Interim Post – floating home

Dad died and maybe it’s been about a month. I don’t remember the date. Now that I think about it, that seems like a failure. A “D” grade. How could I forget the death date? But I have been finding myself edging away from thinking about him and his death.

People talk to me about him and they say things like, “Isn’t it nice that he is resting now? He suffered for a long time.” And it is.

They say, “He really didn’t have much to live for any more. He couldn’t walk, talk, interact much.” And he didn’t.

Dad died about a month ago but Friday was the first time I said the words just so. My poor friend stuck her foot in it and I cringed for her. “How are your parents doing?!” she asked almost aglow. My parents brought that out in people. Good will and community. There was that moment when I wanted to protect her from Dad’s death and Mom’s isolation. But the knowledge grabbed me like a great wind and threw me up against it’s rocky finality. I looked her straight in the eye and responded, like I was gripping my seat in a Boeing 747 going down.

“Dad is dead.”

“He died about a month ago. And Mom is in an assisted living. She’s doing well, thanks.”

I hadn’t said those words out loud till then, to that unsuspecting kind face. Why hadn’t I? Dad is dead.

On Dad’s last night, Mom leaned over his face. (When Dad aged his bones seemed to protrude looking almost like a steering wheel, and the rest of his face sunk inward.) Mom pulled on his bones, trying to make eye contact. Dad had a hard time turning his head. She was crying. “You’ll always be my prince, Rob. You are a prince.” And Mom wasn’t glad for him to leave.

Even now, looking it up feels too tiring. Just when did Dad die? I don’t remember the date. Dad died about a month ago. And this month, has been full of work, and family, and wading through COVID-19. Dad’s ashes are sitting at the funeral home waiting to be buried whenever we are allowed to do it in person. People keep asking when the memorial is. And time is filling in the space between him and I. A foam. A retardant.

Telling my friend, saying the words, cleaned out some of the space. I had been, in general, fine over the past weeks; well cushioned and buoyed. Now, not as much. And I find that although it frightens me, and although thinking about Dad makes me feel unprotected and vulnerable to those somewhat odd congratulations on his death, contrasting with the apologies of others, although all this, the water I am in feels mostly like it is carrying me home.

This post is an interim post. I’ve not got selfcare tips to share. Just my journey. With you.

Keep on!

Love comes out of that?!

hope

Hello Friends.

I write to you so many times “in my mind,” which makes me a great writer! Wink.  But even there, I am grateful to have you to write to.

I just got done watching, Fault in Our Stars, with our local hospice team and, oh my word!  I had to breathe through it.  I was terrified I would lose it several times there.  Not being one of those damsels who cries pretty, I was seriously grateful to be sitting in darkness.

So where have I been?  Trying to figure out this friend to yourself thing.  Still.

I had one of my favorite discussions with a patient the other day on where and why good comes out of bad.  Do I love this conversation because it is about an epic force, an energy and a Truth that wins and kicks bad stuff, like, fungus armpits, dead children, divorce, broken friendships, finding yourself alone in a huge space, depression and a brain that you’d rather not be living?  Do I love this discussion because I feel so freaking right?  I do.  Do l love it because I need to participate in it one more time, now, and now?

Probably.

I’m hoping I’m not right though.  I’m pretty sure that even these eyes see dimly and the Truth is even better.  I’ve been told I don’t know it all.

The chat goes something like this,

(Context is status post some real, personal, bleak disclosure.  I’m facing them, and sometimes they look at me.  I sit in an erect chair with a lap desk and laptop computer between us.  Just enough.  Sometimes my service dog, Timothy is present.

One of us inevitably brings up a curving effort toward hope.  Maybe,)

…Love is stronger.

Yeah…

But I don’t know if there is a question mark or a period at the end.  It sits there in the room with us, like it is a squirrel scratching at its whiskers.  It can go in different directions.

Where would it go for you?

