I have a very dear friend who lost both her father and beloved uncle in a very short period of time. For years afterwards, when she was talking about any situation that was disappointing or inspired any feelings of sadness, she would start the sentence by saying, “I know no one is dead but…” It was as if after the immense pain and trauma of the initial loss she felt she was never entitled to feel sad again. I understand this; in the years since Mae’s diagnosis, the tsunami of disappointment and sadness that we wrestled with made any daily disappointments seem trivial. For a long time I would fail to even register irritation of any kind, even when I started to return to myself. I would dismiss annoyances by reminding myself that I had a child with Autism, and therefore this broken car mirror, or internet that won’t work, or any number of other minor bothers weren’t worth my time.
In some ways, though, this is problematic. After my wedding, a very joyful day, I didn’t imagine that I would never feel equal happiness again. Nor did I compare everyday moments of contentment to the major rush of happiness that accompanied our wedding. Imagine if after a long, delightful day at the beach with our family I turned to Colin and said, “Well that was fun. I am happy — I mean not like wedding happy — but happy.” I am not sure he would feel like it was a positive assessment.
We don’t wear our happy experiences like armor to protect us from future happiness, so why do we feel that our painful experiences should protect us from future discomfort? There is no amount of perspective that will make you immune to the ups and downs of an ordinary life. Every day is filled with opportunities to feel virtually every emotion available. In any given hour, I can have my feelings hurt, I can laugh, I can be embarassed, I can be in love. That can go on all the time every day. It’s exhausting just thinking about it.
I think that perspective is only valuable if it doesn’t prevent you from really feeling everything, both good and bad. It is okay to be annoyed even if it is just because your pedicure was smudged. I can also be inordinately happy when Mae’s very expensive almond milk yogurts are on sale. Yesterday, I was practically giddy because while I was walking the dog she expertly pooped in a mouse hole of some sort, which meant I did not have to bag it and carry it home. It was thrilling. I decided the dog was a genius, and my days of picking up poop were over. By the time I got home I had forgotten about it completely because I noticed that the molding under the door was loose and I was immediately absorbed in how to fix it.
It is unfortunate that we can never be inoculated against sadness, embarrassment or irritation. There is no quota on disappointment in life, some have more, some have less. By the same token we have endless opportunities for joy; there is no limit on what can bring a smile to your face even in the darkest of moments. I am grateful for the perspective that being a special needs parent has given me, I am empowered by it. I never wonder what I am made of and that is a very good feeling. At the same time, I have to remember that just because I have perspective doesn’t mean I should deny or ignore the ordinary bumps that come up in a day. Some days are great: you get married, you have babies, you see old friends. Some moments are great: you laugh hard, your daughter speaks, your children are swimming together, your dog poops in a hole. Some days are awful: your daughter is sick, you have crazy medical bills, your car won’t start, you have hurt the feelings of someone you love…Sometimes it can all happen in the same day, because life is like that. Just the way we would never say that a balanced meal is made up entirely of desserts a balanced life is filled with every emotion. The important thing is to allow yourself to really feel, to really connect to the life that you are having, because up or down, it is the one you have.