Posts Tagged ‘coping’

Happen to Something

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I was recently talking with a client who is dealing with some very difficult PTSD and depression concerns.  She was describing her sense that many of her goals have been interrupted, and her struggle to take any action since she couldn’t see how it would connect to a goal.

I think the feelings she described are true for many folks who have been affected by illness or trauma.  When life is severely disrupted, when the things we thought we would be doing begin to feel out of reach, it can be hard to see why we should bother engaging at all.  We struggle to see the point.

What I have learned is that sometimes, when we are in the dark, action and engagement are the point.  Trauma and depression are emotional experiences that provide us with a constant litany of all the ways that the world is dangerous or that we have failed.  In a misguided effort to protect us from pain, depression and anxiety can tell us that we should just not bother trying anything.  Here are some common messages you might be getting from your depression or anxiety:

  • It’s just going to backfire anyway.
  • I have already missed my deadline to do this, so doing it later will still feel like a failure.
  • Nothing ever works out for me.
  • I don’t deserve to succeed.
  • Doing this small self-care won’t get me a job (finish my degree, fix my relationship, etc.), so why bother?

When my clients share thoughts like this with me, I remind them of two things.  First, that we can appreciate the work our depression and anxiety put in on trying to protect us from harm.  That is true. What is also true is that depression and anxiety will use lies to try to reach that goal. They will lie using pieces of truth.  And the fundamental lie that they will tell is that lack of action keeps you safe.

Lack of action doesn’t keep you safe. It keeps you stuck.  So, today I am going to invite you to engage with your life in some small way that brings you joy.  I know that you may be facing pain and challenge.  I know that the future may feel too complicated to face.  So don’t face the future.  Don’t worry about where your action is taking you.  If the struggle to understand how this makes change is keeping you frozen, step around the struggle. Do something because you can and because you like it.

Today, this moment, do something that you love.  Happen to the world instead of the world happening to you.  It doesn’t have to be huge.  Cook something delicious. Stand in the sun.  Do a 5 minute lovingkindness meditation. Snuggle your pet. Watch something funny. Take a long shower. Do something that you can start, even from a place of darkness, something small and manageable. But happen to the world.  Happen to yourself.  Create a ripple of joy and connection.

If you’re willing to share how you happened to the world, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.  If you need some help getting started–click on that appointment button to the 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.

Health is NOT a Virtue

I think it is safe to say that my most popular posts since I began writing were the series I put together about what health stigma and healthy privilege are–and how seriously they affect us.  I still stand by the ideas I shared in that series.  Recently, as I have talked to clients, and I have participated in conversations online, I have realized that there is an issue that is directly linked to healthy privilege and health stigma that I didn’t explicitly address in my earlier posts.  And it is this:

Having the privilege of health is not reflective of your virtue as a person or the value of your choices.

Let me be clear about this.  I certainly believe that we have the ability to make healthy choices.  We can strive for good food, rest, and movement.  We can choose relationships that support us instead of relationships that tear us down.  We can seek appropriate physical and mental health care to be sure that we stay as healthy as possible.  We can make healthy choices.  But those healthy choices do not guarantee our health.

We live in a culture that is very focused on individual control.  We want to believe that good choices lead to good outcomes.  And that means that if you struggle with health challenges–emotional or physical–you must not have made good health choices.  Right?

WRONG.

This unspoken idea that good health is a reward for healthy choices is one of the pillars that supports the ongoing stigma of health challenges.  The belief that good health is the result of good choices is a reason that so many people feel blamed or shamed for the illnesses they live through.

The truth is, that no one is guaranteed good health.  Athletes in peak condition die of undetected heart conditions. People who have eaten perfectly their whole lives get cancer.  People with great mental attitudes struggle with depression or anxiety. People with strong work ethics get multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis.  Making healthy choices certainly improves our odds of experiencing health in life.  But we don’t get a guarantee.

We would like a guarantee.  We want to feel that good is rewarded.  We want to believe that our choices ultimately control our experiences.  But we live in a world where our genes, our environment, and sometimes, just our spin of the luck wheel determine our experience.  And I think that our society sometimes takes that wish for a guarantee and uses it to shame and blame people who are facing health challenges.  Because if other people can make healthy choices and still face illness, then we might be at risk for illness too.  Because we want to deny the fact that sometimes good health is good luck.

