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The Rambler

When Life Gives You Lemons: How my Battle with my Brain gave me Superpowers


Today marked the end of an era for me, as I’m sure it did for a lot of you.

Today was my last class at Texas Wesleyan University.  Instead of hugging my teacher ‘goodbye’, taking a last walk around campus, or even feeling all fuzzy inside as I walked to my car for the last time, I was sitting on my back porch, as I have been for classes for two months now, with my laptop in my lap.  When class ended, I closed the screen and sat there to take it in for a minute.

I’m done.

But I don’t feel done.

It doesn’t feel right.

I’m sure many of you can relate.

This week marks another important day in my life.  May 3rd is National Ependymoma Awareness day.  While most of you likely have no clue what that is – or even, perhaps, how to pronounce it – that word has made a big impact on my life.

It’s a type of brain tumor.  More specifically, it’s the type I had two and a half years ago.

Yes, your local blogging Ram is a cancer survivor.  This tends to surprise a lot of people.  “You don’t look like you had cancer!”  Um…thanks?  What am I supposed to look like now that my hair has grown back?

“But you’re just so positive!  Hoe can you be that happy after going through something like this?”  Ah, now we’re getting somewhere.

Today we are going to talk about the power of positivity.  Sometimes, life gives you some lemons.  Those lemons could be an impossible test.  They could be the death of a loved one.  It could be a virus that takes your last semester from you.  It could be a brain tumor the size of a…you guessed it – lemon.

Over the last two and a half years I have done a lot of research into Positive Psychology, which is the study of what makes life worth living.  It’s really pretty cool and unfortunately, we don’t learn about it nearly enough.  That changes today!

Positive psychology has three sections to it; positive subjective experience (aka positive thoughts,) positive individual traits (aka positive actions,) and positive institutions (positive places.)  Let’s break these down a little bit.

Positive Thoughts

Thought experiment: stop right now and think of five negative emotions.  Got ’em?  Okay, now think of five positive emotions.  If you’re like anyone I’ve ever tried this with, one of those was much harder than the other one.  In fact, even in the Disney film ‘Inside Out’ about emotions, four of the five featured emotions are negative, with only one being positive.

Change your perspective on things.  You can often find a bit of humor in any situation, even in having brain cancer or having your semester end with a whimper instead of a bang.  “If you look for the light, you will often find it, but if you look for the dark, it is all you will ever see,” is one of my favorite quotes of all time (Shoutout to Uncle Iroh from Avatar: The Last Airbender for that one!)

Focus on positive emotions and find the bright side of life instead of letting the ‘little things’ ruin your day, or your week, or your semester.  While this whole virus thing stinks, I’ve gotten to spend a lot of time reading, working out at home, walking with my neighbor, I’ve planted an herb garden, made homemade bread, and so much more that I wouldn’t have done if it weren’t for this.  I consider myself pretty blessed.

When I was in the hospital, I got to watch Marvel movies nonstop, which made me super happy.  On top of that, the Children’s Minister from my church didn’t want me to miss out on my favorite holiday, Halloween my surgery was on October 30,) so she brought a bucket of candy to the room and I got to play trick or treat with the nurses.  These small thngs made what could have been a purely negative experience so much better.

Positive Actions

Listen to some music that you like that boosts your mood.  Hang out with friends – or at least, jump onto a Zoom call.  Dance around your living space.  Watch a show that makes you laugh.  Exercise (after all, “Exercise gives you endorphins.  Endorphins make you happy.  And happy people don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t,” according to Legally Blonde!)

I highly recommend counting your blessings – and I mean LITERALLY count them.  Take ten minutes a day and make a list of what you’re thankful for.  It will start to add up quickly, especially when you consider the things you typically take for granted.

Find the things you enjoy doing and JUST DO IT!  Don’t tell yourself you’ll start making your life better tomorrow.  There is no reason you can’t do this today.  All it takes is a bit of action.

I dove into crochet whenever I was stuck at home after brain surgery.  I enjoyed it and it made me feel like I was doing something instead of binging The Office.  My friends came over often to keep me company and I did my best to help them bake and cook meals, as that’s something I enjoy doing.

Positive Institutions

This is one many have felt the need for recently.  This is places you go that make you happier.  This can include hanging out with friends somewhere, relaxing at the library, learning at school, or even at work.  And before you say, “But Amanda, school and work aren’t happy places!”  They should be!  If you don’t enjoy your job, find one you do enjoy.  As for school, just think of how blessed and lucky you are to be able to get an education.  Many people around the world don’t have that opportunity.  School is a gift.

Find a place where ‘everybody knows your name’ that you and your friends can hang out.  Me and my buds like McAlister’s Deli, where we order iced tea and work on homework for hours (when the dining room is open!)  The employees know us and it’s a place that makes us feel happy and connected.  In fact, after my surgery, my two best friends went to pick the three of us up teas to-go, and the manager asked where I was.  I also got a call from my local library.

While these are the three main components to Positive Psychology, I encourage you to figure out what makes YOU happy and do it.  Carpe every single Diem and enjoy every moment.  Life can really change in an instant, so make sure to live every day like it’s worth living.

Lastly, I encourage you to find YOUR purpose.  That is that ONE thing you were placed on this earth to do.  Typically, this combines a couple of passions of your together into a single action.  For example, I love to crochet because I’m actually an 87-year-old woman (I look good for my age.)  When I was diagnosed, I started to crochet beanies for other teens and kids in my shoes.  On top of that, I’m a total nerd, so I started to make ‘Princess Leia’ beanies that looked like her signature buns on the sides.  Texas Oncology loved them.  It was my purpose for a while.  Figure out how you can combine your loves to make a positive impact on the world, and DO IT!

I hope this was encouraging to you today.  If you want, share with us your favorite ‘positive’ activity down in the comments.  We’re all in this together, Rams, so let’s build each other up and turn life’s lemons into lemonade.

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    RochelleMay 15, 2020 at 7:59 pm

    Dear Amanda,
    I’m so proud of you! Thank you for such an eloquent and positive post. All we really have is one day at a time! So, it’s extra important to make the most of it. What a wonderful way to finish your Texas Wesleyan University undergraduate career!
    Rochelle McLain

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When Life Gives You Lemons: How my Battle with my Brain gave me Superpowers