Courage. Persistence. Grit. Backbone. Spunk. Heart. Tenacity.
There’s a lot of synonyms for the word determination.
Obstacles are never in short supply when you suffer from a chronic illness. Determination is the willingness to overcome those obstacles. It’s reaching deep down inside to that place where you keep your spark, and using it to push back a little. It’s prioritising your energy, making changes and adjustments that allow you to do things that are important to you.
But I recently learned that there’s a very fine line between determination and stubbornness.
If determination is the willingness to overcome obstacles, I think stubbornness is pretending those obstacles don’t exist. It’s inflexibly sticking to your own ideas or desires even when that becomes a negative thing for you.
I went camping with family and friends this past week. Whenever I manage to make it camping, I’m always determined to go on at least one small walk with my husband. I don’t just want to sit around the campsite; I want to get out into the rainforest and hear the birds singing. I want to smell the damp leaves and marvel at the size of the trees. I love camping and hiking; they were a big part of my childhood, but something I rarely do now that I’m sick. So I packed my hiking boots and hiking poles for the walk, and instant heat packs and pain killers for the ‘aftermath’.
I spent the first few days resting. On the third day, as we were getting ready for bed, Mr Happy casually mentioned that he was planning on going for a hike in the morning with some of our camp mates. “I’ll come too,” I told him, thinking that the walk he named was a short one. I felt a twinge of anxiety; usually I just hike with Mr Happy, and then it doesn’t matter if I need to slow the pace, or to stop and rest numerous times. But I brushed it off, telling myself it would be good bonding time. I had my hiking poles to lean on, and the walk wasn’t too long. I’d be fine.
Although the others were leaving before they had breakfast, I made sure I ate before we left the next morning. I get severe nausea if I postpone breakfast – not the way you want to start your day. I laced up my boots, and got my hiking poles out of the car. I hesitated for a moment, my pride peeking out. The poles look dorky, like I think I’m a ‘professional hiker’ or something. In reality, they give me something to lean on as I walk, helping me to balance and taking some of the pressure off my damaged hips and knees. I squashed my pride back down, and told myself to stop being silly. I wanted to go on this walk, and the poles helped me do that, so who cared what they looked like, or what other people would think?
We headed off. Somehow, while chatting with my camp mates, I missed reading the sign as we walked past. That sign would have told me that the walk we were doing was a six kilometre hike (that’s 3.7 miles for those of you not using the metric system). If I’d seen it, determined as I was to go on a walk, I would have stopped right there and said, “Hang on guys, I thought you were doing a short walk before breakfast. 6km is way too far for me. I’ll hang back at camp, and do a shorter walk later today”.
But I missed the sign, so I started the walk. That’s when my pride started leaking out again, and I made my first mistake: I carried my poles, but didn’t use them. They make a clunking sound when they hit the ground, and I was embarrassed. Then I made my second, and worst, mistake: I walked along with the group, and didn’t tell them that the pace was too fast for me. They weren’t ambling along the path like I do when I hike with Mr Happy, stopping to look at the beautiful flowers and the tiny hopping birds. They were speed walking. It wasn’t long before I wasn’t able to keep up. I started using my poles out of necessity. I still struggled to keep up. The world started to grey and spin, and the path was zooming in and out of focus. I felt sick. I clearly wasn’t well enough to do the walk at this pace. I wasn’t even enjoying myself. But. I. would. not. stop.
I’d crossed the line. I was no longer being determined to overcome the obstacles that would prevent me from going on an enjoyable walk through the bush. I was stubbornly insisting to myself that I could keep up on a hike with healthy people. I was pretending that the obstacles didn’t even exist, as though if I just ignored them, they would go away.
I started to make excuses to rest. Let’s stop and look at that beautiful tree! Oh, I need to take a photo of this flower! Eventually, we reached the cascades we’d been hiking to see. We all rested for a while, and then started to head back. But there was no way I could keep up on the return journey. Even with my poles to lean on, I hobbled along slowly. My hips were in excruciating pain. I was dizzy, and I could taste blood. Initially, the group would stop and wait for me to catch up. But I eventually fell so far behind that, after waiting for a while, they just headed back to camp for breakfast.
Mr Happy stayed with me, gently pushing me up any slight incline or steps. It took a long time, and I stopped many times and begged him to just leave me in the middle of the path. I told him I’d just live there, in the middle of the rainforest, since I couldn’t make it back. He’d just smile, and offer to hike back to camp and get the hammock, and some food, and then hike back to me, so I could spend the day resting before trying to finish the walk back. But I didn’t want him to have to do the extra distance, since he’s not 100% at the moment either. And I just really wanted to get back to camp and lie down.
Eventually, we made it back.
But my stubbornness cost me.
The rest of the day was a write-off. The night was long and tearful, filled with agonising pain. The next day, my damaged hips had seized up, and I could barely move. I had to keep taking painkillers. I mostly slept in the tent, and missed out on enjoying the outdoors, and spending time with my friends and family.
I’m still recovering now. I expect I will be for some time. Looking through the lens of hindsight, it was a silly thing to do. But, my experience has taught me a lot about the difference between determination and stubbornness. I’ve also learned that when my pride comes out to play, it generally tips the scale from the productive to the costly.
Determination is positive. It’s the reason you can face challenges without crumpling into a heap. Determination says, “This is important to me, I’m going to find a way to make it work”.
Stubbornness is negative. You totally lose sight of what the battle will cost you, or whether it’s even worth fighting. You just get stuck in the circumstance saying, “I’ll do this or die trying”.
From now on, I’m going to be asking myself a lot more questions.
“Is this important to me?”
“What will this achieve?”
“What is this going to cost me?”
“Is it worth it?”
“Could my pride be affecting my judgement about this?”
“Am I being determined, or just plain stubborn?”