Since this lightbulb went on, I have seen this attitude in so many places.  And I think that we need to call it out.  Health is a goal.  It is a gift.  But health is not a virtue.  

Let’s have that conversation.

Oh–and just to have some outside perspective, check out this long list of “Virtues of Moral Personhood (note that health isn’t on there anywhere):”

How Does Joy Move You?

I run into a dilemma with many of my clients. Maybe it’s a dilemma you have faced too. Here’s how this goes. I know, from current research (piles of it, by the way), that one of the most effective things my clients can do to cope with and reduce anxiety, stress, or depression is to participate in some form of regular exercise.

And when I ask about exercise, I get a range of responses.  Some of my clients have a regular exercise that they do and enjoy.  Some had an exercise that they enjoyed before they got sick, or lost their job, or went through whatever struggle has brought them to me.  Some were traumatized by grade school gym class, and view exercise as a thinly-veiled form of torture.  Some just see it as another chore to try to cram into their already-overflowing schedules.

So the idea of exercising is one that is often connected to a series of complicated emotions.  Three of the big emotions that get linked to exercise for many folks are guilt, fear, and grief.    Let’s unpack those a little bit more.  Guilt is one of the most common responses to the idea of exercising–nearly everyone has a “should” about their own exercise experience.  Many of us have also had moments of feeling physically inadequate or shamed, and so exercise has taken on a “monster under the bed” quality.  We know we are supposed to do it, but we are pretty sure it will hurt, or we won’t do it “right.”  And, some of us have had wonderful relationships with exercise.  Then an injury, illness, or simply life getting crazy got in the way of that relationship, and now we think of exercise with an emphasis on what used to be–and that reminds us of a painful loss.

In the last year or so, I have encountered an idea supported by several physical therapists I respect.  And that is the idea of moving away from trying to exercise, and moving towards a goal of joyful movement.  This means that we start to think about the fact that our bodies are designed to be in motion.  That motion doesn’t need to fit our traditional model of “exercising.”  That motion doesn’t have to happen at a gym.  That motion doesn’t require that you “feel the burn” or break a sweat.  Instead, you might dance in your kitchen (this is a favorite of mine), or play with your dog, or take a turn on a swing set.  That motion might in fact help you feel more comfortable in your body instead of as though your body is failing.

So, I’d like to challenge you to break out your creative thinking and find some ways to move joyfully through your life today.  Feel like sharing?  I would love that.  Need some help finding your joyful movement?  We can talk about that.

Time to Play!

This weekend is one of my favorite weekends of the year at our local zoo. This weekend is the Great Pumpkin Smash–when all of the animals at the zoo have the opportunity to play with pumpkins. The lorikeets will eat them, the otters will throw them about in the water, the gorillas will punch holes in the side to get at the meat, and the elephants will scoop them up whole and smash them with their trunks. A great time will be had by all–including me. I think that one of the reasons that I love the Pumpkin Smash so much is that it is the pure embodiment of playing. None of these animals need the pumpkins. They all get fed regularly. But the pumpkins are a special treat, and special treats bring out playful responses–whether you’re a grown-up human or a busy otter.

The Pumpkin Smash reminds me that we all need play in our lives.  In fact, research has suggested (and the popularity of adult coloring books seems to support) that adults need play at least as much as kids do.  Taking time to play is how we increase our ability to cope with the tough moments that life inevitably throws at us.  Play is a natural resilience-booster (plus it’s FUN!!)

Here are some of my favorite ways to play:

  • A fierce game of cards
  • A satisfying board game
  • A turn on a flying swing
  • A walk through crunchy leaves
  • A full-tilt game of Capture the Flag–preferably staged around a giant playground
  • Re-watching the Princess Bride
  • Hiking a new trail
  • Bike races
  • Roller skating
  • Trampoline bouncing
  • Great concerts

Have you played recently?  If not, what is holding you back? Are you worried about your dignity? Have you lost touch with your sense of play?  If any of that is true, I’d love to invite you to find a way to play this weekend.  If you’re here in Kansas City, come out and watch some pumpkin smashing.  If you’re not–try a turn on a local swing set.

Care to share how you play?  I’d love to hear in the comments.

