A huge Christmas gift came early this year…the end of exam week to be exact. Against all odds—through the grace of God, understanding professors, my ever-accommodating academic advisor, unreal parents, Perfect Paddy, and an unbelievably supportive boyfriend—I was able to complete all but one of my classes. With a month of classwork to make up, I was swamped and stressed for the majority of the second half of the semester. It took an absurd amount of patience from everyone around me, and mostly from myself, to get through it and crawl my way to the other side. I usually tell people, when they ask me how I am able to persevere, that I have to take it “one day at a time.” At one point last month I used that line on a doctor and she looked me square in the eyes and said, “I am so very sorry, but that is not going to work anymore. You need to take it one minute at a time.” So that’s what I did. Thankfully that was the moral of every pep talk I received from Mark or my parents. I’m embarrassed to admit how many times I needed to hear it. However, instead of “Cognitive Development”—the course I had to drop in order to stay afloat in my studies, I was schooled intensively in patience.
As I prepared myself for an exam that was worth over half of my grade in Developmental Psychology, I was intrigued by a theory developed to model how the elderly deal with the effects of aging. I immediately recognized this as a strategy I have employed for years. Selective Optimization with Compensating (SOC) is used to define the way older adults alter their lives to declining physical and psychological stamina. According to the SOC model, successful aging encompasses focusing (Selection) on a small number of the most important and attainable goals and abandoning all others. It entails “accentuating and reinforcing those capabilities impacted only slightly by the aging process (Optimization) and generating new ways of sustaining function in those aspects which are greatly impacted (Compensation).” The ultimate purpose of this practice is to continue living a satisfying life with the restrictions placed upon the individual by the physical and intellectual deficits caused by aging, or in my case: illness. Adjusting to a life of chronic illness and the limitations it has placed on me has been a gradual, sometimes painstaking, process. It was an evolution that I found myself fighting against relentlessly at times. I still today occasionally grieve the loss of function and normalcy, but reflecting on the way I learned to adapt to my “new normal” reminds me of the magnificent resilience that resides within each of us. To be able to change one’s habits and mindset is an invaluable strength. In a lot of cases it is the only option that lends itself to victory. There is nothing special about me that allowed me to persevere through this troubling process. Instead, it is in the constitution of everyone’s being, through uniting one’s soul (and Will) with the great source of Love that enables us to overcome what seeks to destroy us. The power of that capacity lies in the trenches of patience. I’m thankful to have been lying face first in the dirt of those ditches recently.
I am particularly grateful to have developed the SOC strategy so early in life because it is what has enabled me to continue narrating my own story. I have been slapped in the face with the knowledge that so much of this universe is beyond our control, but I am also privy to the awareness and appreciation for the aspects of my experience,…over which I do have clout.
I consider raising awareness to be the single most important consequences of my blog posts. For that reason, I am immensely grateful for everyone who continues to take the time to read what I share. It gives me such hope to think I play even the smallest hand in increasing others understanding of those struggling with chronic invisible illnesses, especially those like my own that elude diagnoses and relief from treatments. A woman by the name of Christine Miserandino is a hero of mine because she has done immeasurable good through her simple, but poignant, way of teaching others what it is like to live the way we “spoonies” do. My Christmas wish this year would be for everyone to please take a minute to read the Spoon Theory: https://butyoudontlooksick.com/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory/.
A boy who is very special to me (the one with two legs, not four), gave me the most beautiful Christmas gift to represent Christine’s message, which I shared with him very early in our relationship. I will be honored to wear it around my neck because it stands for all the uphill battles and silent struggles conquered by countless heroes and heroines disguised as able-bodied individuals. Anytime anyone wonders of the meaning behind the utensils hanging from my necklace, it will give me the opportunity to spread knowledge and compassion for the extraordinary efforts, usually unnoticed, to persist in spite of bodily pains.
The trials of the world may dictate how many spoons I have on a given day and when those resources are stripped away seemingly unfairly, but God’s ultimate gift of Free Will granted me the power to choose where I allocate those precious spoons. For as long as I possess the faculties to select, optimize, and compensate, I vow to do my best to use my spoons for Good….but when I falter, I beg for patience, from others and myself.
So this starry Christmas night I reflect with a thankful heart on that for which I am most thankful: SOC(k)s, spoons, and the people that surround me in my days of sickness and of health. My goal for the New Year is to always remember to pray for everyone who keeps us on his or her prayer list. May God keep you all safe and secure in His Love. Sending everyone the merriest of Christmas wishes and hopes for an infinitely happy New Year!
p.s. May rich blessings reach, in a very special way, those who so generously donated to my fundraiser for my doctor’s ALS Clinic. It was an honor to be able to present Dr. Heiman-Patterson with a check that she assured us will take their efforts and research far in the new year. She was humbled and speechless, but asked me to express her pronounced gratitude to everyone who pitched in to make the online campaign such a success.
Razoo was so impressed with how successfully and quickly we brought in money using their platform that they approached us to do a “case study” and publish what they learned in hopes of helping others who seek to fundraise for their own causes (https://blog.razoo.com/how-a-personal-fundraiser-raised-13-000-in-10-days-65ff4ce5728f#.uoi3n0lc3). Thank you to everyone who made this possible!