Take Care Of Yourself to Give Love to Others

Give, take 'n share

Image by Funchye via Flickr

Self-Care Tip #195 – Take care of yourself to give Love to others.

Belen came in, confident.  She was comfortable in her element.  Working in her area of specialty was her delight and she didn’t worry about clocking hours or mixing it up with family.  Her work was part of what family meant to her.  It was what brought pleasure to her life.

“Wonderful!” you say.  And yes, it is.  “Why then did she come in to see me?” you ask.  Glad you asked.

This was Belen’s third marriage.  Marriage was not where she felt confident.  Talking marriage was when her lip surfaced, quivering on her face, transforming her.  In the past, Belen had often dropped her husband’s name, laced him into stories she told and her ring was a favorite finger toy.  I had the impression that Belen was proud to be married to this man.  But it wasn’t until today that Belen spoke about Ben directly.

I sat up because I was curious about this emotion that had flickered behind it all until today, when it was front and center.

In this case, Belen was afraid of her emotions in fact.  She was aware of them, but they were in a foreign code to her.  Tap-tap-pause-tap-tap-tap-pause… and so on.  She started by telling me about their evenings together.

Ben was a grazer who expected open time with her.  Belen, however, was a barn girl.  When she sat with her husband in their “open time” over a slow dinner, a drink, watching him read a book beside her – it took everything in her reserve each day to stay put.  All her nerves were dancing, telling her to get up and work.  It was what gave Belen her quality of life.  Her work was her self-care.  Ben’s time to meander through thoughts and play was in contrast, what gave him pleasure in life.  He waited all day, pushing through a task driven job, to come home and do this.

Potential negative energy was coiling up inside and Belen was afraid that she might be overcome by it.  Belen did not want to think about what that might end with.  Another failed marriage?  Losing this man she was so glad to be married to?  Dying alone?  She looked at me sideways, ashamed of her emotions.

I’m turning into Crazy Wife.  I yell at him for things that are no big deal.

My answer came too fast this time.  It wasn’t graceful or polite.  I regret that.  It’s never been a forte for me and one of the reasons I recommend my patients find a psychotherapist who will patiently stand beside them rather than collar them and drag them to water (like a certain psychiatrist I know.)

Do what gives quality to your life.  Claim it when you do and don’t hold him responsible for it.  He’ll feel guilty and defensive.  ‘Oh, I have so much work to do honey.  I can’t sit here…’  You are not a victim.  This is your choice.

Unfortunately, there was more along those lines, but like Kevin Blumer says,

I wish the blog world was the same as the real world where people have a chance and can think about things before they (say) them.

Alas, at least we have our keyboards, pencils and erasers.

Belen was losing her lovely confidence to resentment because she wasn’t doing what she was wired to do.  She wasn’t owning her choices.  She thought loving her husband meant that she shouldn’t and because of that, she was only giving him her uncared for self.  She didn’t realize that doing what gave her joy was the best way to Love others.

Question:  How do you help the people you love realize that when you take care of yourself, you are taking care of them too?  (This should get interesting!)  Please tell me your story.

Love – Take What is Already Yours. You Have Been Given Love.

Stef's Present with Handmade Wrapping

Image by ex.libris via Flickr

Self-Care Tip #194 – Take what is already yours.  Be a friend to yourself.

Parenting, we hold the power in the relationship between us and our child/ren.  If we are emotionally maltreated by our child/ren, we parents are still the ones with the power.  What are we giving to her if we teach her that we will take the terrible words and dark emotions?  When we take the projected anger when we have the power to choose not to, what message are we giving to ourselves about ourselves?  What is the message if we say by our actions that Love demands from us to accept, to take and to be a victim to the emotional abuse?  Is that what love tells us?

It is difficult to receive maltreatment from anyone.  And because of the suffering involved, we can misinterpret the message, “This is the sacrifice that Love demands” – the sacrifice is doing what other people want before taking care of yourself.

It is difficult not to receive maltreatment as well.  Which choice is more consistent with our understanding of Love?  The words in the message might be the same, “This is the sacrifice that Love demands.”  However, the interpretation of the message, of what the sacrifice is – that meaning is different.  The sacrifice is, rather, taking care of yourself first so that you have the best of you to offer to others.

To read more on this topic, please see posts, Criticize if You Love MeListen to The Intention in What People Say and Stop! Before Hurting Yourself or Others.

Because we as parents hold the power in the relationship, we can feel trapped by our own power.  What a confusion for many of us.  Holding power but feeling helpless.  Holding a stick in both hands, so to speak, not seeing that we can still use our occupied hands for anything else in the mean time.

This kind of choice takes Love.  This is the kind of choice that is a work of a life-time or of a moment, but is life.  See, Let It Go and Keep Going.

We can’t teach others that we are valuable and how to treat us with Love if we don’t do it ourselves for ourselves.  When we act on Love, self-care means that we don’t accept treatment that is inconsistent with Love.  If we accept bad treatment, we are saying that self-care is accepting our lack of choices versus making the choices that are still available despite the circumstance.

FriendShip... A gift of God.

Image by ~FreeBirD®~ via Flickr

This of course applies to any relationship.  It applies to any connection, whether it is in the work-place, marriage, if you are the child in the parent-child role, friendships – take your pick.  You can choose Love.  You can choose.  Self-care starts and ends with “Me.”

Freedom is a gift.  No matter how many times it is wrapped up and placed in our hands, if we don’t open it, use it, own it, we will never have it.  Freedom to choose has been given to us before we were born, just like our salvation.  The salvation will never be taken away.  Nor the freedom.  Both are elemental and constant.  But if we don’t pull on the ribbon, lift the lid and take – we can’t expect anything but living without what was inside.  Does the title “victim” even hold if it was our choice not to take what was already ours?

Question:  How do you claim your freedom to choose when all you perceive at the time is what has been taken away?  Please tell me your story.

Starting With Your Own Answers to The Big Questions Leads to Reducing Stigma In Others

Alexander Ostuzhev as Quasimodo, 1925.

Image via Wikipedia

Question:  How do you see the paradigm of spirituality intersecting with the paradigm of biology?

