Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Feeling sad...can we choose to change our emotions?

I feel sad today. I felt sad yesterday. I have cried.

But I should be happy. 

One year ago today, my husband's life was saved by a wonderful surgeon, Mr Gatt, and his team, at Scarborough Hospital, North Yorkshire. He felt unwell on Sunday, September 29th. Nothing to worry about, just a bug. He's rarely unwell. Matters became worse and by the evening he was in A&E. 

At 8.30am on Monday, September 30th he underwent four hours of emergency, life-changing surgery and very nearly lost his life. Days followed in Intensive Care, High Dependency, on a general ward and then eventually he came home.

A year later and A is well, so there's lots to be happy about, isn't there?

Yes there is and we regularly count our blessings. Each day still seems a bonus. We also try not to get niggled by small stuff, but that's not always easy. Why the sadness and tears then?

Because I am recalling those hours and days of a year ago, minute by minute. The shock, the 'what ifs' and 'if onlys', the feelings of despair, the uncertainty, the 'howling to the moon' at 2am, the obliteration of major plans in October, the kindness of strangers and amazing support of friends and family. Mainly though, the shock. Having some understanding on how the brain works, I was able to process what my mind and body were experiencing and found it interesting in a weird way. I knew it would pass.

Two emotions surprised me. In fact, they overwhelmed me. I think it's those emotions that I'm recalling. I received many kind offers of help and people who wanted to stay with me. I had to say no. I needed, not wanted, needed to be alone after a day at the hospital. This where text and social media were superb resources. I text a daily bulletin to family, friends and colleagues. I knew they had a need to know and it saved me having to speak on the phone for hours and repeat everything.  I was exhausted, but despite being  alone in the house, I knew that I wasn't alone in the crisis.

The second emotion, which was visceral, occurred when A came home.  I felt extraordinarily protective for a few weeks. I wanted to shut the world out and protect him. 

I didn't have a choice how I felt a year ago. I was in shock and not in control of my emotions for a time, except, though, I managed to be in control when I visited the hospital.  But I'm not in shock today, so why the sadness and tears?

Last week, there was a superb drama on BBC TV called, 'Marvellous'. A true story and worth watching. 

http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2014/09/bbc2-s-marvellous-lives-its-name Perhaps the football theme may put you off? It's about so much more than football, it's about the human spirit.  A grown man, with a less complex view on the world said that he had decided to be happy in life. Is that possible? Many people will say that it is not. I believe that happiness comes in moments, rather than a constant state of mind. The striving to be happy can be a state of Chasing Rainbows. But I knew what he meant. I prefer the word 'content'. It's more achievable. 

I cannot help the strong reactions that I have experienced on the anniversary of last year's events. But I can control my response to them. (I am not talking about PTSD, which is a severe form of past memories hijacking a person's mind and body.) Many people loathe being told they have a choice about how they can respond to events. 

I have two main choices. I can choose to keep my mind on the events of last year, turning them over in my head, picking at the seeping emotional wounds and wallowing in the memories or I can chose to change what my mind is focusing on. There is a strange comfort in the wallowing in the familiar, however painful it is and it's tempting to remain in that state. There may be a case for allowing oneself to indulge to some self absorption, if it can provide some helpful personal insight.  I have also been thinking of people in my life who have died and adding those memories to the sadness soup.

My second choice is to accept the strong reactions, even discuss them or write about them, but then change what I'm doing to change my thinking processes and mood. DIY Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

Music is the fastest mood changer in my life. I play music on the radio or music player every day and can raise or lower my mood by what I listen to. Physical stature can change a mood too.

At a workshop in Australia many years ago, I gave a simple illustration. Someone came out of the audience to walk across the stage with me. We walked slowly, slouched over, talking about how happy we were and trying to be upbeat in our conversation. We then changed to walking upright, with purpose and talked about how miserable and unhappy we were. Try it. Visual demonstrations can be powerful and that one became unforgettable for many people.

When A was recovering, he was told by staff that there were two main things that would help towards a successful recovery. 1. Family support, which fortunately was a given. 2. Attitude.

As A has always veered away from anything medical, I had a great concern about the second. But I needn't have worried. This is a man who decided many years ago that he didn't want to be remembered as a grumpy grandfather, so he makes a special effort when we see the grandchildren. His choice.

So A thought about two possible role models. One was his father, who had been a healthy man until 55 years old. He slowly became a paraplegic and then through some of the treatment treatment became blind. His attitude was to get on with it, the best way he could. Another relative with a chronic illness had chosen a less helpful way of managing. 

He chose his father. His choice.