Sick of Being “Sick” in the Workplace

Tonight, I literally cried over spilt milk.

It’s something I try to avoid, since when you’re sick, unfortunate shit happens metaphorically 100 times a day. But tonight, as I was taking a heated up eggnog from Starbucks out of the microwave, I started to burn my hand, and in an effort to not drop it altogether, I held onto it longer than I should have and ended up releasing my grip far enough away from the floor that it left a festive-smelling mess all over my carpet.

Even though I can be pretty closed off and tough when I’m hit with life’s trials, I had hit a breaking point after the reality of my life really came to an ugly head this week, and the only thing I could even fathom doing in the moment, as my dog licked up the disaster like he had just won the jackpot, was sob mindlessly in my kitchen over a relatively benign event.

This is a pretty familiar reaction for me. I tend to push through much worse things because I’m used to it, and then something far less traumatic will occur and it just sends me right over the edge. You’d think someone came into my apartment and chopped the tops off of my Christmas trees (yes, trees plural, because I love decorating so much that when I was faced with 2 trees I liked in Michaels last year, I decided to take them both home and I’ve loved on them ever since.)

This week was also a set of high highs and low lows. My brother got married last weekend, and seeing so much of my family and some childhood friends at one time really brought out a side of me that had been dormant for a while. I live alone in NYC, which is normally OK because people have a tendency of bugging the shit out of me. But when you don’t interact with those that you care about, and most importantly, care about you, it’s easy to forget how great you are.

I’d like to think that I am confident in myself and what I have to offer other people, but the low that really ripped me out of wedding weekend mode was another occurence of workplace discrimination. It’s something I’ve talked about from time to time in my writing and also on my IG account (@chronicmotivation), and I wish I could say that having experienced it in the past makes each time easier, but it just doesn’t.

When you wake up every day in pain, exhausted, unable to walk well or move fast enough for a shower to be feasible before your commute, it can be really difficult to hang onto a job. For better or for worse, I’ve done this for a really long time, nearly 13 years of that time being committed to my career working in hospital operations management. I like to tell my followers that working can be really healing for the chronically ill, because when you live in a society that puts the value of a person mostly on how much money they make or have, it can be pretty easy to feel worthless when you aren’t physically able to punch a 9-5 clock.

And when you ARE well enough to consider something full-time, I tend to think that it has to be a job that you are overly passionate about, because it has to be enough for you to push through the physcal discomfort and the political bullshit that comes along with being a sick person in the workplace .

Calling it Bullshit is being kind.

I have never felt entitled. I have never put my hand out for something I haven’t earned, and I have never used my illness as a card to advance or to overlook work that I haven’t gotten done. And all of that has worked out pretty well for my employers, because I don’t use a quarter of FMLA time that I’m approved for, I take so much pride in helping other sick patients that I never call-out sick, and even when I am under the weather, I make sure that my job gets done, regardless.

So when I come back from having a great time in Boston and am motivated and excited about my life, and on day one I’m hit with learning that a position that I’ve earned 10 times over was handed to a less experienced, less educated coworker, the feeling of defeat is real. I have worked at my current hospital for 6 years, and this particular coworker was hired after me and has now been promoted twice, which is twice as many times as me.

When I asked a previous manager why I was passed over the first time, I was told that I had to “be there to do the job.” I of course followed up with questioning what I hadn’t sufficiently completed as an employee, which resulted in crickets, because I’ve never not done my work. He also told me to leave the institution I work for because I would never be promoted. Again, I was not offered a reason why. Since the manager who gave me that “advice” had already resigned and was on his way out, I figured I’d give my job the benefit of the doubt and I kept plugging along.

And then more weird stuff happened.

I had expressed interest in a project management job that my current manager previously posessed, and he told me that the position was already filled. Oddly enough, 2 years later, a new person was hired into the department, and during her orientation, one of the directors announced that it had been a lengthy search to fill… you guessed it… my manager’s old role.

