I have a genetic condition that has affected me since birth most likely, though I can’t say for sure because I don’t remember that far back. Once I turned 13 or so, the effect became awful, but they started getting bad when I was about 11. Before then, I could fall off 30-foot cliffs (not exaggerating), out of trees, and off house roofs without concern. Between my hard Irish head and my flexible joints, I just hopped up and walked away. Sure, I rubbed a bruise or two, but thanks to being hyperactive on top of it, I steamrolled my way past caring about that and was on to my next adventure.
Then puberty started.
There’s a hormonal aspect to Ehlers Danlos (EDS), and puberty is a hormonal mess.
That’s when I had to stand up in the back of class in junior high because sitting became too painful after a while. I thought all these years I had an extended tailbone, but figured out far too recently, my hips had started to displace that far back. Without them in proper position, my perfectly normal tailbone rested on the hard plastic chairs. I developed a fear of heights that limited my adventures quite a bit, because suddenly, falling hurt. The simple act of walking became a minefield because my knees would give out without warning, throwing me to the ground. There were other effects, including partial blackouts, migraines, food issues, and vision distortions, but those were the big things that broke my worldview.
I didn’t handle the change well and drifted through my life, not really engaging. Being present meant I couldn’t disassociate from the pain. I stopped forming many memories, I lost sense of time placement, and half a dozen other weird effects I’m still coming to understand.
The people in my life remained largely oblivious because that’s what people do. We try to make the world conform to our understanding of it and so ignore the pieces that don’t fit. My family often joked about how I was 14 going on 40 without tracking down the why. This is amusing in a twisted way because one of the side effects of my genetic condition is called “baby face” because it’s hard for lines to form and remain on my skin, and yet I managed. My skin looks younger now than it did at 14.
You might be wondering about what this has to do with smiles. It certainly isn’t joyful, but understanding context is critical. I lived in that way, not present in my own life, responding with “Sure. Why not?” to every question because making a decision asked too much of me, and figuring out the rule sets so I could follow them on autopilot. I glorified my time before we came back to The States and blamed everything on being here (with good reason in some ways, but not total) because I had a clear before and after. It wasn’t fun, it wasn’t something to look forward to, and it wasn’t a good reason to keep going.
This is where smiles come in. I only started with the posts in the past 10 years, but I started the transition to this way of thinking when I was 15 or 16. Nothing changed for me physically, and the chronic pain plus joint displacements only got worse. What changed is I became fed up with drifting. I didn’t want to be a ghost in my life. I wanted to keep having adventures, exploring my world, and mostly, I wanted to enjoy myself.
That sent me on a search for what made this existence worthwhile. I discovered forests helped calm me in part because they reduce the clashing sensory input (light, sound, smells) of modern life. Sun naps offered rest when sleeping had become something to dread because the heat helps where cold hurts. I found hypermode where I could give in to the hyperactivity and throw myself at a challenge with the consequences something to suffer in the future instead of now. I surrounded myself with people who mellowed me. That sounds like a contradiction, but hypermode has costs and years spent on the edge of a nervous breakdown is no fun. I realized I didn’t have to let the pain win. It has taken so much, but it couldn’t take me.
So, if you ever meet me in person, you’ll find I laugh a lot. I make jokes, play with circumstances to find the amusing aspects, and I’m rarely grumpy. I find the joy and comedy in my disability whether it’s talking like the Swedish Chef, or flying through a rain puddle on Grover so my feet don’t get wet and d*mn the consequences. It’s not a choice everyone can make. The odd combination of my genetics, my hyperactivity, and my personality gave me this coping mechanism.
But here’s the thing: No matter how it looks, choosing to be happy is not easy.
A frown is the easiest expression because it’s a relaxation of muscles. A smile engages muscles and so takes an effort, probably part of why the act of smiling can improve your outlook. It takes a conscious decision to smile or laugh through the pain, through the adversity, through the frustration. There are also costs. People will dismiss what’s going on (sadly, doctors are the worst at this) because they assume if you can smile, the problem is not as bad as you think or say it is. They don’t realize a smile, a laugh, can come from a desperate attempt to make something of your life and can be a sign it’s much worse than you say.
However, I’ve seen the alternative. I’ve seen the cliff over which I can fall and never stop. It’s not pretty. It’s not fun. It’s almost impossible to climb out of when nothing feels worth making the effort.
And so I come to smiles.
Whether it’s a beautiful song, a funny story, or an oops moment where no one got hurt but comedy ensued… These are the things to live for, to remind me I don’t have to give in and give up. It’s the love and friendship whether in your “real” life or with online (or, as a daughter of a friend named us, “imaginary”) friends. It’s the challenge you struggle to conquer but can crow victory over when you do. Something as simple as opening a jar or as complex as climbing a mountain counts. The size of the barrier isn’t what’s important. It’s overcoming that obstacle that brings the joy. It’s the confidence that there can still be miracles, technological or not, and all is not lost.
Staying open to and aware of smiles reminds me of how I don’t want to give in to the pain. I have my bad days (I’m not superhuman after all), but the smiles help pull me out of them, those I post and those I just experience. If you go looking for things to be grumpy or angry about, you will find them. Same is true for things that remind you why it’s worth fighting and striving. I choose to stay on the lookout for the smiles: the people who lift each other up instead of tearing each other down, those who fight to make this world a better place, and the expression of creativity that opens my eyes to a broader world. These are among the things to catch my attention.
Anything can be a smile. What makes you laugh might not be what inspires someone else, but odds are there will be more crossover than not. Maybe your smile a pancake that looks like a lopsided bunny, a flower growing where weeds have choked out everything else, the joke your four-year-old tells you while your six-year-old scoffs and says, “That isn’t a joke,”… The list is endless. Every day we are confronted by things that reject a negative outlook. They might be tiny like a ladybug or mantis egg sack, or huge like a call from a long lost friend. They are bricks in the foundation that hold us up, but we provide the mortar. Without the choice to see them, to choose those moments of brightness, it’s easy to sink into the swamp that lies beneath and get lost in it. Instead, I choose to throw a rope and welcome all who are willing to climb it.
That is why I share smiles. There’s enough in life trying to drag us down to make the effort to keep going harder. Being optimistic, being positive, takes a lot of work. We don’t always have that energy to spare. But if I can jot a note when I have the energy, then when I don’t, I can share whatever prompted a good response with you, and in the process, I re-live it myself. A smile benefits all who participate.
I delight in seeing when my smiles entrance you as well. Please leave a comment or click a like button when something clicks, but if that’s too much, just enjoy what I put out there. And if you happen to have something that brought a chuckle to your lips, I’d love to see it, too. Share the wealth of joy because when shared it becomes even greater.
So, what made you smile today? Whether you were in the doldrums before or not, share the joy, and you might make one or a hundred people just a little happier, yourself included.
And for those of you who made it to the very end, have a mystical kitty smile:
If you haven’t seen them, here’s a link to all the smiles I’ve posted so far.