Building On Happiness

The passage of time coupled with perchance interactions, have ways of presenting answers to questions we may not even be aware we’ve asked. The answers aren’t always worthy of celebration nor what we want to hear or see; however, when the information gleaned is unexpectedly joyful it can affect one’s perspective in delightfully life-affirming ways.

Throughout my life, I’ve had these experiences, but my tendency was to analyze and seek out more pieces to puzzles that only existed in my head. This created greater angst than necessary then it became nearly impossible for me to accept anything that presented itself to me at face value. Thankfully, I no longer have the need to analyze EVERYTHING in-depth and in recent years, because of my health challenges, it’s become impossible to invest copious amounts of energy into speculative mind, heart, and stomach churning overanalyses.

This brings me to a few nights ago. In what many of us may still refer to as “Kodak moments”; I saw for the first time since walking away, that I may have dodged one of the biggest bullets – actually two – in my entire adult life; and I smiled. Because of what I saw, there will never again be any looking back. There will no longer be any mournful sighing or wondering what might have been. And this smile – more like the grin of a cat after eating a succulent canary – will require no effort to reproduce. I will forever have in my mind’s eye the images that answered questions I never consciously asked and succeeded in dousing embers of lingering doubts.

 

Since then, I’ve been grinning from ear-to-ear and laughing out loud. (Not out of madness. I don’t yet spend that much time alone.) My laughter is akin to the way one’s fingers lightly skip across piano keys causing each note in a crescendoing scale to sing effortlessly through the air.

The heaviness that connected me to a long gone episode in my life lifted without any exertion on my part. The murky disjointed memories that held sway over me for years and caused me to doubt decisions I made in my best interest, lost all power. Then, as what I once characterized as meagre beatable obstacles replayed, a soothing calm fell over me as they became illumined to show they were, in fact, countless hazard symbols appropriately placed for me to dodge potential disasters on my path to becoming wholly me.

As cliché, and probably whacky, as all of this might seem to some people: the energy that becomes available for living one’s life when we let go of doubt(s) and the need for incessant forensic examination of the past is astounding. I feel freed from a thing I wasn’t aware was holding me captive. Part of my consciousness was running on a treadmill while the rest of me believed it was outside road running and hill training, stretching me and building my strength for the longevity we all need to carry us through life.

Although those physical activities are off-limits to me now – and I miss them, more than words can describe. I feel as if I’ve jumped off an invisible loop. Moreover, within the space now purged of subconsciously felt doubts, I can and I will exercise my conscious mind, emotions, and creativity to build on the happiness I already hold.

 

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Good News After A Flawed Rush

Remember that rambling tale I wrote yesterday about what happens when you rush? Well, it turns out all was not for naught after the convoluted list of mishaps I went through to get to my non-appointment appointment. My Endocrinologist, who graciously saw me even though I arrived for my appointment five days early after her office hours had ended; called me first thing this morning to let me know that my blood test results were better than good – I guess that means they’re great (?)!

Nonetheless, there is a backstory on the blood tests and a reason for having an Endocrinologist. It’s because about eight years ago I was diagnosed with Graves’ Disease, which is an immune system disorder that causes an overproduction of thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism). If you want to learn more about it, clicking on the above highlighted words ‘Graves’ Disease’ will lead you to the Mayo Clinic’s overview. However, what I’m about to tell you isn’t pretty because I probably had the worst convergence of symptoms imaginable and it took quite some time and lots of tests to figure out exactly why my body was working against me.

The least concerning of the symptoms was excessive perspiration, which is as gross as it sounds. It made me feel conspicuous whenever I had to wear heavy jackets, multiple layers of warm clothing, or the temperature in a room or outdoors went above 20 degrees Celsius because I was guaranteed to have rivers running down my back or pools collecting under my armpits, but I could deal with it by changing clothes or taking a shower. I developed an intolerance to extreme heat that still makes it difficult for me to enjoy weather warmer than 25 degrees Celsius, so air conditioning has become a good friend of mine. Then there was the shortness of breath for no reason at all including just lying on my couch. It made me wonder how it had ever been possible for me to be a long-distance runner; and of course, the heart palpitations that started happening at random intervals didn’t help to put that question to rest. They scared the crap out of me each time I experienced the rapid fluttering in my chest.

