My Quest For Happiness

Serenity Prayer1I’ve been in a writer’s funk, not because I’m at a loss for words, but I’ve been feeling glum. Since the car accident, my birthday and wedding anniversaries cause me to reflect on life more as well as what I haven’t accomplished. I know I have a blessed life, but it isn’t anything like I’d expected. Many dreams have not become reality and life’s expectations go unfulfilled and it appears the clock is ticking faster and louder with each passing year. I’m realizing some of these wishes and goals may be unattainable under our circumstances. It’s hard to separate what’s worth striving for and what to give up on. I’m not getting any younger and Mark’s not getting any better. The realization of both sometimes overwhelms me to the point where I just want to hide under the covers until Mark can take care of himself. Some days are hard to face, but I make myself get out of bed and do it anyway.

I’d hoped that every year the adjustments would get easier. It did the first several years while Mark was progressing. Seven years after his traumatic brain injury he started having seizures, which brought new challenges. Every added year without the capacity to be physically active brings more difficulties.It appears we are getting older at a faster pace than most others our same age. The major health concern right now is Mark’s hips. I was able to put the worry aside for a few weeks while I focused on recovering from my hernia surgery. Now that’s behind me, it’s time to deal with the more serious matter.

Besides the pain, Mark no longer is capable of bending his hips at ninety degrees, which is the optimal bend for sitting. It makes sense to me that this inability to sit properly is causing his poor posture, which results in low back and neck pain every time he changes positions.

Twenty-two years ago, Mark had extra calcium buildup in both of his hip joints scrape out. We don’t regret that surgery because it gave him years of improved hip function, but now he has arthritis and lots of scar tissue, which is part of the problem. The only hope for possible improvement now is for two total hip replacements. Unfortunately, he’s not a great candidate for this surgery. Twenty-four years of physical inactivity and little weight-bearing ability are making his bones soft and brittle. There’s a worry of them breaking and the muscles being strong enough to hold the hip replacements. We are stuck between a rock and a hard place. In order to make the right decision, which the responsibility to do so weighs heavily on my mind, we need more information. This means more doctor’s appointments and opinions.

You may wonder how a hip replacement can be beneficial for someone who doesn’t walk. Besides the sitting concern, which I’ve already explained and believe is contributing to his low back and neck pain; there is the issue of difficulty in transferring from one position to another. Getting him moved from his chair into bed, standing frame or shower/commode chair is tough because his hips don’t easily move. My cue for Mark before most transfers is, “nose over toes,” meaning lean forward because it makes the transfer so much easier. I didn’t realize until just recently that his hips will not allow him to bend forward. Think about the body mechanics of getting out of a chair. Usually, my hips bend about 120 degrees before standing. At best, Mark’s hips only have the ability to bend at eighty degrees, which means it’s a hard pull forward to get him up. A more recent problem is that after sitting for hours his hips don’t want to straighten up, which results in a second pull. Adding balance issues means he is a hard transfer and needs complete assistance to get from one spot to another.

I’ve been upset in the past because hospital nurses and aides are afraid of transferring Mark. I do it with little thought and haven’t realized how hard it is for someone who isn’t use to handling him. A few weeks ago, Mark’s shower/commode aide who was scheduled to come for six weeks during my recovery time, quit after nine visits. I’m still learning how hard it is to be a caregiver.

Nothing can drag me down faster than health worries. Sometimes I think it would be nice if someone else could live my life and take over my responsibilities. Maybe they would make better choices and do a better job. Since that’s not possible, there’s only one thing to do: press forward every day and do my best to find happiness along the way.

Happiness defined by Dictionary.com is “the quality or state of being happy; good fortune; pleasure; contentment; joy.” My good fortune is faith, family and friends. The love and support I feel from all three, brings me pleasure and contentment. What brings your happiness may differ from mine, but if we recognize what affects our joy and hold onto it by putting it first in our lives, we can more easily weather the storms.

I was reminded in church today that happiness is found by concentrating on what matters most. I made a list of what I thought makes me happy. It included a clean house, laundry completed, an organized desk, beautiful yard, exercise, a healthy diet and a well maintained vehicle. While looking at my list I realized these things bring peace of mind when they are done, but not lasting happiness. Then I noticed I didn’t list any recreational vehicles, or vacation spots. I thought, how strange, these things are dreams, which I’ve always imagined the beauty and enjoyable time bringing me happiness. It occurred to me it isn’t the places I go, or the toys I have that brings joy. It’s the people I’m with that matters the most. My good fortune is definitely family and friends. By recognizing and appreciating what I do have and giving love and care to the people who matter most, I can feel peace and contentment in my not-so-perfect life, finding true happiness.

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Gratitude Is The Key To Happiness

GratitudeAfter I posted the article What To Do With The “What Ifs”,  I was asked, “How long after the accident did it take you to start counting your blessings? I started typing a long reply to the question and thought I should make it a Tuesday Tip.

My first thought after I realized we had been hit and were pinned inside the wreckage of our car was, I’m glad the kid’s aren’t with us. So I would have to say I counted my blessings, or recognized the positive, right from the beginning. However, that doesn’t mean I always see the positives and feel grateful. Sometimes I find myself in a pity party—wishing things would have turned out differently. I suppose it’s human nature. Yet when I’m feeling discouraged, I remind myself what a waste of time and energy it is because all the wishing, worrying or feelings of regret do not change the situation.

The best way for me to pull myself out of discouragement and unhappiness is to turn my thoughts around by looking for the positives, which creates a gratitude attitude. Sometimes this is harder to do than other times, but I’ve learned it helps every time. Some days are dark and worrisome, but when I start looking for the positives, more positives appear and my outlook on life changes for the better. I attract what I am focused on.

When I am focused on the positive interactions of family and friends, I can appreciate and recognize them for the love and support they give. The result is—they are usually all the more helpful and loving. That isn’t my motivation for appreciating them, it’s just the way if seems to work.

I don’t believe gratitude always comes naturally, but I try to make it a habit by having a positive attitude. When my kids were teenagers I started a gratitude journal. It really helped me get through a rough time. Every night I wrote down five things I was grateful for. Some nights it took a while for me to think of five things I appreciated, but it turned my discouragement into encouragement. It also brought inner peace because I was focusing on the good instead of dwelling on the bad. Another great aspect of writing in a gratitude journal or keeping a list of things I’m grateful for is that I can go back and read it in times of discouragement.  It really does help.

Gratitude makes what I have enough which brings peace and contentment, the key to happiness. I believe in and remind myself often to count my blessings and name them one by one.