Cathy Chester | An Empowered Spirit

How Adversity and Vulnerability Are Powerful Teachers

By the time you reach my age you’ve learned a lot about vulnerability and adversity. Unless you’ve been extraordinarily blessed there’s no way to avoid them. It’s no secret I was struggling with extra health issues for many months. This left me feeling a little blue and vulnerable. I was home for weeks on end, unable to drive due to MS and experiencing pain from SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth.)

I cancelled countless social and work-related engagements, unable to have an active life. Like Ferris Bueller said life moves pretty fast. I miss the old me.

To make matters worse I had to cancel a networking event sponsored by my employer, Health Union. I was really looking forward to it for months. It was a chance to finally meet the people I work for and the contributors I enjoy working with.


I was feeling pretty low when I decided to do something I often do when I need inspiration. I looked at a few TED Talks.

I was completely galvanized by Aimee Mullins, an American athlete and model, famous for her athletic achievements and born with a medical condition that resulted, at the tender age of one, in the amputation of both legs.

Aimee talked about looking at disability through a different lens than the definitions offered in dictionaries:


Credit: Webster’s New World Thesaurus, 1982. Courtesy of Aimee Mullins’ TED Talk “The Opportunity of Adversity”

Useless? Wrecked? Decrepit? I found myself grinding my teeth when I read this.

She explains her idea that:

“Adversity isn’t something we need to get around to live our life. It’s part of our life. Our responsibility is preparing for adversity and to meet it well. Adversity opens door for human potential.”

I encourage everyone to watch Aimee’s talk. It will empower you to think about the endless possibilities of what you can accomplish in your lifetime.

“Truthfully, the only real and consistent disability I’ve had to confront is the world ever thinking that I could be described by those definitions.” ~Aimee Mullins

I’d love to meet Aimee and give her a great, big hug for helping me change the way I see myself.

I also found inspiration with Brene Brown. She’s absolutely brilliant and I’ve listened to her speak hundreds of times. Her thoughts on humanity in “The Power of Vulnerability” always resonates with me. It’s about connection, heartbreak, the feeling of being excluded, shame, fear and being fully vulnerable.

These are subjects we may talk about on a therapist’s couch or to our closest friends. Otherwise they’re discussed in hushed tones. That’s nonsense. These feelings are experienced by the majority of people. We needn’t be ashamed of simply being human.

I often struggle with these emotions. It’s part of the fun of living with chronic illness!

As Brene says, “We’re imperfect and wired for struggle but are worthy of love and belonging.


She explains:

We need the courage to be imperfect,

To have compassion and kindness for ourselves first and then to others,

To have connection as a result of authenticity,

To let go of who we think we should be, and instead, be who we are.

We need to embrace vulnerability. It is the birthplace of joy, creativity, of belonging and love.

We need to let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen.

We need to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee.

Practice gratitude and joy.

Believe that we’re enough.


TED Talks are amazing. They can inspire, educate, encourage and give us hope. My spirits were lifted by these two intelligent, passionate women. I hope they’ll lift your spirits, too.

Thank you for allowing me the honor of sharing my journey with you. I hope by breaking myself open I’ve helped you feel better in some small way.

14 thoughts on “How Adversity and Vulnerability Are Powerful Teachers

  1. Kim Dolce

    Cathy, I’m glad you wrote about your feelings. I had to miss the #HUConnexion17 meeting, too, and for similar reasons. There were a few people I particularly wanted to hug and chat with, and you were one of them.

    The line that resonated for me the most: To let go of who I think I should be, and instead, be who I am. It’s been my biggest challenge. It’s hardest when I’m in the world and easiest when I’m by myself.

    So you’ve made me open up about myself here! Clever girl. You are an inspiring person indeed.Take care of yourself.

  2. Dana Buttler

    Hello Cathy,
    I found your blog via the Huffington Post article “A Path to Healing…” As a woman of 62 I appreciate your message and willingness to talk about your life. Though I do not face the same physical challenges you do, I am one who has experienced a fair amount of loss – much of it within my own family and their struggle of mental illness. For me, depression was my challenge and have found much of what you speak of to be healing and helpful. I am finally off anti-depressants- but it means I work hard each day to focus my mind on gratitude and get my body moving!

    I have been working on developing a daily spiritual practice of reading a variety of books and articles – Brene Brown is also one of my favorites- as well as other writers. Three people I would like to recommend are Mark Nepo , Tara Brach, and Linda Graham. I just finished Linda’s book Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being. It has been a life changer for me. I also have started reading up on mindfulness and the practice of self-compassion. Each morning before I head to work, I write 3 mantras for myself to recite throughout the day. The magazine Mindfullness is also a great resource for inspiration. Thank you for your work and inspiration. I am grateful for your courage and willingness to be vulnerable! Dana
    PS Another great book for gut issues (saved me) is the book Grain Brain by David Perlmutter. I stopped eating wheat and have eliminated almost all sugar – my arthritis is greatly improved and my GERD nearly non existant now. HUGE for me!

  3. Helene Cohen Bludman

    Brene Brown and Aimee Mullins are indeed inspirational — as are you, dear Cathy! You give hope to so many by sharing your personal struggles. Your empowered spirit will get you through the worst that life has to throw at you, I have no doubt. Love you, my friend.

  4. Claudia Schmidt

    Brene Brown and Ted Talks are wonderful resources, thanks for the reminders. I’m sorry to hear you’re having these recent health issues and hope you feel better soon. Hugs xoxo

  5. janet tancredi

    Cathy, I don’t believe that any one of your posts, has not impacted me in some way. I too have MS and am so sorry to hear about your trying few months! Usually, I am envious. You always seem to be doing so well. I use a walker or cane to aid myself for mobility. Just yesterday, My daughter who has been out of the country for six months, read me the riot act. She is much smarter than me. Safety should be our #1 priority! Being vulnerable is not a fault. I know you have many comments to read, so I will not continue. I so look forward to reading your posts. Be well! My mother use to say, “And this to shall pass!” Have a happy holiday. Janet

  6. Jo Ann Maxwell

    I loved these two Ted talks! It’s very interesting that I when I was listening to Aimee’s, I was doing physical therapy with those dreaded bands! I wrore in my recently published book, that we can only be disabled in our mind. I read a recent article in the MS connection magazine and one of the gentleman said that MS for him was Man Stud. For me MS means Made Strong. And I say that because now I am strong enough to be weak.

  7. Sheryl

    Cathy, You are amazing in the way you seek out help and then share it with others. So sorry you’ve been struggling; hope that you will get back to yourself. TED talks are pretty amazing, aren’t they?

  8. Dr. Margaret Rutherford

    I’ve watched Brene’s Ted Talks, and it’s no wonder that hers are some of the most downloaded talks ever. I have found that vulnerability is key to my own emotional and spiritual peace, as well as the only way to have true intimacy. I’ve watched on the sidelines Cathy as you’ve struggled for many months. I watch my own patients every day struggle with things that seem unbearable. I so appreciate that, when you find your creative and giving energy again, when you can overcome the pain and sadness that you feel enough to write, that you continue to do so. I’m talking about vulnerability this month as well… hugs and warmth coming your way.

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