Receiving alarming health news stirs up myriad emotions. I think we all start at shock. Fear likely creeps in next, followed immediately by panic. Some then move to the "Why me?" phase, and others jump straight into action mode.
To me, more intriguing than the approach people take while in the thick of the struggle is how they react once on the mend. Survivors often say things like, "I have gained a new lease on life." "I appreciate the little things so much more." These are the healthy, happy reactions of people who have found the silver lining. I found anger. I found fury. I found frustration. It's these reactions that have propelled me through my struggle. These reactions helped me achieve my "happy."
During my thirty-nine years, I've been diagnosed with two life-threatening conditions. Both times I fought, hard. I sought out acclaimed doctors, researched the best treatments, fought tooth and nail with my insurance company, and readied my body for surgery—I did everything I could to bring some control to an out of control situation. Happily, both times I survived.
The nature versus nurture debate has raged on for years and is keenly applicable in this instance. Are the silver lining people hard-wired to be silver lining people? If so, can a realist like myself ever crossover into that "happier" land? The real question is, do I want to? Would that land work for me?
No one judged our reactions when our doctors first uttered those scary words. Similarly, our reactions upon becoming whole again should be equally judgment-free. I live every moment to the strongest, to the toughest, to the fiercest. For me, that's what works.
For many, their newfound lease on life demonstrates that their struggle was not for nothing; it in fact opened their eyes to the moments they had been missing. I, too, appreciate the second chances I have been given, but my appreciation manifests itself in a decidedly less ethereal way. For like-minded survivors, our fight, anger and stubbornness propel us forward.
For years I thought, "I'm surviving wrong. I'm not happy enough!" I credit my children for teaching me that my coping mechanism isn't a faulty one. They demonstrate this each time they exhibit different reactions to identical circumstances. We all cope differently in order to persevere.
At first blush, I may not seem happy enough or thankful enough. But, for millions like me, our internal fire is what gets us through—and it's the getting through that matters.
It's the getting through that makes us happy.
Written by Lisa Stickler, staff writer for West Michigan Woman magazine.