As a psychiatrist who blogs that behaviors come from the brain and not a theater script we voluntarily revise to perform, this is a good question.  As readers, and perhaps subscribers to this same belief, this is a good question.

In church, Bible study, or circle of any kind, there are fewer things that goad me more than listening to descriptions of the moral value in emotions and behaviors.  I have found myself visiting the lady’s room more often, carousing the fellowship hall-kitchen and fridge, or thrusting myself on a poor unsuspecting soul loitering by the door with my fervent uncomplimentary words.  I do this before I stand up and pull rank on the speaker.

(I know.  The words “pull rank” sound just as arrogant, and probably are, but they were said in the heat of the moment.  Please understand that the emotion behind them and including the words came from my brain.)

It wasn’t so long ago that suicides were thought to be the ultimate separation from God.  Oh wait.  That’s still happening isn’t it?  It wasn’t so long ago that anger and sadness were thought to be from separation from God.  Oh wait, they still are.  Ok.  I’ll stop.  This is childish.

The hunched figure of Notre Dame comes to me now, ringing his bell, gazing at Esmerelda – pure heaven in flesh.  He offers up his humble life force, begging to be near her despite his biology.  He is ugly.  He is different.  He is separated by his own beliefs that he is forgotten by God.  His answer to our question is his own isolation.

This pithy topic has no boundaries across the world but yet I reduce it down to Me, one apparently arrogant psychiatrist, kicking up dirt where I stand.  I realize that the best way to protect us from stigma, to help you (again arrogant me swaggers in), is to start with my answer to this marvelous question.  I have to answer it for myself.  I have to start with self-care, spiritual care, relationship care, physical care – I have to start right here with Me.

These kinds of imposed opinions have never been reduced quickly.  We can’t take care of everyone before we take care of ourselves.  We must be patient.  We have the privilege to answer thoughtfully.  It is our freedom.  It is our right.

Self-Care Tip #193 – Answer the big questions in life for yourself, deliberately, and see that a secondary benefit is that it will protect you from the prejudice of others as well as reduce their prejudice.

Stop! Before Hurting Yourself or Others

scream and shout

Image by mdanys via Flickr

Self-Care Tip #192 – Before hurting yourself or others, stop.

Sometimes all we can do is leave.

Not being created as a limp noodle, that’s what Brenda said.

In the moment of conflict with her daughter, she had used up the coping skills she thought of and in the end, her purse had no more gum, lip-gloss, candy-money or crayons.  She couldn’t stop the acidic emotions from taking their turn to burn.  Brenda yelled (yes she knew it wasn’t right) and then she yelled again, this time to her husband that he was on kid-duty.  She left.  The mom-van keys were the last thing left in her purse of things to do to stop the burning she was giving and receiving.

Emotional abuse is equal to or more damaging than physical or sexual abuse.  This made Brenda gulp, who could still hear her own mother screaming with bulging bubble-packing veins and eyes.  Brenda didn’t know she could say,

Let’s stop.  It hurts Mommy.

When she first had her babies, tiny with soft bones, fluffy warm sweet cakes just out of the oven, Brenda was scared.  Her pediatrician gave her baby care directives that said things like,

If you are angry and feel like you’re going to shake your baby, stop!  Call for help.

And there was a number.  Now that her kids were older, her pediatrician never gave her helpful sheets of instructions and rescue phone numbers.  Brenda drove away to stop, hoping to come back with more available to offer.

Not bad, huh?

Question:  When you can’t think of any more coping skills during a crisis, how do you stop?  In what feels like an emotional emergency, what have you seen others do that you think is useful?  Please tell me your story.

What Is Your Most Core Desire? That Is Self-Care

It's a Business Doing Pleasure

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Self-Care Tip #191 – Do what you desire to get friendly with yourself.

What is your most core desire?  I am learning more about mine.

I wonder at the improvement in my quality of life since blogging with you.  It is More than the pleasure of writing; which I do love and have missed for years.  It is More than the pleasure of being productive; a natural high for my temperament.  It is More than the self-care tips listed off that roll back; a tide of all that is sent out comes in again to wash over me and change the shape of my life.

This morning I ran into a newer friend.  We came into each other’s lives, catalyzed by the ingredient that this blog provided.  I am sure I would not previously have allowed myself the pleasure of speaking with her for long without it.  My temperament has always been a driving force that pushes me into “the barn.”  I often miss the journey for the end.  This is “The More” that has been given to me.  Connection.

Now people actually look different.  Despite years of medical education, years of psychotherapy and my years of life, I never saw people to the extent that I do now.  Each of us here for a time with our stories, our pearls to offer and each of us with our essence to share for eternity.  It is one more time for me when I am open-eyed, open-mouthed gawking at the thought of “The More” that is still coming.  Better than this.

Think of your most core desire; what you are driven toward by biology, genes and higher intelligence.  What has given you access to that?  Now think about how to go for More.  That is self-care.

Question:  Oh, you know what I’m going to ask…

Do You Feel Pleasure? Lacking The Ability to Feel Pleasure Leads to Suffering.

Grazing in Spain

Self-Care Tip – Enjoy what you do or else find out why you don’t.

Pleasure.

I often ask patients when I am taking their mood history,

Are you able to feel pleasure?

I need to figure out how to ask this without you or anyone thinking that I want to know more about lube and feathers.  No, thank you very little.  But what I am trying to ask about is the ability to enjoy what you are doing.  It is not necessarily “joy” but at least it includes having a positive sense about you while you are progressing through something.  Being able to feel pleasure does not mean being happy at a fiesta or while doing kangaroo jumps with your child.  It does not mean changing your personality so that someone who prefers to work turns into someone who is playful, or a grazer* turns into a barn animal*.

Feeling pleasure does not mean that we achieve our fantasies.  It does not mean we are on vacation.

To understand what pleasure is, it helps to understand ones temperament.  It is enjoying what you do when you do your thing.  For example, if you are someone who in any given day or mood and regardless of weather or wealth would want to complete the work for the day – when you do that, are you feeling it?  Are you feeling pleasure?  Or, to contrast, if you are someone who would more often choose an unstructured and unmarked day – how is it going down for you?  Are you feeling pleasure?

