Choose Back! …As Long As Life Chooses You.

A Girl On A Footbridge

Image by jyryk58 via Flickr

Self-Care Tip #241 – As long as life chooses you, it is your right to choose back – so do.

Although I am not a geriatric psychiatrist, I have still been given the pleasure of serving a “golden” few.  What has impressed me has been their willingness to start over.

Starting over takes courage and humility whether it is deliberate or not.  Sometimes fear dances between the lines of all the emotions and intentions. But still, wouldn’t you agree that it takes courage and humility to negotiate fear?

(Enters Hans.)  Hans was seventy-three years old.  He had struggled with brain illness on and off he thinks since he was at least twelve.  There were big spaces of time when his disease exacerbated, and he largely suffered.  But he chose, at this age, to try again for improved brain health.

Is there a time when we start thinking, don’t keep trying to start over?  Maybe in the dying process.  In case you don’t know, the dying process is a specific term.  It means the time when a person is facing impending death.

This area of medicine is not my specialty but I imagine at some point we want to stop with that starting over process, give up, but not in a hopeless way.  In a way that says,

I can stop trying for new anything and sit in the space of what I already have in me…

…Which hopefully includes all the ingredients and interrelations of life.

But how far before that point in life do we consider starting over reasonable?  I’ve heard of kids being told they’re too young to ride a bike, or cut with a knife, or understand the dinner conversation.  No one bobs their head at that.  But find a seventy-three year old who believes that after a lifetime of perceived failure by onlookers or themselves, who still says,

Now let’s give this another go,

…and if it hasn’t been said, it’s been thought,

give it over already!  You’ve hit your seventy-times-seven chances!

It’s like they’re shopping in the teen-ware.  We blink our eyes and angle our heads.  Even the thought of starting over as a real option feels indiscreet.

(Enters Hans.)  Hans is seventy-three.  He is starting over.  Humbly and with courage, he pursues brain health in the face of stigma.

I think I had celebrated my six birthday when my dad asked me if I felt any different from how I felt when I was five.

Yes!  I feel older!

 Then he asked me how old I thought he was.  When I answered some enormous number like, “twenty-two!” he asked,

Does forty-four seem old to you?  

Of course it did!  But I had an intuition that if he was old, than he’d die, so I said a definitive,

NO!  Daddy you’re still young!  You aren’t old!

Now, almost that same age myself, I am in awe of him and the others in their golden or not so golden years (Enters Hans) who believe that as long as life chooses them, they will choose back.  It is their freedom.

Questions:  When all your senses don’t sense pleasure in life, or you feel old and useless, or you feel that you’ve failed too many times, how do you choose to start over?  Who has inspired you and what did they do?  Please tell me your story.

Rebel Against Your Own Intuition

Cover of "You've Got Mail"

Cover of Youve Got Mail

Self-Care Tip #87 – Be a rebel towards your own intuition.

My husband was telling me about how consumers are demanding a more human approach to industry.

In the 1990’s the film written and directed by Nora EphronYou’ve Got Mail, showed us how the small personal touch was muscled out of business by the book-superstore.  Today, my husband told me that the inverse is happening now because technology allows it to.  Counterintuitive to thinking, the very thing that took out the mom-and-pop store is the very thing that is bringing it back.

Author of the blog CreatingBrains, Joana Johnson, wrote a post, “Is Barnes & Noble Changing for the Worse?”  She describes their palliative efforts to feel their way through the current changes in the book sale market.  Clearly, buyers and readers are wanting something different from the superstore ambiance again.

Readers have written in to me about their demands for a more human approach to their own selves.  Here are 2 recent examples.

My mother always said that it was selfish to attend to your own needs when you were a wife and mother.  I’m happy to see a Christian woman refute that so eloquently.

I have been recovering from a complete emotional breakdown for 16 years and… the hardest thing I have had to convince myself to do for nearly 70 years now is learn to be a friend to myself.

These women are rebels in their own way and time.  I’m not a sociologist but I see these changes influenced also by technology and information.  It’s not so easy to stay barefoot and pregnant these days even if you wanted to.  “All things bright and beautiful” beckon to us.  Nor is it quite as easy to fool ourselves into believing that we’ll be able to take care of anyone – children, work, rescue dogs – if we haven’t taken care of ourselves first.  And although we still try to all the time, we just can’t believe any more that we can give what we don’t have.  Our current upside down economy is also testimony to that.

I wrote a blog post some time ago titled “A Woman’s Work,” that largely speaks to this as well.  Because of many contributors, including temperament and conditioning, in many of us self-care is not intuitive.  It is disruptive.  Taking care of ourselves is even a bit scandalous …but it is more humane and it is possible.

Self-Care Tip #87 – Be a rebel towards your own intuition.  Be a friend to yourself.

Question:  What barriers are you passing to care for yourself?  What is making it possible?  Please tell me your story.

Intent and Context Matter

 

A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar

Image via Wikipedia

 

Self-care is selfless, but doing things for yourself is not always self-care.

A reader commented, “I believe that if I’m NOT taking care of myself and feeling joy, then that IS self-centered….”  Too eloquent.  Love it.

Some of our confusion comes from the changing scenarios of self care.  The intent sometimes gets blurry.  The intent is hard to tease apart.  Sometimes what feels like taking care of ourselves is in fact, selfish.  For example, let’s say “hypothetically,” my husband, who is a palliative care specialist, chooses to work on twitter #hpm, play chess, or play guitar.  This is potentially positive and friendly to the self.  However, it depends on intent.  Sometimes we don’t know our own intent though.