Does Love bring good out of bad as if it needs the bad, like dirt around its roots?  Does Love turn the bad into fertilizer, and grow into some apple tree?  We know Love is stronger than bad.  We know Love wins.  But we think, do I have to be loved like this?!  Rather not.

Tevye, the milkman in Fiddler on The Roof, said this view well,

  • [to God] I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?

That is a pretty rough idea of Love.

Love is and Love brings good out of us in any context because where Love is, there it is. Think about presence.  Honest self-awareness.  When you found it was more important to still be able to walk than care if your t-shirt was inside out.  Love is more true than that.  It is more true than looking into her eyes, than hot water over skin.  Love is.

As Green says in the voice of Hazel Grace, “I hope this enough for you.  This is your life. And I love you.”

Question:  What is stronger in your life?  Why?  What happened to disclose such honesty?  Please tell us your story.

Self-Care Tip:  Love wins, even for you.  Keep on.

Sending a message to the hope out there, to the love I know exists, to the friend who knows me, the place I can always call part home, part critique, part play-fellow, counselor, walking stick.  Hello.

You Are Valuable, Even After Losing So Much

You Are Valuable, Even After Losing So Much

Artist Forrest King artismoving.blogspot.com

We all might take what we have lieft and love it.  We have this remaining and losing self.  The now person and the person that is losing something else on top of it all again and again.  Another tooth chipped.  Now it’s hard to find words.  Now training takes longer to get the same time.

We have what is left.  More or less, we have this.  This here in this moment in this person we might love, we have.  We have these with indefinite value, yet to be described by what passion and friendship we bring.  We have the bigger experience.  We have the slower pace.  We have the deeper understanding.  We have another night of rest.  We have breasts that have been remade.  We have a cancer free day.  We have a way of making bread like a story baking in a pan.  We give the value or spend our emotional bank on taking it away.

Whom of us hasn’t seen the little child’s vulnerable eyes taking a verbal slap,

“You are such a f—er!  Why did you do that?!”

The value was placed so low on that potential.

What do we do for our remaining selves?

Let us join together, lean in and enter the unknown space of discovering this person we have and are becoming during and after loss and gain.  Let us grieve together what and who has died.  Let us discover together what we have left.

Self-Care Tip:  Discover the value of what you are after losses.

Question:  Tell us your story of loss and gain in your remaining self.

 

Steve Jobs Died and I Had Dinner With Lisa Fields – Just some news from me.

Steve Jobs shows off iPhone 4 at the 2010 Worl...

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Sad Steve Jobs died.  We were blessed by his life and will continue to be.

Met with girlfriend Lisa Fields who is an expert at connecting ideas in a way that no one else has thought of.  Lisa, in essence, connects people to the product or market they are looking for.  If you remember when we spoke about grazers and barn people, Lisa is a wonder-grazer in the best way intended.  Any topic, any interest, any picture, product, person or punch-line, Lisa can make it bigger, more connected and better.  She turns it in more angles of view than eyes on a spider.  Thank you Lisa for tonight.

Anyhow, with Lisa tonight, turning and connecting ideas together, we caught the news.  Steve Jobs died.

Mourning his loss with you my friends.  Keep on.

Lisa Fields

Grief Can Be Treasured At The Same Time That We Celebrate Life

Self-Care Tip #283 – Find the treasure in your grief while celebrating life.

Today is my daughter’s sixth birthday.  If ever there was a person who doubled the love she received, it is this chid.  She is all passion.  Yes, both ways, but that isn’t to judge.  Just, there is so little I can offer in words to describe her power of self.

They're asleep!

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Tonight, we pushed two twin beds together so she and I could sleep beside each other.  Her sister slept nearby on another twin bed.  Her brother set his bed up in the closet.  (I know.)

If I wasn’t so tired, old and broke, I might be made vulnerable by times like this to having more kids.  Since that’s not going to change, these chubs are what we will stick with.  Happily.

My mind is turned toward God by this girl.  I somehow arrive in the moment praying when with her, perhaps for strength and patience or for humility and gratitude.  I learn from her.

Mommy, when I’m scared I talk to Jesus.

