Good evening, my friends. I begin by acknowledging that you might see something familiar in today’s blog; in either my first or second book (I think the first), I did a blog about “Resignation and Acceptance,” and some of the things you’ll read here today may seem reminiscent of that blog. For those of you not familiar with my first two years’ worth of experiences in the Land of Lung Junk, nor my website, I invite you to take a look around- I’m kinda proud of my site that the fabulous Kim Phillips put together for me, and you should have a look!
So, I start by telling you about a psychological study I learned about as a psychology and elementary education student at Tulane University back in the early 1980′s. It seems a bunch of researchers were interested in how boundaries affected children when they were playing. They conducted a two-pronged experiment. First, they took kids outside through a house, where there was a wide open yard, no fences, just open space, and told the kids they could just play to their hearts’ content. In the second prong, the group of kids was taken through a house to a big yard, but this time, the yard was fenced in on all sides. It was still a large space to play in, there was just a fence all around it. The researchers observed the kids, and noted that in the first group, the kids kind of congregated near the house, near the door they had come out of. They played, but meekly and in bunches near the house, like they were afraid to explore the yard. But the second group, the one in the fenced area, utilized every inch of the space available to them. They ran and jumped and had a blast in the whole yard, nobody hanging out meekly by the door. The researchers concluded that boundaries are actually very good things for children; they make them feel safe and make them aware of their limitations, and then allow them to make the most of the space they’re given.
I share this with you because I feel the need to tell you about how it is that I’m doing so gosh-darned well these days, even living with Lung Junk, even living with limitations. It seems a lot of people I know are dealing with having to adapt to things lately, too: changing jobs, changing schools, moving, dealing with change of income, going back to work, not being able to work, looking for work, starting relationships, ending relationships, dealing with a diagnosis, etc. I feel like I can help a little bit, knowing what I know now, so here goes:
I spent the better part of the last year and a half feeling pretty sorry for myself. Seriously, despite my upbeat blogs and generally cheery attitude, inside, I twisted a lot about just what cancer was doing to mess up my life. I continually thought about all the things it was slowly robbing me of: my energy, my strength, my routine, my hopes for the future, my ability to be the extremely active, Type A person I always prided myself in being. It turned me from a productive member of the working class society into a person on Disability, and as time went on, it took more and more. Like chemo that took my energy and my hair (although both came back), and progressive disease that sapped me of all my strength, and combined with radiation therapy, literally scared me into thinking I was going to die. And how can we forget all the fires that continually needed to be put out, and the treatments that seemed so promising, but didn’t end up being helpful? Yeah, that took away a lot of hope. A lot of it. When you’re suffering like that, it’s really easy to dwell (and I mean DWELL) on what you CANNOT do or have or hope for anymore. And I went there, full steam ahead.
You know that Albert Einstein “definition of insanity?” The one that goes, The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result? Yeah. That’s the loop you get stuck in when you’re in that feeling sorry for yourself instead of adapting mode. You’re so focused on your losses, yet you think SOMEthing is going to change for the better, at some point. What you have to realize is that the change agent kind of has to be….. you.
In the past 2 months, I’ve spent a lot of time changing me and my attitude. Granted, it helps a whole lot that this chemotherapy and draining my catheter routine and my better diet are working really well for me and explains why I have more energy again, and can do a lot more than I was doing in late April and May, when all I was doing was lying in bed, going to get my lung drained, having radiation treatments, throwing up all the time, and feeling really lousy and sorry for myself. I’m much better than that now, but still, there are limits, parameters, fences. But what I did was I stopped resenting the fact that I don’t have the stamina to walk long distances, and had my daughter, Taylor, go buy me a small wheelchair last month. That thing has freed me up to go places I otherwise would not be able to go, like to my kids’ doctor appointments last week, so I could be present as The Mom, and not ask someone else to represent me with my children. I have a handicapped tag for my car, and I am neither embarrassed nor resentful to have it. I need those spaces close to the stores so that I can do what I can do, within the parameters that I can do them. I can do laundry now, but only if Joey shleps the baskets up and downstairs for me, and if I take frequent rest periods. I can cook, but I have to do all the prep at the kitchen table, sometimes taking breaks in between the steps. My friend, Jack, is helping me acquire a stairlift for my house, because really, I need about a 10 minute rest if I have to climb up more than 6 steps at a time, and there are 16 steps from my first floor to my second floor, and all our bedrooms are on the second floor. I can still do the steps, but it’ll be easier with assistance, and in the future, might just be a necessity.
And I am JOYFUL about what I CAN do, instead of RESENTFUL about what I CAN’T do anymore! Truly, really happy! Yes, cancer has set up a fence for me, a big one that, if I dwell on it for long (which I do not), is scary and negative and daunting and awful. I’m choosing instead to adapt and adjust and use all the space within that fence that I can, to modify how I do things so that I CAN do them, as much of what I CAN do that speaks of me as a spiritual person, a woman, a mother (the biggest deal for me), a helper in the world, a friend, a human being. By taking this attitude, I find that I get a different result, that I break that chain of insanity. I find my joy again, my happiness in life. Honestly, if you saw me when I’ve just finished baking some banana bread (which I did today), you’d see me pumping my fist in the air, saying, “Yesssss!” When I do the dishes, I say, “Victory is mine!” Everything is a happy accomplishment, and nothing feels like I’ve been deprived.
I’d like to suggest that if you’re struggling with feeling put upon because of challenges, to not be afraid to try adapting and adjusting, even if it’s just your attitude. Start with what you CAN do, and go with small, attainable goals, and build from there. You might find that you’re a lot like those kids in that experiment so long ago. And the fences? They actually may give you more confidence to spread out more and take advantage of the space and stuff you do still have. Might be worth the try, might lead to a different result.
I wish you a week of happy adapting, and finding more joy,
Teri, the Better Adjusted Flying Elephant