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.