About a year and a half ago, someone on my team resigned. HR had just come out with a new recruitment policy that required managers to share all open positions with their staff before posting it publicly, so the process would be transparent and fair. My manager sent an email asking us if we were interested in the position as it was, and none of us were, since it would have been a lateral move. A week later, I learned that he tapped my coworker on the shoulder, told him if he took it they’d make it worth his while, and he gained a new title, and with the promotion, a raise.

When I asked my manager why I was not considered, he told me that my coworker was due for a raise, that I made more money than him, and that he didn’t understand why I was upset because he felt he had been “accomodating” with my illness.

Question for all of you reading this: when was the last time you heard of employees only getting accomodations if they agreed to forego any and all interest in professional growth? When was the last time you heard about a sick person who decided to be sick, or who wanted to have to ask for accomodations? And finally, to my knowledge, workplace accomodations are not something that are to be given out of the kindness of a manager’s heart – they are legally required as long as the request is reasonable.

Just to be clear, because this is about to get worse: I have never asked for an accomodation. Not once. In fact, since I’ve been employed, my illness has ignorantly been overlooked on several occasions, including one of the most egregious decisions my manager made 2 years ago to move me out of my operations role because because they needed a project manager. Posting that position would have cost them at least a 6 figure salary, but I guess since they didn’t think I was “due for a raise” like my male, able-bodied coworker (…), I was TOLD I would be leaving behind the job I was hired for, and apparently, leaving behind the career path I had worked 10 years to develop. As such, I was moved to a different building and have been required to travel back and forth to various sites without any attempt to acknowledge the fact that as a physically disabled person, I now have an added expense paying for Ubers throughout the middle of the day just to accomplish the needs of my new position.

When it comes to my medical appointments, I will flex my work schedule or use my lunch break to run out so I never owe time, and I get my infusions on Saturdays to reduce my recovery time during the workweek. Additionally, all of the time that I DO take for infusion recoveries is time that I pay for. No one is doing me any favors by “allowing” me to use my sick and vacation time to pay for time off that has nothing to do with rest or relaxation, and they are certainly not doing me any favors when my paycheck is docked after I run out of the time I’ve used for those monthly treatments.

Which really begs the question: what EXACTLY is the accomodation? Would they try to write me up for the whopping 3 days a month I take off for Remicade (even though I’m violently ill for a week….)? On top of it being extremely difficult since I do have FMLA certification protecting me from that situation, it sounds pretty fucking grimy for a manager to take credit for threatening anything of the sort given the circumstance.

The moral of the story is that my illness and my work ethic are not mutually exclusive, and for a conversation about my career-path to have anything to do with my manager’s perceived support ,when I’ve done everything by the book, is wildly inappropriate.

It was at that moment that I realized an idea that I’ve referenced before, and is heartbreaking to say the least. Basically, if you are a great employee with no physical ailment and your presence at work is standard, you will be rewarded with a raise and a promotion. But if you are a great employee with an illness, even if you manage it in a way that has no negative impact on your work product, your reward is that your manager will continue to provide you the accomodating that you REQUIRE to function (and as I stated above, the accomodation that I don’t receive).

If you are a sick person in the workplace, regardless of how hard you work, you will never be starting at the same place as a non-sick coworker. The way I’ve experienced it, hard work is viewed as what’s “owed” for being a burden in a truly antiquated system. So even though I have done the same or more work than my peers, I look different, and I have different needs (which my job routinely fails to meet…), and so I am not considered for a non sick-person’s reward. I am just expected to be grateful to be allowed to work at all.

Fast forward to this past week. One of my coworkers resigned a month ago – she was in a higher role than me, also undeservedly, because she was hired a year after me, and with less experience and education (and before her probationary period was up…), she was moved into her role 3 years ago without it being posted. When I told my current manager about how terrible that was for me to endure, he told me that since it was before his time as my manager, there was nothing he could do but assure me that I would always be supported by him moving foward.

So when my coworker resigned and my mananger never mentioned it to me and the rest of our team, I had a bad feeling that history was about to repeat itself.

