Brené Brown and getting through cancer with gratitude

Even though I’m a big fan of Brené Brown and have read several of her books, I hadn’t gotten around to watching her recent Netflix special until last night.

I guess it’s part of that commitment to self-care that I wrote about last time: I did a couple hours of work, then let myself watch something for enjoyment.

She made a lot of great points that I’ll likely use as topics for other posts, but right now I want to focus on one: the concept of “foreboding joy” and how gratitude is the antidote.

Foreboding joy is the concept of being afraid to experience true joy because you fear that something could take it away. I know I have been guilty of this before–and something bad did indeed happen.

I was so excited but also scared about moving back to Texas by myself five years ago with the hopes of bringing my family down here. Someone who was a hater disguised as a friend said I was awful and horrible to pursue being happy and said I didn’t deserve it. (Brené Brown had a lot to say about haters in the special, too, but that’s for another time.)

From that point on, even as I was successful in my efforts to move my family down here, I was terrified that something bad would happen to someone in my family. I actually believed that the laws of the universe would make me pay for my great joy with a tragedy, like some sort of twisted karmic retribution.

And then three months after arriving here, my middle son got hit by a car and broke multiple bones. One of the best events of my life was followed shortly thereafter with one of the worst events of my life.

But somewhere in the years since then, I’ve embraced gratitude more fully as a way of life. From being grateful for the house I live in and being current on my bills to little daily things like forehead kisses from my husband and the way he calls me his “little bird”, I have trained myself to constantly think of things every day to be grateful for.

I think that’s one reason why I don’t let my multiple sclerosis get me down more than it does, even if I’m in pain a lot of the time and that limits my activities. I see a lot of people online who are very bitter about their MS and I can honestly say I don’t relate. I miss having the energy to do more and I really hate that I can’t pursue my grad school dreams, but that’s not the same as being miserable every day about my illness.

I’m grateful that I got disability and can sleep when I need to. Many people with MS are worse off than I am and don’t have that option.

Brené Brown also talks about how truly loving someone means being vulnerable. That opens you up to the fear that you could lose someone you love. Not everybody understands you when you’re expressing vulnerability and some will use it against you. Those aren’t the people you want in your life, but it can take a lot of strength to prioritize yourself enough to let them go .

Because I’m constantly working on both being more vulnerable and on feeling more gratitude, I think that’s why my husband’s cancer diagnosis is something I am handling okay so far. The vulnerability aspect means I’m aware that I could lose him.

But guess what? Whether I am more vulnerable or not doesn’t change the outcome of his cancer. If it’s his time to go (please God, no) I can’t change that by being more scared. And if it’s not his time to go, then being vulnerable and open just makes us closer with the time we do have.

However, because I’m also feeling more gratitude and that’s the antidote to the “foreboding joy” concept, I can honestly say I no longer feel afraid to feel joy. I don’t think bad things are lurking around the corner.

I actually am sure that there are currently unknown bad things lurking around the corner because that’s how life works. But there’s a lot of joy around the corner, too. It’s all about where I place my focus, and I want my focus to be on joy and gratitude and the intimacy that comes from being vulnerable.

In so many ways, I’m so much less afraid in general than I was even five years ago. And yet in that time, some admittedly terrible things have happened–my husband’s cancer diagnosis probably being the worst. Yes, there’s a lot to fear. But there’s also a lot to celebrate even now.

I choose to be grateful and vulnerable even if it means I could experience loss and pain. As Brené Brown says, when you close yourself off to being vulnerable, you also close yourself off to true joy and intimacy. It’s a trade that I make with my eyes wide open.

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