“Think Happy Thoughts”

joy and books

(Caption: I did not buy “Ella Enchanted” at the book fair. I bought it at a used book store, but, considering it’s publication date, it may have been at my last book fair in Elementary School!)

 

Most of us are familiar with the Disney movie, Peter Pan. In order to fly, Pan’s friends must a) be sprinkled with pixie dust and, b) “think happy thoughts”. While I have no interest in flying, I do want to lead a positive and happy life. I would like joy to have a regular place in each of my days. As a pessimist, though, this often feels like an impossible task.

In addition to being a pessimist, I am also quite stubborn. Sometimes, I can’t tell if being stubborn is a strength or a fault. In this instance, however, I feel that my stubbornness is a strength. As difficult as being positive is for me, I’m too stubborn to give up on my goal of becoming an optimist (or, at the very least, a realist).

Huge change in perspective, right?

How do you go from being anxious 24/7 to looking at the world through rose-tinted glasses? For me, I think the transformation is going to require baby steps. I am going to have to crawl at times. In case someone else is attempting this enormous shift in thought patterns, here’s my big plan:

  1. Continue to keep my daily gratitude journal.
  2. Stay as active as I possibly can. Exercise releases endorphins, after all.
  3. Volunteer (I have a few ideas in mind).
  4. Discover what brings me joy and make it a habit.

Step Four is perhaps the most difficult step for me. Joy is something I rarely feel. At some point in my life, I became impervious to it. It was a lot easier to feel joy when I was a child—as I was recently reminded this past week.

Naps are not something I usually take, but damn this last Wednesday I was exhausted! As I sat on the couch, my eyelids grew heavy. I couldn’t fight it, so I curled up into a ball and pulled the blankets over my head. As I was drifting off, I started to think about a magazine that had arrived in the mail. The magazine featured books (mostly New Age titles). Now, as I hovered between consciousness and sleep, the magazine melded into the weekly book order forms that I used to receive in grade school. This thought then sparked my memory of the book fairs that took place in Elementary School.

A rush of pure joy awakened me.

I marveled at how I had so easily forgotten about the book fairs. I LOVED the book fairs! I have been a voracious reader my entire life and the book fair was always like a dream-come-true. So many monographs! Pretty bookmarks! Stylish pencils and erasers!

The best part of this memory/day dream? It changed my sour mood for the rest of the day. I was suddenly happy, excited. When an anxious thought tried to invade, I just blocked it with the memory of the book fair’s wheeled, metal cases.

Obviously, as an adult, I won’t be attending any book fairs in the near future. The memory of them, though, serves a purpose. They are a “happy thought”. They are a joyful memory that won’t help me to fly, but when called upon, can certainly help shift my worldview.

Positivity, here I come!

Thank you, Dear Readers, for sticking with me. I hope the week ahead treats you all well. Your encouragement has meant the world to us. Please keep the light and love coming.

 

With Love,

Laura

Advertisements

The Good That Each Moment Holds

Unicorn Snow Globe 2

Dear Readers,

I am writing this blogpost from the comfort of our own apartment. Sunlight is streaming through the glass, front door and the washing machine is humming in the background. I am surrounded by familiar landmarks—photographs, giant coffee mugs, and piles and piles of both read and unread books.

This feels normal.

This feels good.

If I weren’t bundled up in a sweater and layer of blankets, if I wasn’t fighting nausea, if I wasn’t struggling for control of my left leg, I could almost forget that I have cancer. I could almost forget that I have to return to the outpatient cancer clinic tomorrow for still more chemotherapy.

Almost.

The gravity of the situation sneaks up on me, Dear Readers. It surfaces when I least expect it to, knocking the air out of my lungs. It makes me cry—almost daily—and always in the evenings when the punch of the steroids begins to fade and the exhaustion creeps in. It tries to steal the joy still inherent in my days…but I won’t let it win.

Not today.