A few weeks went by, and I went away for a long weekend, and when I came back, I heard from a coworker that the position had been handed to the person I mentioned earlier – the same guy (ahem….) who was promoted last year into a job that was created just for him. So here I am again – being slighted for a job that I’ve worked desperately hard to move into, and with no real insight as to why.

When I had my weekly meeting with my manager on Friday, I told him I wanted to be considered for my coworker’s vacancy, since surely there was no way that what I had heard was true. He never announced the vacancy, and he never posted the position. And this time, he didn’t even send out the internal email required by Human Resources. When I told him of my interest, he started shifting nervously in his seat and told me he would be moving my coworker into the spot.

He told me we could talk about it on Monday since he had a meeting to go to, which I told him I felt necessary, since I am more senior and more educated than the person he gave the job to. I also reminded him that he didn’t communicate anything about the vacancy, and that I am very interested in learning what his reasons would be for disregarding hospital policy.

He mentioned again that I made more money than my peers (which I’m sure is barely true, and also, extremely tacky to hear). Also, what do my negotiation skills upon hire have to do with someone else’s inability to fight for the salary they want? And since that statement has been said several times now, does that just mean that I will never get a raise or promotion because they don’t want to pay me any more money? If that’s the case, what exactly am I working towards, anyway?

He said something under his breath about “fit”, which is also interesting since they had no problem throwing me into covering my coworker’s maternity leave for three months without warning. I was told on a Friday that she’d be leaving in 2 weeks, and when she had her baby on Monday, I was just expected to jump in and do the job. And lucky for them, I did… and I did it well.

So how is it that my performance evaluation, which I just received 2 weeks ago, was mostly highlighting my ability to manage 30 staff and 20 doctors in our busiest medical specialty (breast cancer) for 3 months with no hand-off or preparation? How is it that I get the most obnoxious projects and tasks to cover because I am the only one who can figure it out, but when an opportunity comes along to do just that, I am not the right “fit?”

I have held my tongue for a really long time because a) I’d like to think that hard work transcends workplace bias and b) I really need my job. But to be so blatantly disregarded when I know what I bring to the table, it destroyed me to my core. I applied for a bunch of jobs (obviously outside of my company), and I’ve thrown myself even more into the side projects I’ve been working on for the past few months, because if I’m being honest, I know that it’ll be no time for a new job to start treating me like shit like all of the rest of them have before.

This is an issue that needs to get the proper attention. In speaking with disability lawyers a few years ago, I learned that much of what’s happened to me during my career has been blatant discrimination, but it would be very difficult to prove. I would need to have any of the things said in writing or on a recording, and the fucked up part is that managers know when they are doing something wrong and are very careful not to document these decisions formally. And if I or anyone tried to pursue legal action on the basis of the experiences I’ve shared in this post, it would become public record. So if I won, maybe I’d get a year’s worth of a salary (but probably not) which would result in me needing to work again soon, and if I lost, I’d never get a job again anyway, because who is going to be interested in a candidate who has sued her employer?

It kind of reminds me of a conversation my mom and I had a few years ago. She’s almost exactly 30 years older than me, and she had gone back to school for her master’s degree. She had run into a weird scenario where even though she had been a nurse for 30 years and had more than enough knowledge in her field, hospitals started changing their requirements and young girls right out of college were getting jobs with zero experience because they were probably less expensive to hire. My mom didn’t want to give up, so she decided to go to graduate school, and when she wasn’t getting any job, I told her it was probably ageism. She naively stated that it couldn’t be ageism, because ageism is illegal. But I explained to her that no one was going to cite her age as the reason for not moving forward – I could simply dislike what someone was wearing to an interview or be a raging racist and decide to pass, and I could give Human Resources the reason that the person didn’t interview well or “wouldn’t be a good fit.”

There is no way to prove that foul play exists as long as a manager makes sure to use another excuse instead.

And that’s my problem. When it comes to employers not supporting my advancement, they’ll likely say that someone else was a better fit – when what they are really saying is “we don’t want to promote the sick girl.”

