Envy, Pride, Joy and Love
I’m not used to envy. I never realized it was such a painful emotion. I have always been happy with what I have; content with the (very cushy) life I was given. But now I want another life.
It started when I graduated from college. I was at the top of my class. I graduated with a 4.0, and I was the only one in the English department to do so. I never bragged about my grades, but I had worked very hard to earn them. When they called all of the students with a 4.0 to the front of the graduating class to lead the other graduates in the turning of the tassel, I was proud. I reveled in the look of surprise on my friends faces. I stood with a special few in front of hundreds, and I was sure that this was just the first of many great things to come. I would be rewarded for my work with a hard but fulfilling career in the publishing industry. Of course, I would start at the bottom, but I would work my way up, and someday I would be published, published in something that would actually be read.
But that’s not what happened. I sent out dozens of applications, and the closest I got to employment was a personalized rejection letter from Random House. So I started applying for jobs I thought would be easy to get. I mean, I had a bachelor’s degree; I should be able to get a retail or fast food job right? Apparently not. It didn’t help that I lived in a city with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. It turns out that work experience mattered a lot more than education. It’s not like I didn’t work my way through college. I did, but being a live-in care taker doesn’t sound like a real job to people who have never done it. It did not matter that I had sacrificed any sort of social life during college to take care of another human being. It did not matter that I had helped my great-grandma, a woman in her 90s, stay in her own home instead of being moved into some nursing home filled with strangers. It did not matter that I slept next to a baby monitor, and trained myself to hear every time she rolled over or mumbled in her sleep. What mattered was that I only had a few months worth of retail experience.
Then I got a migraine, and it didn’t go away. I had a piercing pain above my right eye. Sound and especially smell would give me spikes of pain that dropped me where I stood, unable to move until the wave of pain passed. Have you ever touched dry ice? I know you’re not supposed to, but as a child I tried it once. It burns while it freezes. The migraine spikes felt like I had dry ice flowing through all of the blood vessels of my brain. Every scent caused me more pain. I didn’t eat meat because I could not stand the smell of it cooking. I faced each shower with dread. The smell of shampoo made me vomit with pain. This migraine stayed with me through too many doctors and countless medicine trials. Medicines that made me feel like I was being stabbed with needles repeatedly and in the worst possible places. One medicine literally left me stupid, unable to complete thoughts or form coherent sentences. And none of these medicines helped very much.
Work was no longer an option, neither was living alone. I am blessed with amazing parents who let me move in with them. They took care of me and did everything they could to help me get well. They spent thousands on tests and specialists and hours on the phone fighting with insurance companies. Test after test showed nothing wrong with me, and I began to question my sanity while others questioned my honesty.
After about a year of constant pain, I went to a specialty headache clinic in Michigan, one of the best in the country. I was an inpatient there for 2 ½ weeks. Those were some of the longest weeks of my life, but I will try to sum them up quickly. I was hooked up to an IV for most of the time, and through it I was given so many different drugs that I lost track. I had a spinal tap which led to a spinal headache. These are positional and incredibly painful. To get rid of the spinal headache I was given two separate blood patches. These involved taking blood from my arm and putting it into my spine. Neither blood patch helped very much, so I spent a lot of time on my back forcing myself to drink Mountain Dew. Caffeine helps with spinal headaches. I have no idea why. Also while in the hospital, I had two cervical facet blocks and a cervical epidural. The procedures helped. My head pain was greatly reduced, and for a few moments here and there I was actually without pain for the first time in a year. They determined that my pain was caused by referred pain from nerves in my neck.
I went home from the hospital, and I was ecstatic. I’d hit a rough patch, but I was through it. I was intimidated by all of the medication I needed to take on a daily basis, but it helped, and I would get used to it. My life was starting again. I had grand plans. My life could go anywhere from here, and I would make it great.
It didn’t quite work that way. Shortly after I got back from Michigan, my great grandma started dying. I don’t think I have loved anyone quite like I loved that woman. She had unparalleled strength and beauty. I’m so glad I could be there for her last few days. Someday I will write more about her, but I can’t quite do it yet. Even the last few sentences have me sobbing. The emotional pain and all night vigils had my head close to its former agony.
Back at home I recovered a little bit. I started physical therapy on my neck, and it helped at first. I worked hard to regain my former strength while being careful not to push myself too far. After a few months my head pain started getting worse again. The steroids from the facet injections were wearing off. It took a few more months to convince a local specialist to give me the injection that they had in Michigan. I ended up with another spinal headache. When that wore off I was back to hopeful again. I knew it would take a while, but I was determined to regain my strength and lose weight at the same time. I had worked my way up to an hour of exercise everyday when the headaches started getting worse again. I tried to get another injection, but the doctor wanted to try something else. I’ll sum up the last few weeks like this: lots of hope, hope crushed, glimmer of hope and a lot of uncertainty.
During this time I watched friends and school mates succeed. One became the editor of a magazine. Several were published in various publications. Another started working for a small news paper. Yet another got and then decided she didn’t want a job copy writing for a media group. Many got married, and still others were involved in exciting overseas missions. Then there was me, living in seemingly endless pain, not to mention living with my parents. I wanted out. I wanted a different life. Thank you very much, but I’ve tried this one, and I would like to trade it for another.
Envy tore at me. Every happy report or facebook status update felt like a slap in my face. I knew I should be happy for my friends, and I was. I didn’t want to take their successes; I just wanted the same things for myself. Although I hate to admit it, a part of me thought, ‘I’m better/smarter/nicer than these people. Why do they succeed in life while I struggle through basic everyday activities like taking a shower?’ I hated myself for thinking this way, but I did, and it was tearing me apart. As the proverb says, “Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy,” and, “Envy rots the bones.”
I actually started writing this essay in an attempt to understand and overcome my jealousy. I can’t say that I have totally concord it, but I’m doing a lot better. It always helps me to write about a problem. As I think somebody else said before me, but I am too lazy to research, “I never know what I think about something until I write about it.” Strangely, what helped me the most were two quotes I came across while researching envy. The first has been attributed to both Theodore Roosevelt and Christian writer Dwight Edwards. “Comparison is the thief of joy.” It’s a simple idea. You will never enjoy your career/life/body ext. if you are constantly comparing what you have with someone else’s. Someone will always have it better. That’s one of those universal laws like, ‘You will find what you are looking for right after you replace it,’ and ‘Dogs will roll in something smelly right after they are bathed.’
So I’ve been trying to focus on taking joy in what I can do instead of focusing on everything I want to do. I have so many grand plans and ideas of what I would do if I could. That’s where the second quote comes in. “In this life we cannot do great things, but we can do small things with great love,” said Mother Teresa. I’ve made that my motto, “do small things with great love.” I got up this morning and fed my dogs, and I did it with love. Today has been a good day (head wise), so I baked cookies for the church lady’s retreat, and I tried to pore a little love into each little blackberry thumbprint cookie. I ate dinner, and I did it with great joy because I was feeling well enough to eat beef. Trust me; it’s a big deal when I can eat beef. So as I write this, I write it with love for those who will read it and those who will not. I also ask forgiveness from the friends of whom I have been envious. If you’re reading this, I’m sure you know who you are. I really am happy for you.