Coping with Change

Nature’s first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.–Robert Frost

It’s not unusual for me to sit with a client who says, “I hate change.” And I’ve been in that space myself. Change disrupts things. Change requires response from us. Change means that our routines might not work any more. Because even if our status quo is unhealthy or difficult, it is what we know how to do. We have figured out a set of responses that works for now. Change requires that we learn new responses, that we stretch our boundaries, that we challenge ourselves. Mostly, change is not comfortable.

Read more here.

Don’t Drown in a Cup of Water

Okay, true confessions time. Sometimes, I like watching creation-based reality shows. Things like Top Chef or Project Runway. I know, contrary to their title, that there’s not much reality in these shows. I know that they are heavily edited to amp up the drama. I know all of this. But I love watching people make things. I think that making things is good for you, and the research would back me up on that.

But this post isn’t about my no-longer-secret vice. Anyone who has worked with me will tell you that I don’t hesitate to use popular culture to help my clients really grab my point (remember the “Princess Bride” post?). My family and friends will tell you that I am constantly making blog-related notes to help me remember those pop culture moments, and that happened recently while I was watching an episode of Project Runway. One cast member turned to another, and said:

Read more here.

Shift Perspective

IMG_3217Back in October, I wrote about the fun we had re-discovering the wonder in everyday items. For today’s post, I’m using another image from the City Museum of St. Louis. This particular photo does a great job of illustrating an idea that I often talk about with my clients. It is important to look at our situations from different angles. When we are facing stress, hurt, loss, or other challenges, it is really easy to get stuck in our assessment of a situation. We begin with an assumption about what is happening, and that assumption tends to get stronger over time.

Our assumptions matter. They matter because they shape the possibilities we see. Our perspective affects our sense of who we are in the world. Our view of the world determines how we define problems, and what solutions we see.

For example, the picture above looks like a collection of rusty junk. Admittedly, it’s rusty junk that has been laid out in a tidy way, but it’s rusty junk, nonetheless. And as we consider rusty junk, the appropriate response is usually to pitch it in the trash.

But, at the City Museum, the rusty junk is actually part of this:

IMG_3216 It’s a fantastical tree structure, including a musical dragon. The artists at the City Museum have been able to look at rusty junk, the things that the rest of us would ignore or pitch, and envision something amazing. It’s a clear reminder that things can be more than they seem.

I love this.

I am so excited when I find reminders that we aren’t stuck with the way things initially appear. We aren’t trapped with the original presentation. Even in the face of illness, or pain, or loss–we retain the ability to change our perspective.

When we change our perspective, we change our possibilities. We create the chance to change our experience. To see the world in new ways, to have new experiences. And that’s where we gain some power in life. Because pain, illness and loss happen to all of us. They are unavoidable. But being paralyzed by the pain, illness and loss is not unavoidable.

So, what rusty junk in your life can you transform into musical dragon trees? What shifts in perspective might open up new possibilities for you? Please feel free to share in the comments.

And if you need help shifting perspective, you know where to find me.

Step Away From the Box

Hi all. It’s been a while, and I’ve missed writing for you. There is a lot of great stuff out there right now about how to avoid the resolution trap, and how to gain some momentum as you move into this new year. I’m not going to duplicate that. Instead, I am going to kick off the year by sharing a story with you about my holiday season. Here we go:

I have nieces and nephews in a few other states, and I have children who are outgrowing their early toys. So, when faced with a beloved riding toy that my son hasn’t touched in a year, I didn’t want to just donate it or sell it. Instead, I wanted it to stay in the family. I asked my brother if my three-year-old nephew would like it. I got a strong yes, so I was off to the shipping store to send it on its way. Now, I may have procrastinated a bit, so it might have been the week before Christmas when I made it to the store. Also, I may have gotten fed up with the procrastinating, so I may not have packed the toy before bringing it.