I also lost a lot of weight. When a person of my physical build loses more than ten pounds it’s noticeable in the way your clothes fit, or stop fitting, and you start to look emaciated. The people in my life noticed it before I did because they could see the changes in my face, which is naturally angular; as it became leaner each time they saw me. I noticed it when the clothes I had altered after purchasing them to fit me properly, started to sag on my disappearing waist and other places. That weight loss caused incredible fatigue, but between my irritability, anxiety, and disrupted sleep patterns, I didn’t get much rest. The weight loss was accompanied by hair loss. I started to shed so much when I combed my hair it looked as though I might be related to some species of longhaired cat – strangely, I have such an abundance of thick hair on my head that the only place the loss was noticed was on the floor or in my brush. Finally, my skin began doing strange things and all those symptoms lumped together prompted a barrage of tests.

The first round of tests indicated that there was something not quite right with my liver. I had to stop taking all medications cold turkey for 30 days to clear my system and then redo all the blood tests. When the results from the second set of blood tests were delivered the one thing that stood out was the high level of thyroid hormones. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough for a complete diagnosis. I had to have a thyroid biopsy to rule out cancer and a thyroid scan that involved drinking radioactive dye to see if I had enlarged nodules (noncancerous lumps) growing on my thyroid that might have to be surgically removed or might require the complete removal of my thyroid gland. After all those uncomfortable diagnostic procedures, the good news was that I neither had cancer nor required surgery because either one or both would have meant taking thyroid hormone medication for the rest of my life absolutely never missing a dose, on top of whatever other treatment was prescribed.

What I did have to do was take anti-thyroid medication for a while to stop the overproduction of thyroid hormones. Early on, the dose had to be corrected to deal with the unexpected occurrence of side effects that are supposed to be rare: most notably vertigo that still affects me occasionally. However, the anti-thyroid treatment recreated the necessary hormonal balance within about three years and my Endocrinologist declared that I was safely in remission and could stop taking the medication. I got that good news about a month before my current illness showed up almost four years ago. Throughout this illness, I’ve had to continue having regular blood tests to check my thyroid hormone levels, ultrasound scans of my thyroid to monitor the size of the nodules, and check-ups with my Endocrinologist. When I saw her on Wednesday during my non-appointment appointment she told me that if the results of the blood tests looked good I didn’t have to see her again until next year at this time. Then if my blood test results are consistent through to that time it means I will have been in remission for five years and the likelihood of the Graves’ Disease recurring will be slim.

Where I was frustrated with myself on Wednesday for rushing to an appointment I didn’t have, today I’m quite content because of this good news. My hope is that my thyroid hormone levels stay normal until next year so I’ll have more energy freed up from having one less invisible illness to think about.

 

The words of this song don’t match my good news, but the mood of the song certainly does…

Sam Cooke – (Ain’t that) Good News

 

Happy Day

In recent years, the holiday season has been a difficult time for me. Whether it’s been due to daily physical pain, multiple visits to the hospital emergency room to get medical help to cope with my pain flare-ups, missing holiday events with friends, or not being able to attend family dinners; the past few years have been hard.

However, this year, regardless of where I end up, I’ve decided that I’m going to have a happy day. It won’t matter if the only way I can connect with my friends and family is virtually through text messages, phone calls, and video chats from my bed or a bed in the emergency room. If I can’t make it to dinner because my pain is too overwhelming, I won’t feel conflicted or guilty because I decide to stay home and give my body the rest it needs. If I decide to go to my family’s dinner today and feel sore and exhausted after the drive there, I will give myself permission to find a quiet place to rest and recharge.

