I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Maintaining positivity

Leaf strewn path in the woods
I had an extra hour of sleep last night because of the time change. I figured I wouldn't be able to stay in bed until my usual time, but I didn't have any problem at all. How is it possible that just a number on a clock can make it likely that I can sleep longer? As usual, it was having to visit the bathroom that finally got me out of my warm cocoon of blankets. After making myself a cup of tea and getting my laptop for the usual Sunday morning writing exercise, I slipped back into the still-warm covers and cast about for the theme of today's post.

A poem of Emily Dickinson's kept going through my head all night long, so I looked it up this morning to see its entirety. The first stanza goes like this:
A loss of something ever felt I—
The first that I could recollect
Bereft I was—of what I knew not
Too young that any should suspect
One of the reasons that I have remembered that poem so much is that first line, where she puts the "I" in the most amazing place, and I have pondered that particular poem many, many times. She is telling (I think) of her first experience of attending a funeral. And now that first line emerges from the depths of my memories, and I think it speaks to me of the gradual loss of sight that I am going through today. Although I keep telling myself I'm reconciled to the AMD (age-related macular degeneration) that is affecting me, I know that I am living that first line: a loss of something ever felt I.

The vision loss is only just beginning, and it doesn't presently affect my ability to drive, read, or basically live my life. The right eye compensates for the missing vision in the left, and although I have "dry" AMD in both eyes, only the left is currently affecting my ability to see. I no longer drive much at night, and I avoid driving in heavy rain because of the glare, but otherwise I can see the oncoming cars and the road just fine. I've started wearing those dark sunglasses over my regular glasses and find that it does help my eyes feel more rested.

That said, I realize that much of my sense of loss comes from the anticipation of greater vision loss, which I know is coming, but it isn't here now. Why do I do that? Why do any of us project our fears into the future and worry about it in the present? It is counterproductive and eats away at my inner peace and contentment. Yesterday I was talking with one of my neighbors about my eyes, and she told me how she and her daughters coped with a particularly difficult period in their lives. Her first husband was unable to find steady work and they ended up moving from place to place every few months. She and her two daughters made a game out of it, and she looks back at that time and realizes that they were happy, in spite of all the chaos of their lives. Her attitude made all the difference.

Just for fun, I researched the question "should you pretend to be happy?" on the internet, and the first thing that came up was an article by Harriet Lerner in which she says this:
Sometimes I encourage my clients to engage in creative acts of pretending, not to run from the truth, but rather to discover new truths. Pretending joy or happiness can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, helping us discover or enhance our capacity for these positive feelings.
It reminds me of what my neighbor said: she and her daughters maintained their joy in life during difficult circumstances by encouraging each other to be happy and finding merriment in their predicament. That was a long time ago, and now my neighbor takes great pleasure in her two grandsons. Watching them play together makes me realize that she incorporated delight into herself, and it never seems to leave. She is a pleasure to be around.

I also know that there are many ways to find happiness in even dire circumstances, because I read about examples of this all the time. You would think that I would have perfected the ability to experience loss by now, but of course I haven't. The one thing I do know is that loss is inevitable, but sometimes the loss is not real. Instead, it's a feeling projected from the current moment into an uncertain future.

I'm going to practice Harriet's suggestion of pretending that I'm feeling just fine and see if it makes it any easier to deal with my vision loss. Suddenly I realize that I'm obsessing over it, and that means I'm neglecting the other aspects of my wonderful life that make me happy. Yesterday, SG and I had a disagreement that ended up with both of us talking it out and learning more about how to avoid such problems in the future. When we are at odds, I am really unhappy, as is he, so it's worth it to find a way forward. We always do, because we are both willing to be honest with each other. And with ourselves. I am very fortunate to have found this person to spend my life with. He's sleeping quietly next to me right now, undisturbed by the tapping of the keys on my laptop.

The wind is blowing quite hard outside. I can hear it whistling through some nearby gap, making me aware that it's pretty awful out there right now. We had another round of snow last night, and between the wind and the cold, it is not very inviting, thinking about going outside. But I'll get up and go anyway, because the coffee shop has become my place of conversation and camaraderie. Plus I've arranged to go to the movies with my friend Judy at 10:00am, so I'll just hang out at the coffee shop until it's time to walk to the movie theater. We're going to see that new Christopher Robin movie, which has come to our local independent theater instead of the larger 16-theater conglomerate across town.

