Monday, July 1, 2013
You Only Live Once
Praise and blame, gain and loss, pleasure and sorrow come and go like the wind. To be happy, rest like a giant tree in the midst of them all.
I finally just learned what the Internet jargon or text speak, YOLO, means. If you are clueless like me, it is an acronym for, you only live once. I see it all over the Internet as captions of pictures of things like drinking a big, frosty alcoholic beverage during the day, eating a large and indulgent meal or dessert, or a vacation to some tropical paradise. The phrase always stands out, especially when associated with the aforementioned activities because, well, if I did any of these things, I would pay greatly. I can't drink alcohol during the day. My accident really has little to do with this. It's more of an issue with my tolerance level and falling asleep after only a few drinks. Keeping up all day, while drinking, is just not one of my talents. And eating whatever I want and in large quantities not only makes me feel sick, but it also causes issues with my body that are just absurd and completely frustrating. And vacations, well they just don't happen for me. My physical issues come along with me and I never truly get any kind of break or vacation from paralysis. I must pack an extra bag of supplies just to keep my body working correctly. Vacations turn out to be far more of a hassle then a pleasure for me.
I know I sound like the Grinch right now, but there is a point to this rant. Only living once is something I think about often. As a young girl, I used to lie awake with anticipation while I counted the nights of sleep until Christmas arrived or my birthday finally came to pass. I eagerly anticipated summer camp and trips to far away places. Packing was exciting and arriving at the airport, even more exciting. And while I couldn't wait for it to arrive, the trip, or holiday, or birthday, would come and go and once again, I would be in a state of disappointment and feeling let down, until I found the next adventure.
After my accident, I made sure to always have something to look forward to. My calendar, always filled with social events and work commitments, had little room for anything else. I distinctly remember thinking things like, I just have to get through this day and then tomorrow, I will wake up, go to breakfast with a friend, shop with a friend, go home to change, and then go to a movie with a friend. And then the following day all of my friends will meet at my house and we will pile in the car and head to Keeneland for the day. Excitement and busyness seemed to keep me going. I thrived on complication and busyness. One evening, a friend and I stayed up until the wee hours of the next morning frying chicken and baking homemade cake for a birthday party. I slept all of two hours, woke up, and left to volunteer for the entire day. I then gave myself only one hour, in between activities, to get ready for the fried chicken birthday party. Oh, and then we all went out that night to listen to a band play at a local bar. I basically never stopped planning and anticipating and coming down from the busy highs. You only live once. I said this to myself all the time, every time I dashed out of the door as I was on to the next thing.
This lifestyle grew more and more difficult the sicker I became. Popping Advil became a full time job, just so I could keep up with my living. Hospital stays and blood transfusions interrupted my fast pace living and irritated me immensely. I used to think, don't you see, I am trying to live. I am trying to seize the moment, I am trying to take large bites out of life and swallow them whole. I am brave, I am strong, I am tough, and I am busy. I keep going when the going gets tough. I do not give up. See me, I am doing it, I am living. But the thing was, I wasn't living. I was just anticipating and filling up time. In a nutshell, I was escaping the silence, escaping the downtime, and avoiding the pain.
There is an art to doing nothing. It isn't for the faint of heart. When the silence sets in, so do the tingles of pain. Thoughts rush in and tears flow. I remember stupid comments I said or moments where I was nasty. I remember embarrassment, I focus on failure, and I basically have time to think. And when this quiet is all there is, I realize I am not always brave, I am not always strong, and I am certainly not always tough. I am vulnerable and afraid and I don't like it. It's so much easier to pick up the phone and make a lunch date or breakfast plans than it is to sit with discomfort. I know this because I experienced it.