Whatever the day brings, the important thing for me is to do what I need to take care of myself. That is my gift to myself today: a day free of pressure, anxiety, and self-doubt. I hope that everyone living with a chronic illness has the freedom to make their own choices today – and every day – so they don’t have unnecessary stress and anxiety piled on top of lives that are already a struggle.

I hope that just as I am determined to, that everyone will have a happy day today.

 

Happy Day

 

My Home Is Quiet Once More

After two weeks of lots of activity and chatter, my home is quiet once more. My cousins returned home, overseas, on Sunday and they left me with great memories and a gaping silence. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep up the pace of activity needed to show them a good time and, more importantly, to occupy the attention span of a six-year-old, while still managing to take care of my health, but I somehow managed to do it; and I had fun in the process. Now that they’ve left, my home feels oddly still and quiet, unlike it never has before. To tell the truth I started missing them before they left for the airport.

I didn’t know that having constant company could be so good for my health – emotionally and physically. While my cousins were here, I had a few days of terribly intense pain, but because I wasn’t alone with it, I think I was able to cope better with it than I usually do. I had the foresight to plan rest days in between activity days that involved taking them out to see city sights and some attractions that took us out of the city for the day. Although those days were hard, not missing any pain medication doses and the distraction of chatter and laughter, helped me deal with all the movement and long drives. I also took full advantage of the days that I scheduled for rest, whether it was sleeping in or taking afternoon naps, that my body made it clear I needed – and still do need.

Surprisingly, I was able to cook many of our meals, which I did with pleasure. I think I might have forgotten how much I enjoy cooking for people these past few years while I’ve been ill and, at times, barely able to cook for myself. My cousin was a big help in the kitchen, doing the after-dinner cleanup and helping with some of the prep when I needed it. I don’t think I would have been able to do as much for as many days, if she hadn’t been so supportive. I didn’t even mind getting up early some mornings to make breakfast for my finicky youngest guest, who was very particular about what she would eat for which meals, and how precisely some items had to be prepared. Children’s food preferences don’t always make sense, but I was thrilled when we finally hit on a few items that became acceptable daily staples for her.

Not everything went smoothly for the visit, but nothing ever does in life. They were able to connect with some other family and meet some of my close friends, but most of the 14-day visit was just the three of us. The only hiccups were due to bad weather (rain or extreme heat) that kept us indoors, the odd event not proceeding as planned, or my body making it impossible for me to do much. There were also playdates that never materialized with the children and grandchildren of friends and family, which I had organized in advance to make sure my cousin’s daughter had company close to her age as often as possible to play with, but it was hard getting everyone’s schedules to sync up with so much happening every day.

My Home Is Quiet Once More

With all that activity going on, I didn’t have any time for the anxiety that had gripped me ahead of their arrival to set in again. I also didn’t have much time to myself to do much of the creative things I usually spend my time doing. Before they arrived, I bought my cousin’s little girl crayons, pencils, and markers, and matching sketchbooks for the two of us, thinking that would be a clever way to get us to do something together. Until yesterday, I didn’t drawn a single line in my sketchbook. There was so much activity to plan, whether it was our meals or what attraction or event I had planned for us to do – and I desperately needed the rest days in between – that drawing or doing anything creative was impossible. My cousin’s little girl, however, had plenty of time to play and draw, so my refrigerator is now covered in drawings and handmade birthday cards for which I am truly grateful. When I look at them, my home feels a little less quiet because their bright colours evoke memories of laughter and good company.

 

Gratitude and Creativity: Light Up With Happiness

This past week was a good one – all things considered – with the news of a surgery date making it even better. What made it good to start? Last Tuesday, I went to stay at the home of my adoptive Aunt C. It’s the first time since I was about twelve that I’ve spent any extended time with her, but it felt like no time had elapsed. It’s not that I haven’t seen her at the odd holiday dinner or picnic over the years where I’ve received tight, warm hugs overflowing with affection that showed how genuinely she cares for me, but being in her house and having her spoil me for a few days was nice.

