Find the Joy, Even in the Worst of Times
I am seeking the joy in life. It’s difficult with medical setbacks or the off-period surges of pain and emotion. But joy is still available. I know it. I feel it. I’m showing up every day to find it, even during the worst of times.
There are times when my body feels miserable. Those days are now stringing together. The urge to flee, to escape to anywhere but here, always beckons to me. One choice is a healthy path with better long-term outcomes. The other path is one that seeks to flight/fight/nurture and can lead to addictive behavior. I choose the healthy path, the path of joy and healing. I know it is not an easy choice and requires sitting with what I am experiencing.
Both disease progression and aging present new experiences. I am challenged to sit with new challenges. The practice of sitting with ourselves involves the conductor, a mental construct used to observe self-status, viewing the pain and our suffering without engaging in action or undue emotion. It is a compassionate, curious, and nonjudgmental observer. But the louder the discomfort, the harder it is to use the observer.
If I try to drown the discomfort with brain-altering chemicals, or if I don’t engage in conductor/exercise practice, I can’t use the conductor when I really need it, in the worst of times. If I choose the escape route, I am choosing not to train my brain to be stronger and more capable. There are times when I choose to escape, too tired to keep working at things. But those days are fewer now. My choice to let things go for a bit is a conscious respite and not a permanent escape.
The brain abhors a vacuum. It will rewire itself to whatever we decide to do each day. If we decide to escape all the time, then the brain will accommodate. The more we escape, the more habitual the practice becomes. We give it little thought. Continuing this path leads to the dead end of neural somnolence.
If I decide to move off that road, navigation is difficult on a new route overgrown with emotional weeds and barriers. It is not well-traveled like the one I used for so many decades. I knew the road to escape. I didn’t know how to sit. I am finding joy now in many places since I began the practice of sitting with it.
In her book about living well with chronic pain, Toni Bernhard describes many of the obstacles one can face when learning how to sit with chronic pain in a way that doesn’t make things worse. We all hear old tapes playing the negative voices in our lives and our own discouraged self-talk, reliving memories of past traumas that intrude with sitting calmly while in pain. The memories don’t go away just because I can sit with them. I am sitting on the edge of a metaphorical riverbank watching my life’s stream meander past me. From the riverbank, I watch as the leaves and logs of old memories drift out of sight.
My difficulty is that Parkinson’s results in exaggerated pain and emotions. It has taken diligent practice to rewire my brain to handle this new level of intensity. I am continually making progress because I choose to sit with it. The surges of exaggerated emotion controlling my life interfered with just about everything. Now they are not as influential, and the result is an improved quality of life.
So, I look for joy, which is a positive counterpoint to suffering. According to an article published in the journal JAMA Neurology, joy can be defined as “that which separates thriving from mere survival.” Joy is the positive experience of well-being that includes the effects of multiple positive emotions, such as love and awe, rather than just a single emotion. The concept of joy in the health literature is commonly associated with themes of vitality, spontaneity, expansiveness, inspiration, hope, freedom, and connection.
I am cultivating an “attitude of gratitude,” and finding the quiet things I might have dismissed before. I am making time to sit in a sunny room and renew hope in myself, my life, and my relationships.
Reader comments have addressed the topic of exaggerated emotions and Parkinson’s. Many of us wrestle with the beast. When I can focus on joy, life with Parkinson’s is much better. I get up and show up with the intent of finding joy in something, anything! There is joy in laying down one brick in that new path every day. Make it a joyful day.
I thank all my readers who allow me to share my columns in their lives. I invite you to comment on the joy in your life.
Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.