Often in times like this, I think of my niece, dead now six years, and how her parents and we wanted what was, what was stripped.  Still grieving and still living the life with us and in us, our braided thoughts and emotions easily lose their flow.

But today I have this clarity.  My niece is gone now six years and ten days.  Today my daughter is six years old.  Today I am sleeping with my three children.  Today I know that this is precious but this is not all we want.  We want what comes after our living years.  We want to let loose to Love the grief and the life; to untangle.  Not more.  Not less.  But we want.  We want what we have, now, although still in the unknown dimension of our forever.

In psychiatry, we are alert to grief that warps the ability to engage in life.  Grief that mars the connections of survivors.  Grief that becomes pathology, brain disease and a medical condition.  This grief disables and, for example, in the case of my daughter’s birthday today, would dissolve my ability to feel pleasure.

It is difficult to gain access to treatment as many of these survivors have ill opinions about medical care.  Such as; fearing medications will mute their connection with the deceased; mute their grief, or in other words, tribute/offering to the deceased; take away the personal punishment for surviving…

Questions:

  • What do you say to these weeping lives?  How can we de-stigmatize medical care for them?
  • How have you been able to treasure your grief and the life with you and in you?

Scheduled Intimacy – Mother’s Day: The Good and The Not So Good

Afghan women celebrate mother's day at a guest...

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Self-Care Tip #256 – Think about the good and the not so good on scheduled memory-maker days like today.

Questions:  What do you think scheduled intimacy has to offer you?  How do you manage to allow the not so good to come together with the good in your life?  Please tell me your story.

Just like any scheduled memory-maker, Mother’s Day brings the good and not so good.  And for most of us, we have some of both, even if just a little.

Yesterday, in the company of my three healthy children, I couldn’t help but notice the lady I sat beside was sniffling.  “Should I say something?  Should I not say something?

…Almost six years ago, my nine year-old niece suddenly died.  One week later I delivered my second child.

I don’t remember most of my daughter’s first year of life except a couple random things.  My sister-in-law, sitting alone on a rock just staring.  I remember her clothes, the weather during that moment, the texture of the rock, but I don’t remember nursing my baby.  I think this was still in the first month when I saw my sister-in-law on the rock.

We buried my niece’s ashes under a Jacaranda tree and it took forever for that tree to bloom.  I watched its skeleton month after month thinking, “This is terrible!  It needs to bloom!”  Isn’t that ridiculous?  And I remember my brother, red-eyed.  The lines on his face cut in deep.  He said,

I’m so glad you’re having this baby Sana.  It’s just what we need.  You remind us, this baby is reminding us that we are still alive.

The good and the not so good.

Of course I sensed what my brother was saying, but I still had a moment of hypervigilance when my body seemed to say, “What?!”

There was a lot of insecurity and emotional confusion that year but I don’t remember much more.  I believe my daughter  breast-fed, learned to sleep through the night, transitioned to solid foods and took her first steps.  But I don’t remember.

Namibie, une femme Himba et son enfant

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Yesterday, I turned to the lady and asked,

Are you sad?  Is there something you are sad about?

More water-works.

I used to have a son.  I had a son.  He died.

The good and the not so good.

Right on schedule.  Mother’s Day came.  We knew it was going to happen.  And yet our bodies crack open, poorly defended.  Little our calendars did for our emotional preparation.

The lady grabbed my hands in further intimacy than I anticipated.  She told me her name but I wasn’t listening.  I was thinking about my niece, her sometimes blooming tree, my children around me; so much.  I was thinking about the good and the not so good on scheduled memory-maker days like today.

There is a coming together of our parceled selves that have been scattered to the east and to the west by the winds.  There is a coming together that this Mothers-Day, Christmas, Valentine’s or my nieces birthday, have on us and the process itself is bruising.  It is an opportunity to gather what we will or won’t.  It is an opportunity to be present with our changing selves.  In the tears, in my daughter’s crooked rainbow pictures and backwards letters,

bear mommy, i love yu….

