Thursday, July 18, 2013

My optimism wears heavy boots and is loud*

I went to visit my dad this week (the Old Man, which yes, I do call him to his face), and we started talking about his brother and his brother's wife.  The Old Man is going to turn 78 in August, and his big bro is 82.  He's in very good health now, but he's a cancer survivor.  Unlike Dad, they caught my uncle's cancer before it metastasized and he's been cancer free for over five years now.  My aunt, on the other hand, is in very poor health, has been mostly confined to a wheelchair for a number of years, and just had her leg amputated.  Although she seemed to be doing well, was getting fitted for a prosthetic and was doing physical therapy, she has since fallen a few times and seems to be doing worse than she was before the amputation.  Anyway, Dad was telling me that sometimes it's hard for him when he talks to his brother because his bro is such a positive person - he's always so upbeat no matter how poorly his wife is doing.  He always believes it's going to get better.  And then Dad gets on the phone with his sister-in-law and she's so negative (understandably) about everything.  Dad feels badly for her, but he really worries about his brother, whether he'll be able to maintain his optimism, how he would react if his wife dies, and the physical toll caring for his wife might have on him.

You'll have to bear with me while I get to my point.  I was never a very optimistic person, and I always used to focus on the worst case scenario.  It just seemed to me that it would be best to expect bad things to happen because then you wouldn't be blindsided if they did actually happen, and if they didn't, you could feel pleasantly surprised.  A therapist I went to years ago once asked me how it feels to dwell on poor future outcomes and I told her it felt crummy.  She asked if it made the bad thing less awful when it actually happened.  I said, no, I still generally felt really miserable when the bad thing happened.  Her point being that I was wasting a lot of emotional energy expecting and dwelling on the worst case scenario when it didn't really gain me anything.  That's not to say that I wander blindly around in a peppy, Pollyanna-ish fog, but I do try to limit how much I hang on to those negative thoughts.

When Dad was diagnosed, I went from a general pessimist to more of an optimist.  I'm not entirely sure why.  The statistics have always been stacked against us - the five-year survival rate for stage IV colon cancer is currently 6%, but it was even lower when the old man was diagnosed over four years ago.  We had no reason to be optimistic.  But I just felt really confident that the chemo would work for him.  But I also sort of felt like I had to be positive and upbeat for Dad, because sometimes it's tough to do that for yourself.  None of this upbeat thinking stopped me from bawling on the day we found out the first round of chemo was actually working - I still felt the intensity of that relief acutely, and I was still (am still, actually) nervous before every CAT scan result.  In fact, before each CAT scan result, I think about how to buck up Dad if it's bad news.  But I still feel optimistic for Dad, even though we both know that someday he is going to die from his cancer.

None of this optimism has really translated to our infertility treatments, especially when it came to the IUI.  When Jeeves and I started our first IUI cycle, I was so sure it would not work for us, that we were wasting our time.  Right after the cycle started, I went out to dinner with Roo and another friend and told them about what was going on with us and the IUI.  Roo said, "I have a really good feeling about this!" (the eternal optimist, that Roo).  I said, "I'm glad that somebody does."  She asked what I meant and I explained how I was kind of down on the whole thing.  I said I had thought for awhile that I was an optimist, but now I wasn't so sure.  Basically, I still feel optimistic for other people, I still believe good things are going to happen for other people - I really do.  I've just been struggling to feel that way for myself.

Which is why, when my dad told me about my uncle and aunt and his concerns, in my self-centered way I related it back to my own situation.  Jeeves is such a positive person, he totally believes that we will have our own baby someday.  And he has to spend a lot of time bucking me up, reassuring me, lifting me.  On the one hand, that's kind of how marriage goes sometimes.  But on the other, I realized that it's not fair to always put him in that situation.  I need to work at being more optimistic for myself.  If I could believe in my heart that my cancer-riddled father was still going to be around a year after his diagnosis, and then a year after that, and a year after that, then I can believe that in some way, we will be parents someday.

*that's a Henry Rollins quote

1 comment:

  1. Ah, optimism. Sometimes I can't tell if I'm an optimist or a pessimist. Sometimes I feel ao hopeful and sometimes I just feel crushed. I think it's the depression, though. I've had it as long as I can remember and sometimes NOTHING feels hopeful. But after a while, it fades, and then I can see again. Even so, it's hard to tell which is the "real" me. But as you said, I can more easily be optimistic for other people than for myself.