7: No More Excuses

7: No More Excuses

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive

No More Excuses

The person who really wants to do something finds a way; the other person finds an excuse.

~Author Unknown

It took over my body. It hurt to walk and sometimes even to talk. The joints in my jaws dislocated. TMJ surgery resulted in eight weeks of sucking mashed potatoes through a straw. Over time, my fingers cramped and pulled as they became weak and disfigured. The pain was unbearable.

After seeing numerous specialists, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, the kind that attacks the joints and cripples people. Surgeries to correct deformities on my inflamed hands and wrists were undone when the disease raged out of control. Reluctantly, I put my pride aside and quit my job as a law school secretary. I had no choice.

My doctor was baffled. For me, even the most up-to-date medications weren’t effective for long. After months of treatment, most of his patients would have found a drug that worked for them. He kept searching for answers, trying new drugs as they were FDA-approved. At that point, the best I could hope for were brief reprieves.

Thankfully, he didn’t give up. Instead, he resorted to less conventional methods. “From one to ten, write your pain level down every day,” he suggested. By documenting my progress, we could see if a combination of medications would be more effective and, at the same time, find out if stress or my diet played a role.

So, I wrote in my journal every day, careful to include anything I thought might be significant. The past few years had been rough. I had been through a stressful divorce and was trying to rebuild my life. Now with a destructive disease added on, how could it get any worse? On paper, the message came through loud and clear — negative thoughts were controlling my life.

For my health, I had to turn my thinking around. Dwelling on my problems would only make me worse. So, as difficult as it seemed, I started by taking a good look around me. When I took my mind off myself, I realized I was lucky in many ways. I had two wonderful children, a family who loved me, and I wasn’t dying from cancer or heart disease. It could be much worse. With that in mind, I resolved to find a way to make the disease I hated so badly work for me instead of against me.

I dug down deep and surprised even myself. Just under the surface, I found courage and determination I never knew I had. In my Bible studies, I was influenced by the wisdom of King Solomon. He said we had two choices: Live a cheerful life and enjoy good health, or allow a broken spirit to dry up our bones. I decided to go with his first suggestion. I began that day to accept my disability and vowed to get on with my life. In order to make it work, I had to do away with negative thinking.

My decision to think positive led to positive actions. First of all, at forty years old, I went back to college. It was there that I found out what I already knew — I loved to write. How would I write with crippled fingers? My past jobs involved a lot of typing. At one time, I could navigate the keyboard with my eyes closed. Those days were gone.

A friend suggested voice recognition software. It would recognize my voice and, like magic, it would type what I said. I liked the idea, but I was limited to where I would work. My house was a busy one and I really enjoyed the camaraderie of family and friends.

Then, one day, quite by accident, I picked up a fat pencil laying on my desk, like the one I had used in first grade. With the eraser end down, I held it in my right hand and pecked out letters on the keyboard with relative ease. Then, with my left thumb, I pressed the left shift key for capitalizations. It wasn’t easy, but my brain adapted quickly. I couldn’t use my handicap as an excuse anymore.

Like anything worth having, my plan involved work and commitment. I got busy reading everything I could from experienced writers, learning how they got started. I checked out books at the library and I read every magazine I could get my hands on about the subject. The stories where courageous people overcame insurmountable obstacles were my favorites. I was convinced that the way I handled my illness could inspire others with debilitating diseases. As I read my Bible and self-help books, I gained the inspiration and encouragement to write my own stories.

I made some difficult, albeit, necessary changes. Although I had lots of friends, I made a conscience effort to surround myself only with the ones with positive upbeat attitudes. Uplifting friends lifted my spirits.

Also, I stayed as active as possible and lost myself in worthwhile projects, especially those that would help somebody else. I noticed I was smiling more, even when I didn’t always feel like it. I formed friendships with people who had their own challenges to overcome. No matter how bad I felt at times, there was always someone worse off than me. We inspired each other to keep on keeping on.

It was one of the best decisions I had ever made. Instead of dwelling on what I couldn’t do, I woke up each morning with a welcome wave of optimism. Despite my handicap, I was seeing each day as an opportunity to move forward.

As I continued to write, the more consumed I was by it. And, the more I concentrated on my stories, the less pain I felt. Now, instead of sitting idle with a heating pad on my shoulders and tears in my eyes, I had a notebook in my hand, writing down new ideas for my next story. When I woke up in the night hurting, I thought of things to add to my writing.

The more stories I wrote, the more stories formed in my head. I wrote many articles about coping with my disease, but other stories involving my dogs, my childhood, wildlife on our farm and a local murder mystery rounded out my hobby. I rallied my courage and began submitting them to magazines. My confidence grew as I started hearing from editors. Many said “no,” but a few said “yes.” My life began to change, one story at a time.

Today, I feel good about my life. The negative thoughts have disappeared and positive ones have taken their place. Now, I realize what a significant role worry and fear played in the onset of my disease. Still, I smile, knowing that when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I made the effort to change my thought pattern and that made all the difference. Negative thoughts cannot thrive unless they are nurtured. Get rid of them and positive thoughts will take over. Take Solomon’s advice and choose a cheerful heart. It works.

~Linda C. Defew

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