Posts Tagged With: hospitals

Day 1783: The world’s scariest places

Last night, when I was at an American supermarket (which was one of the world’s scariest places in the Robin Williams movie “Moscow on the Hudson”), I saw this:

I don’t know what’s included in that magazine of the world’s scariest places. Perhaps it includes places where there’s

  • genocide,
  • prejudice,
  • sexual abuse,
  • physical abuse and/or
  • emotional abuse.

What do you think are the world’s scariest places?

Are there any scary places here?

Hospitals can be some of the world’s scariest places, so I’m glad that the hospital where I work has a string quartet playing near the entrance.

There are so many “World’s Scariest Places” videos on YouTube that it’s scaring me, so here’s that scene from “Moscow on the Hudson.”

I hope the comments section here is not a scary place and that you’ll place a comment, below.

Thanks to Robin Williams, the hospital where I work, magazines, supermarkets and every other place, person, and thing that helped me write this world’s-scariest-places post. And thanks to you — of course! — for helping to make this blog one of the safest places I know.

Categories: personal growth, photojournalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 27 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 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 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 186: Watch out

I have a large collection of unusual and inexpensive watches. I started this collection over 35 years ago.

The collection got much larger when eBay came along — when it became much easier to find watches that fit my Collecting Criteria.

The number of watches I collected got a little scary. Actually, the number didn’t scare me, but I noticed that people had a reaction to that number — which looked a little like fear but might have just been surprise — when I would ask them to guess:

How many watches do you think I have?

People would always guess much lower than the actual number, even though I would explain — just as I did above — that I liked to collect these and that they were very accessible through eBay.

Collecting these watches definitely met some sort of need. I guess any kind of collecting behavior can seem like a compulsion. It didn’t feel like a compulsion; but I did spend a fair amount of time looking for watches, deciding about them, and adding new ones to my collection. It was fun.

Was it a habit? An addiction?

I’m reminded of a joke:

I may be addicted to drinking brake fluid, but I can stop at any time.

I kept collecting watches, for many years, growing my collection. And I did have Too Many watches to keep track of, to wear, and — especially — to keep supplied with fresh batteries.

But it was an enjoyable and harmless distraction, and I had some very cool watches. So I kept collecting.

Except one day, I stopped.

I stopped after I had a dream. In that dream, I was wearing a watch and the watch turned into a cardiac pacemaker.

And I woke up from that dream and said, “Duh.”

“Duh,” as in, “Wow. That makes a lot of sense.”

Here’s why:

I got my first cardiac pacemaker implanted when I was 10 years old. I had no choice over the matter. I will be dependent upon a pacemaker until I die. I have no control over all that.

I can tell the story of Ann and Her Pacemaker in lots of different ways.

Triumphant: I am the longest surviving person in the world with a pacemaker!*

Painful: I wasn’t prepared very well, before I got my first pacemaker at age 10. I spent a lot of time — some of it alone and scared — in the hospital.

The stories we tell can be a way of getting control over things.

Collecting watches was another way, for me.

Pacemakers and watches have a lot in common. They both are man-made devices that people wear. They are devices designed to measure and mark time, in an important way. As a matter of fact, all the pacemakers I got, until I was well into my 30’s, had a fixed rate. That is, they would produce the same number of beats per minute, every minute, until they ran down. The main difference between those pacemakers and a watch: my pacemakers were set for 70 beats for minute, instead of 60.

Anyway, once I realized WHY I was collecting watches — in a new and deeper way — I stopped needing to collect them. I’ve bought a watch or two since then, but very rarely.

I mean, I have enough watches, people.

Before I end this post, I wanted to share one of my favorite watches with you:

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I got this watch on eBay, many years ago, when it came up in my saved search “unusual watches.”

This watch was developed by a woman who worked with kids who had cancer. In the eBay listing, she told the story of how she was working with a little boy who was having trouble expressing his fear of dealing with the diagnosis and the necessary procedures. On an impulse, she drew the picture of the character, whom she dubbed, “Scared Guy.” Scared Guy helped the little boy talk about his fear.

She later turned “Scared Guy” into a charitable enterprise, and she created and offered merchandise — including watches — using that character she drew for the little boy. The proceeds either went to supporting cancer research or other aspects of work with children who had cancer — I can’t remember, exactly.