The nice man at the shipping store measured it for me. It was 27 inches long. He said, “I have a 28 inch cube that would fit that.” Now, if you are a non-spatial person like me, a 28 inch cube sounds reasonable. So I said yes to the box. He proceeded to build a box large enough to pack several small children (this has since been verified), and cushioned the toy in a small tree’s worth of packing paper. This was a long process. I assumed that this startlingly large box (really, 28 inches is BIG!!) might be a bit pricey to ship. However, I did not realize that my final shipping total was going to be more than the toy cost brand new–by a long shot. When he gave me the number, I choked a bit, and then said, “I can’t do that.”

By this time, the box was solidly packed. I thought that, if I could get it out of there, I might find a more reasonable shipping option. Sadly, even with the help of the nice man from the shipping store and a dolly, the box wouldn’t fit into my little car. In fact, the box was nearly half as big as my little car. So I called for reinforcements, and the box was eventually collected by my brother, who has a pickup.

Upon doing a bit more research, I learned that my initial shipping bid was the lowest I was going to find for that box. I was beginning to think that I would be carrying the toy to Chicago the next time we visited when my mom said, “I know a guy.” Her “guy” was a business contact, and he had mentioned to her that he could do some shipping. So, in desperation, I called her guy. He listened patiently to my story (I’m sure he thought I was a little bit off), and then said, “Well, in a box that size, you are going to pay an oversize fee. I might be able to put it into one of our standard shipping boxes. Why don’t you bring it down?” He then gave me a price quote that was approximately 20% of the original quote.

At this point, I had been dealing with the issue of the box for two hours. I was in tunnel-vision mode. I was hatching an elaborate plan for how I would leave the box where it was, fetch my own minivan, and drive it downtown later on.

Maybe by now, you can see the flaw in this story. Can you?

Because people who weren’t in my tunnel-vision mode could see it. The “guy” had offered a different box. The contents of the box had fit just fine in my tiny car before I had them put in the box. I didn’t actually have to take the box anywhere. All I had to do was open it up and take out the toy.

I offer you this story of my own tunnel-vision moment as a New Year’s gift. Are there any boxes that you’re stuck with? Is there a way to shift the perspective so that the box is easier to manage? Can you walk away from your box entirely? Because, once you step away from the box, life is infinitely easier.

Do you have your own “box” moment that you’d like to share? Feel free to do so in the comments.

P.S. The box turned out to be a marvelous addition to Christmas morning–and it will easily accommodate several kids and one slender adult. ;-)

Re-Discovering Wonder

IMG_3214(1)This is a not-so fabulous picture of a fraction of the exterior structure to climb and explore at the City Museum (and yes, that is an actual airplane–go ahead, check out their website, they have way better pictures than I do) in St. Louis, MO. I visited City Museum for the first time a few weeks ago, and I have struggled to describe it ever since. The best description that I’ve come up with is this: part architectural salvage, part art project, part jungle gym, part museum complete with bug specimens, part maze, part full-size Chutes & Ladders game–all amazing. I heard another visitor say, “Every time I come here, I can’t even believe that something like this exists.”

Since my visit, I haven’t been able to shake the sense of wonder that City Museum inspires. Wonder at the creative vision to begin such a place initially. Wonder at the vast amounts of time that have been invested in every corner of the space. Wonder at the improbability of the whole thing.

That has served as a reminder to me that we need to be in touch with our sense of wonder. Between the day-to-day requirements of getting through life, and the barrage of upsetting or infuriating news that we are bombarded with, it is easy to begin to feel jaded, bored, or hopeless.

Places like the City Museum, spaces where a wild, wacky, creative, larger-than-life spirit has been given free reign, function a lot like the mountains or the ocean do for me: as “wonder generators.” After I’ve been in contact with these kinds of spaces, I notice that I feel re-energized and more ready to re-engage with my daily tasks. Wonder seems to be an antidote to the anxiety and other struggles that accumulate in my daily life.

So, this week, I’m inviting you to find a “wonder-generator” of your own. If you can’t work in a trip to St. Louis, then maybe your local art gallery or city park will do the trick.

If you feel inspired to share your “wonder-generators” in the comments, you will be welcome. If you have lost touch with your sense of wonder and aren’t sure how to get it back, feel free to contact me directly for support.

