The Ways We Struggle guest series – Struggling To Be by Janet Gurtler

Today I’m pleased to be introducing a series of guest posts you’ll see here on my blog between now and April: The Ways We Struggle.

The idea for the series came about through the meeting of two thoughts. One was that The Way We Fall is all about different kinds of struggles — Kaelyn’s struggle to survive, to protect her friends, and to keep hope, and also her initial struggle to get past her social anxieties and become a person she’s happier being. The other thought was that, as an author, I often shy away from talking about the difficult parts of my life, and I’ve heard many other authors mention doing the same. I think most of us — maybe most public figures in general — feel we need to put forward a positive front, so we don’t come across as whiny or ungrateful for the many great things we do have. Yet I know that I find it incredibly inspiring to see someone talking about things they’ve struggled with, and either continue to deal with or have overcome. And I suspect I’m not the only one.

So I asked several awesome authors if they would be willing to write about what they’ve struggled with, and happily most of them agreed! Every Friday for the next few months, they’ll be sharing their stories. I hope you’ll find them as inspiring as I do.


The first The Ways We Struggle post is coming to you courtesy of Janet Gurtler, author of the contemporary YA novels I’m Not Her and If I Tell, and the upcoming Who I Kissed. Janet lives in Calgary Alberta, near the Canadian Rockies, with her husband and son and a chubby Chihuahua named Bruce. She does not live in an Igloo or play hockey, but she does love maple syrup and says “eh” a lot. Today she reveals that what she’s most struggled with is her own self.


Struggling To Be by Janet Gurtler

It’s kind of amusing to me that I had to twist my brain to decide which struggle in my life to write about. It seems like there’s just so many darn choices. Which is kind of funny because that also made me worry that I’m kind of a cry baby about things. Because really, in the overall scheme of life, I’ve got it pretty good. I have my health, my family is healthy and as far as the big picture goes, I do not want for things. I’ve got it pretty good compared to many others. And that is not a braggy braggster comment. I’m thinking of people who don’t have homes. People who have lost limbs or loved ones. People who have terminal illness. Limited time to live. Poverty. Hunger. Those are true struggles.

And yet, big or small, there’s so many ways we can struggle in the world. I know, because I’ve done it. And so in my quest to write about struggling, I turned to the literal definition of struggle to see where I sat. (Yes. I googled it.)

Verb: “To make forceful or violent efforts to get free of restraint or constriction.”
Noun: “A forceful or violent effort to get free of restraint or resist attack.”

Oh my. Now those are juicy definitions for a word that I’ve always imagined as kind of flat and passive. I do like the image of being forceful about freeing myself from a struggle. Forget something like the difficulty of losing those last ten (okay maybe 20 these days) pounds. I can’t be violent about that. I can’t say it’s a struggle to lose weight when in my case it’s more that I don’t want to have to give up the food I love. No violence there. Choice. I exercise. I drink lots of water, but I really don’t want to restrain my sweet tooth. So I’m not really struggling.

I think my struggles in life have always had more of an internal slant. Lack of confidence. Sometimes I am my own worst enemy.

I am a person with a very addictive personality. I know that about myself now and I’ve learned to respect it. But when I was younger it wasn’t as easy. When I picked up my first cigarette, I had no idea how difficult it would be to kick the habit once I had it. Quitting smoking was truly a struggle. The addiction itself was partly emotional and self-inflicted, yes, but it took serious effort to break free of that nasty nicotine addiction. It’s been almost 15 years.

The same with drinking. I was never a person who drank every day. But I was that person we all know, the one whose personality completely changes after a few drinks. And not in a good way. And for whatever reason, genetic or whatever, once I had one drink I lost control. I lost the ability to stop. I was very shy as a teenager and young adult, but alcohol gave me liquid courage. I struggled to accept myself for who I was, versus the person I wanted to be. Alcohol made me who I thought I wanted to be. Except it didn’t. And that led to bad choices. And even lower self-esteem.

It took a lot of time and yes, a lot of struggle to walk away from drinking. Almost 17 years ago. It is the one thing in my life I think I am most proud of, but that I don’t talk about very often. It’s not who I am anymore. When I stopped drinking, I stopped hating who I was. I learned to respect myself. To believe I was an okay person. It led me to become the person I really was and to accept that person. It eventually led me back to writing. It was worth the struggle. I freed myself from the restraints. Now if only I could give up carbs.


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