In the Moment

So, if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, it might have been hard to miss the fact that I am from Kansas City, and that our baseball team, the Kansas City Royals, just won their first World Series in 30 years.  If you are a baseball person (or you watched my tweets through nail-biter games that stretched to 14 and 12 innings), you know that the Kansas City Royals have built a reputation for being a team that doesn’t quit, doesn’t get discouraged, and that will keep on working to create opportunities even if they are down late in the game.  Now, it might be hard to believe from my social media presence lately (or from the fact that I have now referenced the Royals in two separate blog posts), but I am not a huge baseball fan, normally.  I’m not a huge sports person, normally.

However, like so many others, I have found myself absolutely pulled in to the experience of this particular Royals team.  And, last week, I was able to recognize one of the factors that I appreciate the most about how they play.  I was listening to an interview about the Royals, particularly about their success in come-from-behind victories.  And the interviewee said something like this, “These guys aren’t focused on making up for a mistake, or on their image.  They focus on what needs to happen right now–the pitch, the swing, the catch, the throw.  They are fully in the moment, and that keeps them in the game.”

In that moment, a bell rang for me.  The Royals players are practicing baseball mindfulness.  Instead of listening to the relentless peanut gallery–in the stands or in their heads–they are completely engaged in the task at hand.  They are in the moment.  And being in that moment allows them to succeed, even when the odds are fully against them.  Because the odds don’t have any pull when you are creating your own experience from moment to moment.

So, my invitation to you today is to be in the moment.  Set aside your distractions.  Hit the mute button on your inner peanut gallery.  Allow yourself to focus on what needs to happen right now.  Then do that.

Feel free to let me know an “in the moment” experience in the comments!

Image Credit: Kansas City Star

You Are Allowed to Want Good Things

When you have faced a loss, whether it is the death of someone you love or the loss of simple, uncomplicated health, there are many steps in the process of grieving that loss.  I talk with clients at all stages of the grieving process.  We explore complicated and frequently uncomfortable feelings.  And one feeling comes up over and over again–it is one that most of my patients have some degree of shame or self-blame about.  They label this feeling “jealousy.” It is the feeling of intense pain when you are faced with someone who has the thing that you have just lost.  This could be a healthy person complaining about sore knees to someone with arthritis.  It could be a co-worker upset over difficult morning sickness when you’ve just had a miscarriage.  It could be a friend talking about a tough moment in their relationship after you have been through a painful breakup.  Any of these situations can lead to a sense of intense longing for your own lost state, and even some feelings of anger or resentment at the person who has those things–especially if he or she seems to be taking them for granted.

Now, most clients discuss this with me reluctantly.  They see the “jealousy” as a shameful thing.  They understand that the happiness of others does not take away from the happiness available to us.  And “jealous” is a feeling that we often expect ourselves to outgrow when we leave puberty.  They are doing some considerable self-blame & shaming, and I think they expect me to join right in.

I have engaged people about this issue many times, and I try to remind them that they are allowed to have all of their feelings, even the difficult ones.  It is particularly hard to own feelings that have baggage attached.  And “jealousy” definitely has baggage.  We feel guilty.  We feel ashamed.  We feel childish.  We feel dark.  All of those feelings pile in on top of the pain of our grief, and they can be entirely overwhelming.

While I’ve had this discussion many times, it was during a recent talk with one of my sisters-in-law that I got a new perspective.  We were sitting with a family member in pain, and my sister-in-law said this sentence:

[tbpquotable]”You are allowed to want good things.”[/tbpquotable]

And that sentence perfectly captured what I have been trying to reach with clients all along.  What has been labeled as “jealousy” may not be that at all.  Yes, it is a feeling of pain when you are confronted with those things that you have lost.  But instead of being jealous, maybe your pain and hurt are simply another aspect of grief.  Maybe you just feel the pain of wanting to have something good, something that has currently eluded you.

And you are allowed to want good things.  You are allowed to want a body that is healthy, or a relationship that is healthy, or the experience of becoming a parent.  So, we can talk on other days on how that wanting can take us off track (hint: it’s important not to get trapped in a story of “what should have been”).  But for today, consider this.  Maybe you aren’t jealous.  Maybe you just want something good–and you are allowed to want good things.

 

Image Credit: Brave Girls Club

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