Healthy Doesn’t Equal Superhuman

This post was originally shared at the website for the #MedPsych tweetchat.

I started to touch on this point last week in my post about honoring vulnerability. And we’ve had some great discussions about the issue of vulnerability and health over the past few weeks in #MedPsych chat (check out the transcripts here). And there have been comments made during this entire year of the #MedPsych chat that have led to this topic.

Being healthy (in body and mind) doesn’t equal being superhuman.

I think that if I said that to the average person on the street, they would agree with me. But, the truth is, we kind of expect superhuman–from ourselves, from our patients/clients, and from our healthcare providers.

  • We expect that we will never fall ill.
  • We expect that we will perfectly manage our chronic health conditions.
  • We expect that we will always communicate our needs well.
  • We expect that we will intuitively choose healthy habits.
  • We expect that we will never need to restart our healthy choices.
  • We expect that clients will keep appointments, even when their lives are in chaos.
  • We expect that patients can make behavior changes, even without education and support.
  • We expect that clients and patients can communicate their needs on our timeline.
  • We expect that our healthcare providers will be completely up to date on current research.
  • We expect that our healthcare providers will start all appointments on time.
  • We expect that our healthcare providers will take as much time with us as we need.
  • We expect that our healthcare providers will be able to connect empathetically with us as fellow human beings.
  • We expect that our healthcare providers will have good enough boundaries not to burden us with their struggles.

And that’s just a tiny sampling of the expectations that we have–for ourselves and for our healthcare providers–when it comes to health. Laid out like that, it becomes pretty easy to understand why we often feel blamed and judged in healthcare, on all sides of the treatment equation.

It seems clear to me that all of these threads: countering stigma, honoring vulnerability, and acknowledging human-ness are essential components of building a healthcare system that truly honors and integrates support for whole people (body, brain, relationships).

I think one area to start changing our expectations is in our training systems. We need systems where students who set healthy boundaries are respected, not judged. We need training systems where mistakes are treated as opportunities to learn, not moments of public shaming (or a rush to risk management). We need training that give us permission and tools to consider our work as part of an integrated system, not isolated silos of expertise.

And sometimes, we just need to pause, and honor the fact that being human is a process of learning and relearning, of connecting, of struggling–a process, not a destination.

Why is Restarting so Darn Hard?

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you might have noticed something during the summer. The blog stopped being regular. I dropped from one or two posts a week to less than one a month over the summer. And it took me most of September to get re-engaged. I’ve had breaks from posting before, and I’ve written about restarting, rebooting, reconnecting. Often those posts are about the reasons that we get disconnected from things that we enjoy, or things that are healthy for us.

This time around, I have been thinking about why it is tough to get restarted.

I love to write this blog. It allows me a creative outlet and it gives me a space to contribute to better brain health information online. Writing challenges me to keep thinking and growing, so that I can keep sharing new perspectives (not new ideas, because I don’t know if there are that many new ideas in emotional health). And yet, even after I was out of the craziness of my summer schedule, it has been incredibly hard to get back in the groove.

This has been a great reminder for me about other restarts that can be tough.

  • Restarting healthy boundaries
  • Restarting connections to values and priorities
  • Restarting self-care in the form of exercise, or eating healthy
  • Restarting emotionally challenging work like therapy or journalling

I believe that our difficulty in restarting is directly connected with the post I wrote a few days ago about vulnerability. When our routines get interrupted, that feels like a failure. When we re-engage with something that we care about, we open up the risk of failing again. So, restarting a behavior that has been stopped means being vulnerable to the challenge of maintaining a healthy routine. When we admit and announce a goal, we become vulnerable to the possibility that we will not reach it.

Being vulnerable is scary. And it can be easy to let that vulnerability paralyze us.

A lesson that I keep learning is that it is better to start and get interrupted than to remain still. I may not reach my goal of blogging every week (or making healthy choices, or being exactly the parent I want to be). But I have a hell of a lot better chance of getting to that goal if I am in motion. And even if I don’t make the goal, I have made progress. I have grown and stretched and produced. So, once again, I am restarting.

What do you want to restart? Feel free to share in the comments or contact me directly.

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