Go stand in a gym. Watch the faces and hear the grunts and groans of those guys and gals in there lifting the really heavy weights. When I was healthy, I did that. Lifting heavy weights is a challenge, and it can be somewhat painful, especially if you’re still sore from the last workout. The facial expressions of the straining body-builder are not all that pleasant. Lucky for them, they get to lay their burden down. Chronic illness is a weight some of us never get to lay down. Some days we carry it with a pretty good stride. And other days it’s kicking our butts. But it’s always on our back.
Go stand outside the hospital and look at the faces of the nurses coming off a 12 hour night shift at 7 am. They are probably not smiling, but it’s not because those ministering angels are mad, they’re just weary. Chronic fatigue is the all-night shift that never ends.
May I just say, and get off my chest, that extremely and unrelentingly cheerful people tend to annoy me sort of in the way a cheery husband can annoy a wife who is in labor. Oh not the live and let live kind. I’m talking about the militant kind. The ones who are not content unless you, too, display a sunny disposition at all times.
Before I was sick, I was as sunny as the beaches in Sarasota. Now, not so much.
For everything there is a time and a season. A time to laugh, and a time to cry. A time to mourn, and a time to dance. A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.
Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem whatsoever with happy folks being happy. I am genuinely happy for someone who is happy and feeling great. But I see it this way; I make a conscious effort to avoid bringing others down with the reality of my chronic pain and fatigue. Is it too much to ask these card-carrying members of the “cheerfulness lobby” to maybe return the favor and not torture me with their absurd insistence that I have a moral obligation to smile. If I had a dime for every time I have heard “aw, come on, it can’t be all that bad”. I submit that assertion is debatable on it’s face, but I certainly reserve the right to determine for myself just how bad “it” is. It’s a little insulting, actually. I mean, if you really don’t like my countenance when you encounter me, just not interfacing with it at that exact moment is always an option. I promise I won’t take offense if you just nod hello and keep on walking.
Just because I am not particularly smiley on a given day, does not mean that I am depressed, have lost my joy, or have given up on life. Maybe it just indicates that I’m concentrating really hard on getting through just now.
Ok. Now that I’ve chased off all those annoyingly perky folks, I will address the remainder of this discourse to my fellow pluggers.
Look. There is no denying positive people live happier and probably healthier lives. Some folks are born brimming with sunshine, others have cultivated it. And then there are those who started out fairly positive, and then “life happened” and licked a good bit of the icing off their cupcake. The endorphin-over-endowed notwithstanding, there is something to be said for taking the bull by the horns and re-mastering that particular skill of turning around your own frame of mind.
Sometimes things happen which “strip you down” at a very fundamental level. But you go back to the battlefields and reclaim those things that were lost. And a formerly positive outlook is often overlooked in our inventory of the casualties, you know, after the dust settles and we have accepted our new normal.
Cynicism has it’s place for a while. It is a handy armor against future pain. It will certainly drive off those people who are only interested in ephemeral “goodness and light”. Lets face it. Some people lack the intestinal fortitude for even witnessing your pain and suffering. (Then again, some people have just already endured enough of their own pain that they just can’t bear yours too). Anyway, projecting cynicism tends to weed out the fluff-filled types and identify the ones with some substance. They’ll be easy enough to spot. Just look for the ones who still come around.
When you are in the early phase of diagnosis, treatment, and acceptance, there is a necessary focus on “everything that is wrong”. That is like the “childhood” of living with chronic illness. Then there is a period of getting educated about it and finding the best doctors and treatment and support systems. That’s like your 20s.
I think living with something chronic has a “coming of age” all it’s own. After a while you just get tired of your illness being an issue. The resilient human spirit wasn’t designed to hang out in the sloughs of despondency forever. After you absorb the initial blows, after you have finally accepted what is gone, after surviving periods when you thought there was not one more comeback left in you, you then arrive at a point that requires a leap of faith. To embrace exactly what is, just as it is, and live this life-you-didn’t-ask-for to its own fullest potential.
There. Now that’s my brand of positivity.