Pleasure when you are doing your thing is quality of life.  If you do not feel it, life is crackers without soup.  It comes and goes dry and without anticipation.  If you do not feel pleasure, you lose your perceived connections around you and including with yourself.  Suffering is when you feel alone, even from your self.  Losing the ability to feel pleasure results in suffering.

Goodenough, PhD

Not everyone connects that emotional illness is a state of suffering – whatever one or combination of illness(es) come to us in.  Looking in at ourselves, at our Me, from the outside, we observe expressions and behaviors that we interpret from our own bank of information and intuition.  When I tell someone, what you are observing in your child, or wife or whomever is my patient at the time with mental illness – when I say,

They are really suffering,

it tugs our unconscious awareness into consciousness   We often do not actively know about this internal world where there is no pleasure.  We do not know that lacking pleasure leads to suffering.

Are you able to feel pleasure?  Do you find it harder to feel pleasure than you used to?  What things do you still enjoy? How long has it been since you last felt pleasure?

The ability to feel pleasure is a wonderful gift.

Questions:  What has helped you most in healing your suffering?  What has helped you connect again with others when illness pulls you away?  Please tell me your story.

*Reference:
Temperament definitions according to Dr. Q:
grazer = someone who comfortably wanders from idea to idea
barn animal = someone who is goal oriented and does not like things unfinished

Related Articles

Just to Feel Pleasure

week-end-pleasure

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Self-Care Tip #189 – Heal for yourself, and you’ll see that also, everyone heals.

The best thing I ever did was go on antidepressants.

Bianca sat, but her whole body was talking.  She was telling me about her changing life.  She had read some of her journal from a year ago when she pounded on herself for her behaviors.  She thoroughly grieved the time with her children when they heard her scream about small things that kids do.  She told me about her sons face when she was irritable.  He showed all the waiting tension that an open child will when waiting for Mom to lose it.  She was trying to push it aside and think rather about how she now could finally enjoy them.  Bianca said,

I just had no idea before how much better life could be.

Bianca’s face became tight and she didn’t make eye-contact,

There’s no way to describe what it’s like to not enjoy your kids – My own kids! – for most of their born lives and then wake up and experience something different.  I just can’t explain what it means to now actually like being with them.  I’ve always loved them but I didn’t feel the pleasure and I hate that.  I want that time back but I can’t have it and I can’t give it to them either.

I’m so scared it will end, the pills will stop working and I’ll lose this new life.

Before her medication, Bianca worked hard at taking care of herself.  She was a check-list of responsible self-care.  Bianca thought it was important that I knew this.

  • Aerobic exercise – check!
  • Healthy diet – check!
  • Sleep hygiene – check!
  • Bianca talked about God but things got confusing for her there.  She didn’t like to think about Him being on “a list.”  He was in her life and didn’t feel He failed her even though she couldn’t feel pleasure or joy.

Still, she continued to coil up and release hard punchy words at her kids and then hate herself for it.  She had prayed so much about this and wouldn’t even mind if God had to puppet her, if that’s what it took, in order for her to treat her kids better.  She could not stop herself from being what she called,

Crazy Mommy.

But now, after she was treated, Crazy Mommy was gone.

Aside from dropping the shame, the best thing for Bianca was knowing that her kids could trust her, felt safe with her and that she felt safe with herself.  Everyone was healing subsequent to Bianca healing.

How many of you have told us a similar story.  A similar rescue.  Yet, never-the-less others of us are afraid to go there.

Question:  How are you present with others who don’t understand your rescue story?  How do you stand beside someone who needs medical help for emotional illness but won’t accept it secondary to stigma?  Please tell us your story.

The Achilles In Us All – To Our Own Demise

Cover of "Troy - The Director's Cut [Blu-...

Cover of Troy - The Director's Cut

Self-Care Tip #188 – Don’t avoid the obvious to be a friend to yourself.

Have you ever watched someone make a bad decision?  Probably, if you’ve watched anyone.  We all do make bad choices.  But a really bad one?  One that when you hear it going down, you can almost feel the hair on your neck point south.  We ask ourselves why no one stops them.  We perhaps have tried to reason, to force, to pull favors to buy them away from this choice.

If you do this, ….

Maybe weeping some.  Maybe they’ve done this same variety of bad choice before; many times perhaps.

The problem is bigger than our own selves of course.  The people in our wake, being tumbled about by our bad choices, these people suffer.  It’s irresponsible.  Sure.  Those tumbled people are responsible for there own self-care too, but they aren’t responsible to accept us back with open arms when we drive our boat over them.  We don’t connect that the reason they are back there bobbing in the water is in part because we don’t have insight into our behavior.

Brad Pitt played Achilles in the movie Troy, Directed by Wolfgang Petersen.  If you remember, he died in the end.  Movie critic, described what killed him well.

Achilles is moved by love of glory and knows that he will die young if he pursues it, but his reputation is all that counts because all he is a warrior and the best one, at that.
Self-care includes stopping the kill that our own “Achilles heel” is making on us; i.e. that (or those) big thing(s) that everyone else but us can see that in the end will kill us.

Carl Jung describes the inferior function of someone’s personality type as their Achilles’ heel.  Myers called this the shadow.  It is the part of us that has the least amount of conscious awareness (otherwise known as insight.)  This is the part of our temperament that we are not comfortable with.  Although it may strengthen with maturity, it can be the death of us if we don’t take it seriously.  We will always have it, true.  But with deliberate effort and with working no harder than what self-care has already proven to be (the kind of bleeding effort that makes us plead “Mercy!”) …then we can grow.

Then perhaps after performing the hardest work of our life, we may be fortunate enough to die from another reason in the end.  :)  We also may be fortunate enough to have people in our lives who feel safe with us.  People who feel they can trust that we will treat the precious connection between “Me and Thee” responsibly by taking care of ourselves.

Questions:  How has your Achilles been influencing your life?  How have you helped yourself to stop avoiding “the obvious?”  Please tell me your story.

