Today is an anniversary I would rather not mark. Eight years ago on October 22, 2011 my life changed forever when I was attacked by a man suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. During the five years following the attack, my life became a series of court hearings and therapy appointments. I lost interest in many of the things that once brought me joy as fear saturated my spirit. Of course, I feared the man who had wielded a knife at me, but I also harbored another fear. I feared I would never again be happy or free. I feared I had lost myself.
I lived in a fog of negativity that made the positive things in my life seem inconsequential. My world became aphotic as I imagined the dark side in every situation. If a friend didn’t return my call right away, she no longer wanted to associate with me. If I felt a twinge of pain, it was an aggressive cancer growing in my body. If my husband was late coming home from work, he had been in a deadly car accident.
While I was oblivious to the changes my fears caused to my behavior, my family and friends were not. Long phone calls and outings planned by loved ones focused on ways to ignite an ember of positivity in my life. Everyone seemed to be able to see what I needed except me. Whenever I spouted something negative, my husband countered what I had said with an optimistic perspective. He reminded me if a friend didn’t answer my call, she could be busy with work or her family. If I felt a phantom pain, it could be stress from the shadows shading my once vibrant life. If he was late coming home from work, most likely he was simply stuck in traffic. I am grateful for my husband’s wisdom and patience. It was comforting to know I had someone who would see me through any crucible I encountered, no matter how long it took.
I reached a time when not only was I most comfortable in my secured home but also felt safest in my locked bedroom. I had created my own version of a panic room where I believed I could keep any assailant at bay. The problem was I could not rid myself of the demon who pawed at the edges of my mind. My attacker was a frequent visitor in my nightmares as well as my imagination. Often, I cried.
The day I despaired this might be my new normal was the day I decided to revise my thinking and renew my life. I did not want to live the rest of my life as a victim. I knew I had to make my way to the surface from the well of darkness where I had wallowed for far too long. Making the change was something I had to do by myself and for myself. No one else was responsible for my attitude; it was always something I could control. In fact, my own words, actions, and reactions are the only things I can control.
The first step in making the change sounds much easier than it is. If I formed a negative response in my mind to a comment, question, thought, or action, I carefully considered what I might say instead. Initially, I wanted to say those negative words, but as I practiced positivity, I found negative self-talk developed less often. Instead of focusing on the things I couldn’t control that had weakened my spirit, I worked on creating an aura of goodwill toward everyone with whom I came in contact. An uplifting word goes a long way to help a stressed cashier or overworked waitress.
Unexpectedly, I began to recognize happiness in myself and those around me. Realizing I held the power to not only bring happiness back into my own life, but also to bring happiness to others was addictive. Actively projecting positivity is like the ripples in a pond, initiating small waves of kindness, compassion, helpfulness, and grace.
Once my mind had let go of its negative predisposition, I found myself free to pursue new interests. I delighted at the challenge of each one, even those I ultimately chose not to pursue. With every new opportunity came new acquaintances and new friends. I saw positive words and actions bond groups of people into a force for good in the world. Together we brought the most important aspects of a positive attitude, kindness and joy, to random strangers, shut-ins, those in need, and those simply in need of a kind word.
Recently, the man who attacked me completed the probationary period following his sentence. With its end I lost the right to be informed of his whereabouts. Now, I fear I will see his face peering at me though a window, his form lurking outside. Some days I revert to feeling safest at home. Some days I ask, “What if?”. There are many paths reality could have taken that day, but the one I imagine most answers the question, “What if he had never run up my driveway?”.
I’ll never know who I would have become or where life would have taken me if he had made different choices. If given the opportunity to change my history, of course I would choose to erase what happened that autumn morning. But, many of the changes that are the result of the attack are positive. Although much was lost, much was gained too. I am a better person than I was on October 21, 2011, and I am in a better place.
So, three years after making the vow to face each day with positivity, I still take a breath and stop to think about what I will say and do when faced with something that could kindle a negative reaction. Nurturing and sharing a positive attitude is an ongoing process for everyone. Our world is in dire need of positive people, but the good news is each of us can make the choice to be one of them.