Well, enough is enough. Something needs to be said, and more importantly, something needs to be done. I encourage my social media community to work hard, and to push through their pain, and to try to find a job because of the benefits it can bring to emotional (and then sometimes, physical) health. And so many of my followers have sent me the kindest messges over the years, thanking me for helping them consider that path, or for reading their resumes, or editing cover letters, conducting mock interviews, and asking a million questions so they can find out what their passion is. Because of my prompting, a whole population of people have decided to go back to school and graduate, and others have applied for and been hired for jobs – and not just jobs for a paycheck – jobs that they care about and brings them joy.

But it’s all a scam. Unless you happen to find an employer who ACTUALLY cares about your well being and understands that a lot of the workplace “norms” are outdated and pointless, you will be busting your ass for nothing. You will hopefully receive fullfillment and satisfaction like I have for the years I’ve put in, but it’s a long hard fall when you realize that that’s where it stops. You will be training peers to be your superior, and you will be assigned all of the things that no one else wants to do. Because you should just feel lucky to be an employed sick person in general, you are not to have a voice about mistreatment in by the employer.

So with that, I will be meeting with my manager this week (or will I…?) and I have very little expectations about that conversation amounting to anything more than a diologue saturated with discrimination.

I will also be forging ahead with my life plans not relating to this job, and I can’t wait for the day where I’m on the Ellen show talking about whatever creative work made me a billionaire, happy to discuss that I made it there despite the unfair restrictions I faced as someone who is chronically ill in the workplace.

Have you or anyone else you know been discriminated against by an employer or during a job interview? How have you handled it? Feel free to leave your comments below.

All my best,

xoB

 

Day 3 – The good, the bad, and the ugly cry.

Mornings are usually the most difficult time of day for me to ambulate. Since I have arthritis in every joint in my body, there is kind of a “wake up” period before I feel comfortable to move around and start the day. Because of this, I was really concerned that there wouldn’t be a “day 3” on my mission, but something really cool happened.

After my medicine kicked in, and I started to wake up a bit, I naturally felt pulled to sit down at my makeup table.

If you’re reading this and you follow me on Instagram (@chronicmotivation), you probably know that I’ve been working on an apartment decor overhaul for the last year. In that time, I had my eyes set on this beautiful white-laquer desk from CB2, but I couldn’t buy it initially because it was really expensive, and the delivery fees were out of control. After scouring craigslist for months, I ended up finding someone who was selling it for less than half of what I would have paid through the store, and I ended up bringing it home in mint condition within the hour.

With the new furniture addition to my den/get ready room/writing area, I was inspired to go out of my way to organize the drawers in the desk in a way that would be conducive to me actually using all of the makeup I have. I think like many women, we tend to have 24 blushes and 36 eye shadows, but since it might be thrown in a makeup bag, or even some kind of storage bin, it’s hard to see all of the options that are available. I’ve always been really big on keeping things visible in my home, because I believe that when you start to “store” things in a place that’s hidden, you forget quickly that they’re there, and you might as well not have those things in the first place.

I’ve had the makeup display setup for a couple of months, and I probably only used it twice in that time. But there was something to be said this weekend for being able to simply slide open the drawers and see everything in it’s place, and to have fun with the options laid out in front of me. Remembering the joy that it brought me, I was excited to sit down before work this morning and have some fun.

Day 3 makeup dog.jpeg

I went to work and did my thing, and then I decided to make a second trip to DSW to see if the location near my job had some other choices. It probably sounds like I’m a shoe maniac, but I promise I’m not. Buying shoes that are flat, that don’t look like they belong in the senior center or on a 5 year old, are comfortable, and that I can afford, seem a less likely find than a unicorn directing traffic on a Tuesday.

Even though I didn’t get exactly what I was looking for, I did up leaving the store with some cute new compliments to my collection.

 

And then, I did something fantastic. Part of this journey, since I’m sort of writing the rules every day as I go along, is to really challenge myself to step outside of my comfort zone (physically and mentally…), and to check something off that I either have been meaning to do for a while, or doing something in general that breaks up the monotony of my “wake-up, go to work, eat dinner, tv with the dog, sleep” routine. And today I really accomplished that.

