Tuesday, February 10, 2009

On Being Chirpy - and Not

I have a fabulous mother-in-law - she has all sorts of serious medical problems, has had some of them for most of her adult life, but she very rarely gets down about them. She has this amazing appreciation for everything in her life, and an abiding faith that everything will eventually work out for the best. I admire her tremendously, for this and other reasons. I asked her once how she developed this wonderful attitude, hoping to learn from her good example; unfortunately she said that she was born with it, and she didn't think it was something one developed. You either have it, or you don't.

Studies done on optimism, pessimism, shyness, etc. bear her out on this. Children evidently are inherently risk-takers or fearful, optimistic or anxious, shy or outgoing pretty much from birth, and by and large we grow up to be who we were from the beginning. These personality traits are filters through which each person passes all their experiences, and those filters determine what 'sticks' and what falls to the wayside.

Interestingly, studies also show that people who tend to be anxious, cautious, and pessimistic also tend to be more realistic than other people - they more accurately assess their own performance, more accurately assess the likely consequences of a given action, more accurately assess the likely outcome of a given situation. And yet this realistic attitude gets in their way; realistic people get less done, on average, and succeed less often than unrealistically optimistic people, people who shoot for unrealistic goals, people who take foolish risks, people who overestimate their own abilities and performance.

So don't get me wrong - I admire those who are positive in their attitudes, who set their goals high and reach for the stars, who whistle while they work and always look on the bright side of life. These are the people who get things done, and they are (usually) fun to be with while they are at it.

BUT... I was not born one of these people, and in spite of periods of resolve and effort, I have not been able to force myself to be one of these people. I am one of those annoyingly anxious, cautious, stubbornly realistic people. Attempts to force myself into acting otherwise have only lead to depression and loneliness - I knew I was faking it, and so did everyone else. People aren't naturally drawn to pessimists, it's true, but nobody likes being with fakey people. I've learned over time to accept (most of) my flaws and limitations.

As Popeye says, "I Yam What I Yam."

A well-intentioned reader - obviously a member of those number blessed with natural optimism herself, who correctly understands that an positive attitude does lead to a happier experience of life - urges me to stop talking about what I am losing and start talking about what I still have.

Well, I do know and appreciate what I have, and sometimes I talk (or write) about that. But right now my experience is largely one of loss and narrowing down and physical pain, and that is what I am dealing with. My life is challenging right now, and those challenges are likely to grow rather than diminish over what time is left to me. At the moment those challenges and losses are constantly in my face, so I have to deal with them - and I have to deal with them in my own way.

One of my ways of dealing with these challenges and losses - as well as my blessings - is to write about them, and to write about them honestly. So although I appreciate the good intentions behind the wish that I could be happier and focus more on the positive, I cannot follow a suggestion that would lead to my being insincere and Not Myself. I cannot pretend that I don't miss what I've always had and suddenly don't, or that I am not occasionally sad that my life is suddenly a lot more limited than I and my loved ones thought or hoped it would be.

I understand that this can be a Downer, and uncomfortable for some people. Luckily, they can either move on to something more positive in order to lift their spirits again, or they can wait for a bit and come back when I'm feeling better, or they can choose not to 'listen' to my whining at all. I can understand that urge, certainly!

I try to do most of my whinging/emoting on my other (cancer journal) blog, but the subject is bound to slip out onto this one on occasion. I hope that you will stick with me, and I do appreciate all the fabulous support and kindness shown to me by all my lovely readers... but please don't push at me, even with the best of intentions, to be someone that I'm not. It just makes me more unhappy and uncomfortable than I already am, which is not likely to lead to a more positive attitude on my part.

On the other hand, airing my feelings does often help me shed the heavier ones a bit. I feel better already...


mrspao said...

You are entitled to moan!

Hug xxxx

Glorious Hats said...

Okeeeeee dough Keeeeeyy, hanging in still. Like a flea on a hound.

Mtvrdik said...


This post struck me really interestingly. I've been talking to my friend Deanne lately, well mostly listening. I'm usually the talker so that task isn't always easy for me, but she is a writer like you and talking or writing about things lifts her up.

One of our her recent rants was how frustrating it is for her to have to make others comforable with her disease. She must calm the optimists who do not like upset in their lives. I fall in the middle, I am not an extreme optimist nor an extreme pessimist, yet somehow a realist. She was afraid I would be one of them and is pleased I did not react that way.

I've reacted quite the opposite to the news of her brain cancer. I WANT the details, I WANT to the know the bad. If she is telling me everything, then I know it is what it is. I don't have to worry she is hiding something. I can trust her and in turn know how and when to encourage her through this honesty.

She has been extremely positive thus far, but is in the early stages. I don't doubt there will be times she wants to be alone, no calls, no visits, and other times my phone will ring. When it does, i'll be ready to listen.

Eileen, keep writing what your heart tells you to right. You are losing a lot, that is no doubt. It will be hard. You are not alone and you can get through this. Part of the process is anger, grief, ect. Those things can not be denied or healthing and acceptance can not occur.

Unfortunatly, some can not handle illness of this magnitude. Some friendships will be lost, some will just lay low, and some friendships will be GAINED!

Thank you for posting that, it will help me help you and Deanne!

Mtvrdik said...

I just realized you may not know who Mtvrdik is. It is Meredith.


Deborah said...

Although I don't have cancer, I do have my own health issues to deal with, and I felt a little guilty for writing about it in my blog last night. Thanks for your post! I feel better now.

Tammy said...

Sometimes, I think that if people would just shut up and quit saying 'look on the bright side',or 'it could be worse' and instead just listen to each other, our lives would be richer and deeper. Everyone has to deal with difficulties the way they are equipped to. Sometimes we even have to dwell in the dark for awhile, to come to grips with things. When that happens, we should just be there, and listen, and care for each other. You don't know me, but my heart goes out to you right now, and you are in my prayers. Thank you for sharing this most difficult time in your life, and as someone mentioned --you are entitled to react to it as you need to.

Nancy K. said...


I'll shut up.

I didn't mean to offend anyone.

In my own stupid way, I was only trying to help...

Delighted Hands said...

We all need to remember there is not rule book with this journey you are one.......we will all gain incredible wisdom because you are sharing with us, Eileen....

Robin said...

I think you are doing exactly what you need to do. It's a hard road you are traveling. While it may not always be easy to "hear" about the time you may have left, it is your reality for now. That may well change, miracles abound, but you need to be able to get it out. I wonder how you are still able to have a sense of humor about it sometimes. In many ways, you are blessed, but this is no walk in the park. I'm here for you cuz, whenever you want to talk, but this is fine too. I keep my fingers crossed for you, and think of you often... and wish for you... Love, Robin

It's just Raven said...

Bless you for being true to yourself. In the few days since I "met" you I can already see you have your light and brightness which you share so readily and you are entitled to share your darker moments as well. You have a balance that too many are afraid to even acknowledge. You have a tremendous challenge and fears to face and strengths yet to find. Those who can be with you in this journey of discovery can learn much from it.


The Violet Hoarder said...

If you are a pessimist I must be suicidal! Here I was thinking that I should be more like you--the glass-is-half-full girl, who can pen wildly entertaining stories even through life-threatening challenges, who continues to celebrate everything even when there's only one small candle in a dark room. Geez, you've been tremendously courageous and optimistic through this whole thing. To be completely happy in the midst of all this would make you insane or on way too many drugs. So, know that you've inspired at least one Norwegian to try to walk more often on the sunny side of the street. You're perfect just the way you are! And so is your writing. We're privileged to read it.

disa said...