Merriam-Webster Happiness

The question at the end of my last post: What words come to mind when you hear the word “happiness?”

Pat wrote: Peace

According to Merriam-Webster, happiness is the state of being happy.  Don’t you just love definitions like that?!?

Happy is followed by a very long enumeration of synonyms:

  • cheerful, cheery, merry
  • joyful, jovial, jolly, jocular, joyous, jubilant, overjoyed
  • thrilled, elated, exhilarated, ecstatic, euphoric, exultant
  • buoyant, radiant, rapturous
  • gleeful, delighted, blissful, blithe, beatific, sunny
  • pleased, satisfied, contented, gratified
  • carefree, untroubled, lighthearted

Interesting that “peace” is not among them.

A happy person is described as being in good spirits … in a good mood.

Happy people are:

  • smiling, beaming, grinning,
  • in seventh heaven, on cloud nine, walking on air,
  • jumping for joy, tickled pink, happy as a clam,
  • over the moon, on top of the world.

It was Merriam-Webster’s description of “happy” that influenced me as I contemplated writing my essay on “happiness” for my writing group.

It is a rare occasion for any of Merriam-Webster’s words to describe me. I am an introvert and we are notorious for our discomfort in jubilant, jumping for joy crowds. A quiet evening at home holds more attraction than a room full of merry, exhilarated party-goers.

My “awkwardness” insecurity rose to the surface. Where do so serious-natured introverts fit into the “central mandate of the American character” to pursue happiness by doing the “Next Big Thing?”

How to write about “happiness?” I mulled that over for a couple of weeks, and then I was saved. A television program featured a segment on the 2017 World Happiness Report.

Aha! I had a way into the topic! Much less threatening to write about a country’s happiness than about my own or lack thereof. And my research project began.


What feelings are generated in you when you read Merriam-Webster’s list of synonyms for “happy?”

How would you approach writing about the topic of “happiness?”

Carol suggested highlighting the unexpected benefits pointed out by Shawn Achor, happiness researcher and author. Now there’s a guy who pursues happiness!

Not a bad idea, Carol. Why didn’t I think of that? Must have been that “awkwardness” brain fog. 

 

Rare Resilience

“Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.” ~Zen Proverb

My experience at the Myotonic Dystrophy Conference on Saturday, October 22, reminded me of this Zen proverb. The morning was full of hope as the doctors and researchers enlightened us about the progress they are making. In their work, they chop wood and carry water looking for a cure. Their excitement is contagious as they move closer to their goal.

Then in the afternoon family sharing group, I experienced almost immediate discouragement as we began to share our experiences of chopping wood and carrying water. While we wait and hope for a cure, we deal with many frustrating day-to-day challenges caring for our loved ones.

kathleen-cain-facilitating-faminly-support-group

family-support-at-dm-conference

shields-family-at-dm-conference

Nothing discourages me more than the overwhelming challenge of interfacing with or hearing others’ stories of interfacing with a callous bureaucracy that doesn’t understand or seem to care about our needs. I’m not sure I could take it all in, but this is what I remember from the group meeting.

Painful memories were triggered as I listened to parents share about challenges I faced in the past:

  • Two mothers of preschool children shared their challenge in finding a school with a suitable special needs program.
  • Parents shared their concerns about their children’s difficulty making friends and being bullied at school.
  • Several shared their challenges receiving social security disability and other vital services.

Fear surfaced related to current challenges Nicole and I face:

  • One Ohio mother shared that they have been on the waiting list for a medicaid waiver for ten years. Ten years. We just applied in July and knew it could be months. But ten years. I may not even be alive in ten years. I think I was the oldest parent there.
  • The difficulty finding suitable housing for our disabled loved ones. The facility where we applied told us about three weeks ago that it could be years before there is an opening.

Sorrow arose related to our fears for our children’s future:

  • We all worry about what will happen to our children after we are gone.
  • Because cognitive impairment, emotional blunting, and social apathy are features of the disease, our children manifesting these symptoms have little contact outside of their immediate family. We worry about who will love them after we are gone.
  • Who will care for them the way we do now after we are gone? That is why I held such hope for being granted a medicaid waiver. Then Nicole would have an aid and a case manager who would help her with the things she can’t manage that I take care of now. Apparently, if she hasn’t received the waiver before I die, my death will create an emergency that will generate approval. I wish we could be proactive so these services were in place before I die. Then, at least, I could die in peace.
  • One father related his fear that if they don’t leave their child enough money, she will be forced to live in inadequate and scary public housing.
Pam Speer Lewis, MDF Project Development Manager