Hear, Be Heard, Believe and Speak In Your Language.

c. 1868

Image via Wikipedia

Self-Care Tip #187 – Say it better by saying it in your voice.  Be a friend to yourself.

We all have our own language.  I’m not talking about Hungarian or Spanish.  I’m roughly talking about Jungian typology.  We speak and hear, we are heard and we find that we believe better with it.  But we don’t all know that and so don’t treat ourselves with enough courtesy.

For example, many of us used to think that listening to emotions was silly and that using graphs and quoting studies was smart.  (Who ever heard of smart emotions or even spiritual intelligence for that matter?!)  We used to hold our breath and hope our brains would change if we despised our own wiring enough.  As if our genes would get the hint, give up their mortgage and leave town, disgraced.

Hopefully after the paternity of the genes in question was established, and if we grew a little, we noticed that there is no better way to speak than what is our own voice.

Say it.

That was lovely.  Thank you.

We can listen to the beautiful music of Celine Dion French Album, or watch the foreign film Like Water for Chocolate (Spanish: Como agua para chocolate) without subtitles, or sing the African-American spiritual song from the 1930s, Kumbaya.  We will get a partial understanding of what is intended, what is said, what is felt.  We will know that someone is desperately in love with someone else, for example, in Como Agua Para Chocolate – but not get the full story of course unless we hear the words in the language we know.  Saying that one language is greater than another is hopefully buried with Hitler.  Our temperaments speak uniquely as well by design.  They are not qualified differently from each other.  True, they are better suited for different tasks, jobs, audiences.  But that doesn’t make one smarter or dumber than another.  Regardless of the bank account any one or many may hold, there is no difference in value between them.

If we want to say something, ….  Well all I can say is this just feels right?  You know what I mean?  ;)

Question:  What has helped you discover your language best?  How has it helped you understand your connections better?  Please tell me your story.

Get Out Of The Company Of Comparisons. Forget About Fairness.

Tail lights, lights, rain on my windshield, co...

Image by Wonderlane via Flickr

Self-Care #186 – Forget about fairness.

It’s raining here; herding us.  I don’t like driving at night, but driving in the rain at night is worse.  Driving in the rain at night, with a rabid sheepdog tailgating me is still worse.  However, I do love slowing way down when I’m tailgated.  That was nice.  And seeing some family, including my folks, made it all worth it.

My kids were in on it too.  They were doling out banana smoothie and repeating a favorite theme called, “Make it fair!”  In Parenting, the frequent reminder that life will never be fair for my kids, and wondering if they’ll ever get it, gives me almost as much pleasure as being tailgated at night in the rain.

“Make it fair,” isn’t far from any of our hearts desires.  It’s easy for me to forget humility and judge my kids, but when people aren’t looking, I’m also checking to see how much I got.

I met a girl in clinic, Britt, who was also working this out for herself.  She was holding it in her hands and turning it over; a foreign object.  Britt said,

It doesn’t matter what has happened to me, I’m still responsible for taking care of myself…

She said it many ways, and the tail of her pauses kept flipping up into question marks without actually asking,

With my abuse…?  No one else will…?

I could see her with all the rest of us suffering folk, checking the fluid line in our glasses, saying

With all the hurt I’ve received…

I was poor my whole life…

I just can’t seem to get a break!

For Britt, coming to a point of owning her self-care felt like losing social support.  She had for so long sipped on her succor as a victim in the company of her received wrongs, that she felt awkward.  Britt needed to find a new group of friends.  She stood there toeing the floor,

I have to take care of myself.

Britt will be alright.  She will be emotionally healthier and in better company very soon.  She will move past where so many of us are still gripping our goblets asking about why we didn’t get more.  She will say, without that question, self-care begins and ends with “Me.”

Britt hasn’t been able to do this without medical help.  For her, part of seeing herself as a victim to what life gave her was symptomatic of her major depressive disorder.  She was personalizing what wasn’t personal.  Not everyone will need medication.  Some of us will do well just recognizing that, “Life is not fair,” and will be able to move on.

Question:  How have you gotten out of the company of comparisons?  How has putting fairness aside been a form of self-care for you?  Please tell me your story.

When You Are Pushed Down, Push Back

A Push and a Shove

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Self-Care Tip #185 – When you are pushed down, deliberately push back with The Force in  you.  Be a friend to yourself.

So much in life pushes down on us.  I am amazed that we push back – considering how awful some of it is.  After 7 years of private practice in psychiatry, I still get caught off guard by some of the particularly horrible stories I am told.  Blinking my own stinging eyes, I look in amazement at the person in front of me.  What I see is this pushing-back Force.

Last week after diagnosing PTSD in Margie, a mother of a murdered son, I could hardly believe that she still chooses life.  She takes care of herself despite.  That’s how amazing she is.  And I’m her psychiatrist!  It’s such an honor.  And thinking about that straining towards life, that thread in us, all of us – I saw that it was the best description of the brilliance and power that is God.  True, sickness can mute our perception of this beautiful thing in us, whether it’s depression or liver disease.  But all of us have seen some of how hard the thrashing against that loss is.

In thinking on this amazing force, this thrashing about, this straining against the push of whatever is set at tipping us over, I named it God in us.  And I thought, for all the time I spend on the stuff pushing me around in bad ways, I’m going to more actively team up with the struggle to live.  I’m going to choose to strain and thrash about and move at that chink of space in the dark room as much as I can.  Hopefully I can be brave too, like that mother of a murdered son, Margie.

I can choose to ally myself, with what I want to live for.  I’m going to partner with that Force that keeps me thrashing against the push and be stronger, like you have readers.

After our post on suicide a couple days ago, many of you responded with your own stories about how you were pushed and pushed back.  Karal said,

Like all difficult experiences we face in life, there is the possibility of growth from the ashes.  It requires strength and a willingness to walk through that fire.  Unfortunately for survivors of suicide (i’m referring to those left behind) we’re often chastised into feeling that our grieving, our walking through the fire is both wrong, and  unnecessary.  I totally disagree.  Like you said, caring for people is a choice, and being a friend to yourself means making sense of, or at least peace with, what may never make sense.

