When your strengths make you weak

Jean Jullien

It’s 2 a.m.

I was tossing on the bed, yawning till my eyes watered and yet, there I was. No closer to sleep. I opened my palms, laid straight and imagined myself relaxing one muscle at a time. The corpse position. That usually worked, and I’d wake up in the morning. It was not to be – ten minutes later, my eyes were still brighter than an owl’s.

Darn it.

Before lights out, I was doing a search on my phone for harnesses. Specifically, dog harnesses that would help Bessie (my 12-year old dog) retrain and regain the use of her back legs. Nerve damage, the vet said. Arthritis was another. She couldn’t control her left leg last Wednesday, and her right leg is stiff, so getting up was a challenge. She’s not in danger of any sort (except for wounding her backside from all the dragging around she’s doing), so that’s my consolation.

My mind spins all the time. It goes into overdrive when I need to do something. Anything. Especially when it has to do with family. And Bessie is family. Sure, she’s not dying, or in pain. But the crux of being (too) creative for my own good and taking no for an answer is at the back of my mind, there’s always a voice that says “what else can I do?”.

So my Google search history is rife with keywords like “dog”, “harness”, “back legs”, “DIY”, “nerve damage”, “how to heal” and “physiotherapy”; in multiple combinations. My mind makes a mental tally of the materials I have on hand that could be fashioned into a sling that would support her back legs while she walked. Tough cotton calico, some bag straps, or how about that unused tote bag that I could tear the sides of, so that it could support her weight and save my back at the same time? I made quite a number of iterations on the design – all of it in my head. Velcro, knots, and sewing. It felt like I watching Project Runway for canine accessories.

I was reminded of the time when Cookie was ill. I had educated myself on canine cancer so well that I could understand the vet when she voiced out medical jargon, I knew exactly what she meant, and I spoke the same lingo effortlessly.

When I woke up the next day, lethargic and dazed after not sleeping well (for the past week), I realised I have a problem.

“I might be suffering from anxiety”, I told Mr. T.

And it’s caused entirely by myself. I like things to be organised, and to me it’s because I like to have some semblance of control over what I do. The loss of it has the ability to freak me out on a subconscious level. And when I say control, I meant over myself (not other people!)

Waiting, to me is painful. Because I can’t just sit there and fidget. I need to do something. Anything, that can help the situation. Don’t even get me started on my optimism, which I’ve heard from some people can be too infectious for my own good. And so I look at things from every conceivable angle – down to the downright silly. I formulate a Plan A, B, and C. I come up with plans and explanations for myself as a coping mechanism when things go wrong. And always, always a backup plan. There’s no such thing as not trying in my vocabulary.

This skill that I’m good at – thinking and creating solutions to problems – has been the bedrock of what I do. I love to analyze, think and contemplate. I love to measure and experiment. It’s made me sharper; as teacher and student. I can parse information and data to arrive at a hypothesis. I can see (and prove) if they’re true, through many different ways.

But when it comes to matters of the heart, this skill of mine, has turned me into a ball of mess inside. I feel like throwing up randomly. When I stop what I’m doing. While lying in bed. It manifested in me getting massive motion sickness at a movie. Bessie isn’t data nor information. She’s furry, black and brown. She doesn’t like hugs. She’s my first dog. She’s seen me as a university student, struggling to finish my final project – and stayed up with me. She’s the first to greet our family in the morning and when we come home from work. And I’ve short-circuited myself by thinking too much. The equation that I’m seeking can never be found; it can never add up to an equal or finite amount, because it’s not tangible.

So my new plan is to just do everything I can, and hope for the best. It’s also time to exercise more as well, as it usually helps disperse my worry-wart tendencies and calms me down. It’s easier for me to focus on other things instead of myself (I bet it’s the same for a lot of you out there), so I need to remind myself every now and then that it’s okay to slow down and take a breath. Optimism is totally fine, except when it’s bordering on denial.

I’ve learned that my ability to rein myself in emotionally is merely an illusion, especially when it comes to furry folk, family and friends. And maybe that’s okay. For everything else though, it’s game on.


What about you? Do you have a strength that can also be your weakness? What’s your paradox? Share with me your stories (so I won’t feel so alone!)

[Illustration: Dog by Jean Jullien]

7 Replies to “When your strengths make you weak”

  1. Adri says:

    I love reading your emails, they are so uplifting. I share your “need to do something at all times” problem but I also have a “I can do it myself” problem!

