Norman Vincent Peale writes the popular book, “The Power of Positive Thinking.” His success spurs the cottage industry: the modern happiness factory. “Positive Thinking” begets generations of life coaches, authors, workshop/retreat leaders and therapists who promote the eradication of negative feelings. Don’t Worry. Be Happy. What’s wrong with that, Kumari? Studies bear me out when I say giving up negative emotions has the unintended effect of erasing, muting and numbing down all emotions. You see anger, frustration and rage are natural, normal and healthy. The person who ignores them does violence to the authentic psyche.
Kumari the Radical
You think me harsh? Forgive me, I return from vacation to six voice mails from various medical facilities. Plus the letter with bad news, confirming abnormality. Should I be happy? Is it all good? I celebrate my return by scheduling appointments for blood work, biopsy, (third) mammogram, biopsy (for another body part), and dental work – in that order. I’m exhausted, strangely craving, eating all the time yet never full – tired but so uncomfortable in my skin. I hardly sleep. My body hurts. I note with dispassion both hunger and fatigue are earmarks of clinical depression.
Fall in to the Gap
There is a gap between stimulus and action. Oh the gap seems insignificant, truly tiny, minute. Surely there is no moment between reading “abnormality” and my reaction. Except there is. Long practice of self observation teaches me to direct my thoughts from my actions – and not the other way around. My hands tremble. I mean I think to myself, “Why am I shaking? Why am I fatigued beyond belief?” And “Why am I ravenous, empty, in need of food?” I push apart the two sides of the gap like an elevator door I won’t allow to close. “I’m depressed!” I marvel. Despite being a perfectly rational person, or more likely because I am a perfectly rational person – the harsh news has alienated me from my self.
Every Man for Himself
To paraphrase Tolstoi, response to happy news is generic; while unhappy news creates unique reaction. A certain friend is busy reminding me with each failing test that this is probably nothing. He’s collecting stories from people who’ve had repeated call-backs with ultimately benign results. He can’t wait for the all clear, he’s pronouncing now. In the meanwhile I’m exploring the symptoms of cancer, survival rates, treatment options. I understand everyone must do what makes him feel best. But I fear that if the results come back negative I will be very, very, ecstatically elated and he? He, having fully prepared for the moment, will say “I told you so.” You can see how this is a half-cocked pistol between friends.
The problem with prayer
On another front, a religious friend admits she’s praying for me. That irritates me. Not just the doe-eyed look of pity, the whole philosophy stinks. If there is a God, why would God do what “Sherri” says? Does Sherri think she’s more powerful than God? For the record, I hate the idea that cancer is a sin. I hate the social convention of death being a sin, the pattern of modern churches devoting prayer to what is really an organic experience now that’s missing the mark. Dying is natural even if cancer sucks. Yes, even if I’m not sick now, I will be one day – I will die one day. What I want with my life is to experience, not avoid, what is happening. Everyone is happening – whether they chose to pay attention or not. What are you doing with your precious time?
Two generations ago women self-medicated with alcohol. Why face reality when life can be fantastic? By the late 1990s Zoloft, Paxil and other common mother’s little helpers render bored housewives docile, checked-out. Like antibiotics that kill both good and bad bacteria mood inhibitors zero out feelings. Without effective talk therapy, new patterns, new neural pathways fail to create. Unpleasant events pass through the brain like water through a sieve. But pleasant ones as well wash through without residue. What kind of a cure is that?
Bless and Forgive
I lost my mother when I was 20 years old. I lost my dad when I gave birth, by “lost” I mean he’s pissed at me. He has difficulty accepting I am a single parent. Because my father refuses to explain himself I can only suppose he thought I would do better by waiting, having a kid when I’m older, or married, or finished with my “education.” I can only say if I am dying, if I am: “I win!” because I did everything I wanted to do when I wanted to do it in lieu of having some inane “bucket list.” My child will be over 30 when I go, (who knows? maybe even over 40 or 50!) a point not lost on me.
The Past, The Present and The Future walk into a bar. . . it was tense. Nothing in my family history, that I know of, prepares me for this labyrinth of testing. Initially I go dutifully, then curiously, and finally with a vague sense of dread. I’m certainly ready for someone to pull back a curtain and announce “Just foolin’.” Can’t this be a wicked joke happening for the benefit of Candid Camera? Must the events unfurl like a flag in my face, snapping with urgency? The Past: I’m so glad I quit my job when I did to spend more time with my son, there was never any other time. The Present: I’m so glad I reached out – for the third time’s a charm, to my long lost calabash kid. The Future: I’m not sorry for blogging with fury on something which may turn out to be no thing.
The two paths that diverge in the woods
One path is for the people who view mistakes as shameful, a fate worse than death. Each new ineffective incident (i.e. “mistake”) fuses to memory like a badge, an identity. Have you met these people? They hate to be wrong. They also hate to try new things. (Because they hate to be wrong.) It’s a funny little (very little) circle path, that gets tighter with each pass. The other path is a line. The other path is for people who view mistakes as interesting, missteps, less-than-perfects in the process of perfecting. The line is made up of points, any one of which might be the terminus – although we know a line goes on forever. . . .
Now y’all play nice.
“A husband and a wife and some kids aren’t a family, any more than a Diet Pepsi and three Oreos is a breakfast.” Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. What the “Ghost Dance” of the Native Americans and the French Painters Who Led the Cubist Movement Have in Common