Monday, September 28, 2009

Joy is Contagious

There is a growing body of research showing that emotions are contagious. We probably have all recognized this at one time or another but now there is actual proof that physiological changes take place when one person “catches” an emotion from another person.

It seems obvious enough now. One person starts laughing hysterically about something and soon others are joining in without knowing why in the world they are bent over laughing until their stomach hurts and their face is wet from crying.

I was fortunate enough last night to have “caught” joy. I had been out of town for a few days for a work-related conference, came home and spent some much needed snuggle time with my dogs and cats and saw a movie with my husband (he’s not as snuggly as my fluffy dogs, okay?!). I also planned to go see Robert since, by my calculation, he was nearly out of “nighttime underwear” and it had been a few days since I had seen him. I like to check in on him to spend time with him but also to be sure he has enough supplies, his room is tidy and his sheets are dry.

I generally see Robert out of a genuine desire to see him but admit that, at times, I see him out of a feeling of obligation. That’s an ugly truth I don’t like to admit to but it is a common one amongst caregivers. That doesn’t make me feel any better about it, though.

Usually, I time my arrival for when dinner is just finishing. Robert is a leisurely eater so I give him about an hour. Once he’s done eating he has a routine of brushing his teeth and using the restroom which gives me time to tidy up his room and change his sheets if needed. Then we can get down to the business of playing cards and watching game shows. Usually, it’s two to three games of cards, helping him get ready for bed and then time for me to go home. I can count on a few silly jokes from Robert but, other than that, it’s a pretty quiet evening.

Last night was different from the moment I walked in the door. Robert was still sitting in the common area where he eats with his head bent over the menu of the upcoming week. Meticulously reading each item and thoughtfully deciding if he wants to eat Sloppy Joes or a ham sandwich next Wednesday. He usually ends up circling everything which is why I have to buy him a new pair of pants every few weeks.

I walked toward his table, saying “Hi, Rob!” as I sat down. He looked up, obviously surprised to see me and greeted me with a huge smile and a loud, “Hi, Trish!” He then told me how good it was to see me and proceeded to introduce me to the cook with whom I am already on a first name basis. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I already knew Sophie. I was tickled he was so excited to see me. I had just seen him a few days ago right before I left for my conference so I couldn’t understand his enthusiasm. (It wasn’t until the next day that my dad filled me in: Robert told him I was on vacation for a week. Robert must have thought he wouldn’t see me for several more days.)

Robert continued on in his euphoria explaining to me that he hadn’t had a seizure in a very long time. He was breathless with his enthusiasm. He raised his arms and exclaimed, “Praise the Lord for that” which makes him happy and me remember the time his “well-meaning” church friends convinced him to go off his anti-seizure meds landing him in the hospital with uncontrolled seizures for several days.

However, my negative thoughts could not stop his exuberance. He continued enthusing that he must be on the right medications and he is so happy he hasn’t had any seizures. He was absolutely bursting with joy.

I couldn’t help but be enthusiastic along with him. He was so happy to see me and so thrilled he hadn’t had any seizures lately that my sense of obligation walked right out the door and I was genuinely happy to see him too. I was thrilled he was enjoying himself so much.

We got back to his room after he had circled all the meal options for the next week (I better just invest in some sweatpants!). He brushed his teeth and used the restroom and I changed his sheets.

When he was finished, his good mood did not wane. He told me about the three bingo games he had won and all the candy bars he got as the prize (Sweatpants. Definitely, sweatpants). We played cards and watched television and he won every card game we played. He told his usual jokes during the card games and laughed out loud at the old Andy Griffith Show we were watching.

Before I realized it, it was time for his bedtime medicine. We played for a while longer and then I said my goodbyes. I left feeling much happier than when I had arrived and will never, ever doubt that emotions are contagious.

I may keep Rob stocked up on supplies and pants and keep him company by playing Kings Corner but what Rob gave me last night was worth so much more than that.

Joy is contagious. Spread it around.


Anonymous said...

I am very touched by your care for your brother. And very warmed by the sentiment that joy can be as contagious as the flu, but oh, so much better. Also enjoyed your personal touches throughout - the sweatpant comments were very personal and enjoyable.
Thanks for sharing!
Sue Powers

crazy dog lady said...

Thank you for this. I just discovered your blog. I have a developmentally delayed brother, 3 years older, and each time I visit him the happiness he exudes over our visit carries on through the rest of my day, causing me to reflect on what is really important in life. And that is love of family.
Bless you!