Posts Tagged With: illness

Day 301: Bearing up

Yesterday, I met my old friend Lawry in Harvard Square, Cambridge, for brunch, with some members of his family.

It was great to see everybody.  I loved talking to Lawry, his wife, his daughter, his sister, his brother, and his brother’s wife.

It was particularly special for me to spend time with them, because I had been feeling some anxiety, over the weekend, about my health (and some about the Boston Red Sox, too).

And it was wonderful to be back in Harvard Square. (See “What’s the problem?” and “Random Images (paired)“, two earlier posts, for more adventures in Harvard Square.)

Here’s a little photo essay, about my time in Harvard Square yesterday.

A Little Photo Essay

by Ann

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On my way to meet Lawry and his family for brunch, I saw this amazing tree.  I had to stop and take a picture. Thank you, tree.

It was another beautiful autumn day. Those of us who live in the Greater Boston area have been remarking, this year, about how friggin’ great the fall weather has been.  Those of us who dread the onset of winter in the Greater Boston area have been wondering whether this is a good or bad omen about how painful it’s going to be, too soon. (Actually, I can only speak for my own thoughts about this.)

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Moments after  I took that first shot of the tree,  I had to stop and take the above photo. Why?  It’s a sign about a group, people!

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Here’s a closer shot of the sign (and some of the flags) that you can see in the background of the previous photo.

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As I said, it was a beautiful day. Look at those trees and that sky.

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Another sign in front of the church. I snapped this, as a is Note To Self:  “Ann, make sure you sing more (especially as the cold and dark descend)!”

After I took that photo, I stopped dilly-dallying, and focused on getting to brunch with Lawry and his family.

I didn’t have any photos of Lawry or his family members to show you today, because I was too focused on interacting with each of them, in the moment. Right now, I wish I had some visual proof of how great they all are, but you’ll just have to take my word for it.

After brunch, I went to Urban Outfitters because I needed a scarf and gloves — that is, gear for winter,  coming too soon to a location near me.

And …  I DID find a great scarf and some colorful gloves there, which definitely cheered me up. (My philosophy: If I’m going to be cold, I might as well look cool.)

While I was shopping  in the store, I couldn’t help but notice this:

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I had never seen anything quite like THAT.  I’ve noticed lots of children — and adults — wearing animal hats in these parts, but a full-bear winter coat?  I was very intrigued, but assumed it was most likely just for display. (I mean, it’s almost Halloween, for heaven’s sake.)

However, when I was in line to pay for my merchandise, I noticed that the people in front of me — a woman and her son —  had just bought one of those bear coats, which was being stuffed into a bag. I blurted out, “Wow!  You got one of those!  Can I see it?”

The woman paused, but then kindly took it out of the bag, to show me. She told me it was for her son, Asa, who was a student at Boston College. “Will you try it on for me?” I asked Asa, as I told them both about this blog.

This was Asa’s reply:

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How cool is THAT?

Now it’s a day later, and I’m still feeling better.

Many thanks to Asa and his mother, Lawry and his family, Christ Church Cambridge, Urban Outfitters, all things that make life bearable, and to you, of course, for reading today.

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

Day 285: How to choose a doctor

Dear Readers,

I would like to share my abundant expertise with you about an important and timely topic.

Where I live, everybody is talking about health care.

And no matter where you are, having a good doctor on your team is really important.

Here’s what I’ve learned — over many decades of experience — about choosing a doctor.

  1. Make a list of your priorities.  In other words, think about what’s important, to you, in a doctor.
  2. Be an educated and self-empowered consumer. That is, ask to meet different doctors until you find one that matches your priorities well enough.

It’s a short list, isn’t it?  However, it took me a long time to figure that out.

But that’s how I always choose doctors, ever since I’ve become an adult.

Let me show you how it works, for me.

Here’s my list of priorities, for a doctor:

  1. Experience with my medical issues (or, at least, eager to get more experience).
  2. Listens well.
  3. Explains and communicates well.
  4. Flexible thinker  (in order to understand unexpected and complex issues of care).
  5. Responsive to requests, in a timely enough manner.
  6. Demonstrates kindness and compassion.
  7. Creates a comfortable enough atmosphere.

For every doctor involved in my care, I’ve made choices, using that list of priorities.

Last week, I saw my Primary Care Physician, Dr. Laura Snydman.  She definitely meets my priorities.

Here’s some proof, of at least one of those priorities:

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Don’t you agree?

Thanks to Dr. Snydman, adorable dogs everywhere, compassionate treaters of all kinds, people dealing with health care issues,  and to you, of course, for reading today.

Categories: personal growth, photojournalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Day 282: What Would it Give You? (Yearnings)

When somebody wants something (especially something that seems out of reach), this can be a helpful question to ask:

If you had it, what would it give you?

I’m going to ask that question, right now, regarding some things I’ve yearned for in my life.  Some of these yearnings are way in the past, so I’ll do my best to answer them, in retrospect.

When I was a little kid, I really wanted to fly like Peter Pan.

What would that have given me?

Freedom.  Mastery. Joy.  Being above it all.

When I was a little kid, I really wanted to have a cat. And for a while, I couldn’t get one.

What would that have given me?

Another creature to sit with, silently, without expectations.  Somebody to love, simply, with all my heart.

I’m glad I asked myself those questions, this morning.

Now I’d like to focus on some recent yearnings:

Lately, I’ve wanted acknowledgment of my talents, at work and through this blog.

What would that give me?

A sense of self-worth.

Okay!

Whenever you ask the question, “What would that give you?”, here’s  a follow-up question, that can be quite helpful:

Now that you know what you yearn for, are there other ways you might get that, right now?