    I had a breakthrough this month, though. I am re-building my website and usually when I encounter a problem I watch videos and read tutorials to learn how to fix the problem. I finally just said this is a waste of my time, I can pay someone who already knows this and save myself hours of work and frustration for a quick fix. And because of that I have sped up my production time and saved myself a lot of stress.

    In the three hours it would have taken me to figure out all the stuff I made art to put on my new site!

    Keep up the lovely work!

  2. Izzy says:

    Hi Amy.
    When it comes to someone I love, I become a mess as well, especially when it comes to furry folk. I completely understand you. Honestly, im a rather lazy person and i hate conflict so im the type that brushes things off. But when it comes to someone i love i become a madman.
    Right before I moved to LA about a year ago (to pursue what maybe mydream, not sure anymore) , my dog developed a strange lump, he wasnt in any pain and acted totally fine but it drove me insane. I researched every possibilty and saved up enough money so that my parents could take him to the vet since i wasnt gonna be around. Luckily it was just a lump of grease that every older dog gets, he is 13 now so it was expected.
    Luckily he’s happy as can be and very healthy, the only sign of his older age is the lump and some grey hairs. But i had quite a scare and cried a lot not knowing what it was or what to do.
    So what Im trying to say is good luck and try not to drive yourself crazy. Just how your pup stood by you with a smile when you were down its your turn to do the same. I hope you’re able to construct an apparatus to make your dogs getting around easier.
    As for a strength thats become a weakness, ive always been the type to follow my dreams but have a plan as well. A few years ago my plans started back firing on me, so i decided to just follow my heart and dreams, but the unknowingness of it all drew me nuts and backfired on me as well. So this week has been a week of breakthroughs and contemplation. How I intend to fix it is by figuring out what i truely want and taking baby steps towards it but also not overwhelming myself and being open to deviations. Its hard but maybe if i write things down i can make all my jumbled up thoughts make some sort of semi linear sense.
    Sorry for the rant, ive been all over the place and ive never written a comment on a blog post before. Something about this one spoke to me, probably because it had to do with your dog. Anyways much luck and love to you and extra love to Cookie. Have a good one 🙂

  3. Tim Hupkes says:

    Hi Amy,

    I was really moved by your story. I hope you’ll find the perfect solution for Bessie! I know all about animals growing old and getting problems, it’s hard on the heart sometimes.

    As far as my own weaknesses/strenghts go… I (very) recently discovered that the (excentric) need to improve my way to go about things made me do just that AND have me take a closer look. Resulted in realizing I can do more and am stronger than I thought. Not a bad result. 🙂


  4. Melissa says:

    Wow, Amy.

    You sound a lot like me! Maybe creative minds work this way? We drive ourselves bonkers with things even we can’t control!

    Two years ago my elderly cat was diagnosed with kidney failure, cardio myopathy, and hyperthyroidism. In other words: She’s dying. Two years later, she is 18 years old, and even though she will never get better, she’s 18! A true testament that I did a good job as a cat mommy. YET, I STILL toss and turn at night and every free minute I get I am researching what ELSE I CAN DO!!!! Am I giving her the right food? The right amount? Should I home cook her food? Vitamins? What kind of supplements? The list goes on and on.

    So, in a sense, I know what you are going through. Hang in there. You are a good doggie Mommy. And not resting will make you sick and then you won’t be your top notch self to take care of Bessie. I really should listen to my own advice!

  5. Zoe Strout says:

    I get it and you are not alone. I wrote about anxiety- related sleep deprivation only yesterday! Still love your emails. 🙂 https://hoodlumfriends.wordpress.com/2015/06/22/the-anger/

  6. Hi Amy
    I totally get it!
    I find being anxious about things that you can’t control quite normal almost…its hard to accept that it is that way. But, also I try to exercise taking my head out of the spinning and just be in the moment, focus on the here and now, and try some yoga poses where your head lowers below the heart. That *sometimes* works 🙂 hope you’ll sleep better soon and hugs to your dog! Cx

  7. Sheryl says:

    I have lost many furry creatures in my life and all of them are in my memories and heart so they are always with me. I see my faults and have a difficult time knowing my strengths. I know I like to inspire people to sketch, and I like to share what I know. I have a lot of enthusiasm about art. I try to inspire others but many times get a Luke warm response.i like to sketch but I don’t like to do much else. I guess I miss out on doing things with my husband because of that. We can control how we think and that helps deal with how we feel. Thanks for your thoughts!

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