Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lemons, Luck and Lemonade

I wish I had written this, but I didn't. It was written by friend of mine, Sean, a fellow journalist and writer in Tacoma, Washington

Many of the bpers I've met seem to fall into a few categories.


1) embrace their illness and try to find the positive in it (turning lemons into lemonade)

2) try their best to live with it, despite the challenges (striving to turn lemons into lemonade, sometimes more successfully than at other times)

3) are simply resigned to it (knowing they've got lemons, but believing there is nothing they can do about it

4) fight it (wishing the lemons weren't there, but since they are, hoping the lemons will turn themselves into lemonade)

5) deny it ("What lemons?")
I realize this is a gross oversimplification and doesn't take into account financial circumstance, trust in pdocs, mixed dxes, level of functioning, severity of episodes and so forth. But when I look at that list, I can't help but wonder if the primary distinction between each of the items is a bper's attitude toward his or her illness. If it is, there's good news: Attitude is the result of a choice that we are free to make.

I had a professor who survived a concentration camp, where he was subjected over an extended period to the most painful medical experiments imaginable. During one of the most excruciating experiments, he found he had suddenly stopped caring about the pain.

The pain didn't go away, obviously, but it became more bearable because it taught him that there was a part of his character that the Nazis could never reach: his attitude toward his treatment, and that was fully in his control. He later described that realization as the most liberating moment in his life. Despite barbed wire, attack dogs, crematorium and armed guards, he never felt more free in his life.

My epiphany in this regard came in a far more benign environment -- at work. I was never a morning person, so I didn't especially like getting up and going to work each day. I also have a limited theshold for idiocy not of my own making, and hated stupid obstacles created by others and got easily frustrated.

One day, the business' head honcho asked me how I could possibly go through life with such an outlook. The way he looked at things, we get a finite number of days in our lives, and he couldn't understand how a person could stand to waste a single one. (I think his attitude was shaped in part by the fact that he'd lost several siblings when they were young.) He said he couldn't wait for the alarm to go off every morning so that he could get to work and tackle the challenges.

Scott Carson

He didn't see problems the way most of us do. I remember early one morning, when I could tell by the tension in his jaw that he'd just been on the receiving end of a particularly unpleasant telephone call with a corporate honcho. I said something like "Well, it doesn't look like your day is off to a great start!"

He looked to me as if I was nuts. From his perspective, that phone call brought him an unexpected problem that would require him to use intelligence, creativity and working with others to solve. That was NOT the attitude I brought to my work and my life, but over the course of the four years I worked with him his attitude rubbed off on me and others around him.

Realizing that we control our attitudes can give us a whole new way of looking at ourselves and the world. It changes EVERYTHING. Because of that change in perspective, I found myself feeling downright LUCKY when I was dxed with bp.
Lucky that there was now an explanation for my chronic depressions, my manic antics and my abusive behavior.

Lucky that bp was treatable, and that I lived in a time when medications could bring it under control.

Lucky that it brought me in contact with other bpers, both here and IRL.

Lucky that, because of bp, I had to face and learn to overcome challenges that other people would never know.
Once I thought of myself as lucky for such a dx, I became free to feel a sense of pride in achieving even the simplest everyday task during a depressive episode. Sometimes just crawling out of bed requires a good deal of willpower, when all my body wants to do is sleep, and knowing that I really won't feel like doing any of the things I need to do once I get up. So getting up can be a significant achievement.

I feel lucky to have such supportive friends here on MG who gave me such encouragement when I was on the downslope recently, and who show appreciation on those occasions when I can contribute something of value to them. I would never have had such friends except for bp, and my life would be so much the poorer.

It takes courage to be a bper. It takes resilience. But it needn't require resignation. I like to believe it is possible for many of us to embrace our illness, appreciating the advantages it's given us and looking for ways to mitigate the disadvantages. If we've been given a lot of lemons, we may not be able to make a lemon-chiffon pie, but lemonade may be within our reach.

We don't get to choose bper-hood. But as my professor observed, we are free to choose the attitude we wish to bring to any situation, no matter how terrible. And that, in his view, is the very definition of freedom. Our attitude is within our control, and we can make a tremendous difference in our lives if we exercise that choice.


Red Pill Junkie said...

Hmm... that made a lot of sense.

Reminded me of this:

I'll try to remember your friend's advice next time(tomorrow in fact) I find myself stuck in traffic, thinking of you-know-what.

The Depressed Reader said...

That was a great piece, congrats to Sean for writing it.
I think it is correct about the importance of attitude. I am not convinced we can choose our attitude, but the attitude we have is definitely important.

I've read similar pieces before, but this idea is one that we need to keep hearing. The story about his professor in the concentration camp reminds me a little of Victor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning". Thanks for posting this!

Jen Daisybee said...

Great piece of writing! Thanks for posting it and thanks to the author for writing it. I am somewhat wary of the idea that our attitude influence what happens to us in life, but I do believe that our attitudes affect the outcomes of how those things that happen to us work out. I often try to remind myself that this life is limited, I only get one shot at it, and there is no time to waste being miserable and doing nothing. Some days, I'm still depressed and do nothing, but I've lessened those days to the point they are not common. I think it's true, we can make lemonade out of these cards we are dealt, these lemons.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it is better to face the traumas and process them honestly than it is to drink the lemonade.

sarah said...

this is an amazing post...what you wrote....awesome. totally awesome. And I believe we can chose....there's a point we come to but I think there's a process to get to that point

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