Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Yes, it's possible to be hurting and happy
A few minutes ago, Dick said to me, "It's good to see you smiling." I said to him, "It's amazing. I'm in a lot of pain and I'm in a great mood."
He jokingly responded, "Well, if you can package that, you've got something to sell."
Maybe I do have something to sell, but I'm giving it away free. That's right, folks. Step right up and get it free. Today only! Free tips on happiness! Get them while they last!
What I could sell is a book, but it's a book that has been written many times before, and by people who are far more qualified than me (or is it I?) You see? I need an editor or a good book on grammar.
Sheesh. I'm really putting off getting to the point, aren't I? This subject is just too big, and I've been having some trouble writing lately. I used to be perfectly fine with my beating around the bush style of writing, but in spite of my being in a good mood, my lack of ability to distill my thoughts into terse sound bites is starting to annoy me. I know what I feel, but it's almost pre-verbal. That makes it quite hard to put into words.
If you've been following my blog, you know I have chronic pain problems, and suffer from moderate-to-severe depression. Right now, I can't even imagine being depressed. Everything feels perfectly fine. But it isn't.
Last week, I started to tell someone that one reason I was in a good mood is that I was feeling better physically. Then I realized that simply wasn't true. Not only is it not true, I'm feeling physically worse than I was when I was depressed. Every single depressive episode I've had in my adult life has been preceded by an increase in pain or a new ailment. So, why aren't I depressed?
That question makes it sound like I want to be. I can assure you that I do not.
Veering off course for a moment, the other day I was thinking about how most people are quite attached to their problems. It's not a criticism, but an observation. Our neuroses and quirks are part of our personalities, or so we think. Or perhaps we don't think that, but resistance to change is a major impediment for most folks. Somewhere inside, we think we'd disappear without the problems that make us who were are, even if they cause us pain.
Now, my physical pain has not disappeared, but my attitude towards it has changed. I finally stopped trying to run away from it. I don't like it, but I no longer rebel against it. This is not the same thing as complacency. I go to physical therapy, do the exercises they tell me to do, and spend quite a bit of time attending to my own care. But, I'm not unhappy while doing these things. Nor am I particularly bothered when, like earlier today, I discover that there is something I simply can't do. Once, I would have been very upset, maybe even cried a bit, when I saw that I was "disabled."
Today, as I limped and lurched into the house after foolishly carrying a heavy bucket of maple sap, I sat down, tried to massage my feet, discovered my thumbs hurt too much to do that, and then pulled on a pair of tighter compression socks. That helped. I had a cup of tea and relaxed for a while before doing some work.
Why am I re-telling this boring little bit of my day? Well, once, all of the above minor events would have caused me grief, but today they did not. It was the same yesterday, the day before, and the day before that, for the last month or so.
Something in me has essentially shifted. Every time I think a negative thought, a positive one pops up to follow it. At the same time, I tend not to see any thought as actually "negative" or "positive." They're just thoughts. It's the meaning I give them that makes them toxic or not. Thinking "I can't do a lot of things I used to do" has no inherent feeling attached to it.
You may think that's not true. How could one not feel bad about that? Well, I say, why should I feel bad? What good would it do me? None. Absolutely none at all. There's plenty I can still do. More than enough for a couple of lifetimes, in fact. Why should I add to my own suffering?
It all sounds very logical, but emotions don't often listen to logic. Yet, I've been practicing refuting my own bad logic, and this refutation has finally become a habit. It's as good for me as exercise, maybe even better.
There's so many things that one could be upset about. Every day is filled with problems and annoyances. I seem to have stopped seeing the cup as half empty. But, believe me, it's taken a very long time to get to this point. I generally don't even like to use the word "very", but not only have I done so, I've italicized it, for I don't want to give anyone the impression that any of this attitude changing stuff is easy. It's not. When I wrote I have practiced, I meant it. It takes practice, just like learning an instrument, or learning to read. You can't snap your fingers and change - poof! - and sorry, no, you can't just pop a pill and have everything be all right. Antidepressants don't stop the bills from landing in your mailbox, though I'm sure many wish they would.
It takes work to get over one's problems. Lots of it. It also takes faith. Not faith in something larger than oneself, but faith in the idea that one can change. Unfortunately, from what I can tell, a good majority of people think that if you're over 21 to 30 years of age, it's too late to change a thing. This is simply not so. We change every single day, whether we like it or not. When does it stop? When we die.
So, we can change simply by breathing, or we can participate in our lives more fully. Old thinking patterns are hard to break, but if I can quit smoking, I can do anything. Really. And so can you.
I'll continue this lecture another time. I want to do some knitting.
Image note: John James Audubon "Common Blue Bird" (probably an Eastern Bluebird)
On the old tv show, "Laugh-in", someone used to say "May the bluebird of happiness fly up your nose." I have no idea why.