Posts Tagged With: childhood illness

Day 275: Getting better

I appreciate, so much, people’s comments, hopes, and wishes in response to yesterday’s blog post.

Here are some random thoughts about what’s been happening:

Over the “Breaking Bad” Marathon Weekend (see here, here, and here), I noticed I was getting short of breath.  There were LOTS of reasons for those feelings, so I noted them, but I didn’t worry about them.

However, after the weekend was over, I still noticed the shortness of breath. I no longer had good explanations for those feelings, so I started getting concerned.

Monday night, when I was taking a nice long walk with my bf, Michael, I talked to him about my worries.  I said to him, “I can’t figure out, these days, whether these feelings are in my head or in my heart.”

And I told him about a technique for people having panic attacks. This technique was inspired by this book (which I recommend highly):

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The technique is this:  If you feel panicky and believe that might be heart-related, try this:

Exert yourself physically and see what happens.

So I said to Michael, “Wanna sprint?”  Because I also remembered, many years ago, challenging my old business partner, Jonathan, in a similar way, and discovering — much to my surprise — that I was a damn good sprinter (over very short distances).

So Michael and I sprinted, to the nearest tree.  And it was fun, again, to run like the wind.

After our sprint, I took my pulse.  And, much to my surprise, I found that my pulse ….

… was not speeding up.  At all.

It reminded me of my life, from ages 10 to 35, when I lived with a fixed-rate cardiac pacemaker.  During that time, even though I managed to dance a lot of disco, becoming a

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(which was lots of fun), my heart rate never, ever speeded up, no matter how much I exercised.

In 1987, when I was 35 years old,  I got my first DDD cardiac pacemaker, which essentially repaired my heart to act like  yours — like a “normal” heart.  That is, every time I exercised, my heart speeded up.

I remember, after I got that pacemaker in 1987, going to an indoor track and jogging.

To me, that felt like one of my childhood dreams.

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Flying like Peter Pan.

Monday night, my heart was not speeding up at all, after I had sprinted like the wind.

So I knew something was very wrong, but I didn’t know what.  When Michael and I got back home, I called the on-call cardiology resident at the hospital where I get my treatment. And together, we decided I should come into the Emergency Room.

So, at 9 o’clock on Monday night,  Michael and I went to the Emergency Room.

Now, as usual, I have some time limitations on writing this blog post, so I need to make a “long story, short.”  Here are some of the highlights of the next 24 hours:

  1. A very cool doctor, whom I had never met before, listening to my heart, and telling me that I had a “beautiful” heart murmur, which “sounded like the wind.”
  2. Two very cool doctors, whom I had met before, telling me that I was in atrial fibrillation, probably for the rest of my life, but not to worry, because this was extremely manageable, and with my very cool pacemaker, they would fix it so that I might actually feel better than I had been feeling lately.
  3. These same two very cool doctors,  seriously and respectfully discussing with me the pros and cons of various responses to my current situation, one of which would include being on medication for the rest of my life.
  4. My believing that the decision we came to, together, was a good one, and feeling hopeful about the future.
  5. Spending a couple of hours, having an echocardiogram performed on me, with one of the kindest, most beautiful people I have ever met in my life, which included the tears involved with any new, unexpected, and potentially scary development in one’s life.
  6. Having nothing but good results, in all ways.
  7. Going home.

Which is where I am writing this blog post, now.

Gotta end this blog post, so I can get some more sleep and go to work.

Thanks to doctors old and new, runners who fly like the wind, kind people everywhere, and to you — especially — for reading today.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Day 256: Worst nightmares (Friday the 13th)

Today is Friday the 13th.

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Eeeeeeeeeek!!!!!

So it’s time for …..

Random Thoughts about Worst Nightmares

Eeeeeeeeeeekk!!!!!!

When I woke up this morning, I felt cold.

Here’s the data on the recent weather in these parts: the temperature was in the 70’s on Monday, the 80’s on Tuesday, the 90’s on Wednesday, the 80’s yesterday, and (let me check) it’s going to be in the 70’s today.

