They’re talking about the recent years I’ve helped my husband, Doug Read, through an illness. In 2018, doctors told Doug a blood condition he’d had for 30 years, myelofibrosis, had progressed so far that his body could no longer make red blood cells. They said there was a thin chance he’d survive if he’d undergo a stem cell transplantation (also called a bone marrow transplantation); but they advised against this because, then age 69, he was too old for the procedure — according to statistics.
We were able to convince doctors that Doug was not your average 69-year-old, and so he went through with the transplantation. While he continues to overwhelm the odds, some of the setbacks have been painful and downright scary.
When people ask, “How do you stay positive?” my answer can vary depending on the day. As friends know, I am certainly not cheery all the time. I am only human, after all. But I’ve made a list of some of the techniques and mindsets I’ve used, and I want to share it. This is, of course, not medical advice; I am not a doctor. It is just useful person-to-person stuff.
Use props (also called talismans): I’m a big believer in them. Surround yourself with things that prompt you to think helpful thoughts. My life is full of talismans, from things that are my favorite color (green), to vibrant socks, to gifts and purchases that are handmade by friends.
Wear cheer: I wear bright colors and put on my makeup (most days). Why not chuckle when I see myself in the mirror?
Play music: Happy tunes keep me upbeat — Hawaiian songs, in particularly, but also simple favs like “Happy Talk,” We Banjo 3’s “Happiness,” and Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.” I text song links to my friends. I love soundtracks like Hamilton and Mamma Mia! Because they tell stories of resilience.
Be a beginner: You can do anything! I learned ukulele and took writing and art classes online. It’s easy to join classes at North Tahoe Arts or the Nevada Museum of Art or Atelier in Truckee or Reno, or to walk in the wildflowers with the Tahoe Institute for Natural Science, or to do a spiritual deep-dive at Green Gulch Farm north of San Francisco.
Be available: When someone asks for help, don’t close down; open up! Practice makes this response much easier. When I’m walking along somewhere, I fling my arms to the sky, widen my ribcage, and shout “yes!” to the world. (Even if I don’t always feel like doing that.)
Get outside: When going into nature, (after I fling my arms and shout “yes!”), I like to stay still and breathe consciously for at least a little bit, looking up, down, and around.
Read old letters: What a mindblower this was during Covid. I was glad to have saved the long hand-written letters I received in college and in my early days in Tahoe. Reading them, I got reacquainted with my younger self and then tracked down some old friends.
Make a new friend. As upside-down as we may feel, probably more than 50% of people around us are experiencing the same kind of inner mess. I’ll ask someone I only slightly know to come by for lunch or a drink, or a walk. Reaching out can be unsettling: “Will I get rejected? Will they think I’m nuts?” In fact, people usually so deeply appreciate the outreach. Try it. Then try it again.
Nutritionist’s advice: Eat good food! Tahoe has a bunch of great nutritionists who can guide us. They’re at Tahoe Forest Hospital or they work independently. Good, pure, healthy food makes the body, the brain, and the emotions work better.
Strengthen muscles: Join a gym or workout group or get a personal trainer. Strengthening muscles has reduced my injury factor. And I always feel better after a workout.
Lengthen muscles, learn to breathe better, and build up the core. With yoga and Pilates, as breathing and posture improve, the mood improves.
Ask for help: The North Tahoe/Truckee area has talented counselors who can help lift us from the doldrums. In addition, groups of folks meet regularly to help each other with so many things, like addiction, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, caregiving, and more. Check out options at Tahoe Forest Health System or ask your doctor.
Communicate: Draw, write, sing, dance: Put words, movement, or images to feelings. Be clear and go into great detail.
Make a call: Finally, it’s easy to make a call and get free help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255 (or simply dial 988 in many areas). For counseling online, search for counseling services and find plenty of choices at different rates.
I must thank my own German grandmother for her can-do attitude. My sister and I joke about how often Grandma would do things that seemed impossible, yet for her were ultimately doable, like swimming in chilly water, learning to waterski at age 70, and belly dancing. If anyone pooh-poohed her, she’d just reply, in her raspy German accent, “Vei not?”
I urge you: Try any of these ideas today. Afterward, see how you feel.
Want to write about how you’ve found joy in Tahoe? Send your thoughts to me for a My Shot column at: firstname.lastname@example.org
~ A 31-year Tahoe City resident, Laura Read is a freelance writer for regional, national, and international newspapers and magazines. As opinion editor and copy editor for Moonshine Ink, she has seen how local media can empower people to improve lives. She lives with her husband, Doug, and her grumpy 14-year-old dog, Wheeler Peak.