Negative Emotions

10 Dec


My friends and family have all been surprised by how strong I’ve been emotionally since I was diagnosed with cancer.  It’s true that I’m no Puddleglum, but nobody diagnosed with a terminal illness can stay happy all the time.  It’s perfectly normal to feel down or even depressed – after all, your life is definitely not going the way you want it to, and it never will again.  There have been several occasions on which my happy got bitten in the butt and had to take refuge in its hidey-hole.

The majority of my frustration stemmed from not being able to attend synagogue as regularly as I wanted to after my brain surgery.  The liturgy features several readings on peace and prosperity, and those helped keep me centered and grounded.  The first reading of the Friday evening service from the prayer book used by my synagogue in Geneva (my translation):

O Lord, source of all forgiveness, teach us Your ways.  Fill us with the desire to do good so that we will discover the true meaning of our existence through Your commandments.  Let peace, light and joy live on in this synagogue, in the homes of Your faithful, and throughout the entire world.

Not having Jewish caretakers didn’t help matters much, either.  You can tell the hospital that you don’t eat pork, but there isn’t a grain-free diet available for Passover, and while they don’t schedule procedures on Christian holidays because everyone is off work, they really don’t care about making sure procedures aren’t scheduled on non-Christian patient’s religious holidays.  While I was in the hospital to have my gallbladder out, I missed Purim because I was sick with an infection and the massive antibiotics I was taking were significantly disrupting the normal function of my digestive system.  (I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.)  I also missed Passover, one of the most important festivals for Jews, because I was scheduled for an ERCP endoscopy.  It took a full two or three days for the discomfort associated with the air they blew into me and the tissue they clipped to dissipate.  Thankfully, my Swiss Mom gave me a menorah and candles to be able to celebrate Hanukkah at home.

During the long Swiss winter following my diagnosis, the doctors were of the opinion that I only had a few more months to live.  I remember climbing into bed with my mom, sobbing “I don’t want to die!”  A few weeks later, when my best friend Renée came to visit from the States, she flung herself onto me, crying the same thing.  That was definitely a low point.

Another problem surfaced when I was given an anti-seizure medicine that interacted badly with another of my medications.  I was depressed, irritable, and angry, and even when I was knocked out with sedatives in the hospital, I was still lashing out and grabbing my mom’s hands hard enough to make them hurt.

There are ways to get over the negativity, though.  I had a list of upbeat, happy songs to listen to, including “Love Today” by Mika.  How can you not be happy after dancing around (softly, so as not to annoy the downstairs neighbors) and singing Everybody’s gonna love today, love today, love today!  It also helps to make lists of things that you’re thankful for, no matter how small they may be.  There is a line of thinking in Judaism that challenges us to say 100 blessings a day.  I’ve never come anywhere close to that number, but I have always tried to see joy in the little things in life.

A sample happy list that I compiled one day:

  • hearing my favorite birdy when I woke up
  • bendy straws
  • puppy dog dirt under my fingernails
  • indoor plumbing
  • feeling slightly better

It definitely helps if you have a system in place to cheer you up on the down days.


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