In the last few weeks, I have come very close to giving up. Completely. Turn my face to the wall and wait to die. I have managed to change my mind, but it has taken work.
It was a tough winter. I spent the first week of December in the hospital and the following six weeks in a transitional care facility. (My family would later refer to it as “that place.”) For most of that time, I couldn’t do anything but lie there. No computer. No Internet access. I made a couple tortured drawings. Once home, I was visited by nurses three times a week. I was allowed out of the house for three things: doctor visits, church, and “the beauty parlor.” While I was in that place, I thought of nothing but healing enough to get out of it. At home, I was surrounded by bits of my old life, but I didn’t have energy or physical ability to take advantage of most of them…hence the impulse to give up.
Here’s what saved me:
- Focus on one small thing that fills your heart.
- Return to the present moment.
I don’t know how much of my former ability and energy will return. It is easy for me to get lost in worries about the future. That moment at the concert lifted me because I was nowhere else but the present moment. Pretending that the past and future exist is a game with very limited use. I’ve been writing for years about “making an internal gesture.” I finally know what I mean: paying attention to sensory information and leaving behind my mind chatter so that I am in the NOW.
- Feel the blessing.
If someone else points out that there are people who have it much worse, I have to restrain my violent tendencies. Sometimes, though, I am reminded of these things naturally. For example, one of the pieces in the Global Harmony concert was about a Southeast Asian family fleeing violence. Hearing others’ stories, I understand that—all things considered—I am blessed. When I feel that blessing, I want to go on.
- Go mad.
In Douglas Adams book, Life, the Universe and Everything, hero Arthur Dent decides how to cope with being stranded on prehistoric Earth. He gets up one morning and announces “I will go mad!” After a particularly difficult day in my at-home recovery, I remembered Arthur’s coping mechanism and decided to try it. I had been thinking about things too realistically. I have an incurable disease and it’s getting worse, hence: despair. Ruth Gordon said, “Never give up. And never, under any circumstances, face the facts.” In order for me not to give up I will have to ignore the facts. I will have to lose touch with reality. I must go mad.
- Spend time with a friend…the right kind of friend.
I went to lunch with a friend and afterward felt much better. Not any friend would have left me feeling encouraged. My friend talked honestly of the difficulties in her life and how she copes with them. She is a 12-stepper and, as such, reminds me of the tools that come with that outlook on life. She is a deeply religious woman and the strength of her faith became a sort of splint for my own brokenness. Time with a good friend puts me back on the path to healing.
- Learn something new.
I received an invitation to a free webinar. It was a subject in which I had only mild interest, but free is free and I had time. I listened to the webinar and took some follow-up video lessons. The subject matter had nothing to do with illness or medicine, so it was a nice change of pace. Absorbing information used my brain in a different way than when I am caught up in the emotions or tasks of dealing with my difficulties. In the book, Nation, Terry Pratchett’s characters are recovering from a tsunami. One boy thinks about needing a “thin silver line” to draw him into the future. Learning something new is a thin silver line for me.
- Reinvent yourself.
Having a major disruption in my usual schedule brings with it opportunity. I can reinvent myself. What is important to me? What gives me energy? What helps me move toward life? As I add activities into my life, I can choose which to reclaim and which to leave behind.
- Look for reasons not to give up.
I started writing two weeks ago with five reasons not to give up. Because I was thinking about it, additional reasons have been jumping up and down, waving their arms and asking to be included. This has been fun and moments of fun, well, there’s another reason not to give up.