There is also the context of what is happening.  Let’s say we were all fighting, and then my husband goes off to read Oscar Wilde.   Is this self-care or a way of abandoning and taking himself out of the present?  Self-care puts us into the present.  Whereas selfishness takes us out.

In another context, taking yourself out of the present is necessary to ultimately put yourself back in.  Doing this requires thought processes that can abstract and empathize (connect emotional content).

I rely a lot on intent! (Ahem!)

There is a mind disease called schizophrenia.  This disease is famous for hallucinations, hearing voices that other people don’t hear, seeing things that other people don’t see.  However the core symptom of schizophrenia is less famous.  It is the thought form, concrete and disconnected.

Concrete thinking is named well, unlike many other medical conditions.  (Think diabetes!  Who would know what that has anything to do with!?)  But concrete thinking is plain, hard, and flat like my sidewalk.  For example, if I asked what does the parable mean, “A bird in the hand is worth more than two in the bush?”

  1. Concrete thinkers might say, “Birds make a mess so we don’t want a lot of them.”
  2. Further, if their thoughts are also not connected, they might say, “Birds migrate in the winter and the bush is wet.”
  3. Contrast this to connected thought that abstracts, being able to answer, “If I have an opportunity to take something good, it’s better to take it than gamble for what I might not be able to keep in the end.”

Different emotional illnesses have trouble abstracting, but fewer have disconnected thoughts like schizophrenia.

If you are in a relationship with someone who has trouble abstracting (traumatic brain injury) and/or connecting emotional content (ADHD for example,) you might misinterpret his or her behaviors as selfish.  Being able to empathize after all is part of most Disney fairy-tail romances.  What more do any of us want?  Right?

Wrong.  The capacity to empathize doesn’t matter much if the intent is missing.

Wrong.  The ability to abstract doesn’t connect if the intent to connect us is not there.  The knowledge does not matter.  It is the context.

In the film, A Beautiful Mind, Russel Crowe plays a character that suffers from schizophrenia.  The woman who loves him, struggles to understand the way he loves her back.  His disease steals his attention.  His disease takes his time.  He seems selfish.  Their love survives when she discovers his intent in context.  He stays present in the relationship, despite all his limited capacity to relate.  Further, agreeing to the treatments of his generation, limited that they are, he is doing selfless self-care.

At the end of the day, I’m a grateful piece of dirt who means well.  Saying that up front immediately lets you get very familiar with me.  (I could have said “grateful piece of sh–,” but that would have been selfish.  The s-bomb is just playing with the word to have fun!)  Part of why I believe in God is because I know He goes for the losers.  He goes for the piece of craps out there.  That’s what the beatitudes are about.  He pours it on. (Intent and context, baby!)  At the end of the day, we are neither angel nor beast.  We are just human to Him.

Self-Care Tip #78 – Keep self-care selfless.  Be a friend to yourself. 😉

Question:  What do you think?  Please tell me your thoughts.  Please tell me your story.

Growing Old

Growing old.  When do we stop looking forward to the future?  My husband, who is a Palliative Care specialist, says that even in the end stages of life, we still look forward.

Erikson‘s psychosocial crisis theory of human development says life is a balance between conflicts.  Ambivalence, two opposing forces, is something to embrace and walk with.  I don’t think Erikson ever said it in so many words, but he was largely talking about having a sense of presence in our lives.  He based most of his theory on watching kids grow and then spread the rest over adulthood like the last bit of peanut butter on the knife.  Is that what adulthood is like?

My little girl told me that she’ll never run out of love for me.  (Every now and then, after hours or days of desert-like behaviors, she’ll break open a rock and out will gush something amazingly nice like that.)  Then she looked me over and said, “You’re not old Mommy!”  I showed her my gray and my spots and my wrinkles.  Maybe I was trying to say, “How can you love me in my future?”  Love is evergreen.  I am not.

When I was a kid, my parents loaded us up for a couple weeks every year and hauled us 8 hours in a van to Brian Head ski resort in Utah.  It is where I learned that some things stay green no matter what weather they live in.  The Evergreens, tall, tall, covered in snow except for some undergarments showing through were everywhere.  Even thinking about them, I can taste

Rolo Chocolate Caramel Candies,

feel the weight of booted feet, hear Dad’s bass voice and bits of my favorite ski-story loud to be heard above the chair lift.

Evergreen’s for at least 2 weeks a year, surrounded me and my family.  I’ve heard that Brian Head has materially changed a lot since we stopped going.  I wonder about the trees.  I’m sure there are fewer.

If it is true that every stage of  life has conflicts to resolve, it makes sense to me that in age we must resolve our future with our past.  We can’t just have a past.  If we find ourselves just looking back, than we are turning a blind eye to something we are meant to be present with.  Something that brings balance and fullness to life.  Something that is an evergreen quality.

For me, it is intuitive to look at God to meet this need – future v. past.  I don’t know what it is for others.  Conflict resolution.

When the days on life’s scale are tipping backwards, and we see that there aren’t as many days left on our plate, be present.  It is an illusion.  The past does not outweigh the future.  The opposing directions of time are just fine.

Self Care Tip #71 – Be present with the past by believing in your future.  Be a friend to yourself.

Question:  Agree or Disagree?  What are your thoughts?