Posts Tagged ‘compassion’

Make Mistakes–Pretty Please!!

I have been surrounded in the past few weeks by reminders about how important mistakes are to the process of being human.  While listening to the audiobook “As You Wish,” I was struck when author Cary Elwes describes a quote from his father: “It is only a mistake if you don’t learn from it.”  And over the weekend, I heard famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson say that “any day I make a mistake is a good day, because then I have learned something.”

Both of these statements make me intensely happy.  And the reason that they make me happy is that they reflect a truth that I try to convey to my clients on a daily basis:

[tbpquotable] Mistakes aren’t failure. They are an essential part of being a healthy, growing human being.[/tbpquotable]

In a world where we are graded from an early age, with the possibility that our online mistakes might live with us forever, it can get easy to be swept up into the story of why mistakes are dangerous.  We can buy into the idea that a mistake says something about our essential worth.  That idea make us so paralyzed by our fear of making mistakes that we stop doing anything.

I want to call BS on that idea.  There is no skill that we have, from crawling to talking to writing our names, that we haven’t acquired after intensive practice. And that practice included mistake after mistake.  Mistakes that brought us one movement closer to mastery.  Human learning and growth is entirely a process of moving from mistake to competence.

During the month of February, I participated in the Real Happiness daily meditation challenge from Sharon Salzburg.  I appreciated the reminder that she often shared that distractions are chances to change how we interact with ourselves. Distractions aren’t failure. They provide the opportunity to shift from frustration with our mistakes to kind acceptance and redirection back to the meditation.

This compassionate, gentle outlook is such a lovely way to view mistakes.  And if you can bring that compassion to other parts of life, then you have the chance to begin taking action, happening to the world, and moving closer to healthy, connected lives.

So today, I would love to invite you to make some mistakes.  I’ll be there right along with you.  In fact, today, I am trying to master knitting a hat in the round.  I can promise that many mistakes will be made along the way.  I’m not sure that I will end up with anything vaguely resembling a hat.  I’ll post a picture of the results in the comments later for you.  Feel free to share your mistake-making adventures in the comments too.

And if you are feeling paralyzed by the possibility of a mistake, maybe I can help with that.  You can reach me by clicking that appointment button to your right.

Invisible Does Not Equal Imaginary

This week’s posts have developed a bit of a theme. Health is not a virtue, pain shouldn’t be hidden in silence.  Here’s another corollary of this line of thought.

When it comes to your health–invisible experiences are NOT imaginary.

There is a wonderful online movement based on the work of Christine Miserandino of the ButYouDon’tLookSick Foundation.  In an effort to explain the challenge of living with fibromyalgia, she wrote an essay that she called “The Spoon Theory.”  Essentially, the theory suggests that we each have a finite number of emotional & energetic “spoons” to get through our day.  Some days, it takes every single spoon we’ve got to get out of bed.  Other days we have to ration our spoons to participate in something important.

The reality behind the spoon theory, and the #spoonie movement that has grown out of it, is that a majority of the most painful and debilitating illnesses that we face (Crohn’s, lupus, depression, diabetes, cancer, MS, anxiety, & RA–just to name a few) don’t have any visible signs.  With the right makeup, clothes, and effort, a person with intense physical & emotional pain can sometimes look “just fine.”  Looking just fine doesn’t mean that we feel just fine.  In fact, that “just fine” face may hide a world of pain and suffering.

Since we live in a society where we are supposed to ignore our pain, many of us have bought into the story that we should feel fine.  That our pain is a sign of our weakness.  That if we were strong enough, courageous enough, hard-working enough, virtuous enough, we would be able to do all the things that a healthy person can do, in the same time that a healthy person could do it.  In short, we have bought into the story that maybe our invisible pain isn’t real pain.  We begin to feel that maybe our invisible pain is “just in our heads” or a sign of our failure.

This makes me so angry.  Unless you have  a broken bone with a cast, a wheelchair or another dramatic physical marker like hair loss, most illnesses don’t have a visible indicator.  There isn’t a pain rating scale flashing above your head.  Fatigue and depression don’t show on your face.  Almost all pain and suffering is invisible.  AND it is real.

People who are struggling to get through a “normal” day because of pain or other invisible health issues do not need to have their struggle questioned or discounted.  That kind of behavior is healthy privilege in action. So, let me state this clearly.

