We Are Who We Decide To Be

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Recently someone shared this quote with me:

“I am not a product of my circumstances, I am a product of my decisions.”

– Steven Covey

It has been rolling around in my head ever since. I like this quote a lot as it gives us no opportunity to use our circumstances as a reason to be stuck in unhealthy situations or to justify negative behavior toward others. It takes away our excuse to be neglectful and holds us accountable.

Being a chronically ill person is one of the circumstances of my life. Only one circumstance. It does not define me and I can decide not to use it as an excuse to justify unhappiness, nastiness, laziness or negativity.

A lot of times I do not feel physically well. I am short of breath. My joints hurt. I am foggy headed from the medicine I take for my sarcoidosis. I get fevers and my bones often hurt. My legs muscles are weak so I am prone to falls. Having gotten this disease has changed my life. There is no way around that.

It is part of my life now and I must learn to accept it and to cope with it. I have the ability to use it as an excuse to sit on the couch and dwell feeling sorry for myself. Or, I can decide to do whatever it takes to do my part to minimize the effects it has on my life. I chose the later. I chose to take care of myself and I chose to eat right, exercise, manage my stress, get enough sleep and take inventory of my behavior on a daily basis.

Having a chronic disease that creates its fair share of challenges does not give me a free pass to act like I was dealt an unfair hand and it does not justify my lashing out at others.

Lately the idea of excuses vs. explanations has also been rolling around in my head and this quote speaks perfectly to the challenges of not using excuses to justify unhappiness or negative behavior toward others.

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If I am a product of my decisions rather than my circumstances than I am always responsible for my behavior regardless of my circumstances. There is freedom in this concept but it also requires personal responsibility. So if I am having a bad day from my disease, I have a chose. I can lash out at others and be unhappy or I can try to do the things I need to do to minimize the symptoms of my disease.

I do not have a right to take out my pain on others. And I do not have a right to use that pain as an excuse to act in ways that are counter productive to my emotional well being and my physical health.

If I use my circumstances as an excuse to lash out or not take care of myself, then I have no one to blame for the outcome of this behavior other than myself. And I will live a lonely unhappy life.

The fact that we are actually products of our decisions rather than our circumstances gives us far more control over our lives than if we allow circumstances to turn us into victims.

Circumstances may sometimes explain our behavior but they never justify bad behavior on our part. They are never an excuse to hurt people or ourselves.

I may have an illness that has effected my life but it’s my decision how to handle it. And I don’t want to be a victim of it. I am not a victim of it. I will not allow it to define me. I will not allow it to justify being stuck in unhealthy places in my life.

The decisions I make every day about how to live with my disease are what define me…not the disease itself. So I chose positive decisions.

I chose physical activity despite pain.

I chose eating a healthy diet.

I chose to reach out to others instead of self isolation.

I chose joy over self pity.

I chose personal responsibility over excuses.

I chose kindness despite discomfort.

I chose living over existing.

I chose happiness over a constant need to be right.

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Tennis, A Feeling Of Freedom And Learning To Adjust

It is not the winning that matters in a challenge. It is what we learn about ourselves along the way that we should concentrate on and appreciate the most.

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Recently, I’ve been feeling well enough to go hit tennis balls with my husband. Okay, I’ll be honest here…even when I don’t feel well enough, I will often go hit with him. I love being on the court. I love the freedom that comes from clearing my mind of everything but the ball. It gives me a peace like very few other things and despite being sick I just can’t give it up…yet.  I can’t play the way that I used to because of Sarcoidosis but that’s okay. I have to accept my limits and the ways my body has changed because of it. Talk about a challenge!

Even in my healthier days, I could not beat my husband. I might be faster but he is stronger and I never wanted him to show me any mercy. So he didn’t. He doesn’t even now that I am sick which I actually appreciate because I don’t want pity for having been slowed so considerably by this disease.

Learning to play a sport that I love all over again has been a challenge. I have had to learn to hit shots differently. And while I am still pretty fast, faster than you’d think, I cannot rely on my once near perfect speed to get me where I need to be on the court. Sometimes I am too winded and sometimes I am in too much pain. So I have to concentrate that much harder. I can no longer take athletic ability for granted. I have to think more about what I want to do with the ball and I have to be okay with letting some balls go that I used to be able to return.

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And as we played today, I managed to hit a few great balls. I never once won a game…never mind a set but the pride I felt just hitting that little yellow orb as it spun at me several miles an hour back at him cross court or down the line, felt so good. I did manage to win a few beautiful points. Despite my illness I have been able to retain this part of myself and I can still feel free when I play.

So playing tennis now as a chronically ill person has taught me that it is the challenge of each ball that matters not the game as a whole. And I can take pride in my losses because at least I am still playing, still trying. still reaching.

I don’t have to give up things that are important to me even though I am sick now. I just have to learn to do many of them differently and this includes my tennis game. But because I have learned this, I can still enjoy that much needed feeling of freedom this game gives me when I step on the court and forget everything else. I don’t have to give up. I never have to give up no matter what I am faced with.

