Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Against Positive Thinking, Again

Well, February almost over.  I had ideas to blog about today between about 10 and 11, now mostly gone.

Danger everywhere was one of them.  I am now doing mask and gloves when I scrape the litterbox, worry about touching own face or food after touching the little cat, which I do a lot.  It seems astonishing to say this animal is worth the risk to me.  But a facebook friend, Rusty, writes that his mother died of a virus you catch from a litterbox.  I recall New Year’s Eve saying, I don’t even want to live feeling like this, then going to Cat Welfare.  I so much mourned Sheba, the loss of an animal in the house.  Many tx patients feel like this, and do have pets.

I am discouraged with yet another UTI bad enough to require hospitalization, and a dangerous IV in my arm leading to my heart.  Taking a shower is a big risk, means wrapping arm very carefully in plastic wrap and silk tape.  It never stops, and it’s all making me feel hopeless, like why do I bother?  start looking - there is danger everywhere, everywhere.  A wooden-handled knife, are bacteria hiding in that wood?  Leftover cooked chicken in the frig could have listeria, you can get a horrible stomach infection.  No church food of course, no potlucks or buffets, you are taking your life in your hands to eat chili from Wendy’s which is at least governed by some sanitation laws.

A friend shares my discouragement - I do so many things to be healthy, she says, and she does, yet this.  Add to this in my case a badly damaged relationship with my tx surgeon, contradictory orders, and worst of all, his nurse (I assume he ordered her) throwing a tantrum at me because my PCP put me in the hospital where he has privileges.  She was probably just repeating the tantrum he threw at her.  I am waiting to hear about being assigned to someone else.  Yet, as Tom comments, sometimes the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.  Yes, you are stepping into unfamiliarity.  I have low expectations now.  By and large, doctors I have met over the years in teaching hospitals are unbearably arrogant, given to telling you what they are going to do without explanation of the options, and to hell with the common knowledge that patients do best when they feel in charge of their care. 

Cellphone alarm.  Now what?  Time for noon pills.  Rapamune.  Siroliumus, that is.  One after another these meds make me feel sick.  Nose bleed, upset stomach, headache, just plain disgusted with the medical profession.  It’s one thing to be sick and old and die, another thing when someone has promised you a new life and you get one infection after another (because of the immunosuppressants) and never a week off to feel good.

And this moodiness caused by who knows what - big weather keeps coming thru, I have fibromyalgia, which can cause depression among many other things.  Not helped by the conflict with Dr. God touching on my ancient beginningless issues around an abusive father not acting like a father should.  Well, of course, your ideas and expectations get you in trouble.

Good mood, bad mood - who the hell am I?  One day I love this new book of poetry I got by Tony Hoagland.  The next day it is boring.  I am bored by pretty much everything.  Okay, opportunity for a major Buddhist insight: Wun is constantly changing, influenced by everything, many of those things invisible to our stupid blinkered western eyes.  Hang on, this too will pass.

And you feel what you feel.  I've been arguing on facebook against "positive thinking," which is a synonym for what?  Optimism, which is often unfounded.  You hope, you get disappointed.  Just experience without judgment.  I told my friend Bob Parks, "Positive thinking is against my religion."  He is a minister widely read in various religions, and told me how he gently encourages people who are very ill to be with their experience.  He knew exactly what I was talking about.  So often that's all you need to comfort you a little, which is all anyone can do.


  1. This post of yours really hit home because of assorted illnesses I've endured (born with) and infections that came with the illnesses that have been managed, though they are painfilled. Then illnesses that surprisingly came later, cancer, so unexpected. I thought I'd be born pre-disastered but no. Then frustration, then a arthritic knee. I felt like Goliath against David with that knee pain.

    Then almost a daily re-acceptance of suffering because seriously who better than us, than me, than you?

    You wrote almost as I had just finished saying it, better the devil you know... If you truly believed that would you have not had the surgery knowing what you know now? You must have had to do this.

    David Rakoff writes about the idea of defensive pessimism in his book "Half Empty." The idea of defensive pessimism is to manage the anxiety around our perception that most if not all things will turn into disaster and if we think this, we'll be prepared for any ray of hope.

    I have decided over time that I am also a defensive pessimist hoping that any improvement over pain is a good day, and my (own) daily acceptance that this suffering is really what life is - feels like a major coup.

  2. Hi Jeanne,

    I felt very sad reading your post, but I think it will help many people who read your blog to know that sometimes you can't be peppy and optimistic. Sometimes you just feel depressed, mad, resentful, etc., and to hell with anyone who thinks you should just put on a happy face about life's adversities. Sometimes things happen that really suck, and trying to smile in the face of it just makes you feel worse. I feel guilty when I fret about things that are important to me but of little consequence to anyone else. But that guilt just compounds the sadness, so what's it good for?

    I read recently that being optimistic does not lead to a longer life--that being realistic does. Realism seems like the middle ground between outrageous hope and excessive worry. It seems like a good enough place to live.

    I wish you well.