In the grip of a stranger’s hands, in the company of our own Mom’s, wherever we find ourselves on these blue-lettered calendar days is where we have this

Hope all you moms had fun today!

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opportunity to do some of the sometimes hard work to grow presence.   Without it, we will continue to change.  That can’t be stopped.  But with it, with our choice-making, with accepting the gift of our folding up of the space between our past and our present, if we hadn’t cried again for our loss, if we hadn’t we might not have remembered what has made us and who we are.  Changed.  Covered by Love.  Connected.  Doing what a friend would do for Me.

Tonight my daughter sits on my lap.  We are watching a blue-ray recording of Les Miserables (musical) Twenty-Fifth Anniversary touring production at the London’s Barbican Centre.  I am listening to an excellent tale of the good and the not so good in life.

To God, our Mother, today was scheduled and I thank you.

Your Pain is Not Special. It Is Normal.

Self-Care Tip #243 – See yourself as special rather than your pain and know that you will find your normal again.

What is your normal?

When we were kids, we all had a perspective of what normal was.  Let’s say it was “here.”  Let’s imagine we were lovely then, nurtured and emotionally bonded.  We struggled through peer conflicts, social anxiety and rivalry.  We wanted a bike.

Two Sisters

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Then we got a little older.  Maybe our parents divorced.  Maybe, a sibling died.  Maybe we were abused or in an accident and damaged.  Damage changes normal.  What we never would have thought would be acceptable in our lives became acceptable.  We suffered.  We lived.  Life was indiscriminate and ignored our status.  We think there must be a mistake.

What is our normal at one point, filtered through remaining hopes, grew into regenerating fantasies, through real potential and it moved again.  We are older now and more suffering comes.

Where is our normal?  We survive our child, our own dear perfect boy, hanging from a tree.  Normal?  No dear God!  No!  And we continue to live.

Two years.  Two years are what it takes for our biology to catch up to the shock.  Two years are what it takes for us to begin to accept and realize that in this new normal we care again.  We choose it in fact.

People don’t remember his name or talk about him and we can’t remember his eyes.  We are ashamed and lose our breath from panic just trying to see them.  We want to bang our head because we know there is something wrong about feeling normal! Ever! Again! after that.  But we do.

Our normal mutates over financial ruin, abandonment and a growing healthy list of disfiguring illnesses.  We accept them and say yes please.  Live.  We want to live.  This is acceptable.  This is normal.  Our friends die.  Our memory.  We can’t find our teeth.  Our heart stops.  We die and the world finds normal.  The world chooses just like we did.

What we don’t think will ever be allowed to happen while we brush hair, clip our nails and microwave food, happens. We endure these changes.  We find normal again.

What is your normal?

My brother, Vance Johnson MD, is a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist.  He said that during his residency, close to 100% of spinal cord injury paralysis survivors he worked with wanted to die after their injury.  Many of them would beg him to let them die.  They would cuss at him for keeping them alive.

I leaned very heavily on the studies and data during those times.  It was very hard.

Vance said that what kept him faithful to his task was knowing that close to 100% of them after two years would be glad they were kept alive.

Even the ones who were basically breathing through a straw and that’s all that moved on them; even they wanted to live.  These people found a new normal.

Where is our normal?  We will want it.  We will adapt.  Biology will catch up to our reality.

Remember that your pain is not special.  You are special.  Not your pain.  Pain is normal.

Question:  When this happened to you, how did normal find you despite the rubble?  How does this concept feel to you, that your pain is not special?  Does it make you angry or what?  Please tell me your story.

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.

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.

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.

Waiting For Self-Care to Start

Self-Care Tip #176 – Don’t wait to start caring for your self.  

I’ll get to it when things slow down for me.

I can’t handle one more stress on top of the kids and all the people who take, take, take.

Don’t take this away!  It’s my only vice!

I don’t have time because I’m working so much.

