The other day I went to a lupus support group to speak and sing and share, as they say in 12-step, my experience, strength, and hope.
There was one person in the meeting who was in a really tough place, and had got to the point where she was paranoid that wherever she went, people were going to lock her up just for being too sad. Of course she's sad- she has lupus, it's bad right now, and she is getting no support at home. And being in the Bronx, going to a clinic, they really might have locked her in a psych ward. Unfortunately, there is financial incentive for them to do so. But as we listened to her, it also became clear that she was working herself into a frenzy.
I've been there. When everywhere you turn, people are just sending you to voicemail, or telling you they have their own problems, or shoving you off onto someone else, it's very easy to have no hope and to get stuck. But this is the time when it's most important to find hope- when there seems to be none.
If you are fortunate enough to have friends (or even pets) who will love you unconditionally until you are past the crisis, you are blessed. Not all of us do. And even if you do, it's very important that you rely not just on them for your hope and your smiles and your motivation, but to find it from within.
Even the best of friends can't be there 24/7 and they can't crawl inside your head and battle those thoughts and feelings for you. That part of the battle, you must do on your own. And if you do not get up and fight, eventually you will drain the resources of those around you, and you will still be stuck.
I remember when I was very ill 10 years ago, I was listening to a friend tell me about this awful thing that happened 7 years before. She was so upset. I held her hand and listened. And then a few weeks later, she told me the story all over again, and I listened again. Now remember, here I am on 9 drugs, just had a stroke, can't get up and down one stair, so I'm trapped in the house, and I'm up most of the night because of neuropathy (nerve pain); I'm on medicaid, so I'm spending most of every day in a waiting room, waiting 2-4 hours for my appointment.
I had problems. We all have problems. But she was upset, so I listened. Until the 3rd time. By then I had watched her tell this story over and over to anyone who would listen. I realized she wasn't looking to solve them; she was just staying stuck, and anyone who listened was investing their energy and compassion, but making no difference, because she was stuck and would not do anything for herself.
That third time she started to launch into the same story, I said, "Listen. Do you think I like being on 9 drugs, with diuretics that make me poop in my pants, getting chemotherapy, having a hand that doesn't work, not being allowed to drive, unable to get up and down one stair, up all night in pain, and spending all damn day every day in the waiting room being ignored?" It stopped her in her tracks. It was totally out of character for me- I'm not confrontational. But I was tired of watching her sink into self-pity, drain me of energy, and then have her start up all over again at the drop of a hat. She said, "Oh. I guess other people do have problems."
I don't usually run around quoting the bible, but remember St. Paul? He suffered from something physical- we're not quite sure what- it was referred to as a "thorn in his side." But he learned to be content no matter what his circumstances. How? By choosing his thoughts. Yes, you can choose your thoughts. Meaning, you can choose which ones you focus on.
New International Version (NIV)
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
When I was told I would need new kidneys in 5 years, I cried for an hour. Then I got mad and said, "This is unacceptable. I will not accept this." And I started fighting again. At that point, I'd had lupus for 10 years, and I had tried dealing with it both ways: lying around hopeless, being a victim of the disease and my awful circumstances; and getting up and fighting. Getting up and fighting got much better results. So this time, instead of spending 6 months being sad and hopeless, I only needed an hour. I remembered what I was able to accomplish in reclaiming my health the first time, and I made an inner decision that I would again reclaim every single thing I had lost- and more, just for good measure. I'm no St. Paul, but I had figured out that every day if I focused on my progress instead of what I still couldn't do, I was motivated and hopeful.
In the movie "A Beautiful Mind," (based on a true story), professor John Nash descends into schizophrenia. There was a line in the dialogue near the end, that I found very interesting. He was eventually able to reclaim a great deal of his sanity, and it had a lot to do with choosing his thoughts. I don't have the script, but to paraphrase, "Yes, I still hear the voices. I just don't pay them much attention."
I'm not asking people to pretend their problems don't exist. I'm simply asking to also acknowledge that there are good things at the same time, and to try to give more attention to those things. When I wrote about the importance of gratitude in my book ("How Can You NOT Laugh at a Time Like This? http://tinyurl.com/348hroc ), I did not mention the above story about my friend with her "stuckness" because ... well, I didn't want to hurt feelings. (Hopefully, she doesn't read this blog.)
There is always something to be grateful for. And gratitude is one of the best ways to pull yourself out of a funk. When you feel the least grateful- that's when gratitude will help the most. For 21 days, commit to writing down 3 things that you are grateful for, when you get up, and right before you go to bed, It takes very little time, but you will notice a shift in your focus.
Yes, if you are looking for things to be upset about, you will find them. But the flipside is, if you are looking for things to be grateful for, you will find those too. It's all about retraining your mind to look for the latter. And the more you exercise gratitude, the easier it becomes. It becomes a healthy habit. Choose life. Choose hope. Choose gratitude.
Well wishes- Carla
*** If you or someone you know would like to live healthier, happier, more balanced life, e mail me for a free one-hour consultation: firstname.lastname@example.org . I am a holistic health coach! Talk to someone who has been there and is living well now. You've got nothing to lose, and everything to gain! Start living your best life. ***
Carla Ulbrich, The Singing Patient and Health Coach