I have been a fan of A.A. Milne for a long time, and sometimes I think of Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore as old friends. It will be fun to find out how they came into being. The reviews are sort of middle of the road (some good, some not so good), so my expectations are not high. I'm sure I'll enjoy being with Judy and maybe I'll even treat myself to some popcorn! I'm making good progress on losing those extra pounds and maybe I'll begin to stop being quite so rigid with my food intake. I say that, but then I realize I have allowed myself a bit of chocolate almost every day!

Even though it's not exactly pleasant to think about getting out of this warm bed, I'm going to do it anyway, and start my day thinking happy thoughts and even letting a smile visit my face. I'm going to think about you, my dear readers, doing the same, and in my mind's eye I'm showering you with love and light. Can you feel it yet? I'll keep it up until you do. Be well until we meet again next week.


Marie Smith said...

Your post showered love and light, Jan. It came through every word and turn of phrase. Love and light to you in abundance!

Linda Reeder said...

I'm not so good at pretending to be happy, but with self talk I can release needless anxiety and get myself into a better place. Also, I have found that making my face smile even when I am not feeling it does make a difference. "Turn that frown upside down", that act of changing facial muscles, is a mood lifter.
It is now two hours since you posted. I lingered in bed long after I needed to. Right on cue with the forecast, it has started to snow, but more rain than snow at 34 degrees. A layer of white on the ground would have made me smile, but this is the worst. Good for you for getting out. I don't think I will.
Thanks for the love and joy. I will work on receiving it, and sending it back.

Marianne said...

I am watching my fiercely independent 95 year old mother fight against the physical effects of aging. Making her more dependent upon her family and she is angry most of the time. My sisters and I help her as much as she will let us but her anger and denial is a barrier to a close relationship. I realize that grieving over loss of choices is ok but your life is better if you can accept your limitations. It makes it easier for those who care about you to support you. I am so sorry about the AMD and wish you strength to work through the changes. Thank you for your blogs

Elephant's Child said...

Your love and light are a beacon. A welcome beacon.
And love, light and laughter to you too.

Rian said...

DJan, your post today seems to say, "Fake it until you make it"... and when it comes to happiness, I think it might work... that it can be a choice, albeit not an easy one. As difficult as the AMD prognosis is, dwelling on something that hasn't happened yet can't be good, especially when there are so many good things already in your life. You say that it hasn't affected your ability to drive, read, or live your life at present, don't let it affect your mind at present either. I find 'fear of the possibilities that could happen' something us older folks have to work hard to overcome.

Arkansas Patti said...

Most of us are guilty of fearing tomorrow and letting it rob us of today. Sometimes I have to shake myself and just enjoy the moment and not worry about "what ifs". Not always easy but always satisfying when accomplished. As a recovering alcoholic I have learned to live one day at a time. Sometimes, I need a reminder. You have so much wonderful in your life right now. Enjoy today my friend.

Hilary said...

Back in the 90's, married to my alcoholic ex husband, I struggled with my life. when I got myself to Al Anon, one of the things I learned, and loved, was the "act as if". Basically, it is like pretending....you act "as if" you have it all under control, you act "as if" everything is ok, you act "as if" you can handle this just fine, thank you.
The funny thing is, after a while, you're not acting "as if" anymore. You really are ok.

Red said...

We have to talk ourselves into many things like you talked yourself into getting out of a warm bed and on the road to the coffee shop. Some things in life are larger problems. we never get used to loss. Some things we will have to cope with and find a good way to cope. I hope it's a long time before your eyes and vision become a problem.

The Furry Gnome said...

I've always believed that happiness is largely a choice, though sometimes it's not easy to make that choice.

Rita said...

I also agree that happiness is a choice. Sometimes one must fight fiercely to make that choice. I remember when Dagan was a baby and they told me to prepare myself for his death. Told me no children with his particular series of heart defects had lived past two years old except one girl in France who was five and the vast majority of them died before they were six months old. You can't believe what you are hearing...but you have to live with it.