There are so many good reasons to wait for self-care.  I don’t belittle them.  I do them too.  There’s a reason we here at FriendtoYourself.com call self-care the hardest work.  It is not for anyone who isn’t willing to go through the fire of putting themselves first.

“The fire,” you say?  Yes.  Fred taught me that.  He was down twenty pounds, working out almost every day with aerobic and anaerobic exercises, putting his ear-plugs in when sounds escalated his nerves, more motivated, interested and active.  Fred was growing again.  He said that it had been years since he’d done any of these things for himself and couldn’t believe what the world looked like when he felt so good.

Fred was sad though.  Not depressed.  No, he hadn’t been depressed for at least a year on his medication and even less so since he was taking care of himself physically.  But sad.  His wife wasn’t interested in his changes, she was disconnected emotionally, and more so every day it seemed to him as he began to change physically, emotionally and behaviorally.  His friends were growing distant.  He wasn’t interested in office politics either.  It was a simultaneous coming together of life in himself and a falling away of the life connection in his “previous life,” as he called it.  Surprisingly, the people he loved the most weren’t so happy for him.  Weren’t supportive of him.  He was sad for that.  There are never gains without losses.

This is not to forget the new relationships he was growing.  There was new life all around him and he still maintained hope for the connections he had before.  But those people who he had called his own for years were the ones who gave him all the reasons to wait for self-care.  He was way past waiting.  He was already on the other side enjoying the sun.

Question:  What have you overcome to get at your own self-care?  Is there anything your are still waiting to do?  Please tell me your story.

*Art work (assumed) courtesy of carldagostino.wordpress.com.

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.

Live And Live Despite The Ongoing Loss

Red slipper

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Self-Care Tip #141- Live and live despite the loss.  Be a friend to yourself.

The other day, my hair was barely pinned back in a knotty mass, when I arrived at clinic late with my house slippers still on.  I didn’t realize this of course until I heard this flapping sound echoing behind me as I hooned down the hall.  Distracted by myself, I seemed to suddenly come upon an old man.  He was lovely really, wrinkled, clearly handsome in his day, shuffling my same direction, and also in his house slippers.  It was less than a second when I took this all in and I suddenly felt very self-conscious.  Not awkward for the normal reasons that I should have been, like my nappy appearance, but I’ve never really thought I was “normal.”  No, I felt rude.  I’m much more sensitive to rude than ugly.

Do the younger seem rude to the older?  There with their supple joints, perky bodies and minds, hope, and shorter medication lists?  I felt rude.  Rude combined with awkward is not something most people are comfortable looking at, which is what I unfortunately offered up to this innocent man.  Walking fast felt wrong.  Not sure what to do, I sort of slowed, yet my tardiness to clinic didn’t let my gait relax.  Giving an uncertain smile, I managed not to make eye contact when I said “Hi there,” lest the eye contact lead to further tardiness.  Then off I galloped, luckily for both of us, only 3 doors down.

I didn’t spend more than a few seconds with that stranger, yet remember well what he symbolized for me.  I remember him when I get grumpy about not being able to eat as much as I did 10-years ago.  When I get resentful with my feet, (a size and a half HUGER since I had my first kid,) I see his lordosis (hunched back often from a collapsed spine.)  I wonder how he is doing with his losses.

There’s not much romance in growing old.  What is romantic is a beautiful person, who has been real with their losses and with the joys of life that are still available to them.  There’s no point in my denying that I can’t have cereal and pasta every day any more.  There’s no point in being angry about it.  I’ll just eat slower and force, er, I mean find more pleasure out of what I do eat.

I like to think that the old man in the hall made his and makes his peace with losses and is more glad than not for his life.  If so, maybe he was ok with my fast pace when he couldn’t.  Maybe it makes him more comfortable in a world in which he is becoming more and more of a stranger.  That is something to admire.  That is something that is worthy of life’s privilege.

After yesterday’s blog-post, a reader said it quite fine,

I did not know depression was progressive.  That’s depressing.  As is the realization that aging is progressive.  …On the other hand I can say I’ve had 61 more Christmas times than a new-born and perhaps that makes it worth it!

