What was your last serious trial? What did you learn from it? Is there a way to appreciate the value of a trial by fire?
If you are coping with a chronic or mental illness, you may feel that your struggles lead one right into the next. Even if that’s true, is there anything positive to be gained from trials?
This week we’re going to see what we can learn from the Jack Pine tree. For this tree, fire is a necessity. It might just be that at some point, a fire was equally important in your life.
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
The Voice of Speaking Bipolar
Welcome Speaking Bipolar. If you’re new here, let me tell you a little about myself. My name is Scott, and I am the voice of Speaking Bipolar.
I have to be the voice on here because I’m a terrible singer, and Adam Levine and Blake Shelton would never turn around for me.
Sorry, I’m getting a little off topic. Not uncommon for me.
As I write this post, I am almost 18 months into blogging. As such, I feel like I’m just now figuring out the basics. The main reason this blog was started was to offer validation and encouragement to others and help to get conversations about mental illness started.
Chronic and mental illness are part of my life every day. I’ve been blessed to have both Bipolar Disorder and Familial Mediterranean Fever. They indeed have been two of my fire-trials, but both have in their own way made me a better person.
Lessons From the Jack Pine
Jack Pines are a species of coniferous tree that grows in the forests of Canada and the midwest and northeast in the United States. The trees are sometimes also called scrub pines or grey pines.
Why are we learning about pine trees today? The reason is that this particular tree stands out among many in its family.
While most pines develop pinecones that open over time releasing their seeds, the Jack Pine produces a cone with a tight resin seal. Rain, weather, and time do not by themselves remove this wax covering, which means that the trees’ only hope of reproducing in under lock and key.
However, these unique pinecones are not indestructible. Rather, they just need a little encouragement to release their precious cargo. That little nudge must be a temperature equal to or greater than 122 °F (50 °C). Most often this help comes in the form of a literal trial by fire.
The best type of fire is not the raging destructive type that frequently makes the news. Instead, these trees need a low burning flame that stays close to the ground and never reaches the tree’s canopy. This burn is hot enough to release the cone’s seeds without doing serious damage to the trees or forest.
Trials by Fire That Produce Gifts
In many ways, we are all like the sealed cone of the Jack Pine. No, we don’t need intense heat to reproduce, but those flames often reveal just what we are capable of doing. Those new insights are our gifts.
Usually, you can’t see these gifts in the midst of a serious trial. Just like literal fire can be terrifying, the trials we face in life often are as well.
Living with multiple illnesses, I often feel like I am being thrown from one burning flame to the next. If you are a mental illness warrior or spoonie, you know exactly what I mean.
One of the recent flames that has been nipping at my heels has to do with anxiety. I live in a near-constant state of anxiety that frequently makes leaving the house, being in public, and driving extremely difficult.
Some months ago, I asked my doctor if there was anything we could do to improve things. I don’t have the luxury of not working, so leaving the house and driving are daily necessities. Add to that, I drive for my aged parents a couple of times a week.
My doctor decided that I should try a new medicine. Short story, it was a terrible idea. You can read the details here.
Now that some months have passed, I can see the seeds that were released from that trial.
The World Looks Different
When a fire sweeps through a forest, even one of these healthy burns, things will look drastically different afterward. Health, money, and relationship trials might scorch our figurative earth and make us feel like we’re in a foreign land once it’s passed.
That’s how I felt. In the midst of the worst of the increased anxiety brought on by the medication, I felt like things were constantly spinning and slightly blurred.
When things started to slow down again and I finally started to feel more like my normal self, my world looked different.
In reality, nothing had changed, at least not on the outside. Instead, my perception of things was different.
My life couldn’t stop when things were at their worst, so I found a way to push myself forward to do most of the things expected of me. Granted, I missed more than a few events and several days of work, but by and large, I kept going.
The lesson of knowing what I did to keep going now makes it obvious when others around me are struggling, especially if they are coping with anxiety or another mental illness.
I never really bought into the whole empath-thing in the past, but now I can’t help but wonder if there is some truth to it. There are times I can walk into a room and everyone in the room will be laughing and smiling, but my attention immediately goes to one person. In that instant, I can feel their anxiety and turmoil.
My world is truly different.
Look For Your Gifts
When the fire in the forest burns out, the seeds of the Jack Pine are not easy to find. They are there, in the newly altered soil, ready to start a new life, but you have to look for them.
Likewise, when the worst of your trial lets up, it may take some looking to see what gifts you’ve gained.
It might be that you’ve gained new empathy. There could be a friend or family member that you grew closer to during the ordeal or learned to see a new side of them. Sometimes your seed is a new sense of calm or peace in knowing that a terrible thing happened, but you survived it.
Whatever it might be, if you truly look for it, you will find some seed that makes you or your world just a little bit better.
Interestingly, the Jack Pine cone will release its seed in one other circumstance – intense cold. In fact, temperatures that drop to −51 °F ( −46 °C) will cause the cone’s wax to become brittle and break, thus releasing the seeds.
Similarly, not all trials look the same. Just because you don’t see flames doesn’t mean that you’re not in the midst of one.
This week, set a little time aside to think about your last “trial by fire.” How did it change your life? What new things did you learn about yourself? What did you learn about other people?
If you are in the midst of a trial or just stepping out of one, it may be hard to see anything. In the moments after a forest fire burns out, there’s still smoke and ash and soot to deal with, so don’t beat yourself up if things aren’t clear right away.
Still, make sure that you do take a moment to think things over. Look for subtle differences in the way you feel or act or the things you notice in others. Watch how your heart and mind respond when you talk with loved ones and reflect on if there are any changes.
There is no doubt that with a little contemplative thought, you will find some gifts, some small seeds, that were released by your last trial.
As the old adage goes, “What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.” Recognize the strengths you’ve gained and celebrate the victory. Yes, surviving a trial by fire is a great win.
If you feel comfortable, please share your new insights with others. Come back to this post and leave your thoughts in the comments below or send me a note through the Contact Page.
In the meantime, keep fighting. You’ve got this.
Before you go, check out this video: