On March 23, 2012 I received the best birthday gift ever, I found out that I was pregnant. At my first Ob/Gyn appointment my doctor informed me that I was doing well but expressed some concern about the size of my thyroid. She ordered a blood test which came back normal but she wasn't satisfied, so she ordered a thyroid ultrasound and referred me to a specialist. The ultrasound revealed that I had some weirdly shaped nodules.
The specialist informed me that he wanted me to have a biopsy to rule out thyroid cancer. He explained what thyroid cancer was, it’s prevalence and shared some information about treatment options. He also gave me brochures on thyroid cancer to take home.
The entire time he spoke to me, I felt numb. Could this be real? I am at the happiest place in my life, I finally got pregnant after a few frustrating months of trying to no avail and NOW I might have cancer? The timing could not be worse!
On my drive back to work from the doctor’s visit, I went through all possible outcomes in my mind. I felt deflated, worried and sad. On the outside I appeared calm but my thoughts were far from being calm, I experienced a roller coaster of emotions that were overwhelming, drowning my mind with conflicting possibilities. It was at this juncture that I came to the conclusion that life's trials are never devoid of lessons, one can choose to be a willing student or become a frustrated one repeating the same class over and over again.
Many things in life might momentarily create a phase of happiness, a euphoric sensation that is both fleeting as it is hypnotic and it carries us away until the next wave of issue hits. For me, the momentary happiness was pregnancy which was quickly derailed by the news about having a biopsy to rule out thyroid cancer. For you, it might be learning about a devastating illness, struggling with a lifelong diagnosis, loss of employment, difficult family situation, and the list goes on.
The biggest lesson I learned during this experience was that my happiness was my choice alone to make, it was not based on external circumstances and it certainly did not emanate from being pregnant and it won’t be snatched away by the possibility of having cancer. I realized that I needed to snatch myself from the grips of thoughts and feelings that were threatening to take away my peace.
Fact is that over 90% of what we fear and ruminate over do not actualize, what is even more startling is that over 90% of our worries are also repeated worries. That is, we mostly worry about the same thing we did yesterday, last week, last month, etc. it never stops. Our minds have amazing abilities to fixate on negative thoughts and emotions and remind us often, several times a day, every day, every month and every year. It feeds on itself and grows. The more we worry, the more worried we will become. Yet the worries do not solve problems, in actuality, they make our problems appear bigger.
In order to put a break on my worries, I made a conscious decision to live in ambiguity, to radically accept that worrying would not change the result of that biopsy and at the end of the day, whatever the result may be, I will make it through.
What kept me sane was focusing on the things I was sure of, things that were concrete and true. I have life and as far as I knew it, I had good health. I have a loving son, I have a roof over my head, my daily bread is provided for, I have a sound mind and I have great friends and family of support.
There were two parallel narratives running through my mind. The first and prominent one was scared of the 'C' word and was not particularly interested in reality, it was fear-based. Despite being told by the doctor that thyroid cancer was treatable and that I might not have it, I was incredibly aware of death and what would happen to my husband, son or this baby in my womb if she/he makes it. This narrative was filled with worry, rumination over things that have not happened and conjectures.
The second narrative acknowledged reality as is. The reality was that I did not know what the biopsy result would be and my life was full of so much wonders to be eternally grateful for. When I chose this narrative, I became more grateful, happy and at peace.
The truth is happiness is not found in what happens to you, it's not found in achievements or disappointments, it's not found in compliments or critiques, the home of happiness lies in the depth of gratitude and a forgiving spirit.
When we choose to stop wrestling with life, when we stop attempting to change things that we have no control over, then we open the door for gratitude and in the room of gratitude we will find our happiness.
Happiness is not found in books, blog posts, 7 easy steps, in people or relationships, money, food, drugs or alcohol, happiness is found in you and in your journey. Every day you get to make a conscious or unconscious choice to choose happiness or despair. In your thought patterns, in the choice of words you use to describe yourself or others and in your actions.
You cannot put others down and be happy, you can't be jealous and be happy, and you can't be pretentious and be happy. You can't think badly about yourself, or put yourself down and be happy.
Happiness is a journey and gratitude is the vehicle. Gratitude removes you from the baggage and burdens of your histories, the worries of your future and keeps you focused on the here and now. Your marriage might be falling apart, your health suffering, your finances might be in the gutter, you might be struggling to get pregnant, all these things are real and they are capable of making us all feel hopeless, BUT being thankful, shifts the focus.
If you do not find a space of gratitude in your life, the storms of life will overtake and overwhelm you, if you don't make a choice to be happy, life will make a choice of despair for you.
Your circumstances do not determine your happiness, money will not make you happy; happiness is something you actively choose every day in spite of the circumstances surrounding you. Life is full of experiences that will buttress our thoughts, validate our feelings which will eventually dictate our behaviors.
There are three essential things that I have found helpful in maintaining and choosing happiness.
1. Practicing gratitude daily - In our home, every night with our son, we have a gratitude circle where we share what we are thankful for. You could try gratitude journaling or gratitude video journaling. Just hit record on your cell phone camera or voice recorder.
2. Get rid of toxic waste in your life. Emotionally hoarding toxic people will drain your happiness and peace. Rid your life of emotional vampires, studies show that bad friends are not good for your health or life expectancy.
3. Forgive - yes, this is the one I find to be the most challenging. I Have a hard time accepting and letting go of bad things that have
happened to me. I expend energy wishing and hoping those experiences never occurred. In life, we don't get to undo experiences. Radically accepting what happened is a great start, next step is letting it go. Holding on to resentments only keeps us faithfully married to the hurt. It's time to move on, letting it go doesn't exonerate the person that hurt you, but it frees you from the chains of resentment. Forgive and clear your emotional house while creating space for new and better experiences to occur.
4. Lastly, be gentle on yourself. It's a journey and you will find yourself back in the old patterns of complaining and resenting. Remember that life isn't really about what happens to you because something is guaranteed to happen, it's about what you do in response. So when life happens and the narrative of worry and concern fills your thoughts, remember that you have a choice to choose happiness via gratitude.
When I finally got the result of the biopsy, my doctor informed me that I did not have thyroid cancer. He also informed me that I'd have to complete bi-annual ultrasounds to check on the status of those nodules. I have had 3 ultrasounds so far and there have been no changes, I'm clear! I also gave birth to my daughter and she just turned 1.
This blog was written by me for my friend Rebecca Black as a guest blog for her website www.rebeccarefined.com