Papercut and colored pencil art by Sheryl Aronson X 5

Sunday, May 9, 2010


Several years ago, the expression 'When life gives you lemons, make lemonade'  was popular.  At first I liked it, because it reflected a positive response to negative life situations. Everyone has negative experiences in life, and it is easier to get through them if you can find the positive, and hold on to that.  I later realized that this expresson is too simplistic for ongoing negative situations, like chronic illness.

If life gave you a big basket of assorted fruit last week, and just lemons this week, but you expect your basket to have a nice variety again next week, OK, go ahead and make your lemonade this week, knowing next week you will again have your choice.  But what if most of the trees got chopped down, and all that is left is lemons, and you don't expect that ever to change?  The thought of nothing but lemonade makes my tongue hurt, and my acid reflux act up.

So what do you do?  You look for available choices.  Not many choices if all you have is lemons? True, your choices are more limited, but there are still choices, and the more open you are in your search, the more you will find.  How about lemon pie, lemon chicken,or lemon ice? 

About a month ago, I was leading a group on making choices at my job as an occupational therapist on the psych units of a hospital.  One of the patients cried in anguish,  "How can I have choices?  My daughter is dead!"  It is easy to see why he felt he had no choices.  Unfortunately, there was nothing anyone could do that would bring his daughter back.  The choice he most wanted was not an option, so it felt like there were no choices at all.  But even for him there were choices, and by the end of the session, he was able to see this.  He could continue to focus on his lack of the one choice he most wanted, meanwhile blocking out the possibility of anything else.  He could cherish the memories of his daughter, while looking for the positives he still had in his life, and focus on reattaching to them. He could look for a way to honor her memory, by making a donation in her name. There are plenty of other choices he could make, both positive and negative.  He just needed to learn to accept that the one choice he wanted most was't available, and it was time to look at the choices that were (it had been a year, and he had not been able to accept her death).

Any permanent, life altering change can be hard to accept.  I will do other post(s) on grief, which is a normal response to such a change. It can be very difficult to get beyond the unfairness of the situation, the 'why me?', to get to the realizatiion that the world is still turning, and life is still going on, and CAN still go on, despite what has happened.

If you have a chronic illness or chronic pain, sometimes the choices seem very limited. All your trees have been cut down except the lemon trees.  It is very easy to focus on what you can no longer do, and what you have lost.  Instead, focus on what you still have and can still do, and develop these areas.  Keep as active as you can, and look for ways to continue to do what you love in your life. If all you have is lemons, find as many ways as you can to use those lemons.


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