I was in line at my local grocery store recently and overheard two women talking behind me. They were there to purchase their lunch evidently as they had salads and drinks only. Normally, I let people with just a few items go in front of me. For once, however, I was actually only there to pick up a couple of things I had forgotten in a previous trip. Besides… I was having too much fun eavesdropping.
Evidently one of the women had recently been dumped. Her friend and co-worker was trying to give her a pep talk using the old analogy of a “glass half full or glass half empty”. I continued to listen in, partly because I was thrilled I could do so <BIG GRIN> but also because I was really fascinated by the arguments she put forth about an issue that to her, was black and white. It was either a great thing you got dumped, or a really awful thing.
Lines were moving pretty quickly, so before I knew it I was headed out the door with my bag and faithful hound dog in heel. I continued to think about the analogy. The original intent was meant to convey, “Are you a pessimist or an optimist?” We all have relatively fixed personalities, but they can be adjusted. Cognitive behavioral psychology capitalizes on that truth to help people change negative thoughts and behaviors.
I really believe most of us do not respond to everything in a “half full” or “half empty” way, however. The more I thought about my own responses to life as it happens, I realized it certainly isn’t a “half full” or “half empty” option for me at least. My glass has a goldfish in it.
I think folks who live with disability or chronic illness, cannot react to life in a concrete, optimistic or pessimistic way. For me, hearing again with a cochlear implant and navigating life with a balance disorder means that I react to life in a different way just because those two things are a part of who I am. I don’t just have a glass of water. Mine has a goldfish in it. I’ve learned how to take care of my goldfish. I wouldn’t be who I am without my goldfish.
I have some friends in a Meniere’s disease support group who have said that because their “glass is half full” (or half empty depending on their personality), things normal people deal with are just different for them. If they have a headache, are diagnosed with cancer, or lose someone close to them it is compounded by the fact they also live with an invisible or chronic illness. I get where they are coming from and understand what they are trying to say. They believe that experiencing normal life things (diagnosis, loss, etc) are different for them because they do so from a body that is already dealing with something else.
We all know each other pretty well in this group so when I bring psychology into it, they all roll their eyes at me. I truly believe that living with a chronic illness is all about perspective – but not in a “half full” or “half empty” kind of way. When I mentor someone, I try to help them get to a point of acceptance as soon as possible. Acceptance is not an attitude of “I give up. I’m not fighting anymore”. It is a recognition of the “new you” and learning to understand your new normal. That “normal” may even change if you have an illness that fluctuates or is a degenerative disease. For me, it was important to acknowledge this goldfish. I can’t change it and I don’t get a new glass. This is me… and I have a goldfish.
Just accepting that, has allowed me to be the best ME I can be. Psychologist Jennifer Kunst said, “The good news is that when relative changes can be made in one‘s basic approach to life, it makes a big difference. A modest change in your filter doesn’t change who you are at the fiber of your being. It helps you become a better version of yourself” (Kunst, 2012, para. 4).
For me, the hardest thing wasn’t that goldfish or learning how to take care of it. The tough thing was being around a whole lot of other people with only water in their glass.
“Sure, I’ll meet you up in the classroom, but I’m taking the elevator at the end of the hallway. See you in a few…”
“The dishwasher is running so I need you to come in here if you are going to ask me questions.”
“I hate to interrupt you, but I need to go up these stairs and I have to actually concentrate. Hold that thought…”
Family, friends at church, co-workers, and neighbors, are so accustomed to my goldfish they don’t really even see it anymore sloshing around in my glass. No one knows me better than my husband, Terry, I suppose. Yet, I even have to remind him that although I can talk to him in a restaurant that is almost empty without looking at him, I really need him to put his coffee cup down if the restaurant is full so that I can read his lips. It is my responsibility to feed my goldfish. Not his. I may have explained to him twenty different times that there are atmospheres I will hear “near normal”, and environments in which I’ll need his lips plastered to my forward microphone. However, it is my responsibility to communicate this to him.
We have very narrow staircases at home. On “good” days, I can jog up and down the stairs. Terry isn’t surprised anymore if I ask him to carry the laundry downstairs before he leaves, when I may have been “jogging” earlier. He isn’t shocked if I tell him to “go on up” at the end of the night, knowing I’m going to need to go up on all fours and take the time to do so. He knows I will communicate what I need. This goldfish is mine.
There is a terrific list of “acceptance rules” that the University of Washington put out. You can access it here. Two of my favorite “acceptance of the goldfish” quotes are:
Do not make people feel sorry for you or pity you. Get people to view you as an able person who is capable of anything within your reach if the doors of opportunity are open. (graduate student with a hearing impairment)
We should focus on the ABILITY in disability more than the DIS. If we can do that, then we are more apt to succeed. Also, know your limits. If you don’t know what you can or can’t do, how do you expect other people to know? Plan for success by using more of the cans than the can’ts. (college student with mobility impairments)
(University of Washington, 2013)
Don’t be aggravated about the goldfish. Honestly? Everyone has something in their glass besides water. If we were all just glasses of water, we’d all look alike. We are unique individuals. We all have something else in our glass. My opinion is that we accept that. I’m not this person that has a goldfish temporarily. The goldfish isn’t visiting and it isn’t something I can scoop out. This glass with a goldfish IS me. And I’m OK with that. I love what Karen Hall, Ph.D., said in her article “Radical Acceptance”. She said, “Radical acceptance is about accepting of life on life’s terms and not resisting what you cannot or choose not to change. Radical Acceptance is about saying yes to life, just as it is” (Hall, 2012, para. 1).
© 2013 Personal Hearing Loss Journal
Hall, K. (2012). Radical Acceptance. Psychology Today. Retrieved June 12, 2013, from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/headshrinkers-guide-the-galaxy/201203/is-your-glass-half-empty-or-half-full
Kunst, J. (2013). Is your glass half empty, or half full? Psychology Today. Retrieved June 12, 2013, from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/pieces-mind/201207/radical-acceptance
University of Washington (2013). Mentor tip: Acceptance of disability. Retrieved on June 12, 2013, from http://www.washington.edu/doit/Mentor/mt_acceptance.html