Go Towards Your Pain to Relieve It

A family mourns during a funeral at the Lion's...

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Self-Care #197 – Go where your pain is to prepare for what happens badly in life.

Yesterday we talked about the power of loss, grief and pain not being one that can take away the potential of life.

Carl appreciated the idea that “scripted cue cards” with platitudes on them to read off for ourselves or for others when something bad happens – “Good comes out of bad,” “I know what you feel like,” and so on – is nothing anyone wants.  His comment included, in true Carl-style, a great question:

But what else can we say to show respectful empathy?

Goodness.  For crying out loud, we aren’t a bunch of calloused puff heads who don’t care or who don’t have a clue when someone is suffering!  We’ve all asked this question and wanted to help.  We’ve wanted to connect, to serve, to answer Carl’s question when we are in or come into the presence of pain.

In self-care, we can’t help others if we don’t help ourselves first.  We can’t give what we don’t have.  Airplane crashing, put your oxygen on before your babies.  Can’t withdraw if the bank account is empty….  We take care of ourselves and find that we can serve others more as a result.  It’s the same way in grief.  If we don’t go where our own pain is in life, if we aren’t present with our life journey, if we don’t fight hard for who we are, it is very hard to know how to answer this question.

There’s something to say about doing the work before the trouble comes and then when it comes, use it to prepare for more.  I love Ecclesiastes 12 which tells us in Solomon’s depressed and yet feisty words,

Remember your Creator
in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come
and the years approach when you will say,
“I find no pleasure in them”—

Solomon was talking about self-care here.  Holding us responsible at the elemental level to use the time we have before trouble comes, so that when it comes, we have a way of answering.

Carl gave his own answer,

…live life on life’s terms like it or not.  If we allow Jesus to embrace us and comfort us it will fortify us through life’s unfortunate tragedies.

Question:  What is your answer to Carl’s question?  Please tell me your story.

Pain Doesn’t Define Life’s Potential

Close-jen-grieve

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Self-Care Tip #196 – When you are hurting, remember the pain doesn’t define life’s potential.  Be a friend to yourself.

Yesterday we talked about giving and getting bad news without fear.  This was received in a spectrum of ways by you, ranging from – no way is bad news something not to be scared of, to, bad news might be something we could face knowing we might find something good in the end.  No one slammed the hammer down, dinging red at bad news equals good all around – except my dogs who don’t listen anyway and are pretty much always happy.

Jjen was brave, saying,

I would have to also agree that in some cases bad news can bring family members, or even friends together that have been estranged. This has personally happened to me. Kind of a bittersweet thing; good in result of something bad and mending a broken relationship.

“Good comes out of bad.”  Not everyone agrees and I don’t blame them.  Some bad things are better left alone to rot and stink out of our lives entirely.  It even sounds patronizing when someone is hurting to say this.  This kind of discovery should be made by the parties involved, without the rest of us holding scripted cue cards for them.

It is also something that is received easier from another who has been in, or is in their own catastrophe(s), losses, abuse or grief – say Jesus for starters.  I could hear this from Him without wanting to vomit all over the place.  He’s been there, hurt bad, and has been blessed through and by it in ways I will be learning about even after Time unhinges.

When my nine year-old adored niece suddenly died, I didn’t see that.  It’s taken almost six years to see anything good come “from” this unbelievable loss we grieve every moment.  The bad doesn’t disappear for me, but as Jjen said, it is not a qualifier for the rest of life’s potential.

Question:  What has come “from” the bad in your life – more bad or what?  Please tell us your story.

Getting or Giving Bad News Without Fear

Slalom skier

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I was reading an article on awareness of obesity the other day telling us that many times, people don’t know they are obese until they are told by someone else.  Ouch.  Pass the Band-Aides.  But it aired our need to stay connected, speak up, and listen.  It also prompted me to reflect on mental illness.  How often I’ve sat with someone’s emotions-history in my hands, looked at them and realized they didn’t know.  They were there, emotions bleeding all over the place but didn’t grasp their injury.

Um, excuse me ma’am.  Let’s apply some pressure on that and get you some help.

Bloody news like this reminds me of my friend Jack.  He was waterskiing with my brother and I when we were college’ish-age.  Jack was not so capable on the water, although he wasn’t afraid.  As you probably know, three is the perfect number for waterskiing – one to drive, one to hold the flag when the skier is setting himself up, and then of course the skier.  Any more and there are way too many polite smiles and way too much advice for the bobbing body in the water.  Jack was working on his slalom moves, thrilled with his progress and after about the third fall, was still ready for another go.

Hit it!

