By: Summer Katz, LMHC, Patient Advocate
Life itself is a very interesting phenomenon, considering the balance of never-ending stressors (work, responsibilities and obligations) right along with the moments that allow us to experience happiness. Manage all of it with a chronic illness, such as cystic fibrosis (a full time job in and of itself), and it can be quite cumbersome.
As many of you know by reading my previous blogs, I am a CF patient and had a double lung transplant 21 years ago. I can also now add kidney transplant recipient to the list. I received a kidney from my husband six months ago, which was an incredible blessing, simply because of the fact that we are unrelated and were an exact match! Truly ‘meant to be!!’
I have shared with you three significant factors in my life; a diagnosis of CF, as well as two invasive organ transplants. If I were to tell you that those were the only impacts to my life, I’d be lying. I have also experienced many losses, including the death of many of my close family and friends over the years, as well as the loss of so many unmet expectations in life. So, the question is… How does someone go through the journey of life with all of these things in their path, and still come out the other side with a positive mentality?
Well, the answer to that million-dollar question is not easy, but here goes trying…
Have you ever heard the saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade?” Well, there can be powerful suggestion to this little phrase. There is something key about making an effort to turn the sour into something beautiful and sweet. I emphasize the concept of ‘the effort we make,’ because that simply can be the foundation of a healthy perspective.
We should absolutely account for the sprinkle of those positive moments (the celebrations, the successes, the milestones and the achievements). These moments certainly have the ability to impact our mood and outlook, even if it is temporary.
So many people too easily rely on their instinct, which leads them to be reactive in their thoughts, emotions and behaviors. However, it is actually these very reactions that can end up harming our mentality as we essentially carve a path of coping with the various things we experience throughout life.
Reaction comes from the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) in the brain, or in other words, the fight-or-flight mechanism. When we feel any version of cognitive or emotional distress, we do innately react and go into fight-or-flight, because we frankly do not like those feelings.
It is my understanding that this fight-or-flight was ingrained in us from the start of our existence. So, if we think back to the caveman period, where people had to exist fearing for their lives on a daily basis, we understand the significant difference that they did not have the security or stability that we as human beings have the opportunity to enjoy today.
People who lived during this period were merely existing every day out of the instinct to fight for their survival while scavenging for food and defending themselves against predators, as well as the environment. The interesting thing is that the body does not know the difference; whether we are in actual physical danger, or we are solely experiencing cognitive or emotional distress. Therefore, the SNS kicks in no matter the fight that we literally experience, or even merely perceive in our minds.
Truth be told, as I define my own existence as “having a positive mentality,” I must be transparent and say that this is certainly not a permanent, nor a constant attitude. I have my moments of the very normal ebb and flow of emotions, depending on the situation or circumstance.
I merely try as often as possible to choose how I wish to engage in life, knowing that so much of it is out of my control. My intention is to participate in my journey with trust… hope… peace… love… and joy. I have learned that trust is essential in confronting fear. Fear is normal and essential in responding to the important fight-or-flight process, certainly in danger situations.
However, I also know that it does not benefit me to create a habit out of participating in the fear (overly analyzing it, thinking about it, or worrying about it). Hope is connected to trust, and both are quite vulnerable. I believe it is important to be open to the possibility of a good outcome, more so than playing into the concept of ‘bad things will always happen.’
My view is that optimistic thinking is always more advantageous than pessimistic or skeptical perspectives. This leads me to welcoming and finding the peace in life. Just as much as I wish to engage in the optimism (future-focused desire), I also think it is important to acknowledge the reality of the present, even if that reality is scary, undesirable or painful. Sometimes simply sitting with whatever the experience actually is allows us to absorb the awareness of the impact and then quite possibly find acceptance to the situation.
Along the journey of my own personal experiences, I cherish my professional path. My path has included a passionate mission to inspire others to reconnect to the love and joy which may have been lost; providing support, guidance, and encouragement to teach others to make an effort toward creating the life that they want.
So, why not stop where you are, and begin to work on making some lemonade out of the lemons that you have been given, dealt, thrown, or simply come across on your path? Life can be a very interesting phenomenon… It is ultimately up to us to define how positive or negative the concept of ‘interesting’ can be.
Summer Katz, M.A., LMHC
Licensed Mental Health Counselor
Cystic Fibrosis Pharmacy Patient Advocate
*Disclaimer: This blog is provided for informational purposes only (including brief topic exploration or reflection) and should not be used as a substitute for professional mental health or medical treatment.