When I’m in a therapy session — individual or group — people often hesitate to name their worst nightmares. They express a fear that if they share those, they will upset or alienate other people in the room. Often, when people describe an old nightmare, it’s part of the process of letting go of that.

When somebody is feeling bad, often a helpful question is: “What’s your worst nightmare right now?” (Also known as, “What’s the worst that could happen?”) When people allow themselves to express their worst fear, they often realize that dreaded future occurrence is unlikely. And, even if the worst fear is a distinct possibility, people usually realize they have survived worse.

In a previous blog post, I described a worst nightmare I used to have. In that recurring dream, I’d be trying to call somebody on the phone. Because of problems with my vision (and other obstacles), I could not reach the person by phone, no matter how I tried.

Here’s a nightmare I’ve only had once.

When I was a little girl, I had to have several surgeries, to implant cardiac pacemakers .

Before this particular surgery, my father, the nurses, and I had prepared a joke for the surgeons. It must have been the fall or early winter, because this was the joke: The nurses and I had put a sign on my body that said, “Do Not Open Until Christmas.”

The surgeon, in a very surgeon-like way, said, “Very funny,” when he saw the sign, and took it off my body.

Then, as usual, the anesthesiologist put a mask on my face

Somebody said, “Count backwards from 100.”

And I started to count.

I looked up at the doctors, wearing their own masks, looking down at me.

As I was looking up at them, that image started to change.

It reminded me of getting closer and closer to a photo in a newspaper, or an image on a television set.

Sort of like this:

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It was more like a black-and-white image, though. And as I kept staring at it, the dots that made up that image got bigger and bigger.

Finally, I fell into one big, black dot.

And everything was black.

And I heard a voice. It wasn’t a nice voice. It was a cold, unfriendly voice.

It did not wish me well.

It said this:

That person you were before — the one that was joking with the doctors — is not real. This is the only thing that is real. And you will always come back to this.

Then, thank goodness, I woke up.

It was only a dream.

Sometimes, that’s the way a story ends.

Like here:

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And like here, today.

Thanks for being there, dear readers.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Day 251: Walking the (Heart) Walk

Yesterday, for the first time, I did the Heart Walk in Boston, which was sponsored by the American Heart Association.

I was so engrossed in taking in everything around me,  I didn’t take very many pictures.

So prepare for a short photo essay.

Here we go ….

My Day At the Heart Walk

by Ann

I drove there with Michelle, a wonderful nurse I know. Michelle and I arrived at the Hatch Shell, on Boston’s Esplanade, around 9:45, about 45 minutes before the official beginning of the walk.

The Hatch Shell, on the Esplanade:

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(That is not a photo I took yesterday, as you probably figured out on your own.)

I decided to pick up a Red Cap, which they were giving out to anyone who was a “heart disease survivor.”

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(By the way, that’s not a photo I took yesterday, either.  That photo, plus the next two, are from the Boston Heart Walk website.)

RIght before the official start of the walk, they invited people with Red Caps to go up into The Hatch Shell,  to give “The Red Cap Wave.”

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It was inspiring and strange to be up there, for me.

This is similar to  the view I had from the Hatch Shell, yesterday morning, as I was doin’ The Red Cap Wave (although I don’t remember any metal barricades).

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No matter what was between me and the other walkers, I know the crowd yelled and clapped, very loudly, during the Red Cap Wave.

Then, Michelle and I stood in line to get some little foam baseballs signed by Luis Tiant, Rick Miller, and Jim Rice, from the Red Sox. While we were waiting in line, I saw Mark, a wonderful social worker I know.  I was especially glad to see Mark, because we had planned on walking together, and I had thought that I might not be able to find him before the start of the walk.  No worries (as usual).

I don’t have a photo of Jim Rice, Luis Tiant, and Rick Miller signing baseballs from yesterday,  but here’s a shot of the little foam baseball.

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After we got our baseballs signed, we were off on the Heart Walk!

Here’s the first photo I took yesterday:

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As you can see, it was a beeeeooootiful day.

