Get busy living, or get busy dying
Photo credit: Ralf Weiser, Resistance to change. Do not get stuck on the left side of the “U” – for long
Life is too short for long pity parties. This week made me think of my best college friend who passed away too early due to cancer. She was such a fighter. When your life suddenly changes because you have just found out you have a challenging medical condition you can either keep feeling sorry for yourself, or you can already see the new path and plan that goes along with it. Some folks just get stuck in the anger, grieving, and resistance mode: “Why did this happen to me?”, “I just do not believe this!” It can lead to a state of utter confusion and self-pity. And it is a pity when you do not get out of that mode.
Feeling sorry for yourself however wastes time and lets your brain go on a down spiraling path to severe depression. Neither is helpful if time is of the essence. I will never forget the incident where my mom was sharing a hospital room with a woman who was exactly in this state of mind. Her illness was severe and her outlook on how long she was to live did not look great at all. When nurses and doctors asked her what she wanted to do she constantly changed direction. When she was alone with my mom or visitors she was constantly complaining about the medical staff, her condition – nothing seemed to work out right for her. It was painful to watch, especially when she snuck out the room to go downstairs for a quick smoke in order to “calm her nerves down”. Calm your nerves down, but stress your body even more with the effects of smoking? The woman went in a circle of self-destruction – she got really busy dying.
Compare this with my mom who had been diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer 9 months prior. At the beginning of her journey of the long goodbye that is cancer, she had been given a few weeks to live. Not our mom, nope, she would have none of it. Hope and faith let her go through the anger, grief, and resistance time period really quickly. Plans were made to see specialists, treatments, and she even got new glasses to be able to see and read better. She had not gotten new ones in decades.
In the end cancer finally claimed her life 10 months after diagnosis. At the time the above mentioned story happened things were already not looking good at all, but my mom found the time helping the woman with advice, thoughts and prayers. The irony puzzles me to this day. Bottom line though was that mom was always busy living.
When things look bleak it may be easier succumbing to self-pity. Two processes are at work here. One is how a sudden major change goes through a U shaped process (explained here in more detail) and what you are going through is normal: Resistance, anger, grief, etc. That is the downward side of the U on the left. There comes a time when you hit the bottom of the U (figuratively speaking). You can either swing back up to anger etc, or start looking at the upside to the right leg of the U. It is the onset of careful optimism, hope, and exploration of opportunities. The other main process is that you have a choice. Are you choosing to get busy dying, or are you choosing to get busy living? What will be your choice?