in a padded room in a white jacket babbling to myself. I think it is important for people to know who it is that is trying to motivate them or else we all tend to revert to the same train of thought when we see someone sharing secrets of success… “Oh sure, that’s easy for YOU to say but you don’t know what I have to deal with…” You know we do it – we all do it, even me.

I have never once thought that there was no one in the world worse off than me – I actually tend to see myself as quite lucky because I know how dark and ugly the world can be and I know that I escaped suffering the worst of it and other weren’t so fortunate. Not that it has been easier – it hasn’t even been close to that – but as you overcome one obstacle and put some distance between you and it – you start to see it for what it was and not what it seemed while you were encompassed in it. So often we are suffocated by a situation we can’t see past it – we lose all perspective, all positivity and start thinking that there is nothing else BUT the problem when really, no matter how big it may be – it is just one part of us, one part of our lives that will eventually make us a stronger person. I know now that ‘What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.’ NOW I know that – I didn’t always and their were times in my life I thought my problem or my situation was really going to kill me – other times, I prayed that it would.

And yet here I am. 35 years old, newly married to an amazing man who knows everything there is to know about me, knew it before we even met and still chose to marry me ;), I have two amazing kids – a 16 year old son that I raised on my own starting at 19 – working my way through school while supporting the both of us with no family support of any kind and a 4 year old daughter conceived through IVF after I discovered in 2001 that I would never be able to conceive naturally again after an incredibly brutal miscarriage. Is life perfect?? Not at all. But I know from experience that things could be a lot worse and I am so thankful for what I have today and that I have the ability to see the gifts in my life because I have something to compare it to.

There are hardships to having a life like mine of course – scars that are both physical and emotional that I can’t always hide when I want to and have to battle with sometimes daily, but their are also great benefits. I watch others who seem almost paralyzed with problems that compared to the ones I have overcome seem trivial – I know they aren’t to them, but to mean they often seem silly and I am grateful for the inner strength I have achieved knowing that no matter what happens to me, I can and always will survive it. An old friend used to tell me that I had the survival instincts of a cockroach – I used to think it was an insult but now looking back with a few more years between now and then, I know better.

I do have the survival instincts of a cockroach and I am so very very happy that I do because no matter what obstacles come my way, I know I will overcome and outlast them – I have done it before and I will do it again and again and again for as long as I need to. When something bad does happen – like our failed IVF attempt this month 🙁 – I give myself a day or two to say ‘Why me! Haven’t I suffered enough?’ I shake my firsts at the fates, I rant, I rave and I cry. But then like a cockroach that’s been stepped on – I pick myself back up and say “Why me? Because I am strong enough to handle it and the next person may not have been” and I carry on.

Everything happens for a reason and I know that if I can spare just one person an iota of the pain I suffered in my journey from there to here, than everything I have endured will have served its purpose.


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