Pain Doesn’t Define Life’s Potential

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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.

When You Are Pushed Down, Push Back

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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

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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.

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.

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.

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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.

When You Are Hurting – Suffering Just Is

Daughters of a father who was trapped in a col...

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My dad, excellent in his suffering, has shown how to lose, how to spend the time it takes to grieve it and enjoy the rest that makes life worth living.  My dad should have a medal in suffering. If I knew where to get them I’d send word.

Some of his suffering, he played a causal part in, but who cares.  It doesn’t have a qualifying relationship to “deserving” empathy and the spiritual nod.  Those come because of Love, not our performance.

None of us are foreigners to suffering others, ourselves, cause, accident, defined and ignominious explanations.  For reason and for lack of reason we suffer.  No, the etiology of suffering isn’t why we care about its abuse.  Sure we hope not to repeat mistakes that lead to suffering and that makes it’s etiology worth reflection, but not as
a qualifier to caring.

So no.

Between one grief and another, between this fault and that fault, the loss “Is.”  It just Is.  That’s Dad’s presence I’m talking about.

In a culture counting and studying our wrongs and our rights for the purpose of squeezing currency out of it, we need presence.  Presence allows for all the rest.  The healing.  The forgiveness.  The grieving.  The hope that remains.  Presence allows for us to continue valued.

Presence allows us to live for what is still worth living for.

After writing blog-post “When You Are Hurting, Remember Why You Want To Live, And Live For That,” I heard from someone suffering via his fabulous on-line monthly journal “Psyche’s Flashlight.”  He said,

I read this after a recent stint in the hospital, and I can’t tell you how much it resonates with me. This is what saved my life.

Suffering Is.

Question:  What has helped keep you away from qualifying your suffering or that of others?  Please tell me your story.