“I can’t tell if you are this happy all the time or if you are just faking it.” Lost in the mix of busy college students shuffling in and out of classrooms, the words of my history instructor fell flat. I giggled awkwardly, a smile still plastered on my face, and didn’t respond. This was over a decade ago, but I still ponder possible retorts in my head. How should I have responded? Perhaps by saying, I have a lot to smile about! Maybe I could have dug a little deeper, letting her know I’ve always had to look through rose-colored glasses to keep moving forward. Life has been so hard with kidney disease. What would she have said if I had replied, The trauma of losing kidney function and waiting for a transplant has caused great depression. Smiling is all I can do to keep from crying. However, nothing was said that day. This essay is my response.
I have a naturally cheerful disposition, but I am not always “happy.” Kidney disease has left me physically and emotionally scarred. There have been times, while lying in a hospital bed, enduring my 20th fistula poke, where I thought I would die because I couldn’t get my dialysis treatment done and was scared to get another permcath. There were times when I was so weak that I hobbled into a restaurant but couldn’t get the strength to stand up from the booth and walk back out. We all know coping with kidney disease is difficult, and we all have managed to cope in unique ways. While I carry many coping mechanisms in my pocket at any given time, I smile through my pain mostly due to deliberate positive thinking.
For a little over 1,500 days of waiting for a kidney transplant, many thoughts went through my head about the probability of actually getting a new kidney. Day after day, little thoughts seeped in about the prospect of living on dialysis for the rest of my life. I was scared, but not defeated. I consciously thought positive thoughts every day. Well, I would say to myself, If a kidney never comes, I will live my best life now, anyway. I signed up for personal training at a gym to get moving. I even signed up for a beauty contest halfway across the country, calling my dialysis-supplies manufacturer to deliver supplies directly to my hotel the weekend of competition. I made new friends, volunteered with local organizations, and learned to cook yummy, low-phosphorus recipes. Every day, these positive thoughts turned into positive actions, which turned into positive habits, which made for a positive lifestyle. I thought this was as good as life could get, new kidney or not!
My positive thinking gave me hope. While most days I didn’t truly believe a kidney was coming, I had hope that life was going to keep blossoming into beautiful opportunities everywhere I turned. I wrote positive songs on my guitar, as hope flowed through my fingertips. I wrote positive words, spinning them into poetry. I recited positive affirmations aloud, generously giving compliments to myself and strangers. Life was beautiful!
The morning I was set to leave for my long-awaited beauty contest, I lay in bed finishing up with dialysis when my phone rang. I answered groggily, wondering who would call so early. It was my local transplant center. A kidney had become available. I was to miss my contest but stand-by for surgery. The next morning, I was transplanted. Just when I thought life had blossomed to be as beautiful as it could be, it got even more beautiful! I wasn’t expecting it but was simply coping through my kidney disease with positive thinking and hope.
Today, I am overjoyed with life! I have down days, of course. Everybody does. I still smile most of the time. I still think as positively as I can, acknowledging when I have darker emotions, feeling them, too, but remaining hopeful that life will always be beautiful for me. I’ve been given more opportunities recently to live beautifully by landing my dream job, meeting my kidney donor’s family, and making beautiful music. And I recently competed in a beauty contest.
To my instructor, whether her words were meant to be snarky or not, I think I’ve come up with a fulfilling response to her question, No, I am not happy all the time, but I choose to think positively and to smile, because this is what brings me joy.
Listen to the audio version of This is What Brings Me Joy, read by the author Joy Araujo:
Joy Araujo is a Development Specialist at a local non profit in Indiana. She has had two kidney transplants and spends her time volunteering and writing music. Her future goals include coaching those with chronic illness to feel confident about themselves and their personal goals.
More Essays by Joy Araujo:
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