A Personal Invitation to Feel Better

Adam Henley - ready for dinner

People often look at me, and think “man, that guy is so lucky”. I come across like a man on the move. But, people don’t know the origin of my dream. The day I wanted success more than anything else. It was a crisp Spring day in 2012. I had just arrived alone at a crowded banquet hall. No one said hi to me, and I’m pretty sure everyone noticed that my suit jacket was two sizes too big. Why was I there? I anxiously looked around. It’s obvious that I don’t fit in… maybe I can just find my seat and avoid everyone. I started to feel shaky, sweaty and nauseous. Immediately after brunch was served, I quietly left out a side door.

But, on that crisp Spring day, my absence was noticed far more than I had imagined. Not knowing I had the highest mark in the insurance management program at MacEwan University at the time, I skipped out on a fundraising breakfast that I of course was the subject of. The recipient
⁠— the most distinguished Adam Henley — was now missing as distinguished guests spoke. The crowd couldn’t have known, but my body had failed me that day. It just couldn’t differentiate between being surrounded by strange animals in a jungle and strange humans at that banquet. I felt under threat.

It sounds rather odd, but that banquet was the beginning of my emergence.

The Day I Was Rejected

Prior to entering the insurance program, I was actually a “rising star” in a Ph.D. program. Tenured professors casually mentioned how I would be the youngest Ph.D. nursing student to graduate at the UofA. I loved that people thought I was a “know-it-all” and took great pride in my academic dominance. I was passionate about advancing clinical practice, and was assigned to help some very accomplished professors with their research. People thought I was nice (especially my patients) but also rather pompous. I carried a youthful arrogance at the time.

But, then… the “unthinkable” happened.

One day, I walked out of a seminar room but had forgotten to pick up my beautiful red laptop. I quietly returned to the classroom. I don’t think others noticed me, as the smartest students were chatting with the professor. It wasn’t nice either. I call this my “spiritual dis-intunement” because at that very moment I went from a state of pompousness to painful awareness of how little people liked me. Within seconds, I suddenly “saw” how I actually had no friends. No people to enjoy coffee with. No professors to mentor me. No clinicians to collaborate with. My manager couldn’t even provide unpaid time off to write an exam without bartering in return.

I was not only rejected. I was disinvited. And, within six months of this realization, it was like the cancer that grew within me. It jaded my experience. I finished my remaining courses and dropped out of graduate school. I told myself that I would fit in better as an insurance actuary.

The Emergence of a Wounded Healer

Of course, crossing over to the “dark side” of insurance analytics just wasn’t in the cards. I found myself intrigued with the mathematics of covering flood risks, and studied loopholes in standard property contracts. Ironically, it was through memorizing impersonal insurance contracts that I re-connected with my essence as a healer. People started sitting next to me on the LRT just to talk. Homeless people smiled at me exponentially more then they did other strangers. I felt called to listen to their struggles and sorrows when I had time. They talked of their pain and rejection. I was broken enough, rejected enough and failed enough (perhaps angry enough) that I listened with true reverence.

By September 2015, my brother was finally getting married. I had really looked forward to that trip… and had really set my expectations at reconnecting with my family. (Maybe my family would beg me to stay in Ontario for a bit longer…. there were lots of maybes.) Nothing of the sort happened. People were so busy connecting, that I felt almost on the side-lines that weekend. (It probably didn’t help that I was seated at a side table at the wedding reception… far removed from my immediate family.) Years of selfishly trying to make it out West seemed to have cost me the connection with my family. All I could think is that they too didn’t care about my struggle to make it. I kept it together that night, and went to bed in my beautiful hotel room. But, I felt so rejected. So alone.

The next morning, I looked at my partner who was sleeping so beautifully in the bed next to me but honestly never felt so alone. We woke up rather early, and were the first to get breakfast at the hotel. No one joined our table. My sister and parents were busy looking at photos together in the lobby. They smiled and waved at me from a distance. I left that wedding with such disappointment in people I loved for being absent. But, once again, that determination within me grew. If I really have to rely on myself, I really needed to “step it up”.

The Basilica and the Defect

After some deep introspection on my flight back to Alberta, I made a point of going back to Church. After mass, I sheepishly lined up to confess my sins. My lack of love for my family over the years. My selfish pursuit of knowledge. The fact I was gay. I confessed my hate for my brother and the wedding table he seated me at. My hate of all the pain my patients & homeless people faced. I left that confessional somewhat surprised that I only was asked to say 10 Hail Mary’s and 5 Our Father’s. I stayed in a pew for at least an hour after reconciliation to pray.

My religious fervor lasted a few months. I prayed for a mansion. I prayed to love my partner more intently, and to eventually get married in the Church. Most importantly, I prayed to become a great healer. I also prayed that my partner would get a better job. I still remember this because that same day my partner got a call from a recruiter to offer him the job he still has today.

I could not ask for a better story of creation. My own distance from family and friends has created such inner strength and resilience. I’ve been given the freedom to re-define my own mind-set and worldview, which is key to discovery and innovation. Even though we are such different people, my partner’s loyalty and dedication during this time solidified my love for him more than I could have imagined.

I also owe a tremendous debt to my patients for recognizing my gifts (often more than I did) and always uplifting my spirit at the most perfect times. That indebtedness has always empowered me to serve my patients more selflessly, and to help them also see the silver linings in almost any difficult situation.

To me, healing has always started with me. Not with my family. Not with friends, or colleagues. Particularly, healing has always involved me extending an invitation to myself to accept things for how they are. Saying “I can’ do better” and “Life can be better” has helped me build amazing goals in my life. Essentially refusing to accept a negative situation without first trying to make it better.

Today, I’d like to forward this invitation to you as well. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be strong. May you be at ease. And, most importantly, may you invite yourself to heal.

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