Do you view your glass as half empty or is your glass half full? Trying times challenge us to rethink our expectations, values and goals. Read this story of a man who lost almost everything – to the point that his glass was virtually empty. Learn how he refilled his glass by changing how he viewed his life.
John felt devastated when his father died weeks before his planned wedding. Lost forever was the opportunity of clinking a champagne glass full of hope with his beloved Dad, who made a deathbed request for John’s mother to fund the wedding reception. Despite a postponement, the wedding festivities resembled a Greek tragedy for John and his fiancee. Shortly before an intimate bridal shower thrown by close friends, John sought psychiatric care to address a bipolar depressive episode triggered by intense grief over his father’s death. He started taking a common antidepressant with a mood stabilizer. After a potentially dangerous medication reaction, his psychiatrist prescribed a low dose of another antidepressant.
John’s psychiatrist attributed his complaints of memory impairment and agitation as “normal side effects” until he became delusional. Days after he started taking prescribed antipsychotic medication, he became more forgetful as he reported symptoms of confusion, blurred vision, veering to the left when driving and flashing lights in his peripheral vision. His psychiatrist, primary doctor and ophthalmologist dismissed his medical complaints as psychotic delusions. While awaiting admission to a psychiatric outpatient program, he worked one final day to transfer his work duties to colleagues. At the end of that day, he called his wife in distress. Upon arriving at his workplace, she found him in the parking lot outside his office, kneeling on the cold, December pavement and staring into his car, mumbling incoherently.
The next day, John’s wife drove John to a local hospital emergency room during a snow storm. He made numerous attempts to escape his wife’s vehicle and the hospital parking lot before being forcefully admitted to the psychiatric inpatient unit. Branding him with the diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, the hospital psychiatrist dosed him heavily with powerful antipsychotic medications. The hospital staff discharged John a week later in far worse condition than when he entered with the dire predictions that he would never drive or work again. Too confused to sign his name to a check, drive or fill a gas tank, his wife had to oversee his daily routine. Once an avid reader and gifted writer, he could no longer read books or write a coherent sentence, John reluctantly resigned from his full-time job of 25 years.
The Glass Mostly Empty
In the weeks that followed, John lost almost everything in his life – virtually all social contact, his standing in his community, financial security, adequate health insurance, his purpose and his identity. Even his outpatient psychologist and psychiatrist abruptly terminated treatment with him shortly after he lost the means to pay their fees. People avoided him; obligatory phone calls lasted a minute or two. His few, brief social encounters reeked of painfully awkward silences. People generally ignored him in his presence and whispered judging comments about him behind his back. Birthdays deteriorated into brief, sterile events in which his mother gifted him a check. Some people even criticized him for being lazy and failing to conduct a rigorous job search – even though he couldn’t draft a resume or answer simple interview questions appropriately. In the throes of intense depression, psychosis and dementia, John spent most of his days sitting on the couch staring blankly at the living-room wall. No question, his new trials tested his new marriage.
The Glass Half Full
After months of useless runaround with a dozen doctors, John finally found competent medical professionals. With the help of an inspired neurologist, he learned that he suffered a stroke which was evidenced by an MRI. John’s ophthalmologist was the only medical professional who admitted that he suspected John was having a stoke during his last week of work. He apologized deeply for not warning him and his wife. After John found a gifted psychiatrist who stabilized his bipolar depression, a glimmer of hope sparkled that he could recover significantly.
To build his cognitive skills, John practiced conversation several hours per week with his trusted life coach, a therapist, a cousin and his chiropractor’s receptionist. He also practiced reading aloud and driving daily with his wife. He enrolled in a drawing class and a writing class at the local community college. With much encouragement from his writing teacher, he even started writing again. Soon he felt ready to pursue part-time or volunteer work. Now he could see his glass half full.
Refilling the Glass
John applied to jobs at many businesses in his community, especially the ones he knew when he worked. No one offered him even a minimum-wage part-time job. His wife appealed to several charitable organizations to offer John a volunteer position – all ignored her desperate pleas. After many months of harsh rejection, John landed a part-time job scouring pots and pans at a nursing home in a neighboring town. Soon, he delivered meals to nursing-home residents in their rooms. They welcomed the opportunity to talk with him, even for a few moments. In time, his social skills improved enough to work at another neighboring town’s health-club facility. At this time, he also created a website to showcase his writing talents.
Following a demoralizing experience as a freelance writer, he stopped writing and found an entry-level sales job working for a kind employer. His confidence grew.
With loving encouragement from his beloved Dad’s sister, John risked another attempt at freelance writing for his former employer. The community members who would not offer him part-time or volunteer employment grew impressed with his recovered talents. As his skills improved, John landed another more prominent writing gig and a customer-service job with health-insurance benefits. Finally, he started to recoup the losses he suffered.
In the spirit of encouraging resilience, realistic optimism and calm problem-solving amid a world-wide pandemic, this blog will feature stories of overcoming adversity along with essential lessons derived therein. So here are lessons from John’s story.
Avoid people who empty your glass.
Set boundaries with people who undermine, trivialize, minimize, ridicule, judge, falsely accuse, ignore or disrespect you. If they refuse to treat you with dignity, limit or avoid contact with them – at least until you are on a better emotional footing. Also, limit the consumption of local and cable news to essential updates. Nobody needs to hear worst-case scenarios and blaming for hours on end.
Seek out people who fill your glass.
Find people who can listen empathically, validate your sorrows, sit with you through troubled times, encourage your strengths and celebrate your triumphs. Watch the movie “Apollo 13” starring Tom Hanks. This story truly illuminates the American spirit of innovation, hope and resourcefulness. Find similar stories in your midst.
Acknowledge the half-empty glass.
Only through a profound experience of grief, can one move to a place of healing. Denial, minimization, avoidance through escape or addictions only prolong the grieving process. Feel the feelings as you acknowledge your losses (social, health, financial, spiritual, familiar routine).
Focus on the half-full glass.
No matter the depth of your losses, there always remains something for which to be grateful. Spend a little time each day recognizing the positives in your life, no matter how small.
Make friends with the half-empty glass.
The most critical lesson in this international crisis is the need for all of us Americans to rethink our values. We place far too much emphasis on material possessions and wealth while we ignore the more important values of charity, kindness, honesty, sacrifice and faith.
Take active steps to refill your glass.
Each day, take one positive step toward reaching your goals. Even something simple like taking a shower, preparing a sandwich or completing a household chore can help to build confidence and skills. Over time, these efforts will bear fruit.
Together, we can emerge from all our trials stronger, wiser and calmer.
Story was told with permission.
Image is under license from Shutterstock.com
Copyright © Jessica Loftus 2020