by Carolyn Thomas ♥ @HeartSisters ♥ August 17, 2019
“Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again. And in between the amazing and the awful, it’s ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That’s just living heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And it’s breathtakingly beautiful.”
This reminder about the amazingness of life from author L.R. Knost has always rung true for me.(1) And so do these words of a local Kindergarten teacher who tells her kids: “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset!”
But we do get upset. Really upset. Especially when we observe that we’re getting not nearly enough “amazing” and way too much “awful”. . As a heart patient with ongoing chronic symptoms of coronary microvascular disease, I’ve been feeling distressingly awful lately. Usually this awfulness accompanies some other non-cardiac issue that dares to raise its ugly head, as if I actually needed ONE MORE THING!
This week, it’s been a lower back spasm, which is physiotherapist-speak for an ice pick jammed into my sacroiliac joint.
And my “normal” cardiac symptoms, particularly chest pain and a truly crushing sort of flu-like fatigue, seem to be happening more frequently in order to keep the ice pick company. And by the way, nobody tells you before you’re discharged from the hospital about the fatigue. . .
I’m managing most days with gentle yoga stretches and meds, especially frequent doses of nitroglycerin for chest pain (“Nitro is your friend!”) – but some days, that feels like just barely managing.
Throw in that pesky ice pick – and I can barely move. Lately, I can barely even think about moving.
Yet not moving is not good for sacroiliac pain. So I’ve been re-reading my “Pain Self-Management“ notes I took from my Regional Pain Clinic classes, desperately trying to find the handy tip I might be missing that’s going to pull me out of “awful”.
I have physio and massage therapy appointments booked, and meanwhile I’ve been cancelling plans all week, day after day, as I weigh the likelihood of being able to cope with the effort of simply making conversation. See also: “Confessions of a non-compliant patient“
But then, right in the middle of a day filled with “awful”, I’ll experience something so “amazing” that I actually forget about the “awful” and just enjoy the “breathtakingly beautiful” bits. Example: consider the resident harbour seal my family and I watched after our weekly Tuesday picnic supper at the beach. She had climbed out of the ocean to slowly drag herself up a large rock protruding from the sea, very close to shore. (Harbour seals are incredibly graceful under water, but slow and awkward on land).
Then we watched her little baby pup, even slower than Mum, drag itself up the same rock to join her. The two met, wiggled around a bit to stabilize, and then we watched in absolute delight as Mum nursed her baby on that rock.
By now, lots of other people out for an after-dinner walk had joined us to watch this rare sight. Passing cars began to pull over, and more people joined our group to ask, “What’s happening?!” For almost 20 minutes, it was completely thrilling to watch this Mum and babe together.
We’re used to seeing seals swimming in the ocean here in Victoria, but in the four+ decades I’ve lived on the west coast, I have never seen this happen.
And during those magical moments, I somehow forgot all about pain or fatigue or the ice pick or anything awful that had been happening that day.
But what happens to those symptoms? Where do they go? How can I be so incapacitated that I’m almost unable to lift myself out of my red chair all afternoon, and then two hours later so enthralled by Mother Nature that I can forget about feeling ill?
Living with any form of chronic illness can feel like facing these kinds of daily questions.
Example: One day this past week, I felt so ill during my morning walking group that I had to go straight to bed afterwards, but the next day, I awoke feeling well enough to keep a coffee date with an old friend – an experience that actually turned out to be “amazing!” I felt like a completely different person! Or, more accurately, almost like my old self, before heart disease.
My friend and I sat out on the beautiful patio together and talked about our writing and our kids and life in general as we caught up. I recall becoming aware at one point of how special this morning with my old friend was turning out to be. Warm sunshine. Birds singing in the leafy trees overhead. The “amazing” lasted for a while, even after I got home, tired but happy – but I then had to cancel a later outing when the “awful” hit by lunchtime.
I think that’s what L.R. Knost was talking about in her quote. We should treasure “amazing” simply because we all know that amazing doesn’t last.
But I now think we could also treasure the “ordinary and mundane and routine.”
Another example: one of my retired neighbours told me this week that her goal for the summer was to take a picture of the most beautiful flowers she could find around our neighbourhood while out for her daily walk. Now, unlike most personal goals like “Exercise! Eat healthy! Do more of THIS! Do less of THAT!” , hers is a small goal that seems destined to turn “ordinary” into “amazing”! Every. Day.
Maybe if I were more consciously mindful about how wonderful “ordinary” can sometimes feel, I might be more often able to elevate “ordinary” to “amazing”, and downgrade “awful” to simply “ordinary”.
And that seems like a “breathtakingly beautiful” idea.
- L.R. Knost, author of several books like Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages
NOTE FROM CAROLYN: I wrote much more about the importance of self-care (and pain self-management) in my book, A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease . You can ask for it at your local library or favourite bookshop, or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon, or order it directly from my publisher, Johns Hopkins University Press (use the code HTWN to save 20% off the list price).
Q: How do you elevate an “ordinary” moment to “amazing?” .
Brain freeze, heart disease and pain self-management (including tips on why distraction is such an effective tool in the pain self-management toolbox)