I would give you more details about “Scared Guy ™” but I can’t find anything listed on the internet this morning. I do have the original watch box somewhere, which would tell me more, but I’m not looking for that right now.

I don’t have the time.

I have to get ready to go into the hospital, where I work.

And, I confess, I’m kind of a Scared Guy, today.

Why? There will be very few people around today, at the hospital where I work, because it’s the day after the July 4th holiday. I’m the only one there who has certain responsibilities. I may need to do some difficult and new things.

It’s a little too close, for comfort, to the old story I tell about my childhood, where I’m in a hospital, feeling alone, lost, and confused.

However, there are lots of differences today.

For one, I’ll be wearing that watch.

Thanks for being here, and reading, today.


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

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 39 Comments

Day 177: What gets me up in the morning

#1: Gratitude that I have another day.

#2: Belief that my work — and my existence, in general — have some value.

#3: Anxiety, because I work at a hospital, which reminds me of scary stuff I experienced as a kid.

#4: Remembering that I will see people I love today.

#5: Habit, because I’ve been waking up, after sleeping, for 60 years.

#6: The alarm, which is always a piece of music I choose and then use for a period of time. This is the one that I’ve been hearing lately:

(That version fades out at the end, but that seems right, because I never listen to the whole thing when I wake up.)

I’m glad all those musicians — and Aaron Copland — got up in the morning, too. (No matter what time they got up, it was morning somewhere.)

And, of course, I’m grateful to you, whatever time it is when you’re reading.

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Day 164: Unfreezing

When I was a kid, I had lots of scary experiences in the hospital, all by myself, because my parents weren’t allowed to be with me.

I remember listening to the beeping sounds of heart monitors, in the darkest part of the night, feeling frozen.

I’m writing this blog post from a cot in a hospital room, next to my amazing 15-year-old son, who is recovering quite nicely from a procedure, this afternoon, to correct a “spontaneous pneumothorax.”

Earlier, this was the view from his hospital room as day turned to night:

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It’s the darkest part of the night, right now. The only sounds I hear in this room are reassuring ones, including those of my son’s undisturbed sleep.

Each moment I’m with him now, I’m unfreezing.

Thanks, so much, for witnessing this.

Categories: personal growth, photojournalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Day 111: Here and now? It’s safer than you fear.

That may seem like a really strange title for today’s blog post.

Especially since I’m writing this in Boston, less than a week after the Marathon bombings, which created wide-spread (and completely understandable) beliefs of “we’re not as safe as we thought.”  (At least that happened here, in the U.S.)

Especially since I’m writing this approximately 36 hours after “Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19” (as the media is now referring to him) was captured, hiding out in a boat, in Watertown, MA.  According to Google maps, he was hiding right behind the Arsenal Mall, where I’ve shopped for the last 30 years, a block away from places I frequently walk, and less than 2 and a half miles away from where this writer currently lives.

Okay, I want to ask myself  (and you) a question right now.  Why am I starting with time and place, in this post?  Why did I write those previous paragraphs, so specifically, about where and when?

Anxiety can heighten a sense of time and place.

I  state the place and time when I’m anxious, as a way to get a sense of how safe I am. It’s like I’m monitoring the environment and asking this: how close am I to  danger (by location and by time)?

I see that heightened anxiety, now, in people all around me.

I see that heightened anxiety in the people who are trying to make meaning of this new reality: My World After the Boston Bombings.

I see and hear people telling their stories, now, with those kinds of details — focusing on location and time. Details like these:  I live(d) in Boston, during this time.  Family members live(d) in Boston, during this time . Boston is/was familiar to me, during this time.

The punchline, that I hear in these stories, is this: Danger is closer than I thought.

Okay, I’m going to turn to the personal, now.

My Year of Living (What Seems to Be More) Dangerously.

I’ve been noticing, lately, that as I do this daily blog — The Year of Living Non-Judgmentally — I typically write in that state of heightened anxiety. That is, in many sentences I write (including many sentences in this blog post!), I state the place and time.  And I’ve been doing that all year.

That’s because I’m more anxious this year.

Why? Well,  I’m doing two new things:  (1) blogging and (2) working at a relatively new job for me. And the new, as we know, can make us more anxious.

However,  I’ve been remaining  anxious, even as I get more familiar with blogging and my job.