Karal is allying herself with that Force to make as much sense of what will always be jumbled.  I’m not going to quote all the rest of the brilliant comments.  Please read them.  They were amazing demonstrations of pushing back in a collaborative way with The Force that makes their lives worth living.  This is active in us at times, and not deliberate at others.  Being better to ourselves, we could more deliberately choose when given the push.  We are not thrashing alone.  Push back.

Question:  How do you deliberately choose your alliances in your life for working against what pushed you down?  How do you define that Force in you that pushes back?  Please tell me your story.

Goodbyes Are A Way To Connect

15th century adaptation of a T and O map. This...

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Self-Care Tip #184 – Respond to your goodbyes deliberately to be friendly to yourself.

One of the Regional Centers that I work at is closing their telemedicine clinic.  This means I’ve said goodbye to many beloved patients and their families, whom I’ve worked with since round 2003 I think.  Saying goodbye to people we respect and enjoy is not as casual as we stylin’ people make it look.

Two days ago I said goodbye to my girlfriend of around five-plus years and her family.  Moving far far away makes the flat world feel lumpy and luminous.  I now have all her leftover food and knock-offs she didn’t want to haul across the lengthening world to remind me that she is gone.

Watching parents and/or grandparents age is also an exercise in saying goodbye.  My parents have a hard time making it over to visit on week-ends for all the funerals they go to.  Their calendar sends over that whispering voice that they are growing old.  “Look,” it says.  “See me.  I am aging.  Time is connecting and taking me with it.” Even so, their essence holds its own, apart from Time.  That makes me feel more comfortable.  When that whisper gets louder I may respond differently, I can’t know until then.  But for now, this is good.

“Goodbye” is something that begs a response.  “Oh yes!  Goodbye!  See you later.”  I even say, “See you later” to people I know I have less than one percent chance of running into again.  The word calls to me and I respond.  The word implies a disconnection, but even so, beckons us to connect.  It spreads us over the space of our time shared and into the future apart.  Peanut butter and jelly, it sandwiches us up with the one who says “Goodbye” when we say back, “Until then.”

Today with these people and remembering all the ones I won’t get to see before my contract ends, I feel the pull to respond.  My response can be something deliberate.  It is another bit of something I get to choose.  I hope it will connect me.

Question:  How have you responded to the goodbye’s in your life?  How has it been a connecting force for you?  Please tell me your story.

Competition as A Way To Take Care of Myself

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Self-Care Tip #183 – Compete to be a friend to yourself.

Competition is not always thought to be a friendly word.  Pictures of hair-pulling, whining, learned helplessness, failure or success come to mind.  However I’m happy to say that we can put away that old grudge and open our arms to what competition can offer.

We are sharper intellectually when we compete.  It is stimulating and good brain exercise.

We feel better when we compete.  It releases dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter (brain messenger.)

We are more likely to win in self-care when we include competition.  Some people call it, “Making a game out of it.”  But that is really just saying, get competitive in a friendly way.  For example, this is one of the few successful ways to get long-term success with weight loss.

We are able to connect with others easier when we compete, believe it or not.  Competition is in fact a way to get out of isolation.  Pretty cool.

Competition can increase productivity – a boost to one’s quality of life and self-esteem.

Today I was speaking with my daughter’s teacher about bits of this concept.  I am hoping that more competition is integrated into her school curriculum.  For example, her daily writing could be shared with two fellow students of like abilities and vice versa.  She would read what they wrote, coalesce the information into her own thoughts, and write her response.

She would be working on:

  1. Writing
  2. Reading
  3. Interpretive thinking
  4. Learning how to let her thoughts travel the sometimes seemingly endless road between her mind and out her fingers.
  5. Productivity
  6. Connecting with peers/socialization
  7. Personal achievement/self-esteem/confidence
  8. more….

Question:  What role has competition played in your own self-care?  Please tell me your story.

It Is My Choice to Take Care of Someone, Even in The Context of Suicide

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I was a teenager I think when a woman in our church suicided.  Dad pointed out the man sitting alone.

His wife just killed herself.

Dad asked me what I thought of suicide.  Imagine.  What a compliment really for a teen, to be asked her thoughts.  Being a “Feeler,” I oozed something empathic I’m sure, but still I only remember what Dad said,

I believe God has a special way of seeing these cases.

This was at a time when culturally most of the western world saw suicide as sin.  It was quite forward for Dad to say what he did again later to the grieving man in the pew.  I did not realize at the time, but now I see that people judged him and his wife for what she did.

Later in psychiatry training, my attending said,

Suicide is the most selfish act anyone can do.  It is the ultimate punishment aimed at those who still live.

I don’t know what you think, but I couldn’t help wondering.  I still do.  I think this may be true for some and not others.  I haven’t had a chance to ask them.  They’re dead.

Suicide is terrifying to a psychiatrist.  We all tremble at the thought.  Statistically we know women attempt it more than men, but men are more “successful” when they do try.  They use methods that are generally more lethal than women.  They don’t get a chance to realize that in a month or a day they will want life again.  Or an hour.  They could have lived.

In the intensive-care unit of a hospital, “unsuccessful” suicide attempts hover in life in a space where their self-injury placed them.  The nurses are kept running between medicines, treatments, physician orders and prayers for these lives that tried to die.  Sometimes, the “chronically suicidal” become familiar patients to this critical care ward and that has it’s effect on those who have spent themselves so heroically to save them.

A nurse once told me angrily about her patient who kept coming back.

I fought for that woman’s life!  I prayed over her!  I worked all night for several nights and didn’t know if she would live until much later.  And then she was transferred out to the step-down ward (to a floor where the patients aren’t in such a life-threatening condition), and that lady probably never knew what I went through to keep her alive.

Then later, she came back, and later again, almost dead but not dead.  She kept trying to kill herself!  Finally, when she was conscious again, I just told her how it is.  ‘Listen!  I fought hard for you!  You better go out there and live!  You better figure out what it is you want and go for it.  Stop trying to die!’

This lady-patient was hurting more than herself.  Suicidal thoughts and attempts are dangerous.