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And such a beautiful route.

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That’s Michelle and Mark.  When I had picked up my Red Cap earlier, they asked Michelle if she wanted that sign/sticker, in support of me.  She carried that, all six friggin’ miles.

More things I saw along the way:

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That’s one of the many cheerleaders we saw during the walk. After we passed her, and were crossing the Charles River, here’s a view back to where we had just been walking:

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Here’s Mark and an unidentified dog, on the other side of the Charles River:

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We saw lots of dogs and kids, doing the Heart Walk.

Then we crossed the Charles River, again, from the Cambridge side back to the Boston side:

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And, before we knew it, the finish line!

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Phew!  It was a great day.

Thanks to Michelle, Mark, the American Heart Association, Jim Rice, Rick Miller, and Luis Tiant (and other Red Sox players past, present, and future),  walkers, cheerleaders, my incredibly generous supporters,  and to you, too, for reading today.

Categories: personal growth, photojournalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Day 245: Lucky

Here are some things I feel lucky about this morning.

I feel lucky to have a job  that engages my brain, my heart, and my soul —  doing therapy groups to promote healing and growth.

I’m lucky that this work — because it takes place in a hospital* — gives me the opportunity to move forward in my own process of healing and growth.

I’m lucky that I get to work with doctors who are palpably committed to good patient care.

I am lucky that I get to blog about my anxieties and my hopes about doing this work, because it helps me feel less alone in those feelings.

I’m lucky that I have readers, like Louise Gallagher, who say wise and helpful things (like Louise’s comment on my blog post yesterday).

I am lucky for each and every person who has ever read this blog, because whether or not you ever press “like” or write a comment, my knowing that you are receiving these words, as I move forward this year, helps me more than I can say.

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When I started this blog post today, I thought I might be using a Magic Wastepaper Basket, because  I was thinking of throwing away some old beliefs that contribute to my anxiety about public speaking.

Instead, I wrote about luck.

Throughout this year, I’ve created various “magical” receptacles, including this box for “Emergency Messages” (see here):

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This “Worry Box” (see here and here):

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And, the aforementioned “Magic Wastepaper Baskets” (see here and here, for two versions).

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Perhaps I should make another Magical Receptacle today, to hold Lucky Thoughts.  Grateful Thoughts.

But, I’m realizing I don’t need to create that, this morning. I already have something to hold those kinds of thoughts.

This blog.

Thanks for reading today, everybody.

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*As I’ve been writing about, throughout this year, I spent time in the hospital, for heart problems, when I was growing up.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Day 243: Freaked-out-nomics

I’ve been freaked out lately, even while I’ve been trying to keep my pledge of “no worries” for 10 days.

Why?

Lots of reasons.

  1. There was a “perfect storm” of circumstances where I live, which resulted in some significant water damage.

  2. I thought I had picked up an ailment on my trip. (I had not.)

  3.  I am going even more public — including where I work — about my being the longest surviving person in the world with a cardiac pacemaker*, as I am participating in an American Heart Association charitable walk.  (Of course, I’m going more public about my pacemaker world record by doing this blog, too.)

  4.  This morning, I spent many hours trying to create and send e-mails asking for contributions for this charitable walk, and at different times it looked like (1) none of the e-mails had gone through AGAIN!!! and (2) the e-mails had all gone through and were going to bombard people with the same request many times.

Some of the reasons I listed above may seem more minor than others.

But when I get freaked out, many things can feel like Life or Death situations.

There are very few situations that are Life or Death, but sometimes my perspective gets out of whack.

At times in my life, I’ve dealt with life-threatening situations very calmly.

At other times, I’ve dealt with non-life-threatening situations with all my alarm systems blaring, full blast — Danger, Danger, Danger!

During times of Full Blown Freak Out, I’ve encouraged myself — and others — to ask these questions:

What is hurting me right now?

What danger exists to me, here and now?

Hold on. I’m going to breathe, sit quietly for a few seconds, and ask myself those two questions.

