July 21, 2008

Mid-Summer Update

We went out for pizza with old friends last night which was both a happy and sad time. Happy because it's always great to see old friends but sad because it accentuated yet another growing post stroke problem---Don's isolation. His ability to stay focused on our group and participate in conversation was severely hampered by the hearing loss he received last fall at the Disability Deer Hunt Sight-in Day. A volunteer helping Don didn't make sure he was using ear plugs so now in places where there's a lot of background noises, he can't follow the thread of conservations. Even without background noises it can be a challenge requiring me and others to repeat things three or four times. Part of that is aphasia/language processing issues from the stroke but most of it is that damn hearing loss. The audiologist says there's not much you can do about that type of hearing loss because it's to the center nerve and turning up the aids only makes the background noises all the more annoying.

It's sad because the stroke itself robbed Don of so many opportunities for social interaction like not being included on house party guess lists because the location aren't wheelchair friendly or because old activities we used to do with other couples are no longer a commonality that bind us together. Since the sight-in accident Don can't even successfully "talk" on the phone anymore. In the past he used to enjoy listening to friends and family talking about their lives. Now, he ends up putting the phone down about half way through the call. Thankfully, he seems to be handling his growing isolation fairly well but that doesn't stop me from feeling badly for him. He used to be so engaged with people both before and after the stroke until recently. It's like watching a falling star and holding your breath knowing eventually it will burn out.

But we're keeping busy, almost too busy for my tastes. We're out of the house every afternoon doing what we can to enrich our lives---shopping, going to local parks and free summer concerts, going to restaurants, art shows and the YMCA, giving the new puppy playtimes and taking him to obedience classes. It's easy to keep busy in the summer.

I'm taking two aquatic pool classes when I can fit them in. One is jazz dancing. The instructor actually incorporates dance steps from all the decades of my life and they bring back some great memories, listening to the music that goes with the exercise. The instructor for the other class combines boxing, kick boxing, cross country skiing and belly dancing moves. When I get finished with that class I'm energized and ready to take on the world. Where's my Wonder Woman costume when I need it? I could wear it home and feel like I'm appropriately attired. But as the day wears on my aches and pains remind me that I'm still an old woman. Such is life. We dream of Nirvana and even achieve it from time to time then we slip back to where we began leaving our Zen living-in-the-moment pleasures behind. ©


July 6, 2008

The Long, Hard Road to Happiness----

Have you ever wondered why it is that some people who have so little are able to sincerely appreciate what they do have while others who have so much can’t appreciate it at all? We all have an occasional blue day from time to time when the pity pot seems to be the most comfortable chair in the house. I’m not talking about those fleeting times where at the end of the day we stand up and realize we’ve worn a big red ring on our butts from sitting too long where maybe we shouldn’t have taken up residence in the first place. I’m talking about the general approach that some people have towards life itself where their negative disposition mistakenly makes them think that their pain and disappointments are always worse than their neighbor’s pain and disappointments. I’m talking about falling into the trap of using pessimism versus optimism as a general philosophy for living.

I’ve always been an optimist. Even in my darkest hours I’ve been able to recognize that wallowing in negative thoughts won’t help me climb back out of the muck of any given life crisis that all humans, at one time or another, go through---death of a loved one or a falling out with lover or friend, major disappointments and depression, loss of good health. For me, getting back up after a punch in the gut comes from being able to see that my metaphorical glass of life is half full---not half empty. It’s a personality flaw that I have to struggle to have sympathy for those who spend their entire lives describing their glasses as half empty. Sure, I understand that we’d all like to have our glasses over-flowing but more importantly I also understand that those times when they are over-flowing are as rare as penguin eggs in the desert. The optimists will tell you that the adversities we meet while we’re striving towards that goal is what makes a person strong and that our heartaches are what makes love---when it comes along---all the sweeter. The pessimists, on the other hand will throw in the towel the first moment things don't go their way and they walk around in circles like both of their arms are tied behind their backs. They delude themselves into believing that they have no control over their own happiness.

It must be hard being pessimistic, to aimlessly drag those woo-is-me thoughts and resentments around where ever they go. Optimists, on the other hand, achieve more in life---have more, are loved more---not because some divine intervention sprinkled magic fairy dust on some of us and not on others. Optimists achieve more because they don’t give up on themselves the way people with a defeatist attitude do. Pessimists don’t see each new day as a ‘do-over’ that can change the course of their personal history. They are so busy cataloging yesterday’s losses and tomorrow’s grim predictions to realize that they are stealing their own futures in the process. Pessimists are chickens, plain and simple. They are too afraid to roll the dice, take a chance and give up their defeatist attitudes long enough to work as hard at being happy as they work at being miserable. Nothing comes without a price tag, happiness included.

Life is full of hardships, challenges and heartaches for all of us and I am very proud to be married to a stroke survivor who never gave up on himself even when the medical community did. We---not just him alone as some survivors would have you believe of caregivers--- WE worked hard and proved the diagnosis of ‘vegetable for life’ wrong in every sense of the phrase. Some people out there in the stroke community don’t believe that it’s possible for someone who can’t walk, talk and use one arm to truly find joy in living again. That, to me, is both a sad and an arrogant attitude because it says that those non-believers value perfection to the point of being prejudice towards anyone who isn’t physically or mentally perfect in their eyes. I won’t deny that it’s often been a long, hard road getting to the happy place we reside in today and if that happiness annoys the pessimists of the world then I say, “Either follow me or get out of the way."

Jean Riva ©

No matter how bad things are, they can always be worse. So what if my stroke left me with a speech impediment? Moses had one, and he did all right. ~ Kirk Douglas

No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars or sailed to an uncharted land or opened a new heaven to the human spirit. ~ Helen Keller

Optimism is a happiness magnet. If you stay positive, good things and good people will be drawn to you. ~ Mary Lou Retton

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately so is losing ~ Vince Lombardi

painting by Henri Rousseau