There was a patient who tried to use his bed-sheets as a noose before the nurse lifted his wet body from the door frame.  In the emergency room (ER) he was examined, x-rayed and determined fit to return to the ward.  Alive.  Talking to the ER physician, I learned that the reason most people die when they hang themselves isn’t because of suffocation.  It’s because they break their neck.  Done.  No more chances to choose life.  Even an hour.  My pulse was still beating on me to the rhythm of, “He could have died!  He could have died!”  This time, no broken neck.

Regardless of our culture, we are not the judges of these people who want to die.  Regardless of our emotions, their emotions before, any previous conflicts, regardless, we cannot measure their final act by degrees or intentions.

We fight together for their lives and they may or may not know about what that does to the rest of the world.  When we don’t want to fight for them any more, we should change jobs.  It is our choice, each of us.  Whether we are fighting as professionals or as a wife, brother, friend, volunteer or the hired tutor, we fight for their lives because we choose to.  If we cannot keep it up without judging, shaming, accusing the suicidal, we need to own that and take care of ourselves first.  “Can’t give what you don’t have.”

The truth is, suicidality is hard for everyone.  It is hard in ways and in people that aren’t talked about, such as the nurses or the x-ray tech who is the first to find the cervical fracture (broken neck) on film.  It is hard for the church parishioners, the person separated by seven-degrees or the grocer.  Suicidality is hard for all of us.  We give what we choose to give and remember to say, “I can’t control that,” when we can’t.  It is our choice.

Self-Care Tip #182 – Taking care of someone is your choice, even in the context of suicide.  Be a friend to yourself.

Question:  How has suicide touched your life?  Please tell me your story.

Pain Can Be Something More and Better Than Just Pain

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Self-Care Tip #181 – Look for help if your pain never becomes something more than pain.  Be a friend to yourself.

Glee is back!  I’m so glad because it makes great work-out distraction.  Good music, drama, beautiful people, and wonderful ah-ha concepts like,

Use your pain and loneliness to inspire you to make something beautiful.

Can’t remember it verbatim though and I noticed after an hour surfing the web for Mercedes quotes (and getting detoured to all sorts of other fun stuff for grazing) that whoever writes these quotes up didn’t find this one worth it.

Joni Eareckson Tada on the Larry King Show said that when she thanked God for her paralysis, she began to be productive through what paralysis offered.

It is however sometimes impossible to take what hurts and let it fuel our fires.  Sometimes it’s just a cold lump of coal.  Sometimes, we aren’t adaptable.

Luckily we aren’t sitting in a cave during the ice-age and can trust that a bear won’t come and eat us when we are wounded.  But there are other predators.  In my line of work, I could call disease process a preying force.  It takes over more and more cells, space, grey matter, consuming bits of our identity and changing our ability to cope with stress.

It’s easy for people to say, “Turn your pain into energy for creativity,” as if it were a volitional option for you like it was a choice for them.  Or we call it bits of morality; maybe a fourth of an inch on the rim of our gold crown we get in heaven.  Those of us who care about that crown look at our shoes, apologize and promise to try harder.

It is not easy to explain these apologies and inactivity to someone who has never been immobilized by mental illness.  Even those of us who have experienced it first hand have a hard time remembering the real texture of what we went through once it is passed.  Illness can be so awful that even our subconscious shudders when turned back to remember.  It is no wonder that we find it difficult to explain.

However, it doesn’t have to be this way.  If we aren’t able to adapt, aren’t elastic and sit stunned in the presence of pain, immobile to the newness that it can offer – recognize this as a flag to turn towards medical help.

Question:  What was/is your story when you weren’t able to adapt well to stress?  When you didn’t adapt well, what helped/helps you hope for more?  How did you find it?  Please tell me your story.

Sharing Will Take You Out of Isolation

Flowers for Valentine's Day

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Self-Care Tip #180 – Sharing will take you out of isolation.  Be a friend to yourself.

If Valentine’s is about Love, today felt like Valentine’s Day to me.  Your support, my friends, came to me like bouquets of home-grown roses, lilies, daisy’s and bird-of-paradise.  You swept me up and carried me over a threshold of something I didn’t want to cross alone.  Thank you.

Carl, dear Carl, is always surprising us.  He told us yesterday about his own amazing dad and then said,

I can truly say I know how you feel.

Even though much of this feels unique to me, I know it is not.  Pain is not unique.  It is our choice to experience it alone or in community.  I choose you.  Thank you for choosing back.  Thank you for my flowers.

Mom has always been a fierce lover of flowers.  She arranges them dramatically and gives them out, believing that their beauty is enough for now.  She never worries about when she won’t have any.  I actually don’t ever remember Mom without them.  She just can’t stay away.  Either she goes where they are, or they seem to some how follow her.  Sounds like story fodder but it’s true.  She will be one of the loveliest in heaven, just because she was designed to be.  I can’t imagine all that Mom will learn on beauty through an existence disconnected from time.  I’ll know where to go when I want to gather some for you.

Mom goes to see Dad every day.  She’s usually wearing something shiny or bright or both.  Dad’s hospital room is in full bloom and there is always food for nurses or visitors.  This is how Mom does her fighting for Dad.  Through beauty.  Not bad, huh?  She washes him every day so she can spare him as many further humiliations that come with illness.  He is lotioned up; more able to receive than he ever is outside of the hospital.  In their own way, he and she give to each other like that.  I’ve seen Dad cry and Mom just push aside the tubing and get in beside him on his electric bed.  In the hospital, a lot can happen.

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and Dad said,

Well, I guess I’ll just have to let this one pass.

But if Valentine’s is about Love, he doesn’t have to worry too much.

Since round high school, Dad has told me that I have to sing some day at his funeral, “The Only Thing I Want Is To Be With Jesus,” By Joni Eareckson Tada.  I am sure I never will but he refuses to believe it.

The only thing I want is to be with Jesus.  Just to see Him smile and say well done, what a day that’s gonna be.  I want to feel His strong and Loving arms just hold me to His side, and to be with Him, throughout eternity.  Just to be with Him is heaven enough for me.

My seven year old asked the other day,

Mommy, will Papa be alive when I have kids?

I told Dad and he laughed.  He’s an easy laugh.