Our boat, Rosewater, eased him out of the water and he was up.  Jack has a way of celebrating like no other.  He whoops and yells and his whole body joins in.  And so he was in his happy place, up on a single ski, unconcerned with the world at large.  It was lovely.  Until the wake of that other huge boat threw him down and his face slammed into his spectacular single ski.  Up he came and we just looked at him, quietly at first.  Jack paddled up to the boat and wondered if he should try again.

Um, sorry Jack.  Let’s apply some pressure on that and get you some help.

Jack had a huge gash, copiously bleeding all over his face and he had no idea.  He was wet already, cold from the water and didn’t feel a thing.  I still feel the creepies skittering up my arms and chest thinking about it.

When we told Jack, he was a little unbelieving.

Are you sure?  Is it bad?  I think I’m alright.  It’ll wash out and I can try again….

Oh there wasn’t much pleasure in telling him the bloody news.  Generally there isn’t that much pleasure in telling someone they are fat or suffering from mental illness either.  It’s the follow-up to that statement where the fun comes in.  The hope that we link the first punch-line to.  Good news is, …along comes the second punch-line.  Hope.  And presence.  Being with someone where they are at, as they are, and with patience doesn’t mean leaving him in the dark, bleeding out.

The reverse is true of course as well.  If we don’t stay connected with others, we may lose the opportunity to see ourselves through their eyes.  It is an opportunity.  When we are with someone we trust, respect and think see’s us as the precious thing that we are, it is.

Self-Care Tip #195 – Stay connected with others and listen without fear – something good is coming.  Be a friend to yourself.

Questions:  How do you deliver “bad news?”  What is the best way you’ve ever been given “bad news?”  Please tell me your story.

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

Stef's Present with Handmade Wrapping

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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.

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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.

Stop! Before Hurting Yourself or Others

scream and shout

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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.

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.

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

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

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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.

Pain Can Be Something More and Better Than Just Pain

English: Vladimir Bystrov. 2006 Russian Premie...

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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.

Image via Wikipedia

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.

Work Hard to Take Care of Yourself If You Want An Easier Time Taking Care Of Others

Self-Care Tip #174 – Work hard to take care of yourself if you want an easier time taking care of others.

My marriage has never been better.

Freedom Press (UK)

Image via Wikipedia

Kirsten had good posture.  She made eye contact and she wasn’t fidgeting when she told me about the changes in her life.  I hadn’t seen her in clinic for two years and apparently in that time she had set her husband free.  She was seeing less of him than she ever had and they were both busier than any other time in their lives.  Yet their marriage was at its peak.  I felt like I was getting off the point of why she came and wondered if asking her for details was unprofessional.  I did want to know.  Lucky for me, she wanted to tell and I just let it happen, as if I was doing her a favor.

I admit, sometimes I get something out of my clinicals.  I’m not always the best therapist.  I don’t always keep things about my patient when I let myself receive, or even actively take from them.  None of us are that altruistic.  Therapy is supposed to be one place any of us can go, and know that when we go, we can expect to receive everything except the fee-for-service.  Therapy should be the closest thing to a one way street in this non-altruistic world.

To my rescue, Kirsten said,

He has been meeting with friends, exercising, eating out and working the 12-Steps twice a week.

Yes he was sober, but he was also a bunch of other stuff.  Taking care of himself, he became a better husband.  Better body, clearer mind, happier, more attentive, less angry; she could hardly stop listing.

Freedom is useless....

Taking care of himself took a lot of work but it made taking care of her a lot less work.  True, she wasn’t the center of his life, she gave up on some fantasies, she didn’t ask him for more time, but all those in the past had only grown her own point of anger and blame and not the marriage dreams she thought they would – letting them go was a good thing.  Yet, cutting him free still felt risky to her.  She came to me because she was becoming more aware of what that fear was doing.  When she was afraid, she was sabotaging herself.  Bits of herself recognized that she could feel as free as her husband did.

To be free of fear for Kirsten, she needed medical help.  Kirsten’s fear came from nowhere, out of the blue and was not only triggered by suspicions about her husband.  To be free for Kirsten’s husband required other forms of self-care.

Question:  What kind of self-care does your freedom need?  How has your hard work on your own self-care spilled over into less work to care for others?

Tell People When You Fall

It's no laughing matter ladies... Monthly brea...

Image by zpeckler via Flickr

Self-Care Tip #171 – Tell people when you fall.

Driving today, I was slowed by a driver ahead of me.  I started to get irritated, (I know, “I can’t control this“), but then I noticed the car had bumper stickers supporting breast cancer.  In less than a moment my mind grabbed memories of faces, feelings, conversations, stories and personal experiences in my memory relating to breast cancer and I suddenly felt a sense of empathy and some sadness.  It left me a bit surprised and I reminded myself I was irritated at this driver.  While trying to tease apart these seemingly opposing reactions, I realized I didn’t care much any more about the slowness.  Mainly I wondered how there was breast cancer connected and I cared.

