Chronic Illness Living: Waking Up Happy Is a Choice…EXCEPT…

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One of my husband’s great qualities is his cheerfulness. Every morning (pretty much*), he wakes up with a big smile at the joy of rising next to me. It is such a treat. When I awake after a difficult night and he’s already up, I’ll call out “huuuusbaaaand, I need your smiling face!” I know he’ll rush to the bedroom and deliver what I seek.

On one of these occasions, I told him how grateful I was for his morning smile and how I was looking forward to the day I could reciprocate. Gently he said, “Do you hear the birds singing their sweet melody outside?” I smiled and answered, “I do”, then screeeech!—deep needle scratch on the vinyl, body contracting, heart closing. Why? Because he had the misguided idea to add, “It’s a choice, you know.” Grrrrrr. 
Don’t. Do. That. 
Don’t. Say. That.

Here’s the deal: 
I’m a staunch believer that HAPPINESS IS A CHOICE. I know from experience that I can change my mood at will and not let a thought or another person’s actions contaminate my day or determine how I feel (not that I’m always able or willing to do so mind you, but I know it’s possible and basically up to me). I’ve practiced it amidst very difficult circumstances. Even if someone is wrong, irrational or abusive, or even if they’re right about everything and I’m wrong but it pisses me off, ultimately, it is who DECIDES how I feel, and peace and joy are always accessible. Given this belief, waking up happy should indeed be a choice.

Except when daybreak comes on the heels of an umpteenth bad night (or a particularly tough one). In that case, you know as well as I do that in that moment, the idea of choice is pretty much OFF THE TABLE. Prolonged PAIN and EXHAUSTION are notorious for monkeywrenching the PROCESS OF ACCESSING JOY. 

DEAR ONE: Don’t let anyone make you feel like you’re not as enlightened a human being or feel guilty for lacking mental fortitude because you can’t greet the day with a big promising smile the moment you open your eyes after your mind and body have gone through a punishing night. Your process of accessing joy is simply different.

The main difference is that ours is a layered, multistep process rather than a more direct, simpler one. Ergo, it doesn’t happen in the blink of an eye. 

Regular folks: Wake-up, smile at the birds (or your beautiful wife) instead of giving into some negative thoughts, access joy, choose happiness. (please forgive the over-simplification—I’m sure you’re more complex than this 😉)

ICI people  (Invisible Chronic Illness people): Wake-up, assess the level of pain and exhaustion, push away discouragement, accept that it is so, breathe through it, rise above it, choose to make the best of this day, smile, access joy, choose happiness. (this can take between 3 minutes and 4 hours)

See what I mean?
Although we, people living with an ICI,  may not always be able to “wake-up happy” (and by the way, when I sleep well, I DO wake up with a smile), we usually get there too, given a little extra time and practiced mindfulness. Our initial inability is in no way the yardstick for our enlightenment. On the contrary. Our UNCANNY ABILITY to RISE ABOVE our challenges and CHOOSE HAPPINESS when it is most difficult to do so, is one of our SUPERPOWERS and we should take great pride in it. The world actually needs heroes like us to model how it is done.

Happiness is a choice. And both the choice and the happiness reside within us, always. Let’s remember that. But when pain and exhaustion send us on the scenic bypass to Joy, let’s also remember to show ourselves some compassion. Our journey is a different one. Our paths may not always be as direct, but our horizons are wider for it. 

See you on the scenic bypass,

 *Well, almost—not when he’s been dealing with a brain injury—that changes everything.

45% of Americans suffer from at least 1 chronic illness. Share this post and you’ll help a friend.