I was not born with a positive attitude. My mother informs me that I cried continuously during the first two years of my life. After that, I began throwing tantrums when the opportunity arose. My earliest memory might actually be one of these tantrums, which always included the same few steps:
- Life didn’t go my way.
- This greatly disappointed me .
- Disappointment turned to overwhelming emotion.
- I handled the situation by screaming until I vomited.
As I grew older, the things that upset me changed. Life not “going my way” became synonymous with me not reaching the lofty goals I set for myself. And #4 changed from vomit-inducing screams to fits of sobbing and, later, to pouting.
When I was three and four, this would happen whenever I couldn’t read all the words in my Ameila Bedelia books (remember those?). My mom would tell me that I was doing great and encourage me to keep reading, but I would have my fit and then begin the entire book from the beginning as a method of self-punishment. I still do not know where I got the idea to punish myself, because I was never even spanked as a child.
When I was in kindergarten, I began learning to write words and sentences. My teacher held a parent-teacher conference with my mother to inform her that I would “fall out of my chair and cry on the floor” every time one of my backwards letters had to be corrected. I’m not sure where this idea came from…
When I was six, I decided it was time to teach my baby sister to read. She was one. She was uncooperative. I decided to try harder. My mom had to tell me that I was not allowed to give Flynn reading lessons until she was “old enough.” I was heartbroken; all I wanted was to make her a child prodigy. It didn’t seem like too much to ask.
After winning the school-wide spelling bee in both 4th and 5th grade, I got second place in 6th grade. I proceeded to sit on the sidelines of a kickball game and mourn for the entire afternoon of PE class. It felt like my life was falling to pieces.
While these stories might be cute (especially with the added picture), the sad truth of the matter is, I never fully grew out of this pattern. The things that triggered my disappointment in the world and in myself evolved over time, as well as my method of self-expression and ability to keep my pouting in private. But my tendency to be overly-sensitive about life’s disappointments (and my inability to be perfect) remained.
During my year of chemo, I learned to let go of the little things and focus on the big picture. Fighting for your life will do that for you. But I shamefully admit that after over four years out of treatment and back in “the real world,” many of my habits have returned. I am often overly-emotional, I tend to catastrophize, and I strive for perfection in myself and in the world around me.
Though I currently have no real problems to worry about, what helped me see the happier side of things when I was in chemo may help me (or all of us) now: gratitude. And maybe, if I focus on what I am grateful for over time (like my amazing future husband and wonderful family and countless opportunities), it will be easier to skip the tantrums.