Friday, December 29, 2006

Medical Update

I just got back from my bi-weekly visit with the hand surgeon. He said two very encouraging things. First, my scaphoid (the broken bone in my wrist that he surgically repaired) has "fused nicely." So, while I am permanently "screwed," the surgery appears to have been an unqualified success. Now I can start rehabbing more actively. Second, I don't have to see him again for six weeks. I can progress towards reclaiming my life without medical interference for the next month and a half.

This whole bout has caused me to rethink my disposition, perhaps (I hate to sound like a theodicy here) making it an almost good thing that I broke my wrist. Since I broke my wrist I read a study on optimism, which basically said that optimists are almost always better at handling situations like this than pessimists. While I often cringe at the optimist/pessimist distinction, realizing that, of course, there are far more than two possible dispositions, the study was nonetheless informative.

My general disposition has always been one of guarded, defensive pessimism. Don't get your hopes up, I often think, or you will be simply devastated when things go wrong. But sometimes that produces a kind of fatalism. Rather than providing a psychological buffer against disappointment it acts almost as a preemptive disappointment, carrying the psychological baggage of a negative outcome without the actual presence of said negative outcome.

Optimists, the study said, actually have more of a buffer against disappointment because, while it is true that they do in fact get their hopes up, they are also, simply by virtue of their default mental position, better equipped to find the good in any situation.

Before gravity tossed me to the ground and a reflex snapped my wrist, I had a decidedly pessimistic outlook. My finances weren't good, my career prospects weren't good, I was working a job that I hated, and I could find what was wrong in almost any situation. It wasn't that things were bad, it was that I saw things as bad, seeing the worst in every situation. I was constantly on guard against negative outcomes, but far from preventing those outcomes my outlook simply acted as a kind of self-fulfilling prophesy. If it didn't exactly cause things to turn out badly, it at least encouraged me to see the worst in whatever situation I was in.

When my wrist snapped on a tennis court I finally had an authentically negative outcome, and realized that I simply couldn't afford to dwell on it. It became my new reality, and within that reality, if I didn't want to be overwhelmed by negativism, I was simply going to have to find the good.

This mindset has aided my recovery. I can see incremental progress, and as I see that progress I realize that I am constantly moving toward a goal. Within the process of healing, then, pain stops being a negative and starts being a vital component to healing. Pain is communication, it tells me what is going on in my wrist, and what I can and cannot do with it. Pain is also a barrier to be pushed through. As I rehab my wrist, rather than being an annoyance or worse, pain becomes almost a goal until itself. Move the wrist until you reach the wall of pain, and then push through that wall.

That is not to say that I delight in pain - I am not a masochist. But I no longer feel the need to artificially divide my experiences into good and bad and label the pain as bad. Rather, without judgment or discrimination, I can experience the pain for what it is, and allow it to help guide my healing. As I press through pain, listening to what my body is telling me with the pain, I am able to reclaim my wrist. My range of motion expands. My strength returns. I reach some of my short term goals, and my long term goals, so distant for so long, become just visible enough that they no longer feel like a foolish fantasy.

I am improving, and because I refuse to see the world through my naturally pessimistic eyes, I can see that improvement. Instead of gauging my wrist against how it was before I hurt it and, seeing the distance between where I once was and where I am now despairing and lamenting my plight, I gauge my wrist against where it was last week, and the week before, and the week before. I can then feel good about the progress instead of bad about the injury. I can see the healing instead of the wound.

To change one's mindset, one's default position, is almost impossible. This is because we are rarely able to see our own mindset. Rather, we see the world through it. Everything is colored by it, while it remains the perceiver rather than the perceived. But if you are able to step back from yourself and see the way that you look at everything else, you just might find that life isn't so bad when you stop seeing the bad in everything, and start seeing the good.


crystal said...

Thanks for posting this. I've always been a defensive pessimist, so afraid of being disappointed or fooling myself. Your post gives me hope I can change :-)

pseudopiskie said...

When I was young, Mom would tell me we were going shopping on Saturday. I would look forward to it for days only to be disappointed when plans were changed. I learned to not trust people and to not plan. I wonder if the asthma I developed was the result of the negative attitude I nurtured.

Somewhere along the way, I grew. I learned that some plans were best abandoned while others came to fruition in the most peculiar ways. I now plan knowing that whatever happens will be for the best. That is the result of faith. And that faith has given me a much more optimistic outlook on life, health and other people. It is most definitely a better way to live.

And putting the future in God's hands, especially regarding health, allows me to focus my attention on others who need it.