When I was a little girl, I used to spend weekends at Aunt C’s house. Sometimes the excitement of the weekend started early. I would get to take the subway by myself to meet her when she finished work, at a designated place, in the central train station downtown. Then we would take the train out to her house in a suburb outside the city. At her house, it would just be the two of us. She would make me my favourite meals and desserts I loved. Aunt C would take me to movies; we would go shopping; or we would just hang out around the house. On top of that, she would treat me to little presents that would light me up with happiness. My time with her was always so happy – and because I believed she was perfect – I once asked her to adopt me.

Light Up With Happiness - Shadow

Light Up With Happiness

I felt some of that happiness this past week, as she showered me with attention, care, and concern for my poor health. There was also a lot of laughter. So much laughter, that at times my pain increased, but I didn’t mind because it was good to laugh with her. We spent some time talking in detail about things that have happened in both our lives that it wasn’t always possible to talk about with crowds of people around at family events. At one point, I questioned myself about why I never made more of an effort to keep Aunt C close in my life, but I know the answer is my mother and the ever-present fear I had about betraying or hurting her. In some ways, it was a get to know you again week, and in others, we just picked up from where we left off years ago.

It won’t be too long until my next visit with Aunt C. Apart from wanting to keep our renewed connection strong; she offered to take care of me after my surgery. I already have plans in place for my immediate aftercare, but I’m grateful for her offer and I will go to stay with her at some point during my recovery. I’m also grateful for the chance to reclaim and rebuild a relationship that was important in shaping my understanding of motherly love. Although, most of all, I’m grateful I’m in a place, emotionally, where I can accept the love she offers to me.

 

Lee Ann Womack – I Hope You Dance

Everyone Is Faking It

I talk a lot about the fog my pain medications create around my brain and how difficult it can sometimes be to remember or find words to express myself. But my pain medications have also had an oddly positive effect on my awareness of the world around me. I seem to be getting better at seeing people. By seeing I don’t mean I don’t have to wear my glasses. I mean I can see into them: their vulnerabilities, their resistance and their fears. I’ve joked to a close friend that when I get better I might have to figure out a way to continue getting refills for these brightly coloured perception pills.

It’s been happening like this. Every day I watch – but mostly listen to – the people in my life faking feelings they don’t have or suppressing the ones they do have. They feign love for their spouses or significant others when all things about that person makes them cringe or often deliberate disengaging from committed life. They pretend to get excited by work that leaves them dangling partially comatose on wobbly swivel desk chairs. They groan about dragging their asses out of bed in dim morning light to care for children they never wanted. They engage in carnal play to avoid mind numbing conversations about where to take the next vacation or what colour to paint the front hall while visualizing distant objects of desire. And worst of all, some are trapped living a life lie because to live freely as who they truly are would see them disavowed from their bloodlines.

They fake their way through whatever ‘it’ is to fool anyone looking to closely into believing they are happy. It seems that the longer my illness hangs around the deeper I’m able to see into people. It’s as if they feel safe being vulnerable with me because I’m in a weakened physical state. Perhaps they think my mind is so scrambled by the pain medications I can’t or won’t remember their hesitations before they assume a perfectly light-hearted tone or the way their voices trail off without completely answering a question about the supposed important things or people in their lives. It’s possible they think I don’t recognize the longing in the too long pauses. Or maybe it’s just a relief for them not to have to pretend with someone just for a moment and they hope it goes unnoticed.

Whatever the reason, they are faking it. At first I thought it was me. That I was being too sensitive and looking for things that aren’t really there. But the more I listen the more I hear the discontent and longing for something, someone or someplace different; and I want to tell them all to run. Run fast. Run far. Run to that other existence they believe they can have.

But I know that’s not fair or the right thing to do. I don’t have the right to tell anyone to run away from the thing(s) making them unhappy. Especially when I can’t guarantee they will find better things or any happiness at all.

Besides it would be hypocritical of me to tell anyone to stop faking anything when I walk around trying to fake not feeling pain.

 

Freddie Mercury – The Great Pretender