Question:  What losses are you struggling with?  How do you come to terms with your losses?  Please tell me your story.

Toughing It Out! …Is Not What You Think.

Mental Health of our Military

Image by Truthout.org via Flickr

Self-Care Tip #114 – Tough it out.  Be a friend to yourself.

Trying to tough it out is good it’s just not what most people think.

Many people think that toughing it out means staying med-free and getting through melancholy, anxiety, emotional chaos with gritted teeth.  They gather a degree of commendation from weathering out the behavioral and emotional problems until they either feel better or don’t.

This is not the kind of toughing it out that I’m calling worthy of our life efforts.  It is in fact the opposite.  Toughing it out is doing what may be socially and culturally counterintuitive.  Getting medical care sooner than later.  Not waiting to see what will happen before getting medical care if it is indicated.  Believing the medical data, the physician you trust, the knowledge that mental illness is medical, biological and often PROGRESSIVE over time.

Waiting means you are getting more ill on a cell level and at higher risk for your future and waiting is not being tough.

Toughing it out is digging into your courage bank every day to take that pill when you feel ashamed of it.  Toughing it out is fighting for your brain’s future.  Toughing it out is sacrificing what ever you need to, to give your loved ones and yourself the healthiest you possible.  Even if that means talking yourself into it, going up against your fears, ignoring prejudice, ignoring opposing recommendations from your favorite sources.

picasaweb.google.com

This calls for thick skin.

Candace tells me she still intuitively can’t believe this, even though her mind tells her it is true.  She takes her medication but it still hurts a little every time.  Like she’s betraying herself.  Like she must grieve for herself.  Candace says the apparent calm, decrease in anxiety, improved relationship with her children, and the flowering hope eases her inner psychic pain.  Candace is drawing strength every day from the growing evidence of health.  Candace is tough.

Question:  What are you getting tough with in your life?  How do you do it?  Please tell me your story.

Grieve to Be Present With Yourself

 

Maria Yakunchikova "Fear" 1893-95

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We grieve when we get sick.  And we grieve again when after getting well, we get sick again.  Then the grieving can be even more terrible because you know what’s coming.  In Pearla’s case, she didn’t know she was grieving but she knew she was sad and terrified at the same time.

I asked her if she thought that staying in bed, loosing interest, isolating, crying jags out of the blue might be related her grief about getting sick again.  She said no at first and then said, “I’m disappointed.  I thought this was over for me.”  All over, she couldn’t trust herself.

Pearla was afraid. And that fear was always there.  Now she couldn’t put it out of her mind.  “What if I have another panic attack?  I can’t take it!”  “What if,” was always on her mind.

Readers, a panic attack is more terrifying than just about any immediate experience.  If you’ve never had one, it is almost impossible to imagine the depth of terror it causes.  It is so horrible, that people even change professions because of it.  I remember a surgeon who actually went back to residency and studied a new specialty because he linked his panic to his profession.  That’s another 4 years of grueling work, readers.  That’s the kind of fear panic produces.

Pearla was not only in the throes of this fear, she was also in the throes of grief.  This is a deep sadness any of us who have lost a beloved hope can relate to.  Pearla didn’t know that was why she didn’t want to get out of bed.  All she knew is over the last 2 weeks she was loosing herself and in exchange, getting something she desperately did not want.

Somehow though, after hearing about her sadness from her own mouth, Pearla agreed.  She saw the grief and after seeing grief, she could be more present with it.  It was almost like her face materially came out from hiding.  Grief lost some hold on her.  She was a little less sad and a little less afraid.

Self-Care Tip #111 – Let yourself grieve.  Be a friend to yourself.

Question:  How do you grieve?  Was it worth it to you?  Please tell me your story.

Forgive to Get Friendly With Yourself

 

Professional baseball bats are typically made ...

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Self-Care Tip #80 – Forgive.  Be a friend to yourself.

A reader wrote yesterday

Always intrigued by the possible connection between empathy and forgiveness….

