Updated: Nov 6, 2021
"Victoria, I'm so sorry. Your Tachycardia. It's come back." I can still picture that day as an 8th grader, sitting in the teacher's lounge of the private school I attended growing up as my mom met with me after school to let me know about my test results before I headed off to basketball practice later that day. I remember seeing the tears in her eyes as she gave me that news. Months earlier I had had my first surgery to fix my heart's rhythm issues, and the doctor's were confident that they had solved the issue. The week prior I had just gone in for an Echocardiogram to make sure my rhythm was still strong as I had experienced some irregular beats that week, and it was regular procedure to get those beats tested. Up and to that point, I was a pretty happy go-lucky kind of girl, but this news shook me. All smiles were gone. My happiness about the day was annihilated. I was devastated. I was angry. This prognosis meant more surgeries, more medications, and more risks. Another wall in my way.
Some days it's so hard to keep going, to keep fighting ESPECIALLY when you are battling a chronic illness like CHD. Keep calm and carry on as they say. Just stay positive, right? "Don't focus on the negative and everything will be fine," is what they tell us. But what if it's beyond staying "happy" to get through the pain of the day or conquering the next prognosis? Because as many of you have probably experienced like I have, staying "happy" doesn't always cut it.
Over the years, I have learned that unlike happiness, joy is not a state of mind, it's a state of being that comes from being in relationship with other people and the world around us. I am excited to share what I've learned about joy in my heart journey and my three tips on staying joyful in the midst of adversity.
Now we all face adversities of varying kinds each and every day, but maintaining joy helps us overcome those hurdles when they come our way. Having true joy in life allows you to bounce back in circumstances like receiving news that wasn't what you wanted to hear at your job or a doctor appointment or when you have a less than pleasant interaction as you are going about your day. We all have those days.
When we have joy in our lives, we remember who we are and who we are meant to be. When we lack joy, and face adversities, it is easy to become a version of ourselves we really aren't meant to be. That version could be an angry, hostile, stubborn, or selfish version and it benefits no one. Not you. Not your neighbor. Not your loved ones. Sure, there will be times when we slip up and make a rash comment that is a deflection from an experience we are going through. After all, we are human. But we can develop habits of joy that we can cling to in order to reverse and heal the pains that adversity brings. These following tips will help you build those joy habits.
Tip 1: Surround yourself with people that encourage you, but are also not afraid to call you out when you are not acting like yourself.
Find a "joy" person, a comrade. That person can be a family member or close friend. For me that person is my brother. When I am having a bad day. He is one of a few people in my life that can talk me down from a situation and remind me of the person I am and the person I am striving to be. He will challenge me when I start speaking angrily and will probe me with questions to help me think through the emotions I am expressing. It is these people in your life that allow you to keep your joy levels high because when you are being who you are meant to be, you are living your joyous life.
Tip #2: Return to the things you are grateful for.
The act of gratitude is the easiest way to send ourselves back into a joy state. When we reflect on the things we are most grateful for, it is difficult to stay upset or disappointed. Even in the darkest times, we can find little gratitudes to reflect on and bring us out of that darkness. I don't know about you, but when I am in an angered mood, reminding myself of things I am thankful for in my life definitely gets my mind off of the item of anger and into a more peaceful state. One practice I have done before, and I'll admit it takes discipline to keep up is keeping a gratitude journal where each day you write down three things you are grateful for. When you go about your day and encounter a rough patch, meditate on those three things you wrote down at the beginning of the day to snap you out of the anti-joy funk you are heading towards.
Tip #3 Find a Way to Serve Others
One way to maintain your joy levels is to serve others. When you continually take your eyes off of yourself and make serving others a priority your focus on the difficulties in your life shift. For me personally, serving meals at my local Ronald McDonald House is one of my favorite ways to serve. When I was in the hospital for my first surgeries early in my life, my parents stayed at the East Portland Ronald McDonald House so I have always felt a close connection with that organization. Since then, I have loved bringing friends, family, and co-workers to cook meals for families staying at my local RMCH. At this particular house, they have a Wishing Tree in the front lobby that displays "wishes" of families, siblings, and patients on small leaf shaped papers. Reading some of those wishes, really puts life in perspective as you read the battles others are also facing. Having the ability to make an impact with serving and taking the focus off of yourself enables you to stay in a state of joy even when your own adversities come. If you have a local RMCH or any organization with a cause you are passionate about, get involved and start serving! Organizations are looking for all kinds of volunteers with varying skillsets and desires to serve.
When you practice these three things in your daily life, you will begin to see the effects of living in a state of joy. Even when your emotion of happiness fades, you can fall back on the joy that is now innately within from these strong habits you have built. And when you have this joy inside you, you are one step closer to living your most VICTORIOUS life!