I decided that I'd have the rest of my life to drown in sorrow if I needed to. But if Dagan only had one more day--then let it be a good one. Let it be a day we smile and laugh and are glad to share our time together...whether he was sick or well--made no difference. If that was his only day left--why have the shadow of worry and fear hang over him.

Dagan and I always had a great time together and laughed a lot. But I was more concerned with who he was--his soul--the kind of person he was--than how long he lived. I believe how we live this life we have is THE most important reason we are here.

I look at it this way--if you were told that you were going to die on such and such a day and there was nothing you could do about it--would you spend the rest of your days worrying, fearful, and bemoaning your fate? Or would you choose to enjoy this precious earth in the time you had left and let the people you love know how you feel? That's how it is. For all of us. We just don't know the date ahead of time. Or what shape we will be in on our way out. But what a journey!! What a precious gift!!

It was not easy. I had bad days. But then you fight to remake that choice. Life was never promised to be easy. I consider myself a realistic-optimist. ;)

And--as you know, Dagan has been patched and re-patched to keep his heart going and shocked them all. He turned 43 on the 2nd!! Whoohoo!!

I still have those worrying, self-pity days once in a while--but the past several years they are more due to worry about my own health...my own future. Same choices to make, though. So far, I have continued to remake that choice to be happy--no matter what shape I am in--or what the predictions may be--LOL! And I pray I can continue to do so as the years carve away more pieces of who I used to be (physically). I will have the rest of my life to mourn the new losses--if I so choose. So far, I have chosen to be remain as happy as I can possibly be. Life is just too short and too damn good! ;)

Sorry to go on, but this is where I live, baby! ;)

Love and hugs!!! :) :)
The realistic-optimist.

Dee said...

Dear DJan, yesterday you left a comment on my blog posting in which you shared your having been diagnosed with muscular degeneration in your eyes. Today I've just read your posting about this. Oh, DJan, I am so sorry this has happened. It does seem that growing older means letting go, again and again, of what have been anchors in our life. Anchoring us to security and beauty and self-knowledge. So we experience loss again and again and always there is the niggling fear that we will experience even more in a deeper and harder way.

For myself, there are several things that help me as I'm aging and experiencing the vicissitudes of living so much longer than my parents did. Julian of Norwich's mantra got me through the terror of Meziere's Disease. So that's one help. Another is the gratitude journal that I've kept for over 20 years. Each night I write down 5 things-people--events--whatever--for which I am grateful. I cannot tell you how this has helped me. With Meziere's I would sometimes have spent the entire day with the room--the four walls and the ceiling and the floor rotating around me and me throwing up--sometimes for 24 hours. Each night, I would try to find, in the midst of that, five things for which to be grateful: the purr of Laz, the patch of sunlight on the Persian carpet, the sound of rain hitting the window pane, the fact that I didn't fall down the steps that day. You see what I mean--not big "deals" but the quiet beauty of being.

It is gratitude that has helped me deal with the compromised vision that is now mine. I am so grateful that I can still read. And I am grateful that if blindness is to come, I have time to prepare for it. I am grateful that my eyes can see Maggie's face and run my hand down her fur. Gratitude is the great gift that can come with loss.

Well, I didn't mean to get preachy. I know that you are a woman who is grateful for each day. Dwell in that. Peace.

Far Side of Fifty said...

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade and share with friends. I think any life changing event will send you on a disbelief, mourning, anger and finally acceptance set of emotions...it is "normal". Make the best of each day...and you will in time ...right now that is just hard for you...I understand and send you a cyber hug:)

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, I do feel a joy that comes from reading most of your posts. When I say that, I don’t mean, for example, that there is any joy from hearing about your AMD. It is, however, the attitude you have about keeping on the positive side. Haven’t you heard the old saying, “Attitude is everything.” This year I’ve become a septuagenarian. I believe you are one as well. :-) As we get older I think we gain little bits of wisdom that might not have been appreciated at a younger age. I feel lucky to have found you in the blogosphere because you have a way of communicating these bits of wisdom. Today’s post, and all the comments too, would be an excellent reading assignment for a university level class in psychology. Now, regarding the comments from others … I don’t often see one blogger comment on what another blogger says, but I can’t pass up seconding Rita’s comment: “I believe how we live this life we have is THE most important reason we are here.” Wow, that is quite amazing and worth a lot of consideration! Thank you, DJan, as always, for sharing. Also, thank you for the virtual blessing and I’m sending the same your way! :-)

Glenda Beall said...