I don’t think I need to explain why blogging —  writing and sending personal information out into the world — might cause me some anxiety.   (Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Writers, Fellow Bloggers  —  you  probably have some understanding of this.)

But why does the work continue to make me so anxious?

Here’s why:  This year, I am doing work I love in a location that triggers old, anxiety-provoking memories in me. For the first time in my long  life, I am working at a hospital, and I  had some anxiety-provoking experiences  in the hospital, when I was a kid.

So, the hospital where I am now working, which is — rationally —   a very safe place for me, can FEEL more dangerous that it really is. Because I have so many memories from when I was a child — memories that color the way I see things in the present, that intensify my vision and my hearing as I walk around my now-safe hospital — as a result, I  can feel less safe than I really am.

How have I been dealing with that, this year?

My own process of helping myself feel safer.

I have been reminding myself — in the Here and Now — of the safer reality.

Whenever I can, each day I walk into work, I enter through the hospital’s main entrance. Then, I walk the 5 minutes to my office, looking around, taking in the sights and sounds, and reminding myself — with my internal thoughts and with the evidence of my eyes and ears — of all these things:

You are not a child now.  You are not a patient here.  You are an adult now.  You are on staff here.

You are in control, now.  You are not stuck here.  You can choose to leave, at any time.

Scary, awful things happened to you, but that was a long time ago (although it can feel like yesterday, sometimes).  

These things happened to you around the corner from here.  And this place may look, sound, and feels like that place.  But that was then, and this is now.  That was there, and this is here.

It’s different.

It may feel close to you,  in time and space.  But it’s further away than it feels.

There’s  distance between danger and you, Ann.

And those questions about who you can trust?  The people who work here may remind you of  some people who did scary things, but they are not the same people.

Those people who hurt you — whether it was by ignorance, fear,  or another one of their own limitations — those people can’t hurt you, right now.

It’s safer than you fear.

Those are the things I say to myself, as I walk through the hospital.

And here are some additional things I’ve been saying to myself, lately, as I walk outside the hospital:

Those people out there in the world, right now, who deliberately hurt others?  You may not understand them.  They may seem bigger and more powerful than other people. But they are the same size as other people.  

And there are others, in your life, who can help you stay safe. 

You are not alone.

It’s safer than you fear.

What I see in others, now

This week,  in Boston, I see people, all around me, doing things that remind me of my own personal process —   trying to figure out how safe they are.

As I wrote in yesterday’s post, it’s the PROXIMITY of danger that can make us feel less safe.   We feel less safe when something  happens — something terrible, something violent, something dangerous, something that shatters our sense of safety — closer than we expected.

And I see others, all around me, already, doing whatever they can to start the healing process.

I saw people in Watertown, MA, coming out of their houses immediately after the lock-down was lifted, cheering the law enforcement people leaving their neighborhoods.

As I walked around yesterday, I witnessed other people walking. I wondered if they were doing the same thing I was doing — experiencing the beauty that is erupting everywhere around us, in the neighborhood of recent, violent danger:

 

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And last night, I deliberately returned to my favorite diner (which — as I wrote about yesterday — appeared in almost every TV image during the capture of the suspect).

I went to that diner with people I adore.

 

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That’s Janet and Ray, whom I’ve known for about 30 years (the same amount of time I’ve known the Arsenal Mall, whatever the hell that means).

I was healing myself, by going back to the Deluxe Town Diner, in Watertown, MA., last night, with Janet and Ray.  I was connecting back with many old, safe memories of that place. With people I’ve known and trusted for a long time.

Janet, Ray, and I were integrating the new, awful information with the old,  as we spoke about the Proximity of Danger. We talked about how the capture took place so close to where we were — as we ate, laughed, and reconnected.

These are attempts to heal.  To figure out ways to feel safe enough to move forward .

That is what I see, every day, in the group and individual therapy work I do.  Whenever I witness people doing that — healing themselves, with the support of others — it moves me, beyond words.

It may be beyond words, but I do try to put that into words, in writing and in speech — here and elsewhere.

Here’s a phrase that came to me, many years ago, when I first starting doing the work I do:

All healing is mutual.

In other words, as we witness other people heal, we heal, also.

That is what I see and hear, all around me.

Thanks so much for reading, here and now.

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

Day 105: Everything makes sense on some level(s)

This seems like an important topic to me.

