Saturday, June 13, 2015

Forgiveness Friday: Are You Playing the Victim?

Pamela Hsieh
Rehab Revolution
05 June 2015

I remember one day after I’d been discharged from the hospital, back when AIM was still widely popular, a girl I’d known from far away started chatting with me again after a longish hiatus.

When asked how she was, she launched into a story about how she’d recently been to the hospital. I no longer remember why, but it was for something like a broken arm. She told me about how she had been sent to the hospital and had to see some doctors.

Since it had not been long since my stroke, and we hadn’t spoken since beforehand, it was difficult for me to respond.

Now, in retrospect, I completely believe in the value of validating people’s feelings and never comparing people’s pain, but when I was 19, I was 19, and a completely different person to who I am today.

It was difficult for me to validate what felt to me like a sob story. “I even had to get an MRI!” she exclaimed. It felt to me the same way it felt when I sensed people fishing for compliments.

I didn’t respond with the shock and horror I imagined she wanted me to. It felt to me like I had the ultimate Trump card in my pocket, a shiny one with a brain on it that said “STROKE” across it in big red letters. Quit your whining, I thought. I was annoyed at the conversation. It actually pissed me off a little that this girl -- who did she think she was? -- had stepped up to the podium first to cry victim. One day in the hospital with one MRI scan did not an impressive anecdote make, at least for me on that day.

It wasn’t that I was shouting from the rooftops about my brain injury; it was that I wasn’t a fan of people complaining about things I only wished I could have traded the stroke for. (To this day, I’ve never broken a bone -- unless having the bone flap in my skull removed for a month counts, but I don’t think it does -- but given the choice, I’d happily deal with a once-broken arm over a stroke any day.)

Too much homework? Difficult exams next week? Sign me up. Anything to entertain my freshly healing mind as I spent days at home with my father, filling them with numbing occupational therapy exercises and Disney movies I’d seen millions of times before. I would have given almost anything to see my friends at school again rather than spending all my days with other people with neurological trauma.

Anyway, let’s fast forward to today. I told that backstory so you know where I came from. If you were, or are currently, in that place, I encourage you to stop.

I don’t mean stop it forever. I’ll explain.

Every feeling we experience is an emotion. Emotions, by virtue of what they are, are meant to be in motion -- which means they can be inspired by something, experienced, and then they leave.

At least, they’re supposed to leave.

You do have to process them, first. Not every single emotion needs to be expressed in its raw form -- if they were, none of us would ever evolve from temper tantrums or crying fits. Something that took me a long time to learn was how to control my emotions, rather than let them control me, in order to operate in a society with other human beings.

While emotions don’t need to be expressed in their purest form (think, loudly screaming at every person you’re mad at), they do need to be expressed in a healthy way. (Perhaps when you feel that anger you go into a room and scream into a pillow.) When they’re not healthfully expressed, they find sneaky ways to do so: manifesting in passive-aggressive behaviors, turning an otherwise pleasant relationship into a strained one that no longer feels good, or creation of illness or general unease in the body.

That said, we all feel like victims sometimes:

Yes, it was shitty what that coworker/customer said to you in front of your boss.

NO WAY. Your girlfriend should not have said that to you right then. How dare she not notice all your efforts?

OMG, I can’t believe your family member stole from you. What a betrayal!

On and on it goes. Here’s one that sucks a lot:

Why me? Why did I have a stroke at 19 years old? I don’t deserve this; it’s so unfair.

You could go infinitely, listing all the reasons why something this traumatic should not have happened to you.

I’m not going to suggest spiritual bypass and say something lame like, “Just turn it around. The stroke happened for you, not to you.” (We can talk about this another time.) There are few things more annoying than spiritual snobbery.

What I will suggest is, when you’re feeling like the stroke sucks, that you wish your damn left hand would just work already, or like your family simply doesn’t understand you, feel it. Give yourself permission to wallow in victimhood, for the moment.

Sometimes it can feel refreshing -- because I spend so much time every day pretending like I’m as physically capable as anyone else. For just this moment, I can take off that mask and breathe what is the truth for me right now. It stinks that I can’t wear the shoes I want to wear today because they’ll make me walk too slow, or it’s too much strain on my right knee, which overcompensates for the weakness on my left side.

It does suck.

But who promised us a fair lot in life, anyway? Isn’t the nature of, well, nature, survival of the fittest? Why is it that if you’re reading these words right now, chances are high you’re living in the privileged 1% of the entire world? Warren Buffet refers to this as “winning the ovarian lottery.”

The fact is, there is always something to complain about -- but there are always, always things to be thankful for to keep things in perspective.

This isn’t a call for spiritual bypass. This is a reminder that victimhood is a pitiful emotion that doesn’t feel very fun -- it’s completely disempowering and unattractive even to those who want to moan with you -- so it needs to pass. Don’t let it become the story that defines you.

Process it. Then let it go.

And please, for the love of all things good, be responsible for your own energy. Don’t dump it on anyone who’s willing to listen. (I speak from experience.) It gets old, really, really fast.

(Would you rather be the person who happened to have a stroke at 19 -- gosh, that’s unbelievable! Look at her now! -- or would you rather be that poor girl who had a stroke at 19 and it followed her wherever she went?)

That’s what I thought.

To our healing,

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