Meg's Monthly MessageMotivational

Finding Sanity in Solitary Confinement

By April 2, 2020 No Comments

I have two little brothers. One is into weight-lifting and he’s muscly and strong and he looks like he could totally kill you. The other is tall and lanky with long black hair, tattoos, and a lip ring. And he looks like he totally would kill you.

I love both of them, but one of my brothers got into some trouble and ended up in jail (you can guess which one). While there, he spent some time in solitary confinement. He had a room to himself with a toilet, no toilet paper, and a mattress. Scattered bits of garbage littered the edges of a dirty floor.

After this experience, I asked him how he emotionally made it through his time in solitary confinement – with his sanity intact. He smiled his I-have-a-secret half-smile and said that when he was there, he thought of me and what I did after I was paralyzed and was in the respiratory ICU.

I had very bad lung damage after I was paralyzed and was in the ICU on a ventilator. The doctors didn’t want me to pull out the tubes so they had tied my arms to the bed. I was so miserable. One morning, I started to cry. I didn’t know what I could do to make myself feel better so, in desperation, I looked up and prayed for love for the ceiling. I was surprised that I felt a little better. I looked out the window and prayed for love for the window. And the cars. I saw the empty visitors chair and prayed for love for it, too. I named everything in the room I could see, including the blanket, tubes, and beeping machines, and prayed for love for all of it. I felt better and better and better until I was bursting with love for my paralyzed, tied down life.

My brother said that he had always admired how I could find things to love in such a hard circumstance and he remembered me in his own paralyzing, tied down circumstance. He said he found half of an empty toilet paper roll – half of the cardboard cylinder (no toilet paper), and a tiny nub of a pencil in the litter. He picked off the wood from around the quarter-inch lead of the pencil and used it to write the things he was grateful for around the toilet paper roll. He spent many hours over the next couple of days writing as small as he could until the cardboard was covered in heartfelt expressions of gratitude.

You know that it’s a strange time in the world’s history when this story of jail and solitary confinement resounds with so many. Those of us who have chosen to isolate ourselves away from society are staying in and away from friends and loved ones. The empty restaurants, bars, and non-essential businesses have been replaced with littered rumors of an imminent economic depression. And many of us don’t have toilet paper…

It’s a little scary and a lot weird. But we have to choose to make it through – sanity intact.

And the emotional survivors, like my brother, search for our own versions of an empty toilet paper roll (though, in some cases, that’s exactly what we find…) and a pencil nub with enough lead to write our own expressions of gratitude.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf said that “We can choose to be grateful, no matter what” and that “Being grateful in time of distress does not mean that we are pleased with our circumstances, but it does mean that, through the eyes of faith, we look beyond our present-day challenges.” (Grateful in Any Circumstance, Apr 6, 2014)

Our present-day challenges might have a lot in common with a solitary confinement jail cell. But if we’re searching hard enough, I bet we can find enough things to be grateful for that will fill up our empty proverbial (or maybe not so proverbial) toilet paper rolls and fill our hearts to the bursting point.

Keep on Rollin’

Meg