Providentially, Erin posted today on her blog-site, Healthy, Unwealthy, and Becoming Wise,

Falling finds friends.

I remembered the driver and you readers and thought, “It sure does.  Especially when we let others know.

My Ecuadorian sister, Joana Johnson, often tells me one of the biggest contrasts she see’s between our cultures,

connection.

I spent some time in Ecuador doing some clinical work and learning more Spanish between my second and third year of medical school.  I was rarely alone, which frankly creeped me out a little.  Being westernized, I was used to a huge amount of independence and anonymity.  I wonder who I would be if I had grown up knowing someone was always involved in my life.

You might have heard the proverb asking,

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Or,

Water, water everywhere and nothing to drink.

I don’t want to be surrounded but not witnessed, connected or heard.

Telling people about our “falls,” cancer, depression, assault or what not, can feel creepy too, just like I felt loosing some of my anonymity in Ecuador.  However, I now tell myself, “It’s just culture and I can grow.  And I want to.”  Culturally in the “West,” we think of telling about our falls as whining.  That’s a misperception however and a disservice to all of us.  Telling people when we fall is not whining.  The act of telling and the act of whining aren’t contiguous unless we design them to be.

This morning when I saw those bumper stickers, it brought me into the drivers life and connected us.  We are both a little less alone than we were.  These last six months for me have been about taking down boundaries in my well defended life, and I am growing into the difference.  Thank you readers and commenters for that.

Questions:  What has telling others about your “falls” done for you?  How has your culture influenced you in finding friends?  Please tell me your story.

Listen to Your Mind and Body When Doing Something As Simple As Cleaning

I Heart Cleaning

Image by Valerie Morrison via Flickr

Self-Care Tip #170 – Listen to your mind and body when you do things like cleaning, even if it makes you feel better or worse.  Be a friend to yourself.

Whenever someone in the house can’t find something, I ask them to please just start cleaning and sooner or later they’ll find it.

Today my kids and I spent two hours cleaning their play room.  My daughters were amazed at all the treasures they found tucked under, over, this way and that way in their clutter.  Although there was a lot of crying and gnashing of teeth along the way, in the end everyone was happy and pleased with themselves.

One of the blog-sites I enjoy reading is “Earthquakes and Rattlesnakes” by Zahara.  The other day she said,

I have a lot on my mind.  It seems when my mind is in a jumble, my house is in a jumble.  Cluttered, disorganized.  Can I unclutter my mind by cleaning my house?  Probably.

According to BBC News, cleaning improves mental health through the exercise that is inadvertently done.

And as Louise Hay once said,

Cluttered closets mean a cluttered mind. As you clean the closet, say to yourself, ‘I am cleaning the closets of my mind.’ The universe loves symbolic gestures.

But there are times when this goes awry.  In Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, people may clean ritually and compulsively to avoid an egodystonic fear; a fear they know doesn’t make sense but still terrifies and overwhelms them.

Or in Major Depressive Disorder, the illness affects their brain and body so much so at times that they can’t do basic life functioning, such as cleaning their house or even showering.

So I’ll tell the mothers out there such as myself, the BBC News, Louise Hay and the rest of us that cleaning is good self-care.  The milieu around it is also a good indicator on when it is time to go get professional help.  Listen to your body and mind.

Questions:  When and how has something as simple as cleaning improved your mental state?  When has something as basic as doing your activities of daily living shown you that you or someone you love might need to see their doctor?  Please tell me your story.

Say, “I Can’t Control This” When You Can’t

Playing in the Sink

Image by Paul Mayne via Flickr

Self-Care Tip #169 – When there is negative chaos, remember and say, “I can’t control this.”

Carol had worked there for seven years.  The supervisor had just asked her for more hours and Carol felt almost good to be able to say she didn’t have any more to give.  Yet when Carol got the email that her job position was closing in a month, she was physically affected.  Her autonomics (“fight-or-flight” reactions) were on full alert.  If there was an attacking bear, she might have out run him.

Healthy Carol had been to enough 12-Step meetings to remember, “I can’t control this.”  She said it a few times and turned it over to her Higher Power.  She did not crave or relapse in her addiction’s disease.  Her pulse was still fast and her hands were still tingling for the next several hours but she didn’t “use.”  She went to her meeting and she pushed on.

When Carol thought about her future and the things she could do to prepare, she inevitably thought about the things she couldn’t do.  She said,

I can’t control this.