The answers are:

Nothing.

None.

Better.

Thanks for reading today.


* In 2014, I found out that I am NOT the longest surviving person in the world with a pacemaker. See here for more about that.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Day 232: Triggers

When I returned to work yesterday, I noticed this:

My authentic happiness about returning was NOT marred by feelings of anxiety, worry, or fear. I felt comfortable and safe.

I remark on this because I’ve been working at a hospital for the past two years and — while I love the work I’m getting to do there — hospitals can “trigger” old and unpleasant memories for me.  (As I’ve mentioned in my About page and in several posts during this year, I spent a lot of time in hospitals as a kid, because of my unusual heart.)

To help with the writing of this post, I just googled “stress trigger,” to see what would come up.

Here’s the first thing that came up:

11 Common Stress Triggers, at the Whole Living website. This website, apparently, has  something to do with Martha Stewart, who seems to have a lot more time than I do, because I see her and her products constantly, including these kinds of things at pet stores.

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Anyway, where was I, before the picture of the dog dressed up as a dragon?

Oh, yes, the “Whole Living” article that came up, in response to googling “stress triggers.”  I looked at other articles, too, and several of them made similar points.

For example, it’s helpful to be aware of your personal stress triggers.

Also, there are common kinds of stress triggers. That Whole Living article listed the following ones:

  1. Money issues.
  2. A job that never ends.
  3. A job you don’t like.
  4. Your relationship.
  5. Constant caregiving.
  6. Holiday pressures.
  7. Taking on too much.
  8. Not enough quality time.
  9. Striving to be perfect.
  10. A lack of passion.
  11. Disorganized clutter.

Here are my thoughts, looking at that list:

  1. It can be helpful to “consider the source,” whenever other people tell you their opinions (about you, or about the world).  For example, if my thoughts went in the direction of imagining — and bringing to market —  lots of Halloween costumes for pets, I would likely be stressed out by holidays pressures, taking on too much, and disorganized clutter, too.
  2. You can learn from everybody.  For example, I am stressed out by holiday pressures and taking on too much (although I seem to have quite the tolerance for disorganized clutter).

Okay. At this point in this blog post I would like to ask myself something.

What did I hope to communicate, when I started this blog post this morning?

I actually wanted to say this:

When I am not being “triggered” by old memories, I can be more present. As a result, worries, anxieties, and cognitive distortions are reduced.

Then, I have the space and time to think about priorities, and to realize what seems to be “missing” or under-represented in my life.

Here are two things I would like to be doing more of, at this phase of my life:

  1. Music, specifically performing.
  2. Spending time with my sister (who is the surviving person of my family of origin and whom I’ve definitely seen less frequently, the past two years).

That helps, to write those things down today.

Are there achievable next steps I can identify,  right now, to work towards those two goals?

Yes.

Will I do those?

Yes, I will take those identified steps today. (Psssttt!  The magic word, above, was “achievable.”)

Well, everybody, that concludes today’s blog post.

Thanks to my sister, Martha Stewart, tolerant pets everywhere, and to you, for reading today.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Day 223: Reasons why I should move to London, Part 3

Today is our last day in London, as we get on a train to Edinburgh.

I had a great time here, with my 15-year-old son. I (re-)learned lots of things.  We met many amazing people.  And we saw some incredible theater.

We’re both sad to leave London, but I’m sure that Edinburgh will be fabulous, also.

In order to deal with sadness of saying goodbye, here are more reasons why it’s so difficult to leave Olde London Towne:

Reason #4: I have olde and new friends here.

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This is Alexa, whom I first met when we were kids, at Children’s Hospital in Boston, helping each other deal with some difficult medical challenges. It was wonderful to spend time with her and her son Alex, as they took us to a terrific sushi restaurant and to Camden (pictured above).

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This is Sen, our amazing concierge at our hotel in London. He helped us feel welcome and safe from our very first day (and every time we’ve encountered him since then), with his can-do attitude, listening skills, kindness,  ingenuity, knowledge (of details and important issues),  humor, and appreciation for how a good game of 20 Questions and Charades can cheer up some weary travelers.