Pam Speer Lewis, MDF Project Development Manager

I am so grateful that MDF has broadened their base beyond just looking for a cure, as important as that is. Talking with Pam Speer Lewis after this support group meeting helped lift my spirit. MDF is now advocating for easier access to the services that meet the day-to-day challenges DM families face. They have added “Care” to their mission of finding a “Cure” as their bracelet conveys.

care-cure-bracelet

I looked around our circle and felt such admiration for each person. Despite all our challenges, we keep chopping wood and carrying water, putting one foot in front of the other and doing whatever we can to make life better for ourselves and our loved ones.

Our last activity was responding in small table groups to two questions:

  1. What do you struggle with the most?
  2. How can we be of more help?

When I shared the responses from our table, I emphasized the need to support caregivers because some of us experience our own health challenges related to the stress of caring for our loved one. A much younger caregiver than I am at our table had experienced a recent stroke. Thankfully, he is recovering nicely.

As the conference was breaking up, a man who has adult onset came to me to thank me for advocating for caregivers. He told me a bit of his family’s story. He deals with his own challenges with DM as well as serving as a caregiver for family members experiencing a totally unrelated healthcare crisis. He knows both sides of the coin. My heart went out to him.

dm-image

I could not help but notice what rare resilience each DM Warrior in that room demonstrates — those who carry this rare genetic neuromuscular disease, those of us who love and care for them, and the doctors and researchers who won’t give up until they find a cure. We are quite a community.

Missing the Mark

In the original languages (Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek), the word “sin” means “missing the mark.” In my last post written almost two months ago, I spoke of setting an intention to extend loving kindness to my daughter as she faced her health crisis. She moved into my home on June 16, almost two weeks ago. During these two weeks, especially the first week, I missed the mark. I was not at my best. This hospitalization has turned my daughter’s life upside down and, by extension, my life as well.

Her surgery was postponed for two days and she was in ICU a total of nine days before being sent to rehab. While she was in ICU, she experienced ICU psychosis. After the fact, they told us it is common. Wish they would have forewarned me. Seeing her in full-blown paranoia, convinced they were trying to kill her and if I didn’t help her get out of there, I was in league with them was scary. It is hard enough dealing with her myotonic muscular dystrophy. I feared I would be dealing with mental illness as well.

Then after ten days in rehab, she developed pneumonia and was hospitalized for another week before being sent back to rehab where they hoped to wean her off oxygen. They did not succeed and on June 16 she moved in with me. The week before her discharge, exhaustion turned me into a zombie. I couldn’t think straight, I took long naps even though I had slept soundly the night before. I dragged myself day after day doing the next right thing.

I was apprehensive about her coming to live with me. My home is my sanctuary, where I recharge myself with solitude, silence, order, and beauty. She does not share my values and her disease prevents her from maintaining the aesthetics I require. She has lived with me as an adult before, and it didn’t work well for either of us.

window

In addition, I was nervous because I am not a nurse or a trained caregiver.  I felt overwhelmed as people descended on my home with oxygen tanks, compressors, concentrators, and the bi-pap machine she will need to use while sleeping for the rest of her life. They explained how to use it all, but I couldn’t take it all in. They gave us manuals and said we could call if needed. We needed and, thankfully, they were very accommodating.

oxygen tank
BPAP-466x350

In the midst of all this, I was faced with the task of moving her out of her apartment. Cell phone pictures helped her make decisions about what to keep and what to give away or discard. I don’t know how she managed the steps for these ten years while her disease progressed and her muscles weakened. It was all I could do to navigate up and down those steps carrying out trash and stuff to my home for her to sort through. One day I could barely carry a heavy trash bag up a flight of stairs and down another as I made my way to the dumpster. When I got there, the dumpster was filled to the brim with branches from the yard work being done. The side door was blocked. I took a step back and heaved that bag with all my might and it went flying into the top of the dumpster. I marveled at my muscle strength. Not bad for an old broad.

My daughter’s first week in my home was an adjustment for both of us. In the midst of all the anxiety, it took every ounce of energy I possessed to deal with all the changes. I grieved the loss of my privacy in the sanctuary of my lovely new home, the loss of my solitude and silence.

