on loss (and flossing)

Now that I’ve been living with this chronic migraine business for a while, it can be tempting to not only grieve the past year’s losses, but to also grieve the coming losses, just in case, like this:

Who will I be without choir? Who will I be without dancing? What is life without peanut butter and chocolate? Who am I? What’s my purpose? My life is TOTALLY RUINED AND EVERYTHING SUCKS!! 

[cue grumpy cat]

grumpy cat

I know this isn’t true. I know that I have found lots of other valuable and enjoyable things to do with my time. I’ve found my silver linings and I have exciting plans! I even know that I’m getting better at riding the pain wave without falling apart. So why do I still sometimes dwell on things over which I have little control instead of simply being grateful for my past and current abilities?

I think there’s a lesson in this that could take more than a lifetime to learn: that challenging myself to think differently is a practice, and not something that can be changed at the flick of a switch. I can’t simply decide to accept these losses, just as I can’t simply decide to be kind for every moment of the rest of my life. I can only make a commitment to do my best; constantly remind myself of this commitment; and try to be self-aware enough to catch myself slinking down the wrong path.

In his brilliant Tedtalk, Jay Smooth says “Being good is a practice that we carry out by engaging with our imperfections.” He compares this practice to flossing, whereby in order to combat the deeply ingrained and constantly reinforced racism in America (the plaque), we must work, every day, to identify, reject, and refuse to reinforce it (the floss). If we accept that plaque will build up if we let it, then it doesn’t have to be a ghastly surprise, disappointment, or occasion for denial and defensiveness when we find that it’s time to floss all over again, even though we flossed yesterday.

This analogy reminds me of the Buddha’s first noble truth, usually translated as “life is suffering.” (I’m not Buddhist, but am currently reading Toni Bernhard’s Buddhist-inspired book How to Be Sick,” which I am finding to be very helpful.) If I can accept that, like suffering, things like racism, sexism, ageism, and ableism exist and will continue to exist, then maybe I can be less frustrated or disappointed when I come up against them, and be more prepared to challenge them within myself.

Similarly, if I can accept that I will want to grieve my losses and stomp my feet, maybe I can be more prepared to challenge those feelings in a constructive way. So instead of being hard on myself for being sad or angry (such a pointless and vicious circle!), I’m going to be proud of myself every time I floss. Maybe I’ll get myself some gold stars and make some categories, like:

Today I got excited about migraine-friendly future plans.

Today I had migraine-friendly social time with friends who still love me even though I’m totally unreliable.

Today I made myself a kick-ass migraine-friendly meal.

Today I was thankful for my body doing what it could.

And here, because it’s pretty much the best, is another cartoon from RobotHugs:

Mental Health Survival Tips

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