That’s a really good question.  What a mind.

Dad has almost died about a zillion times and it’s easy to feel like he will live forever.  All I know is that if he keeps putting me through this, I’ll need you there to take me out of the isolation and remind me that none of us have been chosen to be alone.

Question:  How has pain been a connecting force in your life?  What has helped you share what seemed impossible at once to let outside of yourself?  Please tell me your story.

Dad Is In The Hospital. My Reality.

Open-face helmet.

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Self-Care Tip #179 – Get inside your reality and be with Love.

When I was eight my family left me at Grandma’s farm for the summer.  There’s not much more inland to go than Iowa.  If the United States of America were a house, Iowa would be perhaps it’s cellar; full of smells, goods and it is a great place to play.  I played a lot that summer – as well as stepping in a cow-pie or two, riding tractors with Grandpa Jack cutting hay, pulling on cow tits and seeing the milk come out to shoot right into the cat’s mouth.  And I gathered eggs from pecking feisty chickens that would scare the bravest of any Coasters (those of us from the East and West.)  Grandma was no-nonsense and didn’t waste much time on coaching.

Just stick your hand in there and take the eggs.

As an eight-year-old you haven’t known real fear until you face down a mother hen in a musty unlit poop filled coup, and reach under her feathered skirts for eggs.

That summer Dad came to get me early.  I was really happy to see him.  Uncle Mel and my cousin Dougy had been in a motorcycle accident.

Dad is an orthopedic surgeon and since my summer in Iowa,  Dad has called motorcycle helmets, “brain-buckets.”  He’s seen a lot of them in emergency rooms, so he knew what his brother had looked like.  Dougy was in a hospital bed being introduced to his now forever useless arm.  I came in shy, because Dougy was so cute.  I was thinking about what he thought of me.  I know.  I did.  Despite my diva-self, despite the horror and grief, Dougy gave me a brilliant white-boy American smile.  I hid under Dad’s arm where I didn’t have to look but could still hear Dad’s voice.  I think I may have even whined.  I’m still embarrassed.

These days, unfortunately I rarely get to see Dougy, but when I do, I still want to hide under Dad’s arm as if he’d remember me there.  I wonder if he remembers Dad’s voice.

Today, Dad is in a hospital bed with a blood clot the size of a rattle-snake crawling up his leg, fighting for his right to walk, let alone live.  It is his voice, or maybe the bed, that brought Iowa back to me.

Cousin Patty was crying at Uncle Mel’s funeral.  She wouldn’t go up to the casket, just sat and cried.  I was a little bummed my cousins weren’t interested in me.  It was who I was at eight years old.

Grandma, who left me unsupervised to gather eggs from angry-chickens, cried and asked me for more kisses.

They taste like brown-sugar!  Give me some more.

Dad’s hands now have Grandma’s same wormy veins, raised over blotched ecchymosis (purple patches from leaking blood vessels into the skin); begging to be touched.

I went to see her with my brother Cam before she died.  She was delirious.  But I trusted her so.  I laid beside her in her hospital bed and looked up for a shoe she told me was stuck in the ceiling.  I thought, “There just might be one and these people don’t believe her.”  I was miffed.  Now I realize I was mostly angry because Grandma was dying.

The farm is gone and I wish I had the metal tub Grandma bathed me in outside on the lawn.  But I do have this connection in me to all she gave, the people who came from her and her showing me how to live and die.

If she was still alive and knew Dad was in this danger, she’d say, “Rob, I’m praying for you.  I Love you.”  And unlike my emotives, that would be about it.  She was from Iowa, you know.

This is my reality.  Dad is in the hospital.

Self-care includes being in our reality.  Sometimes it’s too much for one person to handle.  People need Love.  The reality of the world and of the individual is that we need Love.  We are better to ourselves and others when we can be inside our reality.

Telling you about this is my self-care.  This is part of my Love story.

Question:  What is yours?  Please tell me your story.

Mr. Rick C. – Blog Jacking #3

Guest Blogger:  Mr. Rick C.

As a gesture of good-will after my recent work stoppage and because “The Dogs”, have asked me to make a statement, I am, once again, taking over the blog.  To begin, “The Dogs” would like to indicate that they are quite happy and realize that running away is just what dogs do… getting caught was their mistake.  Also, they do not like vegetarian dog food and would prefer something coyote flavored.

In response to a recent blog by PDQ (That is short for Princess Dr. Sana Johnson-Quijada and was recently modified after she sent $19.95 to a website and found that she is indeed  Lebanese Royalty), Carl wrote…. “The serenity prayer has never given me any serenity. I have never had this alleged wisdom to know what I can or cannot change but I have developed the ability to know that after I have tried to change something for the 938th time without success some of that wisdom seeps in and it is time to find something else which will trouble me. Huh?”

I like reading Carl’s stuff because he frequently misses the obvious like I do.  Although, I am not a real psychiatrist in this country or many others… I recognize and am able to quickly diagnose issues and problems in others.  This is not really an ability that I have tried to develop and sometimes I even wish I could make it go away.  The ability is based on a principle known as “You Spot It, You Got”.   I did not invent this technique, however, I have much experience using it.  The basic principal is that when I am able to identify an issue in someone else it is usually because I “deal” with that same issue.  The reason I put deal in “”’s (that may be one of the finest uses of punctuation ever) is because I have no choice as to whether I “deal” with an issue I have or not.  I either deal with it by ignoring it, denying that it exist, suppressing it, or acknowledging it and finding a solution for it.  Kind of like that whole gravity thing… regardless of my opinion or mood… I have to deal with it.

Back to fixing my friend Carl… Guys like us tend to over analyze things to the “938th” degree.  When someone like Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Edison tries something over and over expecting different results… they are called geniuses and inventors.  When guys like us do it, it’s called insanity  Perhaps we are just people who tend to over do things like alcohol, drugs, gambling, eating, cigar smoking, and even PERSISTANCE.  I’m thinking that a Persistance Anonymous program might be what we need.  In lieu of that, we have the Serenity Prayer which Carl refers to.

