Silence is to be able to contemplate the small, the tiny, the insignificant, and find the image of its beauty within yourself.
As much as that sounds like a quote from somebody famously enlightened, that just came from me. And I absolutely refuse to carry on the internet tradition of assigning fake quotes to famous names.
Besides, I truly mean it.
I clicked that photo yesterday, just as the sun was coming up on a rare snowy day in the Deep American South. I was enchanted by that flock of clover sticking up from the snow, like nothing could keep it down. It was intent on being a bright burst of color in the white landscape.
There was nobody else out that early, with the temperature in the frigid lower teens (-10°C, for those unfamiliar with the Fahrenheit scale). It was quiet and beautiful. Peacefully serene. I could hear myself think, and that is always a good feeling.
Yesterday wasn’t a particularly great day for me. The cold and frequent fluctuations in the weather had me achy at best, and spasming at worst. But that moment of tranquility, as the sun came up and reflected its colors on the snow, was one to cherish.
That moment was my own bright burst of color for the day. I could feel its beauty and peace. It was my private escape into silence.
I read a beautiful article a few days ago on Crafts, Chronic Illness and Adulting about how happiness is a state of being, and it is our choice to make every day (as much as we can) to seek that happiness within ourselves. I have ruminated much about that elusive state of happiness before, and couldn’t agree more with that attitude.
I feel like happiness is a flame that is burning within us. Sometimes the flame dwindles, gets buried, becomes hard to reach, as daily frustrations take over our minds. It can be especially hard to deal with the everyday when one is also fighting a chronic illness. But in a moment of quiet, it is possible to find that little candle of happiness still burning, underneath all of the tears of anger, sorrow and frustration.
Depression, on the other hand, is the absence of that flame. You can push yourself, just like you push anyway with the pain and fatigue, to do your everyday tasks. You can cover it up with laughs, alcohol, drugs, music, company, whatever you think might make you happy. But really, all of it is to cover up the knowledge that that flame is gone.
I became acutely aware of that as I had to come off some nerve pain medication rather suddenly. The burning in my arms, trigger points, and spinal cord became more insistent, along with my other FM-related woes – but that was expected. What was a little unexpected (and perhaps stupidly so) was the effect it had on my mental health. I felt a return of my depression and anxiety like I haven’t felt in a decade.
Then funnily enough, I saw the light (again) on one of my absolute worst days. My muscle spasms were so bad in my upper back that I was largely immobilized from neck up, and I could only move my right arm with intense stabs of pain with each movement. Yet, I had promised to bring my friend’s daughter to the circus, and I did not want to cancel on an 8-year-old. So I doused myself in every pain relief method at my disposal, and I went.
Despite all my pain, the joy that emanated from the child at her first circus took precedence over all my misery. I feel like she not only stopped me that day from delving deeper into the hole that I was in, but she actually pulled me a little bit out of it!
That night was one of the worst nights I ever spent. I was practically paralyzed from the pain, and the only reason I did not go to the emergency room is because it would have caused me more pain to get there than just languish in bed.
And yet, that night I was able to find a little bit of the happiness spark, like the flickers of light from a flint, as if a caveman was trying to start a fire. It was like the first dim light that touches the earth after the darkest part of the night. As if from the ashes, a phoenix was trying to emerge!
That flame then grew stronger a day or so later.
I had spent another night in intense pain, so much so, that my husband said I moaned aloud in my sleep anytime he turned, or even touched the bed. He fed me a pain pill, and then spent the rest of the night on the couch to minimize my discomfort. I did not learn of this until the morning, and was filled with so much gratitude when I did.
As I learned that day, gratitude is a like a breath of air on a little spark, a little blow of oxygen that can stoke the happiness flame, and help it realize its potential as a bright source of light.
Although you don’t need much to be happy, on the darkest of days, it helps to remind yourself of all that you do have to be happy about.
I have much to be happy about. I have a husband who is made of the stuff of dreams, I finally have access to my nerve pain medicine again, my pain is slowly getting better (progressively fewer screams have been heard by my neighbors over the last couple of days), and I have a very understanding doctor. Not to mention the friend who trusts me with her children, on whom I can shower my adoration as if they were my grandchildren, and with whom I can connect and find tender joy.
Yes, I also have many challenges that I am going through right now, but I have a lot more to be grateful for. To be happy for.
So today, now that I have the choice, I will try to focus on the silver linings when I look at the clouds from my window. And by doing so, I hope that window opens into another dimension, one where the flame of happiness continually glows bright within me.
Each painting has a story, one that I strive to tell here. Since many of them have to do with my journey with fibromyalgia, 20% of all yearly sales income from my paintings will go to theAmerican Fibromyalgia Syndrome Association (AFSA), who fund research into this poorly understood condition. If the paintings and/or the cause touch your heart, as they do mine, please feel free to contact me through my Facebook page for more information. Thank you for accompanying me on this journey!
Any recipe for happiness always calls for a healthy dollop of gratitude. It is, of course, easy to be grateful when one has something obvious to be grateful for. But when things are not quite so obvious, but you seek them out to be grateful for them anyway, that’s when the magic really happens (as I found out for myself today)!