Everyone needs an outlet like this.

Everyone needs an opportunity to forget their troubles.

Everyone needs an opportunity to feel free even if for awhile.

Everyone needs a release.

So who knows, one day my disease might force me to give up this game and if that day ever comes, I will grieve but I will also cling to the feeling of the freedom it has given me with everything I’ve got and I will find something new to put it in because I welcome the lessons of a good challenge.

“I’m Sorry” Is A Complete Sentence and Everything After “But” is Bullshit

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Due to certain recent experiences in my life and the observation of people in action I have come to the conclusion that the art of the apology seems a lost one.

And I have found that people, myself included at times, confuse excuses for explanations when they have wronged another in hopes, I suppose, of having some justification for being just plain out of line.

When an “I”m sorry” is followed by any type of finger pointing then the apology is automatically invalidated.

Saying “I’m sorry” should be a humbling experience not a humiliating one. That is to say that when we apologize we should feel a sense of modesty that is good for our soul and allows us to entirely move past what ever issue required the apology – resentment free.

However if we apologize and try to explain away our behavior by blaming a third party or even the party we are apologizing to then we have failed miserably in our attempt to make amends.

“I’m sorry” requires no further explanation if it is truly heartfelt and should ask nothing in return.

Saying “I’m sorry” is hard to do because it is admitting fault but it is also taking responsibility for being wrong which in turn allows us to be freed of the burden of guilt.

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Sometimes an explanation for why we did what we did is justified so long as it does not attempt to negate the behavior in question.

An explanation is defined as a statement or account that makes something clear.

An excuse is defined as an attempt to lesson the blame attached to a fault or offense; to seek or to justify one’s own behavior.

When you look at these definitions you can see a very big difference what they mean.

Excuses nullify apologies. Explanations clarify them which helps improve communication.

So even though recent events in my life have been painful, they have been eye opening and a good lesson for me. These events have helped me realize what the true definition of an apology is.

The next time I need to say that I am sorry, I will keep these observations in mind before I try to justify what should not be justified.

What I Have Not Known

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I have not known abject poverty.

I have not known the challenges of being homeless.

I have not known the lack of guidance from a parent.

I have not known the grief of losing a child.

I have not known the terror of living in a war torn country.

I have not known the feeling of being friendless.

I have not known the feeling of being utterly alone.

I have not known the fear of living with a childhood disease.

I have not known the hand of abuse.

I have not known the feeling of real hungry.

I have not yet known the suffering of old age.

I have not known the demoralizing feeling of bigotry.

I have not known what it is like to be enslaved.

I do suffer from a rare chronic disease that causes me challenges, gives me fears and makes me sometimes uncertain but in the grand scheme of things…so what, who cares and whoopee do…I have nothing to complain about.

What I do know is perspective matters.

Strength In The Broken Places

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“The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”
Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms 

I recently heard someone say this quote and it stuck with me. It stuck with me because I knew I was going to blog about it. I knew I was going to blog about it because this is an excellent quote for anyone who manages the pitfalls of life with chronic illness day in and day out.

What immediately hit me about this quote is that I am painfully and woefully aware that my disease has broken me. I am not the same person. I don’t think as fast as I used to. I can’t move as fast as I used to. I live in a foggy world of unusual aches and pains that creep in and out of my body like a thief creeps in and out of a house stealing a person’s most valued belongings.

I no longer have the same stamina that I once did. A strange and unexpected self doubt has slowly and assuredly made a home for itself where my ego once proudly lived.

I grieve who I used to be. I cannot deny this.

Yet despite this thief who has taken up residence in my body and changed me in ways I loath, the thief’s sheer presence in my body as given me a resilience I never knew I had and a new insight on the preciousness of life that I once took for granted.

Because this disease has stolen a hunk of me, it has given me the chance to find new parts of myself that would have otherwise remained buried. Parts of me that would have been left it the shadow of what used to be me. And in a strange way, this has been an unexpected benefit, if there is such a thing, from becoming ill.

The involuntary stillness chronic illness has bestowed me with, has given me a peaceful quiet and in that quiet I am able to appreciate the entirety of truly important things and find that small things once missed in the commotion of a busier life are now savored.

Things like a moment of sunshine on my face on a cold winters day.

Things like a smile from a stranger in the grocery store.

Things like how I feel the moment my husband walks through the door after work.

Things like watching the joy my dogs experience as they chase a ball, share a toy or take a nap curled up together.

Things like the sound of the birds who wake me every morning with a sweet song out my bedroom window.

Things like how beautiful that split second is as night begins to turn to day.

Things like the sound of my husband’s voice.

Things like the joy of a Skype call with long distance relatives when they cannot be near.

Things like time spent with the best people that I know.

Things like letting go of what just doesn’t matter.

Things like saying sorry and meaning it when I hurt someone even when I don’t agree there was any real reason to feel hurt.

Things like the act of putting another person’s needs before my own.

Things like work is not life.