Not tomorrow.

Not ever.

As difficult as my current circumstances are, there is still so much to be thankful for. There are blessings hidden in each hour. Every new day that I wake up to is an opportunity for grace and gratitude. AND that is what I will focus on—not on the future, not on whether or not this treatment plan is going to work in the long-term—but on the good that each moment holds.

Will it be easy? No. Absolutely not. I am going to have emotional meltdowns and days that I can’t leave my bed. Tears will be shed. Sobs will be stifled by pillows. It is in these moments that I will remind myself that life still has beauty and that no matter how difficult this journey is, it is worth it.

Tomorrow, I return to the Hematology/Oncology Outpatient Clinic for two different chemotherapies; one will be administered through my Ommaya Reservoir (my off-centered unicorn horn) while the other will be infused through my chest port. On Tuesday, I will take my last mega dose of steroids (yay!). On Thursday, providing my white blood cell count is high enough, I will receive another dose of chemotherapy through the Ommaya as well as undergo a bone marrow biopsy. The results of that biopsy will shape next week’s treatment plan.

On April 3rd, my significant other and I will travel to Boston for the initial bone marrow transplant and tissue-typing consult.

I will need your continued support, Dear Readers, through all of this. I will need your prayers. I will need all the light and love that you can spare. I will do my best to keep you up-to-date, but please know that if you don’t hear from me, I am undoubtedly thinking about you and continuing to count YOU as a blessing.

With Love, Laura

John Wayne & the Catwalk

notre-dame-2-5

I am one of those people that believes everything happens for a reason.

Sometimes, that reason is our own stupidity.

Other times, there’s a greater purpose at work.

It didn’t dawn on me, until this past week, that the pain in my legs and lower back might actually be serving a purpose. It might be here to teach me something. After all, many of the items that I listed in my Book of Hopes & Dreams for 2017 focused on becoming stronger; what better way to learn what strength is than to be temporarily without it?

One of the blessings—yes, I know, I just called this a blessing—of being in physical pain, is that I have been forced to take smaller steps. For those of you that know me outside of this blog, I usually keep a brisk pace. I tend to dart from Point A to Point B, without pausing to smell the proverbial roses. Now…with my back and legs in spasm…not so much. My steps are short, slow, and on bad days, there’s a bit of a limp.

This change in my stride has tried my patience. It’s tried my self-compassion. But it’s also opened my eyes to a world that I wasn’t seeing clearly.

As I mentioned in a previous post, my significant other and I were recently in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. We spent the morning celebrating my youngest godchild’s second birthday and then decided to while away the hours before our dinner reservations by exploring the city’s Old Port.

I had some difficulty appreciating my shorter step at the time (there was a cold, Canadian wind blowing), but later that evening I began to wonder, would I have seen as much as I did had I been able to walk at my normal pace?

Would I have noticed the photographer, in hat and gloves, trying to snap the perfect picture of one of the city’s many historic buildings?

Would I have noticed the suede mittens, embroidered with a bright, floral pattern, that another pedestrian was wearing?

Would we have made two pit stops—one at a café for some warm, caffeinated beverages and the other at an English-style pub for some glorious poutine—had I been able to walk for miles instead of just yards?

img_20170213_094528

Perhaps this post is nothing more than me, just trying to find the silver lining in a difficult situation (I’m really, really trying to be more positive, guys!). Perhaps, if I had been able to keep my usual pace, I would have seen all of these minute details and had these experiences anyways. But, I sincerely doubt it.

Had my legs been able to carry me further, we probably wouldn’t have lingered on the steps of Notre Dame, basking in the glow of winter decorations, for as long as we did.

We probably wouldn’t have stopped at a nearby souvenir shop for warmth.

