Sunday, August 18, 2013

Happy It’s Not Worse. Seriously and Sincerely.

Good or bad, I don’t think anyone deserves the life they get.  Yes, my attitude makes my life better, worse, harder or easier, but to have life treat you as you deserve…I don’t buy it.  No one deserves tragedy.  I don’t care how rotten you behave, certain things no one can ever deserve.

On August 18, 1987, my three sisters, my mother and I were in a head-on collision while driving home from a vacation.  Passing through Butte, Montana, at six o’clock in the morning a woman in a van entered the highway going the wrong way.  She wasn't drunk; construction at the highway exit had left the off ramp confusing.  She turned left one road too early, feet away from the correct on-ramp, and she accelerated to over fifty miles per hour.  Our car was set at sixty miles per hour with cruise control.  We hit each other head on with no brakes pressed.  Have you ever noticed how the headlights of cars driving toward you in the dark on the highway look like they’re in your lane and headed straight at you?  They do, but we know divided highways are safe, those cars aren't in our lane, and they won’t hit us.  In an instant, everything changed.  One day of shy of 17 and the least injured of all of us, I grew up fast that year.  Taking my sisters and mom to doctor appointments, cooking and caring for them while finishing my senior year of high school and cheer-leading left me stressed and grateful.  Yes, grateful.

Things can always be worse.  I’m grateful no one died that morning.  I’m grateful we all recovered.  With surgeries, rehab and time, our wounds healed to the point that others wouldn't know how hurt we were.  I was told a photo of our car was used by the Montana State Department of Transportation to encourage people to wear their seat belts.  Given our accident occurred in the days before airbags, our seat belts are likely what prevented deaths that morning.  Please buckle up!
Oldsmobile Cutlass Sierra after head-on collision
Today when I’m in stop and go traffic, I’m grateful I’m not in the car ahead that’s not running and blocking traffic.  I’m grateful I’m not in the car wreck ahead where people are hurt and will now split their life between before the accident and after the accident.  I’m grateful I’m only running late and everyone I know and I will sleep safe at home tonight.

All five people in the car - my mother, three sisters, and I -
survived this 110 mph impact head-on collision
I can see how this Pollyanna perspective can be irritating.  I don’t mean to diminish the difficulties that we all endure, but unless we’re dead it can always be worse.  My grandfather used to always say that it always works out in the end…unless you’re dead.  I used to half groan with a laugh and dismiss his comment.  But I find myself thinking of his comment every so often and agreeing with him.  Alive in any condition, I can look for joy and appreciate something however small.  My joy or others', they both make me happy.  And knowing things in my life are better than they could be helps me cope with challenges. 

I’m grateful I naturally tend to look at the bright side of things. People with Multiple Sclerosis are susceptible to depression.  And not just because they have a chronic illness.  According to National MS Society depression can be due to life circumstances, but it can also be the result of damage to portions of the brain that deal with our emotions.  Suicide is 7.5 times higher among people with MS than the general population.  The good news is people are highly resilient and severely disabled people are not more likely to be depressed.

Yikes!  Scary stuff, but knowing this helps me plan ahead.  I’m preparing a list of things that cheer me up and a list of things to avoid.  I pay attention to my body so I can tell what is normal and what isn't. I cultivate a posse of friends and health care professionals that know me and are at the ready if I need them.  I’m grateful I have the resources, the interest, and the time to prepare as much as possible for what lies ahead. I'm weaving a safety net to catch me if I need it. And hopefully I'll be able to tell if I start falling.

**For more on this experience and how amazing strangers can be, see my post A Nurse's Kindness.