I have found strength in the broken places in my life because I appreciate time wasted is time lost. I have found strength in the broken places in my life because it has awakened my belief that while we don’t always understand why things happen to us we are better off learning from our experiences rather than dwelling in them.

I have found strength in the broken places in my life because my illness has given me the ironic gift of free time and with it has roused a creative side that was long deadened by the drudgery of things once thought of critical importance. With this creativity I am able to see, feel and hear things around me with more gratitude.

So the world may have broken me but I am being reborn anew in ways that I would not have been if I had never gotten sick and I have learned that life truly is what you chose to make of it.

And I am excited to find more ways I am strong in my broken places.

More On Kindness

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I feel somewhat compelled to write about this topic again because in a very recent experience I found a strange reaction to my previous posting on the topic.

To share a little background, I belong to a support group of sorts for people who suffer with my disease. Or at least I used to belong to this group, I’m not sure yet if I will stay or not.

Upon sharing my thoughts on kindness…and keep in mind these were my thoughts…not an edict or proclamation that this is how others should behave. Anyway, upon sharing these thoughts with my so called support group, I got a bizarre and somewhat alarming reaction.

The first person who responded to what I wrote said and I quote…”kindness is overdone”. Some piped up in agreement adding that being called an idiot once and awhile is a good for you. Still others began discussing how kindness is enabling and coddling and can be too subtle…things were said like…”sometimes people need to be told the hard truth” In fairness…even though I put quotes around the comment…it is paraphrasing but you get the idea.

The tone of the entire conversation, which was meant to be about kindness, turned down a dark dank alley in a big hurry. A few members attempted to help salvage the conversation by saying that being truthful and being direct with others do not have to be mutually exclusive. A few members made a gallant attempt to explain that it is tone that matters and that most people, or at least they hoped that most people responded better to kindness than to an over abundance of so called truth telling.

But these attempts fell on deaf ears. And during the conversation I was personally attacked twice even being called judgmental.

So despite the well meaning attempts by a brave few who took the time to stick their necks out and try to bring the conversation back into the light, the conversation ultimately died a dismal tragic death.

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It’s been bothering me ever since which I think is understandable. At least I hope it is!

To me kindness comes in many forms and while I get the concept of tough love, I don’t buy that you have to cruel to be kind. Not anymore anyway. I think actually that this idea of being cruel in order to better someone else is a cop out.

I’m not saying people should be enabled or encouraged to act in self destructive ways. Not by any means. I but do believe in the saying…”You catch more flies with honey.” Most difficult messages are better heard when delivered with love – not with a boot to the butt.

And sometimes kindness is being quiet. We do not have to express every opinion we have about the things other people do that we don’t like – especially when those things are none of our business to begin with. Talk about judgmental!

I used to be a “tell it like it is” person which is to say that I used to be immature and I carried a big chip on my shoulder. Then maybe you could have called me judgmental and then you might have been right.

But I have learned a few things about kindness over the years and especially since I have become chronically ill. Kindness may not be mutually exclusive from telling someone a hard truth, that is to say being direct but it is mutually exclusive from being abusive toward others in tone, words and or the use of physical force.

When I was a healthcare administrator, before I got sick, I had the unfortunate responsibility of firing people when this was required. Occasionally people would say things like, “Oh I bet it felt good to fire her!” In truth, it never feels good to fire someone. And whenever this task fell upon me it was with a heavy heart. When you fire someone they always want to know why. This is natural. So this is one place where I learned that sharing hard news and difficult truths with people should be done in a gentle way and that gentleness and directness are also not mutually exclusive.

It never dawned on me for a second that sharing some simple thoughts on kindness…my thoughts on kindness…with a group whose primary purpose is to support one another through the roller coaster of chronic illness would lead to such vitriol. It horrifies me.

Kindness to me will never be any thing other than this:

Kindness is warm.

Kindness is hopeful.

Kindness is soft spoken truth.

Kindness is peaceful.

Kindness quiets anger.

Kindness stifles sarcasm.

Kindness lacks judgement.

Kindness humbles us.

Kindness is easy.

Kindness costs nothing.

Kindness is inspiring.

Kindness brings positive change.

Kindness is light.

Kindness suffocates darkness.

Kindness cures negativity.

Kindness is thoughtful.

Kindness is significant.

Kindness is honest.

Kindness is quiet.

Kindness does not coddle or enable.

Kindness is strength.

Kindness is respectful.

Kindness is steadfast.

Kindness is the beginning of love.

Kindness makes the world a better place!

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Thoughts On Kindness

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Kindness is warm.

Kindness is hopeful.

Kindness is soft spoken truth.

Kindness is peaceful.

Kindness quiets anger.

Kindness stifles sarcasm.

Kindness humbles us.

Kindness is easy.

Kindness costs nothing.

Kindness is inspiring.

Kindness brings positive change.

Kindness is light.

Kindness suffocates darkness.

Kindness cures negativity.

Kindness is significant.

Kindness is thoughtful.

Kindness is quiet.