Over the weekend, I had come across this really cool dessert place called, “Sweet Churros.” It basically is a homemade churro place that adds different toppings and some ice cream choices. Unfortunately, I couldn’t bring myself to pay for such an expensive cab downtown from my home, so I figured I would wait until I was in the area during the work-week. Even though I felt pretty crummy because it’s been really humid, and I was exhausted after working all day and walking around the shoe store, I forced myself to put “Sweet Churros” into the Uber destination and I just went with it.

The actual place would have been easy to miss if I wasn’t looking for it. I ordered a churro covered in Fruity Pebbles cereal, and had it sitting in a cold cup of vanilla soft serve. I was initally worried that I would be covered in the treat in a matter of seconds once it met the summer sun, but whatever this place is doing is working out perfectly, because I was able to enjoy my food without wearing it.

Day 3 churro.jpeg

 

Even though my trip was successful, something snapped inside of me on my ride home. I got a lump in my throat, and all I wanted was to be on the other side of my apartment door so I could cry my eyes out. I’m not sure if other sick people can relate to this, but sometimes it feels easier to just go along with the status quo instead of reaching certain milestones, because it shouldn’t be a big deal for a 34-year-old to get ice cream on a hot day. I was so grateful to be able to follow-through with my detour, but it also took so much energy out of me that I fell asleep about 30 minutes after I got home.

What kind of life is that?

Anyway, tomorrow is another day. I have some other things contributing to my shift in mood, but I really hope that I’m able to leave that sadness in today’s history and feel a bit more hopeful for a better tomorrow.

Until then.

xoB

Day 3 work clothes

Day 2 – Summer Feet.

I wasn’t really sure how today would turn out, since all things sound great for about 24 hours. I thought maybe I would wake up this morning and tell myself, “well, that was fun. I’m just going to lay in bed all day instead.”

But I didn’t.

I think it definitely helped that my hair was still looking nice from last night’s shower. I was able to just brush it quickly, and a good chunk of my get-ready process was done.

It was really, really hot in NYC today. It ended up working out well, though, because I had a dress in mind that I wanted to wear, and the weather supported that decision. It was really awesome to grab an article of clothing from the closet that a) still had the tags on it (are you catching the theme with that, yet?) and b) I could actually consider since my legs were smoothly shaved. Many of you might be thinking, “but Becky, it’s the summer – you have to at least keep up on that, don’t you?” And the answer is, “no.” I have blonde hair, so I get away with whatever I can get away with.

With that said, it was also really nice to get a pedicure today without worrying about the nail girl getting a rug burn on her hands. There’s a first time for everything.

Day 2 white pedi

(Don’t mind my summer feet. Sum’er here, sum’er there…).

I think I’m going to have to consider buying some more cute things to wear over the next few weeks, since nothing in my closet seems to be safe from being pulled out and worn. And honestly, one of the things that has kept me excited about continuing on this journey is being able to wear new things – feeling the joy of running around in an outfit that hasn’t seen the light of day.

An observation that I had today that’s pretty similar to yesterday is that I was noticed for the clothes I had on. I went to the pharmacy, which is a very normal trip for me, but today, the salespeople paid attention to me differently. I was barely inside the sliding glass doors before some girl yelled across the aisle, “I love your dress!” When I picked up my Rx, the pharmacist gave me a look that sort of read like, “who are you, and what have you done with the lump of a person I normally see here?” But the best and most blatant reaction to my dress (boobs) happened when I was at the checkout spot. As the guy was ringing up my items, some other employee a few registers down took some people out trying to get to my lane, just to jump in front of my cashier to ask if I had a store rewards card. Swiping my card took $10 off the total, and then I blinked and another $15 came off the total after jumping jack flash waived some paper in front of the scan gun. “This is another coupon for you today.”

