Editor’s note: this is a guest post by Kathleen Pooler of Memoir Writer’s Journey.
“Sometimes our fate resembles a fruit tree in winter. Who would think that those branches would turn green again and blossom, but we hope it, we know it.”
- Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
When I reflect upon my life, which I am prone to do these days having recently retired after forty-four years in the nursing profession, I realize how grateful I am to have survived so much and still feel positive. Oh I have my questions. I mean, how does a young woman from a stable Christian family go off to make so many hair-brained decisions and end up with two failed marriages–one to an alcoholic and the other to a man who stubbornly refused treatment for his Bipolar Disorder. Bipolar Disorder, if you did not know, is a mood disorder that can be controlled with medications and psychotherapy. Left untreated as his was, the person can display violent and erratic mood swings and behavior, putting himself and those around him at risk. My children and I ended up escaping in the middle of the day and hiding out in a friend’s house when our physical safety was at stake. My husband could have received treatment but he chose not to. No amount of urging on my part convinced him otherwise.
Soon after, I became a single parent with two surly teenagers. Before it was all over, we had moved to four different states in a matter of seven years. Then there was the diagnosis of Stage Four NonHodgkin’s Lymphoma at the age of 50 which resulted in chemotherapy-induced cardiomyopathy, episodes of heart failure, multiple hospitalizations, etc.
Today, as I look back, I realize that life did not turn out as I had dreamed it would.
So how come I feel so joyful now? How come I am living life on my own terms and loving it? How come I am so grateful for the life I have lived?
Now, I may not be an expert on life but, I do have to admit, I am an expert on my own life. So, here’s how I’ve maintained a positive attitude and avoided bitterness in my life. (I do not profess to have all the answers, but this is what has worked for me:)
Work on self-acceptance (getting in touch with your uniqueness, your needs, desires, flaws, humanness, etc.) as a first step in accepting yourself for who you are and who you want to be. This allows you to treat yourself like you would treat a treasured friend. But remember that this is a lifelong process with many twists and turns, which leads me to the next point:
Self-forgiveness is essential in achieving joy and contentment in life. This usually happens in layers. As I write my memoir and return to my 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, I have come face-to-face with the mistakes, missteps, and foolhardy decisions of my past. Confronting the pain of these decisions has enabled me to move beyond them; to view them as lessons and opportunities to change and grow. (Yes, sometimes it takes years to grow through our mistakes.)
3. Make Obstacles Work For You
Sometimes our greatest obstacles can lead to our greatest blessings. Somewhere, back in my 30’s, I figured out that my thoughts determine my feelings and reactions. I learned on a gut level that most of the time people act the way they do for their own reasons which have nothing to do with me. I don’t have to take their misbehaviors personally. Another way of saying the same thing is “others don’t hurt me, I allow them to hurt me” which puts the responsibility back on me. For me, being diagnosed with cancer fine-tuned my perspective on life. There is something about facing your mortality that puts everything in its place. Life took on a new meaning. Every day became a gift. This leads me to my next point:
4. Attitude Is Everything
We all get one chance at life and it’s up to each one of us to choose how we live it. When faced with a crisis, we have a choice–we can dig deep down within ourselves and fight for all we’re worth, or, we give in, give up, play the victim role and allow ourselves to be beaten. I believe attitude is everything. If we think we can, we can. If we think we can’t, we can’t. Again, our self-talk determines our behaviors, choices and many times our outcomes. I know there are a lot of things in life we don’t have control over, but we do have control over how we respond to whatever life throws at us.
When we focus our thoughts and energies on all we have to be grateful for, there is little room for negative thinking. Again our thoughts determine our feelings, behaviors and outcomes.
6. Find Support
Develop your own support system. By that I mean choose to surround yourself with people who enhance your life and avoid those who sap your energy. Honor yourself and your needs by “learning to use ‘NO’ as a complete sentence.”
7. Nurture Your Soul
Find ways to nurture your own soul. I know spirituality is a very personal issue, but I do want to say that finding meaning in our lives is very important. It does not have to, but this search for meaning can involve religious traditions. I happen to be Roman Catholic and find great meaning in praying, saying the Holy Rosary, attending Mass and receiving the Holy Eucharist. Alanon, family, friends, exercise, following my passions of writing, exercise, reading, playing the piano are some other ways I nurture my soul. The main point is that we each need to find what works for us just as we respect each others’ right to do the same.
8. Honor Yourself
Learn to stay still long enough to get to know what you need, and then honor yourself, and your needs, by carving out your own time and space to “follow your bliss.”
9. Hope Matters
And perhaps the most important for me: never, ever give up hope.
These are just a few ways I’ve maintained a positive attitude and avoided bitterness during the “long haul” of life: sitting still, listening, accepting my humanness, honoring my uniqueness, using positive self-talk, expecting life to send a few curve balls my way, fighting for all I’m worth, taking responsibility for my own choices, and being grateful for the life I have–flaws and all. I try to trust and believe with all my heart that I can do whatever I set my mind to do.
Life is good, very good and I am grateful.
Kathleen Pooler is a writer and a recently retired Family Nurse Practitioner who is working on a memoir about how the power of hope through her faith in God has helped her to transform, heal, and transcend life’s obstacles and disappointments–divorce, single parenting, loving and letting go of an alcoholic son, cancer and heart failure–to live a life of joy and contentment. She believes that hope matters and that we are all strengthened and enlightened when we share our stories. She blogs weekly at Memoir Writer’s Journey and can be found on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.
So how about you? What do you do when life throws you a curve ball? How do you nurture your soul? How do you stay positive and keep from becoming bitter? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
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