Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Surviving Life Well
I’m returning to Alyce, the first patient in my book and the subject of an earlier blog. For those of you who have not yet been introduced to her, Alyce was a young woman I treated much earlier in my career. We had an intense, tumultuous relationship filled with both hate and love. It was one of the most successful treatments of my career and one I am particularly proud of.
When I found Alyce many years later to ask her permission to include her in my book, I discovered that she had been in two horrible accidents, had a brain injury that had affected her mind, her speech and her ability to walk. I was devastated, for both Alyce and for the young therapist I once was.
As I wrote in my earlier blog, “Alyce represented the time of my life I most cherished: the time before my husband’s illness, the time before I left the home I loved, and most importantly the time before my husband’s death. Life was now painfully different for both of us, although I in no way equated them. Alyce’s losses were tragic, mine, although terribly painful, were an expected part of life.”
I spoke to Alyce the other day, a day she returned from having twenty injections in her back, buttocks and legs, to attempt to reduce her searing pain. She told me she had to go see her neurologist, concerned that her back was degenerating further and that she might lose still more mobility. She also told me that her 17 year-old daughter, the person she loved more than anyone else in life, had mostly cut herself off from her and that even their brief contacts were filled with cruelty and rage.
I feel myself sinking. How is it possible that anyone could continue to survive one loss after another, one tragedy after another?
“You sound sad,” my previous patient says to me.
“Well, yes,” I reply. “You’ve had to cope with so much in your life. How could I not feel sad for you, for all you’ve had to endure?”
“Hey, I’m alive!” Alyce replies, her voice strong and bright, her indomitable spirit shining through.
I feel myself brighten along with her.
She continues. “I’ve asked myself if I’m sort of manic these days, but I don’t think so. I don’t know what’s come over me, but I can just take every day as it comes and I’m still here. Nothing has killed me yet. I love my daughter more than any person in the whole world. I would do anything for her. I would die for her! But I can’t change who she is and right now she’s an angry teen-ager. I remember being an angry teen-ager. I bet you remember, too,” she says laughing. “I’m here for her and when she needs me I’ll still be here. And in the meantime I just have to go on living, putting one put in front of the other – well, sort of – I don’t do that so well - but you know what I mean. I have to keep myself alive and enjoy every day for what it is.”
What do you say to this kind of spirit? What response is there? Is part of this denial? Perhaps mania, as she herself suggests. It doesn’t matter. Her determination, her willingness to keep pushing, to keep smiling, to find the good in her life is nothing short of miraculous.
“Lots of good things have happened in my life,” she continues. “Lots of people who care about me have come back into my life, starting with you. You were my first mother. You grew me up.”
Does Alyce cry during parts of our conversation? Yes, she does. She’s not unaware of the bleakness of her situation. But her grit remains. “They wanted to move me out of this apartment. I told them no way. I told them I’ve moved six times in the last two years! I’m not moving again. I’ll worry about it when I totally run out of money.” Her voice cracks. “I don’t have any money. That’s a big worry. But something will happen, something will turn up.”
Am I really worried about how I’ll get my car back from the repair shop? Does it matter if I can’t get my voice mail messages from my cell phone? Does it matter if I lose a few hours of sleep so that I can finish my blog? Or what tragedy would befall if I didn’t get the blog done after all?
Surviving life well. We can all take lessons from Alyce.