It really helps me to remember that everything makes sense on some level. (This seems to help other people, too.)

It’s something that I tend to forget, though.

It’s something that I keep re-learning, in new ways, as I grow.  (See this post, which people really seem to like, about re-learning things as we move through life.)

I want to start writing about this topic, in a new way, today.  I want to start telling the story differently.  (See this post, which people seem to like even more than the other one I just mentioned, about the importance of how we tell stories.)

I want to give myself room to write about this briefly — to start the conversation with you.  Because that’s another important lesson I’ve learned — it’s really valuable just to connect authentically, even for a few moments,  and start a conversation with somebody.

Really Brief Digression about the Presentation I Started Giving Last Week

At the end of the presentation I gave — called “The Power of Groups” (which is really about connecting effectively with patients, no matter where —  a medical resident put this beautifully. He said,  “What I learned today was that it’s a great start just to (1) validate a patient and (2) give them some next steps.”  (It made me so happy, that he (re-)learned that.)

End of Brief Digression

So, this is how I want to begin the conversation about this topic today.  I want to start listing things that freak me out — things that make me “too anxious,” and which can make me almost unbearably anxious when I’m under stress.

Today, I just want to name these things (thus reducing their power) and give a little bit of data about them, to start proving that they make sense on some level(s).

I am also going to divide the data into different types:  Reasons That I Share With Others (which help me feel connected to other people) and Reasons That Can Make Me Feel Different (and therefore alone).  This is something I notice all the time, in my work as a group therapist — people connect — and heal — when they realize they are not alone with feelings and experiences. At the same time, they can disconnect about things they feel alone about (and shame about).

Another thing I’ve been learning lately:  the things that make me feel alone and different might not be as isolating as I think.  So I’m going to address that in this list, too.

One More Digression (to stall and also — I hope — to be helpful)

Before I launch into this  list , which feels new, and therefore scary (see here for a fun post about that) (and yes, I am stalling — or “procrastinating” — by throwing in lots of links, because I’m anxious about writing this),  I just wanted to let you know that Naming Things and Gathering Data are #1 and #2 on  This List of Coping Strategies  — even if I don’t call them that on the list.

End of Last Digression

Okay!  Deep breath …..

Things That Freak Me Out “Too Much

# 1 : Giving a presentation freaks me out.

Why this makes sense to most people:

The top two fears of people are public speaking and death.  (See this post for more about that, plus a quote from Jerry Seinfeld.)

Why this makes sense to (only) me:

Because, when I was in college, right before I graduated, the administration decided to give English Majors an Oral Exam (as a way to reduce grade inflation).  The board of professors who gave me that exam were very tough (I experienced them as shaming and humiliating).  I started out gamely, but things they said, (like “You are about to graduate from THIS SCHOOL and you don’t know THAT??”) made me so anxious, that I kept doing worse and worse.  I felt like I was freezing and my brain slowed down, and I remembered less and less. I left the room and burst into tears.  I knew I had screwed up.  When I told a friend how I had done, he said to me, “Oh, Ann. You always think you’ve screwed up.  I know one of the professors who was there. I’ll ask him.” And I remember my friend’s face when he said to me, “I spoke to him. You were right. You failed the exam.”  And I still graduated, with honors, but at  a (much) lower level.

Why that story of mine isn’t so different from lots of other stories:

Many people have had experiences of feeling humiliated while they were speaking in front of others.

#2:  When things don’t work the way I expect them to (especially technology), I freak out.

Why this makes sense to most people:

Lots of reasons: It’s frustrating when things don’t work the way they’re supposed to!  Most of us are trying to do too much with too little, and if things don’t work correctly, we feel like we don’t have time to spare to correct for that.   Some of us, who are older, feel like we can’t keep up with all the changes in technology (computers, cell phones, etc.). Even low-tech devices (like food processors, which freak me out) require a learning curve to use smoothly.

Why this makes sense to (only) me:

I am dependent upon a technological device — a cardiac pacemaker — to help me survive.  When man-made devices fail, that reminds me (on a subconscious level, usually) that my pacemaker can fail, too. (And I had several pacemakers that didn’t work so well , when both I and pacemaker technology were very young.)

Why this story of mine isn’t so different from lots of other stories:

Hmmm. I’m not sure about this one.  Maybe … lots of people feel REALLY dependent upon technology these days.