God, Grant me the Serenity

To Accept the things I can not change

To Change the things I can and

the wisdom to know the difference

I think that everyone practices this prayer, to some degree, whether they admit it or not.  Let’s say that I have taken a step up in life and acquired a nice minivan.  (real doctor’s drive them, they must be nice) I am running late but stop at a red light.  I stopped because I accepted that I could not change the light.  By stopping, even if unhappily, there has been a level of acceptance.  While at the red light, I jump out and put a nice “Breast Cancer Awareness” Sticker on my car (I do this for several reasons… because it is a great cause, because I can now drive faster and more erratic and people will understand, and because it looks nice next to my “Support Your Local Police” sticker).  Upon getting back into the mini-van, I pick up the phone and call to let my appointment know that I am running late. Hence, I have changed the things I can and accepted that which I could not change.  For me, it is easy to “talk” about whether I accept things or not; however, my actions are a far better indicator.  I view serenity kind of like heat…. even at the coldest place on earth, there is a bit of heat present.  The total absence of heat would result in a temperature of -459 F (-273 C) or 0 Kelvin.  If, like Carl, we feel that our serenity is the equivalent of a cold spell in Siberia… it’s still there, we just need to warm it up.  By accepting only one thing, I have found that the change in perspective changed my serenity.  What is that one thing?  I am persistent and it’s the way I am wired.  This persistence can get frustrating way before I get to the 938th try, but, it also allows me to come up with solutions for problems that other have given up on.

How have your actions demonstrated acceptance even when your words didn’t?  How much training can two dogs handle?  What other stickers should be on the back of my minivan?  Does anyone own a Flowbee?  Tell me your story.

 

The Spider Sat Down Beside Her – Mental Illness

Self-Care Tip #178 – Find your courage and answer to stigma.

The Little Miss Muffet scenario explained by D...

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Something as simple as taking pills can sabotage us.  The act of putting it in our mouths signifies all sorts of things from religion, to freedom, to personal identity and beyond; even someone who is trustworthy versus not.  Pill – take away her children.  No pill – could be president.  Pill – discredit whatever he says.  No pill – worth listening to.

Martha is a mother of four lovely girls.  Her husband is divorcing her and she wonders what he will do in the process.  She’s been depressed in the past and anxious with a history of panic attacks.  She took two years to get over them using breathing exercises and other therapies. She didn’t use medication.  I don’t need to tell you what her husband thought of meds or of her during that time.  It was a miserable time for her.

Now, during this new stressful time, she has relapsed in mood and anxiety problems and is terrified that if her husband finds out, he’ll take the kids.  Martha sees mental illness as a bullying tool for anyone to dump her over.  Little Miss Muffet is a story she often has compared to her situation.  The spider is the mental illness she feels is dangled over her to her demise.  Martha is bullied and scared away.

Taking pills makes me feel like I’m crazy!

Note: it’s a type of crazy she interprets as being something different from the crazy of mental illness.  For Martha, the crazy that comes with medication therapy is more sinister and discrediting than the worst experience of terror any of us have ever gone through, i.e. panic attacks.

Every day, we who take medication for emotional illness have to answer to those accusations.  We contend with the fingers pointing our way, the jeering in our memory of loved ones and the boxed presumptions we find ourselves in.

This may sound a little dramatic to some out there, although familiar.  To others, it is an understatement of what they courageously confront to take care of themselves.  Each of us must come up with our own answers and find our own courage.

Martha finally decided on medication treatment and within two days she was amazed to find that she could eat without throwing up and no longer felt anxious.  She still insisted that taking medication was only temporary but getting a pill dispenser had helped her get past some of her daily battle with stigma.  She just opened the lid and poured the pills into her palm, threw them back and swallowed without looking.  Martha found it easier not to dispense each pill each day out of each bottle.  It was also easier for her to keep this information secure in the confines of our office.  For Martha, for now, this was how she answered.

Question:  How do you answer to stigma?  How do you maintain your sense of freedom when other forces tell you that you are not free?  Please tell me your story.

Connection is Part of Self-Care

AMBER Alert highway sign alerting motorists to...

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Self-Care Tip #177 – Discover your connections to others.  Be a friend to yourself.

Every Sabbath in my son’s class, the teacher prays for the offering,

Please help it bless all the little girls and boys all over the world to learn of your great Love.

It hasn’t been until the more recent years that my own prayers have felt invited in by those type of prayers.  Where my thoughts go are to the abused kids and instinctually I count my children’s heads, heard them and cluck.  Walking down Powell Street in San Francisco, my husband kept urgently telling me,

Watch the kids.  Don’t let them out of your sight!  Anyone could grab them!

He had just read Middlesex and felt the threat of child abduction crawling up his skin.  When he gave me these warnings, I heard the words of my son’s teacher again.

Please help….

There is so much yuck, and the yuck is so loud and awful that seeing the help around might be missed.  We are distracted by suffering.  We are distracted for good, bad or somewhere in-between.

Today, Darcy Delaproser introduced me to a couple people she’s advocating for, as seen on YouTube.  Watching these videos, I prayed, “Help.”  I met Darcy, aka @PrincessDelap on @Twitter and am drawn to her tenacity and beliefs.  She is a human and civil rights advocate.

The other day I met Cindy Chaisson, from Custom Canine, who volunteers her time and expertise to train service dogs and use them to find abducted children through the Amber Alert program.

Tonight, I was supposed to get to bed early, but I got swept up in all the research on this topic.  There is too much to lay out and more than I read about in the last couple hours.  There is help.

The connect self-care has with all of this is where we turn our posture to.  Where do we place these victims, their past, their future and the perpetrators?  Our self-care includes contemplating what our connection is to them.  For some of us, obviously, the connection is immediate.  For others, the connection is more distant, in the shape of theory or information: data on the Amber Alert screen.

Freedom to do self-care includes this:  Choosing who we will call our own.  Choosing whom we will spend emotional energy on.  Time.  We are free to connect or disconnect.  In those ties or un-ties, we find the climate of our own self-care.

Please help it bless all the little girls and boys all over the world to learn of your great Love.

Questions:  How are your connections a form of your self-care?  How do you see connections being a part of self-care?  Please tell me your story.