Helen Rudd, who has used Stoicism to cope and flourish with the effects of a traumatic brain injury, reflects further on her experience of Stoicism. She had not originally intended for this piece to be published on the blog, but having received messages of support from the blog’s readers yesterday, wanted to share the next stage of her journey today.
I’ve been thinking quite a lot about stoicism over the Christmas period, largely due to the really encouraging emails I’ve had from Christopher Gill and Patrick Ussher.
Just before I went down to Somerset with my Dad, I tried to think how a ‘normal’ person could employ stoicism in order to feel happier and to gain a sense of achievement. I then remembered the feeling I had when singing in a concert with people who have Parkinson’s earlier in 2013. It was the first concert I’d sung in since my accident, and halfway through I suddenly had an amazing feeling of yes, I love doing this, it’s just where I want to be and I feel so proud to be singing with these really brave and friendly people.
So at the end of the year I found myself remembering this intense feeling, and I thought that the way to employ stoicism is to think of how I COULD have felt. This could have included why do I now have to sing with unwell people, some of whom were sitting down, why do I have to sing using words only instead of words and music which is what I was used to, nobody in this choir can read music like I can, I used to have Jane the conductor and soloist for singing lessons and I could be doing a much more highbrow concert than this…
When I write these things now I feel horrible for expressing them, but it’s a good example I think of realising that you can feel good about something that otherwise could be terrible. My plan would then be to notice how you feel about a situation, and then if it’s positive think about how it could otherwise be negative and thereby know that you’re employing stoicism. Similarly, if you feel negative you could think about a positive way of looking at it and try to feel the way you’ve thought of.
I used this technique when travelling to Somerset in the car, and it worked! We go through Salisbury which is where Glenside is, the brain injury rehab centre where I lived for a year, even though I don’t remember it. In the past I’ve had to close my eyes as we drove past it because it reminded me of what’s happened. So before getting to Salisbury I thought of how I’d be able to feel positive about it. My thoughts were that I could think well, I used to be there but now I don’t have to be, I’m coping in the outside world and it shows that I went to the best place for me. So I deliberately kept my eyes open and asked my Dad to point the building out to me. I thought about these positive things and it was the first time I’d been able to look at Glenside ‘in the flesh’ as it were. I’m not saying it was easy, I can still remember how hard it was, but it worked.
Now as 2014 begins, I’ve adapted the way in which I’ve tried to think positively in everyday life. A few months ago I decided to note down three good things about the day just before I went to sleep, a contrast with the diary I kept 2 years previously about the bad things. As this has led me to automatically thinking about the good things, and not the bad, I decided yesterday that there’s no need to do this any more. Instead, on 31 December each year, including this year, I’m going to write about happiness and why the year has been happy for me. I found it very rewarding to do this for 2013, a chance to take stock. Who knows, there may come a time when I feel there’s no need even to do this.
I need to make the point that, in my case, I’m only able to do this now, some seven years after the accident. Before, I was in no fit state to employ stoicism. I was too devastated by what had happened to me, a deep sense of shock and disbelief even. In the past year however I’ve discovered that I seem to be stoic subconsciously so it can be done, even in terrible personal circumstances, provided the person concerned is ready.