I disappointed myself more than once as irritation and frustration crushed my intention to extend the loving kindness she deserves. I couldn’t summon the energy for my spiritual practice. Maintaining serenity and equanimity in the face of this stress escaped me. I was sorely missing the mark. The vicious voice in my head lashed me with the discrepancy between the kind of person I aspire to be and the kind of person I was actually being. In this state, my whole life looked like a sham.

As I sat in my meditation room this morning, the best part of me (my true self within who witnesses my thoughts and actions and knows that is not who I really am) took stock of the way I’m handling this very difficult situation. Even though this week has been much better, I wondered if I needed an anti-depressant to help me deal more effectively. And then the telephone rang and I received a gift from the Universe. I recognized it immediately as a gift of grace.

Facing My Fear of Conflict

“When you’re scared, you stay as you are.” ~Stephen Richards, author of Releasing You From Fear

turbulent water

Our world is turbulent. As I write this, we’ve just experienced the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. Fourteen people lost their lives. Fourteen families lost loved ones during our holyday season. A six-month-old infant lost her parents. My fear of conflict pales in comparison to what these people and many others in our world face on a daily basis. And this is the opportunity that came my way while rehabbing my new home–something I set an intention to do with joy and equanimity.

I hired a contractor and then found it necessary to fire him because the work his employee was doing was shoddy. He was using equipment that didn’t operate well. When I told him I’d hired someone else to finish the job, he threatened to put a lien on my house or take me to court. I paid him what I thought was fair for the work that had been done satisfactorily. He wanted more. His threats escalated.

screenbean-scared

Conflict scares me so much that sometimes my teeth chatter as though I’m in a deep freeze. I recognize this as a disability because conflict is a part of life. Trying to avoid it as I do often has negative consequences. So I told myself, “Going to court my be an interesting new experience.” I reached out to friends for support.

They gave me good advice. “Make a record of all transactions, take pictures, and stand your ground.” They pointed out I had a good case and he was unlikely to follow through. But his intimidating texts continued. He pointed out how much it would cost to go to court. My hands began to shake, my stomach tied up in knots, I couldn’t go to sleep or I’d wake up in the middle of the night unable to fall back asleep.

To soothe myself, I’d say, “Linda, this is just your fear of conflict. You aren’t going to die and you’re not going bankrupt.”

I texted him back about mediation being a less expensive option. He liked that idea and asked me to set it up. I chuckled at that and texted him back, “If that’s the route you want to take, you set it up.” My friends and I didn’t think he would, but he did.

For me, it wasn’t so much about the money as it was maintaining my self-respect. I didn’t want to give in to intimidation. I needed to pull on my inner strength. I didn’t want to give this contractor the message he could get away with bullying women.

The woman from the mediation center told me I might hear something new in our facilitated conversation that would change my perspective, so I put my checkbook in my purse just in case.

However, the new information seemed to support my position. He’d fired his employee and admitted he’d been lied to about the job. He also said I’d been nice whereas other people he’s dealt with have been nasty. He offered to drop the whole thing if I paid him $200 instead of the $300 he’d asked for. It was tempting to accept just to be done with this.

When I didn’t accept, he returned to his intimidating tactics, noting it was time for him to learn how the small claims court system works. He asked the mediator for directions to the court building and left in a huff.

screenbean-mad

I went out to lunch with my friend who accompanied me for support. Despite being distracted by fear and uneasiness, we had a lovely afternoon.

The next morning another friend called to share her experience reporting a contractor to the Better Business Bureau. She encouraged me to do the same. I hated the thought of my complaint appearing on a webpage for all to see. Even though uncomfortable with her suggestion, I went to the BBB webpage to check out the procedure. When I read they wouldn’t be involved if there was litigation, I decided if I was going to do it, now was the time.

Early the next morning, the contractor began texting and calling. Interpreting this as more intimidation, my hands shook and my heart pounded. With a friend’s encouragement, I returned his call. He said, “Let’s drop this. Lesson learned. I see where you’re coming from.”

I asked him what he was able to see now that he couldn’t see in the mediation. He admitted his employee, whom he had trusted, used poor equipment and he understood why I hired someone else to finish the job. Perhaps seeing my complaint in writing did the trick.

This experience helped me grow in my ability to handle conflict and intimidation. I stood up to bullying…with a lot of help from my friends. For that I am grateful.

beans conquering

I can’t help but wonder for what bigger conflict this is preparing me.

If you tend to avoid conflict, I’d love to hear how you’ve learned to handle your discomfort. I’m sure I have more to learn.