Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Expressing Gratitude to Cope with Stress, Build Relationships and Help Myself

Warnings on the door to the MRI equipment room
It’s the morning of my MRI scan and neurologist appointments.  Leading up to them, I’ve anticipated needing to seek support and to allow myself time to process whatever I learn today.  I tell myself that test results don’t change how I’m doing.  They just give me more information to consider.  

The rub is that I anticipate being sad with any possibility today.  I feel worse than I did earlier this year.  Eight months ago, I learned I’d had a couple of new lesions in the past couple years that I attribute to the process of getting divorced.  Side note: A saying I found on a greeting card is absolutely true for me; “Getting divorced sucks.  Being divorced doesn’t.”  I’ll add to the end, “…at all.”  For me being divorced has been a lifesaver for my mental and physical health. 

Back to today.  I hope to learn if either my MS is progressing or it’s stayed the same while I feel worse.  If there’s new activity, I might be able to console myself with the hope that the pain I live with may subside with treatment and changes to my medication.  If there isn’t recent or current activity, I’m disheartened to make sense of why I have more MS symptoms and feel so bad.  

To cope with feeling sad and afraid, I’m approaching today with gratitude. I feel the pull of wanting to mentally crawl back into my own head and armor myself from the outside world.  Focusing solely on myself is an attractive option.  Yet I’ve found over the years that checking out from the world and my relationships is the worst option for me. Pushing myself to interact with people while also writing and facing my fears head-on works best for me.  

Gratitude advice often includes thinking of three things each day that you’re grateful for.  I think it’s helpful, but I think it misses what helps me most.  It’s most nurturing to me to tell someone I’m grateful for something they’ve contributed to my life.

Often in my life, people have shown appreciation for my work when I’m leaving a job or after I’ve left.  It is sad to me that I really could have benefited from the encouragement more while I was doing the work than years later.  I’m a firm believer in having all my relationships in a place that I’m okay with if one of us isn’t around tomorrow.  That means telling people I appreciate them in each interaction rather than making a grand gesture at the end of a life chapter.  

Today I started with thanking the imaging center receptionist for working on Veteran’s Day when other people including myself have the day off from work.  It was helpful for me to be able to make appointments today that didn’t require me to change my work schedule or shuffle other obligations.  It may or may not have been a big deal for her to work today, but I truly appreciate it. 

Alonzo the MRI Technician greeted me with a warm smile and hearty laughing comment, “Hi, Stacie! I’m still here, they haven’t fired me yet!”  He remembered our conversation from the last time he did my scan.  I did too, and it was relaxing and felt good to know he enjoyed our banter and was treating me as a person and not just a patient.  

He passed me off to Kyle who was terrific.  Kyle commented I was a seasoned pro at getting MRIs, and he gave me options that made the scan go quicker while he still professionally addressed all the required steps.  It was nice that he offered to either comment on what to expect for each portion of the scan or skip them to make the scan go quicker while still being available at any point.  Omitting the starts and stops let him flow from one scan to the next, and I was out of the MRI tube in half an hour. As he disconnected my IV, I commented to Kyle that he and everyone at the facility are excellent at setting up IVs.  Lots of times, medical providers have difficulty finding my veins.  It can take a lot of time and frustration drawing blood or inserting an IV, but Kyle did it with ease on the first try.  

As he helped me offload from the platform and wrapped up our session, I told him it seemed like coincidence or irony that the music he provided to my headphones included Red Hot Chili Pepper’s song, “Scar Tissue,” while he scanned my brain for MS lesions.  MS lesions are essentially scar tissue on nerves in the brain and spinal cord.  He rocked his head back to laugh, and he said he thought it was irony.  I believe it’s technically coincidence, but I think a word that better describes it with the weight and feeling I experienced is happenstance.  I like the song, and it tickled me to connect the name of the song to my unrelated situation.  

I appreciate each interaction today, and I feel like I accomplished letting most of them know. Intentionally planning to do this helps me see outside of myself and my fears.

The receptionists, technicians, nurses and neurologists all make my health journey more pleasant.  They make a fact of my life less depressing, and they help me keep going.  For them and all of my friends, coworkers and family, I’m beyond grateful.  Telling them how much I appreciate them is a small thing I can do, yet it is vital for shaping my attitude and outlook in life.  It helps me put my mind in a place that recognizes how much larger life is than my personal circumstances and how much other people contribute to my well-being.  I can rest easy that I won’t have unfinished business if we never see each other again. I know I’ve done what I can to make life more pleasant for myself and the people I’ve seen that day. 

My last appointment this day is with my neurologist, and it goes better than I anticipated. The scans show that a couple of the white spots they saw in the last couple years aren’t there this time. I didn’t anticipate this result, but it still falls under the category of needing to reconcile the data with how I feel. My neurologist helps me navigate the issues that are causing me grief.  He not only helps me create a detailed and comprehensive plan to try to reduce the problems I’m having, he cheers me up and gives me encouragement. 

This day that I’d approached with apprehension was pleasant.  Uncertainty pervaded my thoughts, yet focusing beyond myself and verbally expressing gratitude to people throughout the day settled me.  On the drive home, I can feel my body start to relax.  It’s been a good day, and I have hope.