When Carol imagined what other people would think after hearing about her unemployment, she said,

I can’t control this.

In mental health we struggle with that a lot.  The emotions that grow self-loathing, the behaviors that distance us from our support and loved ones, and/or the physical changes that keep us from performing – are all confusing.  At what point do we say, “I can’t control this?”

I remember a Seinfeld joke about water faucets in  public bathrooms.  The ones that you have to hold down to keep the flow going.  I’ll spare you the misery of me trying to retell it and get to the point.  Why do they have those faucets?  It’s as if they think people will have a water party in there or take free sponge baths if they could turn the faucet on long enough actually to wash their hands.

baby elephant | playing in the water

Image by Adam Foster | Codefor via Flickr

When we say something like “I can’t control this” to the idea of emotions and behaviors, the general fear is that people will take wild liberties, – splashing emotions around and behaving like elephants after the summer Serengeti drought ends.  Mayhem will ensue and the staunch healthy-minded with dry pants will have to clean continually after us.  Not many people want to be sullied by the emotions and behaviors of others and this, “I can’t control” business is a boundary issue.  Maybe stigma is one of the ways we change out the faucet on others.

There are some very primitive characters and severely ill people who might say in fact that they cannot control all feelings and behaviors.  This is more than most of us armored with some healthy coping skills would believe or say.

“I can’t control this,” is not a free pass to vandalism, vengeance, volley-ball or any other very vexing behavior.  It is not there to hand over like a ticket to other people for their excuse, justification or condolence of our situations.  It is there for us to hold up to ourselves for the purpose of honesty, submission to our Higher Power, humility and healing.  No one can control the flow out of that.  That is free self-care.

Questions:  When have you felt like you had to explain to others your behaviors and feelings even when you didn’t have an explanation?  How did you bring it back “home” to your own self-care and get past the stigma?  Please tell me your story.

Choose Self-Care At Your Most Elemental Level

Buchenwald-100625-14486-Schwerte-hell

Image via Wikipedia

Self-Care Tip #167 – Choose self-care at your most elemental level.

Carl, who writes blog-site, StillFugue, said after yesterday’s post on self-care being for everyone,

Sometimes depression blocks this type of self-care regardless of how good our cognitive strategies are.

Carl reminded me of Dr. Lang.  He was a physician, a father, a man of high character who never had depression in his life.  Then after a series of life stressors depression expressed itself and he, who once was the warm-fuzzy in the hospital, the man who never lost his optimism, the man who turned anyone’s bad mood around – this man came to me under a black cloud, heavy with melancholy, and raining tears.  He cried all the time.  This giant of a man cried and cried on his wife’s shoulder, and she was bewildered by him.  She told me he had done this for a month now, although the depression started about four years ago.  He kept wanting her to read to him the book of Job and cried more barely hearing the words.  He had already been through a series of well-chosen medications, but still he sank deeper.  No form of treatment kept up with the leak in his ship.  What was self-care for Dr. Lang?

Did Dr. Lang have good coping skills?  Well he wasn’t coping well now even though he knew the strategies.  He didn’t understand why he couldn’t use the coping skills.  Did he have intelligence?  Yes.  Did he have resources?  Yes.  However, none of that is what this was about.  Asking Dr. Lang to cope with his feelings is the same as asking someone blind to see.  Physically, biologically he could not.  His brain could not.  Much of his ability to choose behaviors and emotions were drowned by illness.

So again, the implied question comes to us, – “Is self-care for everyone?”

Mr. Rick C. threw this life-saver out in response to our question,

During times when chaos ensues, either internally or externally, self-care seems to become the basis on which all other positive actions are built.

Sarah McGaugh also referred to self-care as “action,”

A call to action may also be a higher calling than one’s own self….

What action did Dr. Lang do?  He cried on his wife’s shoulder and read the Bible, i.e., he leaned on the support he had built up before the hard times came.  After failing medications, he sought another opinion and other treatments.  Sure, he couldn’t get out of bed otherwise even to bathe himself, but he had made it to my office.  What did Dr. Lang do?  He got electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and in two months, along with his medication (only one antidepressant was needed at this point), Dr. Lang was no longer crying.  In four months, he was laughing again.  In six months, he stopped ECT altogether and maintained his emotional health with his monotherapy medication.  It’s been seven years since Dr. Lang went through all that and he has not relapsed yet.

I pick out so many points that I consider self-care choices Dr. Lang made.  They changed over time for him according to his needs and abilities, but he didn’t want to die.  Even at his worst, when he could barely remember why life was so important, that wisp of hope was enough to live for.  It was a higher calling to him, higher than his own dark wants.