Reason # 5:  You can barter for goods here.

This was particularly applicable in Camden, where there were so many goods, everywhere:

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And so many interesting people with whom to barter.

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This is Ali, who was born in Afghanistan.  He had some perfect sunglasses to sell us.  After he quoted us a price  he said was “firm” (after giving my son and me some excellent monetary and psychological reasons for why this was a fair price for these sunglasses), he responded very positively to our requests to have the fun and pride of bartering him down.

Reason # 6: All the beautiful and historic things to see here.

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Okay, there’s a lot more I could show and tell, but it’s time to get ready for the transition to Edinburgh.  Thanks to London for all its riches and gifts, and thanks for reading today.

Categories: personal growth, photojournalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Day 216: Putting worries away.

A few days ago, I blogged about creating a Worry Box.

Today, for the first time, I decided to use it.

I woke up with too many worries this morning.

So many worries, I didn’t even know what I was really worrying about.

I could guess why I’m worrying this morning.

But why wait? Let’s use the Worry Box!

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Step 1: Cut up pieces of blank worry paper.

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Step 2: Write down a worry.

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Step 3: Put the worry in the box.

Repeat Steps 2 – 3, as needed:

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Which leads us to the last step:

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Step 4: Close the Worry Box.

Yay!

Thanks to all of you worriers/warriors who are reading today. May all your worries be contained, put away, and groundless, as you deserve.

Categories: personal growth, photojournalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

Day 215: Bragging, Fear of Envy, and Healing

In my family, growing up, there was a value placed on humility.

Also, there was a fear of reprisal for the Sin of bragging.

I heard, around my house,  many times, that if one bragged, retribution could be swift — from supernatural sources or from my fellow human beings. And I grew up with some fear about envy directed towards me.

I also felt safe enough to feel “full of myself” as I grew.

I have a particular memory, at age seven, of balancing on a short, wrought-iron railing in my backyard.

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That’s not the actual railing from my backyard. Somehow, though, that captures the “feel” of my memory (even though that Google Image shows the winter, not the beautiful spring day of my memory).

In that wonderful memory,  when I was seven, I was balancing on the wrought-iron railing in my backyard, and thinking, for the first time, thoughts like these:

“Hey!  I can do this!

“I am whole.”

“I am great.”

It’s hard to capture that memory in words, because it’s my first memory of a certain feeling. In retrospect, using my “clinical lens” as a psychotherapist, I would now say those were my first feelings of mastery.  My first feelings of self esteem, as a young child.

That moment was so wonderful, that I can remember it, clearly, fifty three years later.

I believe that there were probably many reasons why I had those feelings, that day. Here’s one reason, I’m speculating now: I must have felt loved, by people I also loved.

However, like I mentioned before, there was also fear of reprisal, in my home, for feeling too full of yourself. And I did feel very full of myself, that fine spring day, balancing on a short wrought-iron railing in the backyard.

And, sure enough, there were some “reprisals” from the universe.  Before much time had passed, after that wonderful spring day, I was spending a lot of time, ill, in hospital beds, separated from the people who loved me.

But there were a couple of people, in those hospitals, who also loved me (enough), to help me feel safe (enough). That’s what I believe, right now.

As a result, I may have been damaged by those scary hospital experiences, but I didn’t completely lose that wholeness I had felt, while balancing on that wrought-iron fence in the backyard.

I may have lost track of that wholeness and self-esteem, at times. But it was always there, waiting for me to find it again.

i was wounded, but not shattered. And wounds can heal.

A therapist once gave me a poem, which included a line about a vase that had been broken and glued back together again.  I can’t remember the poem or the line, but I remember the important “points” of that poem: The vase was whole again, in a new way. And the vase was strongest,  at the mended join.

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It doesn’t feel that way, sometimes. I can feel most vulnerable, most at risk of shattering, at those scarred and mending places. And when I feel more vulnerable, I can be more afraid of those Old-Time Scary Things: Envy from other people and from the universe at large.