My illness forced isolation. My depression forced sitting alone with my thoughts. At first, I hated it. I hated the spears of judgement I threw at myself. I hated the way I saw myself and thought of myself. I felt out of control and wanted to run from myself. But, this time I couldn't. I finally reached a point where I was too sick to do anything. My only option was to lie in my bed, without anticipation, without plans, and stare at the ceiling. I could drown out the pain with the television or a book, but sometimes those were just too exhausting. My eyes stung from fevers and my head ached. Silence and rest were the only options. And as I inched closer to death, I didn't think about the nights out I was missing, or the places I hadn't yet visited. I actually thought about the way I treated others and the way I treated myself. I worked through all of my regret. And the regret wasn't found in missed opportunities or missed football games, it was found in moments when I was nasty or mean or left someone out of the equation. The regrets were found in moments where I snapped at someone and didn't listen to them and just continued talking about my own life. I regret looking through people. I regret hurting rather than helping. As the many days of silence increased, so did the pain. For all of my only living once moments, I could think of a moment where I was unloving, unkind, and unaware of an other's feelings. I was moving too fast before to stop and really noticing and now that my life came to a screeching halt, the mistakes were personified. Doing nothing was painful and made me feel weak, sensitive, and sorry. Pretending to be okay and high on life was no longer an option. I wasn't able to pretend I was perfect and able to handle everything like a champ. I couldn't bottle my anger and lash out at everyone else anymore. The tables were turned, and I had to take a long, hard look at myself, broken and ill, for the first time.
And then the change happened. It occurred somewhere between the self-loathing and the bad memories. I found myself, literally on the ground, begging for forgiveness and promising to change. I swore I would find my bravery and do right with it this time. I promised to use the toughness, I once thought I had, to stand up for another, rather than beat them down with the rest of the crowd. I promised to accept and love myself, but work to make sure I was the best version of myself I could possibly be. I promised to live as if I only had once chance to do this right. I promised to finish strong.
As I started to heal, I noticed my desire to fill my calendar no longer existed. I was so accustomed to doing nothing that I had to force myself to do anything. Staying in on New Years Eve or just sitting with my dog became my new way of life. And as I sat and continued to listen to the silence I learned what only living once really means. It doesn't mean filling up every moment or living in a constant state of forced spontaneity. It doesn't mean spending every waking moment with another person or friend. It doesn't meant attending every concert, or football game, or dinner out. What it truly means, is living as if this life really and truly only comes around once. And this means, taking care of my body. Eating was nourishes it most, filling it with good food, rather than what only pleases my taste buds. It means allowing enough nothing time to remain calm and peaceful and kind. It means leaving space in my calendar to breathe. It means sitting and looking out the window and listening to the rain fall or the trees blow in the wind. It means, instead of checking off adventures on a list, actually living the adventure that life already is, all of life, even the parts of it from which I want to run and never look back.
I find life isn't about chasing and grasping moments and minutes of excitement. It isn't about anticipation and grandeur. And it certainly isn't about vacations and escapes from reality. What life is truly about, what truly living in the moment means, is accepting all of the moments as a part of the magnificent and the heart wrenching portrait that life is. There will always, always be clouds, but there is always, always a blue sky waiting behind them. I can't fill and force every moment to overflow with sunshine and rainbows. It just isn't possible. The work it takes exhausts me and leaves me utterly lacking. I feel most whole, most fulfilled, when I sit with complexity of life. When I work through the pain, find the joy along the way, and rise above the clouds and see the sun and blue skies.
Sitting in silence taught me I was both sensitive and brave. It taught me I was weak and strong. It taught me I was human. All of the parts of myself are worthy of respect and love. And knowing this allows me to see all of the parts in everyone else and respect and love those parts too. But, the greatest thing the silence taught me was to go with the flow of the great ocean of life, instead of against it. Because when I float with the waves, appreciate the high and low tides, I am more loving and kind. I am open and free. I am in a state of giving, rather than taking. Chasing happiness all of the time left me, mostly, unhappy. Sitting with the tension of the good and the bad, remaining comfortable with the silence, leaves me utterly peaceful and serene. It allows me to truly only live once and without regret. I am less mean, less nasty, less harsh, and far more fulfilled. Instead of watching the empty days of the calendar, I watch my words and actions. I try to live up to the promise I made, to be the best version of myself possible. I may not succeed every, single day. I may feel failure or disappointment, but that is okay. That is what living is. Living life is picking myself up when I fall, holding some one's hand when she falls, crying both tears of sadness and joy, and learning to rest, peacefully, in the midst of it all.