For the last few days, I have been extremely nervous about an upcoming trip halfway across the world. It involves traveling for nearly two days, without the possibility of any real rest break in between. It is the first time I will be making quite such a trip since my fibromyalgia kicked in full force. And I am dreading the depth of the crash that will hit me at the end of it.
Though I am rarely the kind of person to bemoan my fate a lot, this was one instance where the unfairness really hit hard. I have always loved traveling and never really worried about making it by myself. But since my endurance levels have plummeted with fibro, my self-confidence has taken a heavy beating. I even considered asking for disability assistance at the airport, but I am not really disabled, and so felt incredibly guilty potentially stealing away the personnel and equipment from somebody who might really need it. Besides, I could only imagine the looks I would get in a wheelchair, at my age, and with my illness being invisible! All in all, I was really beginning to feel like life and fate were leaving me out in the cold.
After sliding halfway down into the pit of despair, it suddenly occurred to me, that despite the recently worsened fatigue problems, I have been no stranger to pain – not for a very long time! Traveling has always been hard on my back. Developing full-fledged fibro has just made it a bit harder. Yet, at the same time, having that diagnosis has meant that I now have much better resources to ease the pain than I did before! I finally have access to medicines that are designed to try to prevent bad flares, and then subdue them if and when they do occur. I never had any of that before! I was just forced to deal with the pain all by myself.
And suddenly, that one realization filled me with so much gratitude! Gratitude for being able to have the diagnosis, for being able to access the medication I need, for a medical team that has been beyond phenomenal, and for a family who have been trying to make my journey as comfortable as possible.
Life had not left me out in the cold! I had both formal and informal support systems to help me as new difficulties arose. Being able to recognize that, especially though all my grief and woes, felt like a gentle cozy hug on a cold and windy day. I couldn’t help feeling warm and fuzzy inside, as it filled me with so much joy, despite all my apprehensions about the trip!
That’s when I realized the true magic of the gift of gratitude. The joy it brings never runs out! There is always something to be grateful about, whatever the outward circumstances may be. And in that sense, it is truly a gift that keeps on giving!
I wish all my dear readers a wonderful holiday season! I may be gone awhile for this trip, but promise to return soon in the new year, with more thoughts and tips from my fibro journey. Thank you all for supporting me through 2016!
If I had to define what it meant for me to be happy, I would call it a state of mind born of blissful contentment and a feeling that all is right with my little world. But as a chronically ill person, haunted at times by the ghost of depression, whose life feels turned upside-down, what does happiness mean for me now?
I always had the feeling that, even now, happiness still held the same meaning for me. The rules of the game never changed, only its appearance has changed; like instead of the familiar black and white chess board, we are now playing the same game with a blue and yellow color scheme! But “a sense of blissful contentment and a feeling that all is right,” when I am not “content” being a fibromyalgiac and everything is clearly not alright, how is that possible? How can it still be the same game?
These are questions I have been meditating over for a while now. But the epiphany came to me one day as I was showering after my pool exercise session. No, I did not run out naked yelling “eureka!!!” but it is funny how these things happen, isn’t it?
It has been a busy month or so for me. There were more social engagements last month than I had attended in a year. At the same time, the pressures at work have been mounting as well. The result was occasional increases in pain, fatigue, and self-doubt regarding how I was handling my situation . . . was I over-committing myself? Why did I accept the invitation? Why do I feel the need to push through when I should clearly stop?
Yet underneath all of that, I detected something else – I detected happiness.
And then I realized that it really came down to a simple equation! If you feel like your life is delivering more than you expected it to, you feel satisfied and content and happy. Conversely, if reality starts falling short of your expectations, the result is resentment and unhappiness.
Featured image: Light from a Blue Door (16X20, oil on canvas)
At this point in time, I had spent several months being utterly miserable, not being able to really do much of anything. So now, being able to be there at a friend’s wedding, or at their birthday dinners, or just a couple of evenings out goofing, being able to attend the Bob Dylan concert with my husband, all of this meant a lot to me. I had expected the extra activity to cause increased pain and fatigue. I knew beforehand that I will have to pay for it over the next few days. But all of those little moments shared with my husband and my closest friends brought me happiness! And the ugly reality of my fibromyalgia symptoms could not put out that glowing ember because it was nothing I didn’t know was coming! In fact, I was nowhere near as bad as what I had mentally prepared myself to be. So you see, my reality far outweighed my expectations, despite the aggravated symptoms. And there I was – chronically ill, and happy!
In many ways, I have been happier since developing fibromyalgia than I was before. The chronic illness forced me to slow down and appreciate what I have in the moment, instead of blazing through to next finish line. It gave me time to realize how much I cherished having a flexible job with a reasonably understanding boss, how much my relationship with my husband meant to me, how much I enjoyed pursuing my hobbies (something I had all but given up to the harsh mistress that science can be!). It taught me to live moment to moment and take life as it comes. This is in stark contrast to my old self (whom I haven’t completely disowned yet), who was in constant competition with herself! I was never “blissfully content” with anything because I wanted to be more than I was before. Nothing could possibly “feel all right with my world” if I am constantly dissatisfied with it! The chronic illness forced me to drop my expectations far below what I could have ever imagined for myself. And then suddenly, I found my reality fared much better than those new lowered expectations!
In the end, thanks in part to my chronic illness, I realized I didn’t have to do or be anything to be happy. I simply am!