At the bar in P.F. Chang’s last night (because we play with the high-rollers), Husband smiled at me.
“You seem happier this week.”
My smiles are coming more easily now, despite everything. “Yes, I have been.”
Earlier we had been talking about how one of my bosses, who we’ll call M, was unexpectedly out of work for three weeks with double pneumonia; that was the same amount of time I was out after my spinal fusion (I wasn’t happy about M’s absence; I like him a lot and the office has been way too quiet). My own leave of absence was followed by attempts at part-time work, which M will likely have to do as well until he builds up his reserves. Our tiny office has been sad without him there. He’s a very vocal officemate, beat-boxing little raps about my other boss, who we’ll call J. I’ve had to turn up my background work music just to cover the silence. But on the very last Friday of those three weeks he was out, M stopped into work to check his messages and say hello. He looked very happy to be back but absolutely exhausted, having lost probably twenty pounds and speaking with the gurgling echoes of a dried-up lake in his lungs.
He said to me, “You get this,” meaning the time out of work. “It’s hard to be laid up for so long.”
I made a fist against my chest. “My people. REPRESENT.”
I do get it. You feel like the world is spinning on without you, everything launching into the future while you are trapped in a recliner or under the covers. You try to catch up, limping along and breathing hard and not being able to suck enough air down. Your timeline is always parallel to reality, close but never touching.
“It’s going to be a long road for him. He’s going to get better, though,” Husband said in a wistful tone while we were out at the bar. This insinuated that, conversely, I won’t ever get better. That I’ll always be like this. Sad face.
I smiled at him. Even if my body doesn’t improve, even if I have hellish pain, I can change my attitude. I can change my approach. Growing up, if I was acting wounded or defeated by life, my father would call me “Veronica Victim.” Nobody likes someone who acts like a victim all the time, even if he or she has many reasons — or even all the reasons — to do so. And I realized, while reading this Huffington Post article, that I met each one of their criteria for chronically unhappy people (not that they’re the leading experts, but still).
To paraphrase from the article, chronically unhappy people do the following:
- They say life is hard: That has been my default expression when speaking about life and all of its offerings.
- They say most people can’t be trusted: I actually go a step farther and say that I hate everyone, because that saves me time. It’s easier to be safe than to be disappointed.
- They concentrate on the wrong in the world: What’s easier to do: 1.) believing that a loving God wouldn’t give kids horrible cancer, or 2.) allowing myself to believe that a loving God could exist and that there are great things in the world?
- They are jealous of other people: I harbor complete envy of those who have normally functioning bodies and don’t realize how lucky they are.
- They think of the future with fear and worry: I think of myself at the top of a very steep hill and that things are only going to roll down into a black abyss. The pain will get worse, it will never go away, etc.
- They try to control life: If I can’t control the pain, then I damn well better control everything else.
- They fill conversations with gossip/complaints: I’m a huge gossiper. I know this, and I am ashamed of it. I also have a tendency to whine.
I don’t like that I meet all of these criteria, so I’m trying the Happify app along with my daily meditation/mindfulness practice. What is Happify? It’s a website/app that has games and activities that aim to increase personal happiness. At first I felt silly, playing a little game where I clicked on balloons that showed positive words and answering writing prompts like I did in third grade. “Write down three things for which you feel grateful.”
That was surprisingly difficult, even though I have so much to be grateful for. I have an amazing Husband, the best family, an aloof cat who makes me work for her love, an adorable house, and a full-time job with bosses I actually like. One of my answers surprised even me, though: I am grateful for my health.
I followed that thread of thought deeper into my head, and I realized I am grateful for the fact that I wasn’t hurt worse, that I can participate in the world around me despite limitations, and that I can still be me, even if that state of being has been harder to find as of late.
I am grateful for my health.