Look For The Silver Lining
By Kathy Russell
In my opinion, maintaining good mental health is essential to maintaining good physical health. I believe that once one gets into what I call a “funk,” it is so easy to get into a downward spiral that ultimately leads to physical health problems. If one feels tired, cold, blue, sad, uninterested or whatever you may call it, it is difficult to keep up with all of the things that are necessary to keep us well.
I am fortunate in that I was born happy and I have stayed that way most of my life. Rarely have I gotten truly depressed. Being ill repeatedly and having to miss a lot of school didn’t depress me. Finding out that I had CF didn’t depress me. Even overhearing the doctors telling my parents that I wouldn’t live another six months didn’t depress me. (I just figured that those doctors didn’t know what they were talking about and that I’d show them by outliving all of them…and I have.) Getting ill and having to miss one whole section of my nursing school didn’t depress me. (After all, I was able to make up that unit at the end of my normal rotations.) Having my father die the week that Paul and I got married didn’t depress me. It made me terribly sad, but I had other things to do and couldn’t let my emotions take over.
The first time that I truly was depressed was when I had to quit working for a living. I had been getting ill more and more frequently. I was missing work and was on the verge of being fired for non-attendance. (This was long before there were laws to prevent such treatment.)
Suddenly I felt as if I had no value. It seems as if everyone measures others by what they do and how much they earn. I was too young to be retired and yet I was unable to work. To add to my feelings of inadequacy, my claim for Social Security Disability was denied. Not only was I not working, I wasn’t even contributing any income to our household. I really felt that I was a loser.
I spent a few months trying to get rid of my negative feelings. At that time, we lived above the ocean in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. Each day I would go across the street to the cliffs above the ocean. A couple of feet down from the edge, there was a little ledge where I could sit and just watch the ocean. I listened to the sounds of the world and watched the sea birds, seals and other sea animals and just let my mind unwind. Every day that I sat like that I felt better than the day before. The sun felt good and helped me to get better.
Eventually, I got to the point that I felt okay with going to one of the pools at our condo and visiting with others who gathered there. Many of us liked books and we would spend time discussing current books we all were reading or some topic that had caught the interest of one or more of us.
I was the youngest of the people who joined these discussions. Some of them had worked and some had not. Some still were working but came around on their time off. It really didn’t matter to anyone that I was no longer working. To them, I just was a neighbor who was sharing the pool and the conversation. My attitude about myself really improved from all that time in the sun, by the water and visiting with nice people.
I still have periods of a kind of depression that is none too deep. I get depressed about how so many people in the world have not learned to get along with others. I know that this particular type of depression isn’t the result of CF, but it does have an effect on my mental health and hence on my physical health. I do what I can by sharing love and caring where I am able.
I get depressed over being tethered to an oxygen hose all of the time. I really dislike being unable to just hop out of the car and run up to drop my library books in the return slot. Paul gets out of the car and does it, since it is difficult for me to get my concentrator out of and back into the car. I detest being unable to just open the door of our home and run out to get some flowers from the yard. I resent having to watch out for my oxygen hose all the time.
On the other hand, I am delighted that I have oxygen available and that I have portable oxygen, too. I have much more freedom than I might have and I am alive. It helps to remember that my concentrator gives me much needed oxygen and that it allows me to be a viable part of life.
For the first 50 years of my life, I had serious sinus disease that caused me terrible pain. At times it felt as if my teeth needed to be pulled to relieve the pressure in my head. My eyes felt as if they were being pushed right out of their sockets. It was depressing to hurt all of the time. That pain was relieved by sinus surgeries.
After my last sinus surgery, which was 23 years ago, I lost my senses of smell and taste. At first I found that to be depressing. I had always loved cooking. A large part of cooking is smelling and tasting what is being made. Suddenly, I found myself unable to taste anything. I had to guess on seasonings and flavorings, where I wasn’t using an exact recipe. I got my husband to help me with adding the correct amount of whatever spice or flavoring I was using. We managed. I did really miss tasting food. I still yearn for the taste of a real root beer float. If I were to drink one today, mostly what I would taste is sweet and I don’t particularly like sweet. Oh, well. At least I am able to eat and can taste something now and then.
We used to plant a huge garden. We grew corn, green beans, lettuces, radishes, spinach, herbs, squashes, cucumbers, tomatoes and various other vegetables. I enjoyed weeding, watering, harvesting and preserving the bounty of our gardens. I would get quite tired after spending a day harvesting and canning or freezing. It was well worth it, when I could look at my pantry shelves and see the jars of beautiful produce. I loved being able to control how much salt or sugar went into anything I preserved. My jars of peaches and pears were delicious with a light syrup that was my own recipe. It allowed one to really get the flavor of the fruit. My tomatoes had no salt on them, only water. They were delicious. Being able to remember all of that keeps me from being depressed that I no longer have the energy it takes to do all of that work.
Getting a diagnosis of breast cancer (I know, it isn’t CF-related) didn’t cause me to be depressed, either. I figured that “this is just another thing to deal with.” I had bilateral mastectomies four-and-a-half years ago. Clothes don’t fit as well as they used to, but I am alive and that is more important.
I have a twisted spine that causes me almost continuous pain. Because of that, I find that I sit a lot more than I did when I was younger. I am not sure that this is CF-related. It may be just because I am old. I would prefer to be more active, but I run out of energy too quickly to do much that takes real work. I keep my legs elevated to keep my ankles from swelling. (I don’t want to have “cankles,” as unkind folk call them.) Since I sit with my feet up, I find that working on my computer or doing jigsaw puzzles affords me activities that are pleasant and doable. Finding puzzle pieces that were being elusive makes me happy. Editing the material for this newsletter really gives me pleasure. I truly enjoy doing all that is required in editing.
My favorite way of avoiding depression is to always try to find the bright side of any situation. Even if it is a life-altering event, there still may be an up-side to it. Focusing on only the negative aspects of any situation is almost guaranteed to cause depression. Finding the “silver lining” behind any “black cloud” can help to keep from letting depression win. Look on the bright side and stay much happier is my recommendation.
Until next time, stay healthy and happy.
Kathy is a former Director of USACFA. She and her husband Paul live in Gresham, OR. Her email is: firstname.lastname@example.org.