Invisible suffering is real suffering.

Instead of questioning the validity of people’s pain, let’s work on creating support systems that help them move through pain in healthy ways.

Holding Your Light

At first glance, the American celebration of Veteran’s Day may not seem to have much in common with the Hindu celebration of Diwali.  But, as Diwali, a celebration of light triumphing over darkness,  overlaps with Veteran’s Day this year, I have been thinking about the fact that many people who join the military do so in order to stand against darkness in the world (the cost of that is a story for another day).  I see these two celebrations, which seem so distant from one another on the surface, and I see the connecting thread of choosing to hold a light against the darkness.

I believe that each of us has the choice and the chance to hold our light against the darkness.  That light may be in the small choices that we make.  We can offer a smile to a stranger, or hold a door.  We can remember that everyone carries their own burden and choose to be kind.

I know that many of my clients struggle with the idea of holding a light for others, because they feel that they are barely holding on to their own light–or because others have actively pushed them towards darkness.  The idea of sharing our light when we feel as though it is scarce is a challenging one.  It requires us to trust that light shared isn’t light lost.  And when you feel kicked around–by your health, or your losses, or relationship pains–trust of any sort is a big ask.

Here is the truth that I have experienced.  Sharing light has never left me in the dark.  In those moments when I felt the most broken, I shared my brokenness.  That was all I had to share, but it connected for others. Our pain has a light too–when we share it, others can see and know that they are not alone.

So, today, I am inviting you to share your light.  It might be little and broken, but you have light. Your light makes a difference.  And our lights together can push back the darkness.

Finding Beauty

“Find a bit of beauty in the world today. Share it. If you can’t find it, create it. Some days this may be hard to do. Persevere.”–Lisa Bonchek Adams

I love my flower pictures--this time of year they remind me that spring will be back!

I love my flower pictures–this time of year they remind me that spring will be back!

If you aren’t a part of the health and social media landscape, you might not have heard of Lisa Bonchek Adams. Lisa was a writer, a wife, a mother, and an advocate. She also had metastatic cancer and died on March 6, 2015 at the age of 45. This post isn’t really about Lisa–there are many others who were more deeply connected to her than me. If you’d like to learn more, or just experience some of her poignant, powerful writing, I encourage you to check out her blog.

Instead, this post is about one of Lisa’s most shared statements, the quote that opens this post.

Finish reading this post here.

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.

Honoring Vulnerability

This year, I had the chance to participate in two fantastic panels at Stanford’s Medicine X conference. You can see the video of the panel on chronic illness and depression here://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/6qn7EGMzggQ?rel=0
The video for the second panel will be available later this fall. The great thing about panels is that you get an authentic discussion, a give and take that is really valuable. The tough thing about panels is that you often think about the things you wish you had said later on (maybe that’s just me).

So, this post is about those things. The things I wish I had said–in both panels. Because at the heart of all of the work I do with my clients, the advocacy I do online, and the writing I share in this blog is this conviction: [tbpquotable]We are all unique, fascinating, fallible, fragile, resilient human beings.[/tbpquotable] In spite of marketing that suggests that we should never be sad, never feel pain, never experience illness-each of those experiences is a part of being human. In spite of a culture that demands invulnerability and infallibility, we are both vulnerable and prone to mistakes.

So, I wish I had said these things:

  • We need to give our doctors and other health care providers permission to experience and claim their own pain, fear, sadness and vulnerability.
  • We need to talk about the amazing learning potential in our mistakes.
  • We need safe space (in our heads, in our workplaces, in our training environments) to have moments of vulnerability.
  • We need to counter shame and unrealistic expectations.
  • We need to challenge the damaging perfectionism that pervades our healthcare system.
  • We need to respect the courage it takes to admit when you are hurting, or scared, or depressed, or anxious.
  • We need to support one another’s humanity more and better.

The statement I made that was tweeted the most was about the need to decrease stigma around depression and other brain health struggles–both in medical patients and in medical providers. In order to decrease stigma, we need to increase our understanding that vulnerability is a fundamental human experience AND our compassion and empathy for the pain and difficulty that vulnerability can bring.

I’ve been having a conversation about vulnerability with the #MedPsych tweetchat community over the past week. We’re continuing that conversation tonight at 9:30 pm ET. You are welcome to join us.

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