We probably wouldn’t have paused on the sidewalk, admiring the horse and carriage plodding down the city’s cobblestone streets.

notre-dame-4

Am I struggling with my current situation? Hell yeah. But, at the end of the day, I have this collection of small images—minute details—to process. They’ll probably find homes in blogposts and short stories. They’ll inevitably enrich my life in ways that I can’t predict. It’s already happening. It’s already changing me, prompting me to feel gratitude amidst the physical discomfort, forcing me to remember the words of the physical therapist that, after ICU in 2010, taught me how to walk again:

“Wide steps, Laura, like John Wayne. I’ll teach you how to do the catwalk later.”

So, for now, I will patiently be taking small, wide steps. I will saunter like John Wayne through this, observing the world around me and recording all of those minute, magnificent details that I would otherwise be oblivious to. And I will, eventually, get back to the catwalk—and when I do—I will be better, stronger, for having gone through this.

A Sparkling, Silver-White Lining

snowman-ornament-3-1223

I will spare you the details for now, Dear Readers, but this past week was not a good one. So as not to worry any of you, I will say that—apart from being emotional—I am okay. There’s nothing to worry about. This past week simply rerouted me on yet another detour, reshaping what I thought would be the trajectory of my life.

Again, I repeat: I am okay.

I do, however, need to write a little bit about this particular detour or, rather, the lesson that I have learned from it. After all, it has given birth to a perfect storm of emotion—of relief, of anger, of grief, of sadness. This week I needed someone to pull me out of my own mind, to look me in the eyes, and remind me that now is precisely the time to search for silver linings in otherwise dark clouds.

I will be honest; my first thought when I heard that particular sentiment—of finding good amidst the bad—was a big “f*&k you”.

Yes, I know. My response (although unsaid) was neither kind nor gracious. I also share it with you knowing that that brave and wonderful soul that triggered that response is probably reading this, probably slightly amused because I rarely swear, and probably more than a little relieved that I finally agree.

Because, Dear Readers, I do wholeheartedly agree. The cold rain of tears, the haze of anger—as necessary as those emotions are at times, it’s hard to see anything through them. Yet, in the moments of calm between shifting weather patterns, a faint glow can be found on the horizon line. Hope can be found.

As I write this, I am reminded of this year’s first snowfall.

A couple of weeks ago, we went to bed in one world—a world of worn out lawns and shriveled leaves—and awoke in another. This new world glistened with ice and snow. Children’s giddy laughter and the rushed search for hats and mittens ushered in a new day, a new season.

We didn’t receive much snow—an inch at the most—but, as I drove home from work that afternoon, I saw that it had been just enough for the students at a nearby elementary school to build miniature snowmen. The children had, despite having so little material to work with, fitted the playground with at least three of these happy, little creatures.

The children’s ingenuity was heartwarming then, and it is heartwarming now, even though that first snowfall and their creations have melted away. Why? Because the children didn’t look at the meager snowfall and think despairingly, “Oh, this isn’t enough” or, “Oh, this isn’t what I hoped for”. The children looked at the snow and thought, “let’s try”. And, then, they set to work creating something beautiful.

In this life, we do not always get what we want or what we dream of. We like to fool ourselves into thinking that there is a set route with specific milestones along the way—school, career, marriage, home, children, growing old with the ones we love—but more often than not, that’s not how life unfolds.

Maybe you drop out of school, or maybe you make it through only to find that there are no jobs in your field.

Maybe you can afford two houses, or maybe you can barely pay your rent.

Maybe you have a child before you’re ready, or maybe you find out that motherhood might not be in your particular stack of cards.

Life, ultimately, is not as ordered as we would like to think. It disregards plans and expectations. As one of my incredible infusion nurses once told me, “Life is full of detours and this is just a detour”. If there is a silver lining in any of this, it is the sparkling silver-white one found in miniature snowmen. It is the knowledge that life can be wonderful, as long as we listen to the voices of reason and are open to the beauty inherent in all that we already have.

Like children on a wintry playground, it’s not about how much snowfall you’re given—it’s about what you do with it.