We've all heard about the power of positive thinking, which is real easy to do when things are going well—but quite another when everything is hitting the fan. When I was going through the worst time of my life caring for my sweet but ailing mother and challenging elderly father, I remember people telling me that I had to remain positive. It made me pretty angry, because it was so easy for them to say, a monumental task to do, and I really wanted them to be in my shoes and try it!
And what was there to be positive about anyway? I was watching my once-competent parents decline and go through surgery after surgery, and having my father scream obscenities at me, throw me out of the house, and even try to choke me to death. I cried rivers daily and pleaded for help from an unsympathetic medical system that just wasn't helping me appropriately.
I became overwhelmed emotionally, physically, financially, and often felt that I was dangerously close to going over the edge. What pulled me back every time was finding some humor—somewhere, somehow—and forcing myself to read over my list of "Gratitudes" to change my mindset.
Gratitudes are simply all the things we have to be grateful and thankful for in our lives. Simple enough, but when I first sat down to make my list in the midst of all the turmoil, I couldn't think of one darn thing. Finally I put down: Still Breathin'. But as I sat there and was honest about it, many other things came bubbling up. Oh yeah, I was healthy and oh yeah, I had wonderful friends and oh yeah, I didn't have any disabilities and oh yeah, I had gotten a wonderful education and had enjoyed a great career in the TV business and oh yeah, I had traveled extensively and and and
It wasn't long before I realized that it was absolutely impossible to have negative thoughts and positive thoughts in my head at the same time. So gee, which would I prefer? So when things got tough, as they did daily, I methodically plotted how to improve things, and then I read over my gratitudes (sometimes several times an hour before they'd sink in) and FORCED my mind back from the edge of the swirling abyss.
But sometimes when my blood pressure was going through the roof as Dad was throwing furniture at me, it was really hard to remember where the list was, let alone that I needed to read it! So, I put copies everywhere: at my nightstand (and read them first thing in the morning), at my desk (I can see them right now), in my purse, on the refrigerator, in the refrigerator (where I see them most often), on the bathroom mirror, in my car, on all the phones—so basically, I was constantly being reminded of good things.
Then I started adding all the things I was grateful for that I wasn't: poor, unattractive, living in a third-world country, on the beach during a tsunami, without talent, homeless, clueless or toothless. And so when the inevitable negative thoughts started creeping in, I'd yell, "CANCEL" and grab my list—which became my lifeline back to sanity.
Over a year into my caregiving nightmare, I finally figured it all out and was so beyond FURIOUS that I was needlessly put through so much misery and wishing, "If I'd only known then, what I know now"—I felt compelled to write my first book, start a radio program to help caregivers, be interviewed in tons of media, lecture around the country, and to write this Blog—so I can spare as many people as possible from going through what I did.
Then things were going along pretty well again—well—until I was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer last year. Ohhhh great—another big challenge. Why? I recognized immediately that I was really angry about it and I needed to get back to the same techniques to get through it.
First, I put every comedy movie I could find in my queue on Netflix (they haven't made a dime on me), and then I gathered supportive people and educational materials, and updated and read my gratitudes even more. After five surgeries with many painful complications, I was able to keep my spirits up, well-most of the time.
Now I wake up—just happy to wake up! I kiss my arms up and down and even lovingly pat my tummy. Yes, I even love my body for the first time in my life. And even though it's not in the best shape it could be—I don't really care! I strive to be healthy, focus on the positives and savor what I can do, because I realize that someday I won't be able to.
And you know what? My gratitude list is really looong now, because I have heard from many thousands of people, thanking me for helping them with their caregiving and breast cancer challenges. It is really a wonderful feeling.
So I encourage you to make your list of gratitudes, keep them handy, search for humor, and to take your own challenging experiences and think about how you can help others not repeat them. There is no need for each of us to constantly reinvent the wheel. You can share via this Blog, chat rooms, forums, and by attending a support group and guiding overwhelmed newcomers with your insightful wisdom. I promise you'll feel great about it.
And, as Oprah always says, "This thing I know for sure: when you help others, you help yourself even more!"