OK, so a few things. First of all, I feel like I’m playing out some forgotten scene from Beauty and Beast, because I’ve been in that Walgreens nothing short of 896 times in the last 7 years, and no one has ever offered me a discount that I didn’t ask for. In fact, half the time they can’t even get their shit straight enough to give me the discount that I actually inquire about.

Next – society clearly favors the beautiful (again: boobs).

I have some anxiety bringing this plan into the work-week, because I have a lot less control over my time since I spent the majority of my day on someone else’s clock. Mornings are really hard for me, and I usually feel accomplished if I get to my job with something other than pajamas on. To consider being “done-up” for the next 3 weeks feels daunting to say the least.

But maybe – just maybe – I’ll surprise myself.

xoB

Day 2 Blue Dress

 

Dear God

I got on my knees and prayed tonight. Like legitimately fell crashing down to the worse-off part of my body (after my heart, clearly), and sobbed into my mattress. And as I unloaded 31 years worth of you-name-it, my dog came up behind me and started sniffing my butt, and it occurred to me that he really is my spirit animal.

He likes assholes as much as I do.

I have had sort of a breakthrough the last few weeks. I’ve always been that person that pushes people around me to do what they love, because I figured out very young that the secret to life is to be as happy as much as humanly possible, yet some time ago, I seemed to have lost what that means for me. On the surface, I have maintained pretty well, but what does that really mean? I went to grad school immediately after college and plowed through, continued with a career that I’m passionate about and am connected to in a personal way, and have managed to stay above water enough to take care of myself physically and prioritize my physical health.

Notice that I just said, “physically” twice.

I mean I guess for someone who has a disease more rare than finding pierogies in trail mix, it probably is warranted that I care so much about my body. It’s not even in a superficial way (usually…), it’s more about the fact that it hurts to do basic things, and in a world where you’re nothing if not “normal”, I just work at being able to grab groceries and get dressed for work.

But along with spending so much time not paying attention to your mental state comes the deterioration of it. I believe I’m quick-witted, motivated and determined, but it can feel daunting, even considering how much it really matters, to take time out of your already exhausting day to fix your life.

Fix. Your. Life.

It’s amazing how three little words can be so powerful when you put them against a white background, yes?

Let’s break that down for a second. First, I’ll tackle “fix” – fix? Like in what way? When it comes to your life, there are no instructions, there is no diagram of what the project looks like when you’re done, and it’s not like I can go into a hardware store and find a tool dedicated to this specific job. Fixing something requires a lot of moving parts, like identifying what’s wrong in the first place, what things would look like if they were OK, and finally, how to get from the former to the latter.

Then there’s the word, “your.” This one isn’t usually difficult for me because I have always naturally been a very compassionate and giving person. It’s kind of a strange imbalance because I really dislike being around people for extended periods of time, but I am abnormally interested in aspects of their lives. For example, some of the best starts to my day are when I’m in a cab with a driver who has had a particularly fascinating story. I like making people feel special by expressing a real desire to learn about them. But does that mean I want to spend time in a room full of people and interact with them for hours on end? Not at all. But the 23 minutes it takes to get to work is just enough time for me to have a substantial conversation and dip out right at the point where enough’s enough.

The problem that I face with, “your” is when I AM the “your.” I don’t use the words “my” or “me” or “I” half as often as I should, and so much of what I’m committing my energy towards is building others up, pushing them to reach their potential, and focusing on how to get them there. But where am I in all of those scenarios? Not fixing or youring.

And then finally, there’s “life.”

The beauty of living alone is always having the ability to sit around my apartment and let my thoughts wander. I was enjoying this the other night when it occurred to me that life is actually really hard. People say, “life is hard” in one variation or another every day, but I’ve never really examined the truth behind it. I began to analyze it and all of these things started hovering around me, like how difficult it is to be healthy, stay healthy, find a job, let alone a job you like, make friends, keep friends, lose friends, earn money, invest money, invest in relationships, heal from relationships, etc. And then I thought about juggling it all in the air at one time, trying to figure out the right percentage of each that warrants your attention in a way that doesn’t screw up the entire equation.

