A Different Cast

February 24, 2014 at 4:04 pm (Uncategorized)

I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude lately. After my recent months of flare ups, new chemo regimen, and hospitalizations, I didn’t like the lens I was using to view my life. I saw everything I couldn’t do, everything that was wrong. I felt excruciatingly the hours I was in pain, but overlooked the times I felt well. I was nearly insulted when someone would remind me of the good in my life. It didn’t take long for this perspective to land me in a bog of depression. What was the point of getting up and trying every day when it would all inevitably go to shit? Any good moment was so fleeting, and would be followed by a rough reaction to chemo, an outbreak of sarcoidosis in some new place in my body, or another month in the hospital. It was better to stay in bed, with the blinds drawn against the pernicious light, and listen to mediocre thrillers on my iPod.

I started to scare myself. Asking yourself “What’s the point?” too many times will lead you to the edge of an abyss. I have a 10 year old son, a husband who adores me. They didn’t deserve to be put on the ledge I was creeping onto. I am lucky to have the kinds of friends and family—not to mention a great therapist—who kept on nudging me enough that I found a way to climb back from that precipice. When I’d moan about what I could not do, they would, in essence, say, “That sucks. Now what can you do?” I think it was my friend Martha who suggested I start a gratitude journal. It’s actually rather amazing to see on paper all that you have when you start enumerating it daily.

My mother-in-law suggested a book that explored gratitude. Its point was to push yourself beyond a forced recounting of what you have to be grateful for, which can quickly come to feel like just another to-do list, and instead try to live in a “spirit of gratitude.” I think what this means is to aim to live almost inside gratitude, so that—hopefully— you feel fortunate with each moment and all that it brings. So, for instance, when I’m in the hospital, I now try to focus on the family and friends who care for my spirit, the doctor and nurses who care for my body, the health insurance I am lucky to have that covers (almost all) of my treatment, the iPod that brings me distraction from pain, the best medical equipment, the medicine that eases my pain and fights my disease, the soft pillow beneath my head, the heating that keeps my room warm, the Facebook app on my phone that lets me stay connected with friends across the world—and not on the inexorable suckitude of being in a hospital and how sorry for myself I feel. Maintaining this perspective is not easy. In fact, I think the point of striving for this angle on a tough situation isn’t on the achieving the Platonic ideal of gratitude, but in the striving itself, which pushes back against the self-pity, the hopelessness, the depression.

I was doing pretty well with this striving. I made it through two rounds of chemo, and the week-long barf attacks and exhaustion that follow them. It’s not that I didn’t have an un-gracious thought. But I was trying, and that trying brought light to the bottomless darkness I can sometimes feel.

Then, last week, at a visit to an orthopedist, I discovered that the chronic and insistent pain I’ve been having in my foot for the last year isn’t the somewhat innocuous plantar fasciitis (an inflammation of the tendons on the bottom of your foot) that the doctor first thought, but is instead either an irreparable tendon tear or a stress fracture in one of the foot bones. Since I cannot have an MRI because of my defibrillator, there’s really no diagnostic test the doctor can do to figure out exactly what’s the matter. Hoping it’s the lesser of two evils—the stress fracture—she ordered my leg casted and me on crutches for the next 4-6 weeks. If my foot heals during this time, we’ll know it was a break. Otherwise I’m stuck with the tendon tear. Because of the cast and my complicated health problems, she worried I’d get a blood clot, so I also had to start blood thinners. These drugs bring a worrying set of potential side effects with them. Oh, and I probably need knee surgery too.

I immediately began to feel extremely sorry for myself. Crutches are hard enough on their own without occasional vertigo from the neurosarcoidosis adding to the challenge. I can’t drive. It’s a complicated process to get myself a glass of water. My right ankle—the one I’m stomping around on—is starting to feel like it might give. I feel helpless and even more like an invalid. Would I ever get a freaking break (pun unintentional)? Wasn’t it enough already that I’m sick with a chronic disease, getting chemo, and nearly bald? This felt like adding insult to injury – well, injury to injury, I suppose, too.

I’ve spent the last two days fumbling around on my crutches, being extraordinarily grumpy and pretty much epitomizing un-graciousness. Jay and Andrew were heading off to go skiing. All I wanted to do was pull the blinds, climb into bed, and crank up my iPod. I was gimping towards the bed, when a quiet voice inside me said, “Stop. Just stop.” And I realized I didn’t want to inch my way back onto the ledge of extreme hopelessness. What I need is a new cast of mind (pun intentional).

So I am back to trying to cultivate the spirit of gratitude. I’m not sure how successful I am, but I am trying. Trying my best. That’s all I can do.

What are your thoughts on gratitude? Is it worth practicing living in a spirit of gratitude? If so, does it come naturally to you?

4 Comments

  1. Nann said,

    Changing a behavior takes time – fantastic you can hear that voice of recognition of your old behavior. I have been trying my hardest to remain in the present tense as much as I can – meditation has been a struggle but I can feel improvement. Love to read your words thank you for continuing to give.

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      Thanks, Nann. Good for you for trying meditation. I think sometimes it’s the trying that’s important, not the result…and so taking up something requires bravery and a willingness to try. I’m also so glad that my words continue to resonate for you. I’m happy to be back blogging and it’s wonderful to hear from you.

      –Rebecca

  2. debralhuff said,

    Yes, I believe living in a state of gratitude is worth the practice to get there. When I am really down I start naming what I see, tree, leaf, bird…. It brings me back to the present. I really enjoy your story and the beautiful way you keep looking for the positive.

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      You are so right Debra. Sometimes just picking up my head and seeing the beauty around me is all I need to do. Thanks for reading my blog and taking the time to write about your experiences here. It means a lot to me.

      –Rebecca

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