Great progression of thought.  From both an anecdotal perspective and some biological considerations, David Mullen PhD and Everett L. Worthington Jr. PhD, are two of my favorites.  Other than Jesus, they have and do say it better than just about anyone.  I heard Dr. Worthington speak when still a resident-physician in psychiatry.  The story he told of his mother’s murder and how he came to forgive her murderers seared into my memory and has ever since been a reference for me in my personal life and medical practice.

The call came on New Years Day, 1996. His brother’s voice was shaky. “I have some bad news,” he said. “Mama has been murdered.”  …Their mother had been beaten to death. Rage bubbled up in him like lava. He heard himself saying, “I’d like to have that murderer alone in a room with just a baseball bat. I’d beat his brains out.”

Here’s where the empathy came in

…He tried to picture the crime scene. He imagined how a pair of youths might feel as they stood in the dark street preparing to rob the house. Perhaps they had been caught at robbery previously. They would have been keyed up. The house was dark; no car was in the driveway. No one’s home, they must have thought. Perhaps one said, “They’re at a New Year’s Eve party.“ They did not know that Worthington’s mother did not drive.  …Worthington imagined their shock when her voice came from behind. “What are you doing in here?”

“Oh, no!” one must have thought, “I’ll go to jail. She is ruining my life.” He lashed out with his crowbar, slamming his mother three times. Panicked, the youths went crazy, trashing the house, both for having their plans ruined and for the shame of having murdered.

This is part of the process that led Dr. Worthington to forgive the murder.  You can read more in his book, The Power of Forgiving.

There is an interplay, between choice and biology/non-choice.  It’s uncomfortable to think and talk about.  I can feel the hackles on the necks of my readers start to stand up just writing it and I humbly acknowledge my limitations in sharing this concept.  It is what I have tried to describe through many of my earlier blog posts.  This unlikely union between such polar concepts.

Being a Christian, I have awareness of the culture that frowns on taking bad behavior out of the church and into the laboratory.  When I think of empathy and forgiveness, I see party-hoppers moving in and out of those very places irreverently perhaps in some people’s minds.

Some other time we will broach further the idea of self-care being Christian v. scientific.

Self-Care Tip #80 – Forgive.  Be a friend to yourself.

Question:  Does any of this resonate with you?  Please tell me your story.

New Verses New

She died this morning.  After a day and a night of confusion, stumbling gate, and suffering, our gentle gorgeous Maggie died.  She is returning to carbon ash and giving us another reminder of what can be delivered to the living by death.

With the children taken to school, my husband came home to share grief with me.  He had just listened to a podcast by Rob Bell about the word “new.”  In Greek there are 2 common words used for “new.”  One connects newness to Time.  As in the young in age and old in age.  This is traditionally how our culture interprets “new.”  Another use of “new” uses the concept of renew without connecting it to time.  There is a newness in you as you are in time.  It’s a great overlap into the concept of presence.  But where my big gratitude went out to was knowing how many opportunities to being made new we have.

Some of us have the propensity to wait until we “hit bottom”  before we come looking to be made new.  I don’t mean this in any way that is judgmental.  Please see my blog posts on temperament if you want to read more about this.  If we were fortunate enough not to have picked up any self sabotaging habits, then in some ways we’ve got an easier time of it as the the years roll by.  However, few of us are, and getting crushed over and over again like recycling cans hurts a lot – us and ours.

“You can’t have it all” we are told, brewing panic after wasted opportunities.  Not having it all, missing out on more days to share with Maggie, loosing the hope of puppies some day, brought the well-timed discussion about newness straight to our grief.

We are given the opportunity to be made new any time any where regardless.  Any where from greatness to low-living, we have that choice.  When I think of Maggie, I will think of this and hopefully I will choose to be made “new” again.

A “new” heart also will I give you, and a “new” spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.

Self Care Tip #50 – Be renewed.  Be a friend to yourself.

Question:  Do you agree?  Disagree?  Please tell me your story.