That was Dr. Lang’s choice.  He chose self-care at his most elemental level.  It was his response to the call of hope.

Questions:  But what about you?  What do you think?  Is self-care for everyone?  Please tell me your story.

“He’s Never Hit Me.” Abuse.

Self-Care Tip #163 – Name abuse when it is there.  Be a friend to yourself.

Alexandria (Alex) was crying a lot.  She was trying to divorce her husband but he wouldn’t leave.  He wouldn’t speak.  He only yelled.  He yelled at her, alone, in front of their kids, in the morning, when he came home from work, he yelled.  And he never spoke to her any more.  It’s been weeks since they spoke.  When I asked her if she thought she was abused, she said, “No.  He’s never hit me.”

Mar de Emociones / Emotional Landscapes

What do I do?  I can’t go on like this but everything I try, he won’t listen!

There are so many things many of us would tell Alex.  But would any of it make sense if she didn’t know she had rights?  If she didn’t know what was happening to her?  If she didn’t know, this is abuse.

The “Do You?” questions, per Dr. Quijada, to ask yourself if you aren’t sure if you are abused:

Do you feel good about yourself when you are together?

Do you feel scared?

Do you feel like you have choices?

Do you have effective boundaries; observed boundaries?

Do you say, “No,” and are heard?

Do you have a balance of power?

From the outside looking in, we could answer these questions for Alex.  But anyone who is or has been abused in any way knows that from the inside, answering these questions is hard.  It was hard for Alex.

Alex missed a few beats.  She didn’t want to see herself as abused.

Identifying abuse, naming it, is a start towards the other side of things.  It is reaching the peak of a hill or mountain of life-stuff, taking the view in after the fog lifts, and knowing that things are the way they are.  This is abuse.  A tangible thing.  Not the drifting mist of fights or arguments that once stalked you, leaving you bewildered and empty-handed.  Simply naming abuse is the start of empowerment.  Name it.  Name it out loud.

“I am abused.”

Alex said,

Wow.  I didn’t know that what he is doing is abuse.  I didn’t know.

After we talked about the name of what she was suffering, she talked about what she thought she could do about it, such as:

Call 911 if she feels unsafe.

Record him.

Say the words out loud, “I am valuable and should be treated well.”

Get a restraining order.

…And other things.

Alex didn’t have a lot of extended family support, so for her, that was out.

Alex said,

I feel more empowered.  I didn’t know I could do that.

And there it was.  A dandelion growing out of the cracked cement.  Hope.  A redistribution of the unequal power.  Alex was growing a plan.

Question:  What would you tell Alex, yourself, or anyone else in her position?  How do you see words being a form of abuse or not?  Please tell me your story.

Who Are The Sick? From Here to The Moon.

Michael Jordan, Slamdunk Contest, Chicago, IL ...

Image by cliff1066™ via Flickr

Self-Care Tip #162 – Know your need for self-care.

Question:  In FriendToYourself.com, am I writing to people who are sick?

I was speaking with Beth Jusino the other night, when she asked me this.  I thought I’d ask you in turn.  You readers might be interested in commenting.

What is mental illness?  Are you writing to people who are sick?

Beth is smart.  She’s heard of Major Depressive Disorder, Schizophrenia and such.  She didn’t ask me this question so I could read her the DSM IV-TR.  She was asking how far mental illness is allowed to go before it gets named.  And how about the space beyond?  Are there bits that aren’t named?  Does it drift along an arch between Crispy Health and Completely Ill?

What do you think?

One reason I like to write #mentalillness hashtags on @Twitter is because I have a theory that people who have allowed themselves to be named, who have accepted to any degree a need for help, who have released their history and claimed their future over and over again – well I have a theory about these people that explains why I write to them.

These people are more able to hear the knocking sounds of wanting.  These people are more available to grow.  These people accept the gift of health and any space between here and there where they find themselves, all the while pressing; a courageous forward effort to freedoms.  These people care about self-care and they know they are accountable for it.

I remember this,

It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.

It makes sense.  However, it isn’t as easy as calling a spade a spade, and not because I’m lacking honesty and directness.

I heard a variation of this analogy years ago and I don’t know who said it first.

If you ask me to compete in a slam dunk contest with Michael Jordan, competition would be over before it began.  I’d trip, travel, and carry my way to the net and not get air.  But move the basketball net to the moon, ask us to dunk and the competition is just as over.  The space of air between my shoes and the earth is not much different from the space between Mr. Jordan’s shoes and the earth when we are both shooting for a basketball hoop on the moon.

Maybe you get where I’m going with this.

What do you think?  What do you say to Beth or anyone on this?