Way, way, WAY back when - I wrote my Ph.D. dissertation on stress and development. Specifically, the title was (duh-duh-DUH) “The Effects of Coping with Stress on the Development of Resources and Vulnerabilities in Adulthood”. In other words, when shit happens, why do some not only survive, but go on to make lemonade out of lemons, while others are reduced to a puddle and continue to suffer (or ‘puddle-fy’) down the road.
Now, none of us are immune to adversity in our lives. Some have more than their fair share, that’s certain. And some seem to get all the lucky breaks. What explains this, I don’t know. I certainly don’t think it’s because they're better people or have prayed more or done more good deeds or made better choices, etc. Many things are random – like I said, shit happens.
My daughter has epilepsy. Epilepsy is not fun, but the particular kind of seizures she has are extremely NOT FUN. They don’t stop. They keep going. They would keep going on if we did not carry with us the massive rectal dose of valium that is designed to stop them. Her first massive seizure lasted about 45 minutes before the paramedics gave her a shot to stop it. At the hospital she could not stand up for several hours. After she was discharged she had trouble walking and she slurred her speech for several days. We may never know how this seizure affected her exactly, but I’m sure that all of her seizures have affected her somehow.
Since then she continues to have long seizures, but each one we are able to stop. The last one, however, carried on for 13 minutes AFTER I administered the meds. That is not supposed to happen. I’m consciously trying not to think of what that means. . .
The point of all this? I am not a special person. I do not have any more fortitude in me that any one of you. In fact, I often feel much weaker and vulnerable than most of you, I suspect. I don’t think there is a ‘reason’ for this challenge that my family deals with. It sucks, that’s that. I wish we had never had experienced any of it.
But, yes, I have changed from it and have, indeed, learned some things. For one, I have learned how fragile life is. Each time my daughter has disappeared into unconsciousness and began convulsing she has died for me. I have lost her for those several minutes. I didn’t know if she would come back. When each seizure ends I tell myself, almost out loud “She stayed alive”. That is my goal in those moments.
I know that life has no guarantee. Perhaps every parent learns that with every moment they imagine what might happen – on that field trip, on that first bike ride on their own, etc.
Second, I have learned to keep going and to tolerate the uncertainty. We don’t know what this may develop into – she may outgrow it, it may turn into something else, even something more intractable. Thinking about it can make me go nuts, so I choose to focus on one day at a time and to live as if everything will be okay.
I know it sounds cliché, but it does put things into perspective. I will write a post about our culture’s current focus on, already very fortunate people, trying to ‘achieve’ more happiness on another day. But let me just say this now: now I know that being happy is not a goal I have to pursue or achieve. Happiness is having my family alive and with me and healthy. Happiness has been there all along wanting me to take notice. Happiness is not something to search for. It’s recognizing that you have been fortunate, in many ways, all along.