Which can keep me “playing small,” at times. Which can prevent me from bragging. Which can prevent me from climbing up and saying to myself or others:

“Hey! I can do this!”

“I am whole.”

“I am great.”

Despite that fear, I am going to take a risk today, and quote some co-workers who reviewed their experience of working with me, last week. (All quotes are anonymous, of course, and each person stated comfort with these quotes being shared.)

(Taking a deep breath, because this DOES feel scary.)

Okay, here are some quotes:

Working with Ann has been very rewarding.

With her emphasis on forming and maintaining connections, she is highly successful in forging relationships with patients and staff alike, and with the strength of her conviction that everyone has valuable resources to share with others, she inspires hope and bolsters self esteem.

Ann is exceedingly approachable and collaborative. Always upbeat and very devoted to her work and helping other providers and patients alike.

I am very happy to work with Ann. She is a knowledgeable and compassionate therapist.

I love teaming with Ann Koplow and hope we continue our partnership.

Working with Ann has been a great experience for me. She is always open to my questions and eager to help. Her energy and enthusiasm raise the spirits of her colleagues. She is most certainly a trusted partner and collaborator in the care of our patients. My patients who have been able to do therapy with Ann give me only positive feedback.

Yikes, those are good reviews.

So what am I afraid of, now? That perhaps sharing those might be alienating to some people. That perhaps my “bragging” will cause some retribution against me, in some way.

However, while I have witnessed the backlash of envy (from people or the universe), which has fueled those old fears,  I have also witnessed something quite different, too:

The mutual power of healing.

That is, when one person feels healed in a group — which often involves accepting positive, authentic feedback from others — the other people seem to heal, a little, too. I have seen smiles on people’s faces when somebody in their midst “brags” about an accomplishment. Or when somebody gets authentic, heart-felt compliments from other people in the group.

Another point:  even if envy might scare me sometime, it’s just another human and natural emotion. And as I wrote about yesterday, human emotions are like the weather: passing through, soon to be replaced by something else. And while the weather (and envy) might kill some people,  more often than not, it does not.

I want to end this post with another quote: a poem by the Persian poet, Rumi. I love this poem and have used it with many other people, over the years. One reason I want to quote this poem today?  Because of something I witnessed yesterday in the waiting room where I work: A previously depressed woman, born in Iran, grinning from ear to ear, “bragging” about some recent accomplishments, and  blowing a kiss to her old therapist, who happened to be walking by.

GUEST HOUSE

by Rumi

This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

My deepest thanks to Rumi, to people I’ve worked with over the years, to the wonderful blog where I found that picture of the vase, and to all the people, out there, who have felt envious of or healed by the “bragging” of others.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

Day 189: Something lifted (and movie medicine)

Yesterday, I wrote what felt like a VIP (Very Important Post).

It included a story I’ve been meaning to — perhaps yearning to —  tell, about my mother and her death.

Writing it definitely released something.

Including tears. Tears when I wrote it and tears, again, when I read the post several times throughout the day.

And yesterday, dread and anxiety left the room.

Last night, my bf, my son and I watched a movie I’ve seen only once before.  I’m not sure why I haven’t watched it more, since I LOVED it when I first saw it in the ’80s, when I was in Film School.

Here’s the film:

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Certain films, for me, are pure pleasure.  “Adam’s Rib” is one of them.

What I’d like to do, today, is name some more movies like that, for me.

My Year of Blogging Daily is half over, so it’s about time I did a Top 10 List, y’know?

Each one of these movies has been a kind of “personal medicine” for me, at some point of my life.  They’ve all given me hours of amazement and joy, and I love them all.

Here they are, alphabetically:

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Breaking-Away-poster

1987-broadcast-news-poster1

1992-the-crying-game-poster1

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Princess-Bride

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singin-in-the-rain

this-is-spinal-tap-original

While it was REALLY tough to stop at 10, I think that list is good enough, for now.

Thanks for reading today. And feel free to share movies that are personal medicine, for you.

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