And even if you are lucky enough to figure out how to successfully accomplish the list above and end up with a reasonable life, “reasonable” isn’t “great” and sometimes it isn’t even “good.” It’s just the result of things falling into place, in whatever spot they land, usually without your control or consent. Like right now, I live in Manhattan with my dog and I go to work every day. I could have moved to NJ or Long Island – I just wanted to be closer to my family when I made that decision. I didn’t go out and buy a dog or rescue one from a shelter – I decided to help out a friend, which turned into me acquiring a new pet. And the career I have was a result of getting a job after college that made it possible to pay my rent. I ended up loving what I was doing and I still stand by that, but being good at and passionate about something are much different than doing something every day that truly gets you jazzed. I didn’t intentionally go out into the world looking for work in healthcare. It’s the job I got. The career sort of chose me.

Since I started to realize after being hospitalized and almost getting evicted this year that I wasn’t doing much more than getting by, I decided to make a conscious effort to try to break down the things that make me happy, and more than that, bring me joy. I’ll admit, when I started on this journey, I don’t think I even realized that there was a difference between the two, but after hitting some sweet spots with some of the choices I’ve made, it’s become more apparent to me that the two ideas are miles apart.

I think happiness can be a few different things. It can be perception from what’s learned as being “happy”, like a kid growing up in a home with a lot of things vs. a lot of people, or scrolling through Instagram pictures that exist on everyone’s pages and comparing what your life looks like vs. what someone else’s looks like. It can also be fear-based, which is what I experience, because I’ve had so many bad things happen to me in my life that I feel like if I’m not grateful for days that are arguably average, I’ll be struck with days that are bad, and wish I had appreciated things differently . So I often associate consistency or lack of difficulty with happiness, because in my mind, it still beats the alternative.

Finally, I think there is true happiness, but I think the real feeling behind this last version is motivated by joy more than anything else. To me, joy is what you feel when you are experiencing something that is so undeniably you, like riding a roller coaster feels to thrill-seekers, or when a green thumb sees the beautiful garden blooming that she spent hours planting. I imagine it’s the feeling tattoo-enthusiasts get when they get new ink, and maybe the feeling a fisherman has when he feels something tugging on his line (and also when he catches a fish, HO!)

But I digress…

The way I am trying to think about it is by picturing a board of buttons behind my chest wall that exists, where each button represents something different. Something magical. Like “joy buttons” that get pressed when I do something that warms my soul and radiates comfort and excitement throughout my body. Playing the drums again has given me a glow that I haven’t seen on my face since the “Bottle of Wine for Breakfast” days after my divorce. It’s something my Dad says he hears in my voice over the phone, and I can tell by the way I’m smiling when I watch the playbacks of my videos that it’s coming from my stomach, not from my head.

I think the best way I can explain what I’m saying is that when you’re happy, going through the motions and thinking about a state of mind, the smile is being pulled from your mouth upwards by your frame of reference about what happiness is. Joy, on the other hand, is when you feel so elated that it explodes from within you and pushes the smile up from from your gut to your mouth. Happiness, like the analogy, feels more forced, while Joy is there to provide a good foundation.

Now, with all of this said, it occurred to me that if I have 8 buttons on this internal grid and just one of them can make me feel such delight, imagine the gratification and pleasure I’d feel if I had them all tagged with something special. What if every time I opened my eyes in the morning, there was a way to push at least 4 of them before even starting my day? Or better yet, is it possible to have them all pushed at the same time? I can’t say I know that answer, but I DO know that trying to accomplish that sounds way more rewarding than settling for being happy in a way that’s safe and socially suggested.

Life can be many things. But one thing it isn’t is pre-determined. You can be dealt a bad hand and choose to trade your cards in for some new ones. Or you can survive with what you have and hope for the best. Either way, both options start with “you”, and the first step to creating the life you want is understanding that it will be your decisions that ultimately paint your picture into a reality.

Don’t forget to add your happy trees.

Amen.