#3.  People not telling me the truth freaks me out.

Why this makes sense to most people:

Nobody likes being lied to. It can feel like a betrayal.

Why this makes sense to (only) me:

When  I was a kid in the hospital, and had gotten my first pacemaker, nobody prepared me for what it was going to look like in my body. (It was big and it stuck out under my skin, A LOT.) When I first saw it and asked what it was, a nurse — who was the only person there while I asked — lied to me about it.  She said it was just my hip, swollen from the surgery.  (By the way, this was the story that I didn’t feel ready to tell while I was writing this post.)

Why that story of mine isn’t so different from lots of other stories:

Lots of people have been lied to — when they were small, vulnerable, and powerless –  by those who were supposed to be taking care of them (and protecting them).

Oh.  I guess this is going to be a short list this morning.

It’s a beginning list, isn’t it?

And, you know what? I just told a story — that’s really important to me —  in a new way.  In a short way. In a contained way.  In a way to honor my difference and uniqueness, but also to connect with others.

And I feel better. I feel like I changed something here.

So that concludes our post for today, ladies and gentlemen.

I hope this post made sense (to you).  It made lots of sense to me.

Thank you, so much, for reading today.

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

Day 103: We don’t have feelings until we’re ready for them

I said that to a woman, in a therapy session, a few weeks ago.

We don’t have feelings until we’re ready for them.

I believed it when I said it, too.

The woman told me she found this a useful phrase, since she’d been crying a lot lately.  I could see her letting go of the fear of her own feelings, in that moment.

I remember, many years ago, somebody else explaining  to me why she never cried, with this:

 One of my tears would flood the world.

I’ve heard people say similar things, like this:

I fear if I start crying,  I will never stop.

I’ve been crying a lot lately.  I’ve been crying in my office. I’ve cried in a meeting with co-workers. I’ve cried walking down the hallway of the hospital where I work, talking to my manager.

People don’t seem to be worried about me, which is kind of amazing.

I’ve had moments where I’ve wondered if I — and they — should be worried about me.

Am I breaking down?  Is doing work that is so important to me, in a place that triggers some painful childhood memories, too much for me right now?

Or am I just having some feelings that have been there for a long, long time, because I’m ready for them?  Is it possible that for the first time in my life, I feel safe enough to have them?

Are my tears a sign of healing or a warning sign?

Today, I honestly don’t know.

Maybe it’s not an either/or question.  Maybe my tears are a sign of healing AND a warning sign.

So where does that leave me, today, at the beginning of a three-day vacation, after a week at work where I felt so friggin’ overwhelmed, that at times I  was like one of those archetypal Zombies that are appearing EVERYWHERE in the stories people are telling these days? (I’m throwing in a “Walking Dead” reference here, and not JUST to increase readership.)

Working at a hospital, being in a position to create real change — so that providers can be more present in the moment, with people  who are in emotional pain — is an incredible opportunity for me.  It’s a reparative experience, for what I did not get as a child in the hospital.  

It also makes me sad — in a new way, on a deeper level —  for what I didn’t get.

Being back in the hospital, in this new way, as an adult, triggers old memories and fears. These fears really don’t apply now. (I’m bolding that, in hopes it will help me to remember.)

Here’s another mantra, which I offered to somebody in a therapy session, many months ago:

Consider that you might be safer than you feel.

That is something I am trying to tell myself,  every day that I am working in this hospital.  But it’s hard to remember that. Especially when I am overwhelmed by feelings. And by too much work.

So I have felt particularly unsafe — scared —  at the hospital, these days. When I feel unsafe, I tend to isolate. I tend to think that people don’t care.

But now that I’m crying more publicly, my co-workers — whom I might fear, out of old habits — are showing me all sorts of things about themselves, which are helping me feel safer.

While I feel some shame about showing my tears and my fears to my co-workers, this is how they are responding to me, in words and action:

  • When you show us your feelings, we appreciate it.
  • We think you are strong.
  • We want to  help you figure out how to get what you need, so you can stay and work with us.

I want to figure out how to to get what I need, too, so I can stay and work with them.

We’ll see if we can figure it out, together.

Feeling safe enough.  Having deeper feelings. Doing — in the world — what feels valuable and true.

It’s all a work in progress, isn’t it?

Thanks for reading, on this amazing day (with lots of feelings).

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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