Every day we have a choice to make. We can live in fear by letting negative thoughts consume our minds, or we can take charge of them with determination. We can take our thoughts captive and purposefully focus on joy, or we can let the pain take over, but the choice is ours to make.
When my two sons were diagnosed with Duchenne, I was already grieving the loss of my brother. I was drowning in depression and despair. I didn’t feel like I had a choice when it came to my thoughts. My mind would race in circles from one fearful thought to the next. I felt like the walls were caving in around me. I thought I’d never be able to take a deep breath again. I thought I was weak and broken, but since then, I’ve realized that my weakness is what makes me strong. My brokenness is what makes me brave. There is beauty in our broken places.
It’s been about two years since that life-changing time. I’d be lying if I said I woke up every day and chose to be happy. I try to choose joy daily, but sometimes I fail. Each transition my boys go through sends me into a tailspin of grief. Each ability they lose forces me to spiral into the future. My mind torments me with fearful thoughts and words like degenerative and incurable.
My goal is to redirect my mind when those painful thoughts arise, and they always do. I fight to remind myself to focus on today as the fears fight for center stage. Live for the moment, they say, but we all know how hard that really is. I want to focus on the incredible love that surrounds me, the laughter that fills my home, and the gratitude I feel for such an amazing life. I want to focus on joy, hope, faith, and love, but sometimes it’s hard.
Sometimes my depression and anxiety take the reins and make the choice for me. I have days where all I can see are the worries and difficulties. The suffering that I face piles up in my mind until I collapse from the weight of it all. I used to think that made me weak, but now I know that it’s what makes me stronger because I continue to get back up. I keep fighting to shift my thoughts into good ones, even when it feels impossible.
Our thoughts have the ability to control our emotions and even our actions. Negative thoughts can also create physical symptoms. Stress affects our hormones and can cause changes to our adrenaline and cortisol levels. Stress affects blood pressure, heart rate, and the nervous system. It can cause headaches, intestinal distress, trouble breathing, panic attacks, and even physical pain. Stress starts with our thoughts, and as hard as it is to train our thoughts, we must try.
I’m a faith-filled, hope minded, grateful mom and lover of Jesus. That doesn’t prevent me from suffering and giving in to fearful thoughts, because I’m human. I may fall, but I always get back up, and I owe that credit to God. He helps me and uses those around me to love and support me unconditionally. My life is beautiful, but it’s still a battle.
There’s an old Native American parable that I think of sometimes when I’m having a hard day, and I just can’t seem to keep my head above water. Days when emotions take over, thoughts of the future consume me, and my “one day at a time attitude” just isn’t cutting it.
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life: “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
Every day we all have a choice to make, we can either feed our fears and sorrows, or we can feed our faith. We can feed our hope, our joy, and our compassion. Through our brokenness, we can strengthen our bravery by fighting to get back up when we fall. Through our weaknesses, we can build our strength and ability to bear the weight that we must carry as Duchenne parents.
There will still be days that depression, anxiety, and trauma will take center stage, and that’s okay because, at the end of one of those days, there is hope for tomorrow. Another day is coming. Another opportunity to choose joy is on its way. Another chance to train our thoughts is just over the horizon. Some days it will feel like the wrong wolf is winning the battle, but don’t lose hope. Fight to starve your fears and feed your faith, and remember that every day is another chance to try again.