DJan, I am so, so sorry to hear of your having AMD. I hope you have good doctors and will look at alternatives to aid you in fighting this. I had a student in my class recently who is almost totally blind, but she writes so well. She is writing a memoir and her husband is there with her whenever she needs him. He brings her to class and helps he get seated and places a cushion behind her. She has had arthritis since she was five years old and has had many surgeries. I tell you this because I know you are a person who will persevere no matter what difficulty you face. You will find ways to make your life good as my student has done. Isn't it wonderful that we have audible books now? I listen to a book almost every night. You have much to share with the world and can always continue to write your blogs and perhaps will write a memoir about your exciting life. However, I can't imagine what it must be like to think of going blind. My sister had surgery on her one good eye today and I am scared to death that things might not come out right.
Today there are many wonderful things available for helping those who have vision difficulties. A friend of mine has a talking watch since it is hard for him to read the time.
Like you, I am facing health problems and am dedicating the winter to working on getting myself in better shape so I can teach next year and do more writing and publishing of my work. My sister has found that energy healing helps her - EFT and Reiki.
My heart aches for you as you can't help but think of what the future holds. But continue to do what you do - live each day with joy and gratitude. You will weather all this with surprising acceptance and ability.

likeschocolate said...

I can't even imagine! I am sorry you are loosing your sight. I impressed how positive you are staying.

Jackie said...

As I read about your continuing loss of vision, my friend, my emotions were stirred on many levels.
First, to know that you have a positive attitude says a lot about what is inside of your heart and soul. You inspire me. I mean that.
Next, the way you pen your thoughts makes my heart smile. You have a gift. You have a tremendous gift, and I hope that you know how blessed you are to have that gift. You paint the most beautiful pictures with your words. Thank you for that.
I hold onto Scriptures that help me get through the times that might bring darkness. I want to share one with you: "And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, shall keep your hearts, your minds through Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:7
Warmest hugs to you, my friend.
Love you,

Rhapsody Phoenix said...

Blessings Jan: .
"I realize that much of my sense of loss comes from the anticipation of greater vision loss, which I know is coming, but it isn't here now. Why do I do that? Why do any of us project our fears into the future and worry about it in the present?"
That is our humanness we tend to do that. Also Jan you are grieving the pending loss. You are trying to prepare your psyche for what is to come, it is the way you cope. Please be patient with yourself. Think of it this way, if it was a loved one experiencing what you are experiencing now, what would you say to them if they came to you for comfort? Your answer to that questions are the things you will require to do for yourself, among them is patience with yourself.

Gigi said...

I don't know how I missed this post last week!

I ascribe the 'fake it, till you make it" theory - most of the time. As humans it's perfectly normal to fret over the future and, in my case at least, to also fret over past events. But fretting really accomplishes nothing.

You, DJan, are a constant source of joy and inspiration for so many - especially me.

Sending love and hugs.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

Wow so many long comments. I was taught my my dad to try to turn dislikes into likes using the concept of make a game of it. When Pollyanna came along I recalled his words. They got him through his very hard life and his idea helped me many times and Inhave oassed it on to others even students.
As for Macula degeration , dry, I have had it for 10 years now and is is very very slowly getting worse. I invented way to cope using vitamins designed for that eye condition and even eye surgery 3 years ago to remove the vitrious and a buckle in thatveye tomslow it down , it has helped. And our tablets with zoom and camera to help read tiny stuff by tacking a screen shot and then reading the pic with zoom is a huge help. Have no fears. You have time and gadgets to be there for you. Diet for eyes is a good plan. Stuff that eats free radicals is great.
Would love to hear via email from you .HUGS