For the purposes of this morning’s post, I’m going to ask that follow-up question, focusing on the more recent yearnings.

In other words, are there other ways I might get a sense of self-worth, right now?

Yes.

How?

From within.

At this point, I would like to refer my readers to a recent blog post, which helped me, a lot, on  Day 258.

All of you is lovable.

When I re-read that post, this morning, one thing that feels “missing,” for me,  is an image.

Let’s see what Google presents,  in response to the word “lovable.”

Here’s something:

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Hmmmm. While that’s a quote from a Classical writer, studied long ago, that doesn’t quite work, for me, right now.  My yearning is to rearrange the words, somehow. (That particular yearning makes sense to me, since the order of words in ancient Latin is often “topsy-turvy”).

What else did the Google Buffet serve up, this morning, for “lovable”?

This one caught my eye …

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…. because I’m afraid of heights AND I can’t swim very well.

However, I’m still not there yet, regarding an image. Right now, I’m yearning for more. For something else.

Here’s another one:

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I can think of lots of reasons why THAT caught my eye, including:

  1. Unfreezing is a word that’s occurred to me, several times, during this Year of Loving* Non-Judgmentally,
  2. The weather, in these parts, is turning cold, and
  3. It’s a friggin’ heart in a friggin’ block of ice, people!

Well, that was fun, but this post still feels left unfinished, image-wise.

Hmmmm. Maybe I’ve embarked on the “wrong” search, here.  I’m going to re-read this post, and see.

Aha!  How about I search on this, instead?

From within.

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There we go.

No more yearnings, right now.

Time to publish!

Thanks to Ovid, Buddha, wise people throughout time, yearners and non-yearners (in the moment), and to you, of course, for reading today.

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* I noticed this “typo” hours after I published this post. I am letting it stay, as is.

Categories: personal growth, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Day 278: Elevated to tears

This morning, I read this beautiful post, Flow of Water – Flow of Life, at China Sojourns Photography.

I love that blog, every time I visit, because of images like these:

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and words like these:

“Water is pure: two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen.  It has no desire other than to be itself.

  • try to pick it up, control and squeeze it, and it will elude ~ as will a strong human spirit
  • if it remains still, it becomes stagnate ~ as will our body & mind without pursuing life
  • when it flows it becomes pure ~ as when we flow & move: life, love and our spirits tend to flourish”

“Water is resilient.  Soft yet incredibly strong.  An analogy which is often repeated, is how over time water can turn stone into sand with its relentless flow, creating such marvels as the Grand Canyon.  Water never ceases in its pursuit of life…it just keeps on flowing, bending when necessary, and without question follows its nature.”

“My favorite verse from the Dao de Jing is number eight which parallels water with human nature.  If I had to summarize the words of this verse it is: be true to who you are, keep it simple and kind, and flow with your work and in life, without expectations, and you will not be disappointed.”

When I read that blog post, today, I was moved to comment. The first thought that came to mind, was this:

Your post reduced me to tears.

Then, I thought, that’s not right. So I gave it another thought.  And I wrote:

Your post elevated me to tears today.  Thank you.

Before I wrote that comment, I also thought about my friend Marcia‘s comment on my post yesterday:

You’ve gone through the looking-glass Ann, with a wonderful looking-glass heart. And everything there turned out to be really, really beautiful,and we were all flashes of light, gone in an instant but never really gone at all. And Mr. Rogers was, in fact, an essential force in the universe. As my mom always said: “How lucky we are!”

Every time I read what Marcia wrote (including just now), I tear up.

I’m noticing the language there, too.  The term is “tear up.”   It’s not “tear down.”

When I responded to Marcia’s comment yesterday, I wrote:

I am moved to tears.

When people say “I was moved,” that usually involves tears, doesn’t it?*

And movement is good.

Even if it hurts, some times.

Many thanks to Randall Collis,  Marcia, people who see beauty (and luck) everywhere, and to you, especially, for reading today.

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* It occurs to me that this also applies to Moving Days, which, honestly, have been some of the worst days of my life.

Categories: personal growth, photojournalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 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 173: The negativity switch

My negativity switch got flipped.

It’s difficult for me to see the positive right now.

My fears, disappointments, “failures,”  and — hardest of all —  existential isolation are in the foreground.

Hope — which puts the Joie in Joie de Vivre — is hiding.

It’s a beautiful day outside, but I don’t want to go out there.

I know there are reasons behind that negativity switch: recent stressful events and disappointments over the last week or so.  I’ve definitely been “fire-fighting” a lot. For example, my son got suddenly ill and needed to hospitalized (he’s all better!!), my big presentation got cancelled, and there have been other challenges, too. Maybe I’m having a hangover from all those emotions coursing through my body:  fear, relief, disappointment, anger, love, etc. etc.

Maybe I just need to get outside.

Maybe I just need some water. Or some friggin’ food.

On Mother’s Day last month, there was a point that I was getting cranky and annoyed. My bf and I were starting to squabble about something. My son turned to my bf and said, “She just needs some food. Get her some food.”

While I fancy myself a complicated and intricate organism, formed by a rich, varied, and sometimes painful past,  exquisitely attuned to the internal and external inputs of life on multiple levels …

I knew he was right. I ate something and felt much better.

I think I’ll go get a spinach breakfast wrap at Starbucks.

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Thanks for reading today.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Day 149: To Tweet or Not to Tweet (is that the question?)

(This post is dedicated to my good friend, Newell.)

Like most people my age (I assume), I resist some new things.

Like most people (I assume), I resist some new things.

Resistance to new things is pretty common, isn’t it? I mean, it would make sense, that we would resist something unknown.

Change engenders both hope and fear. How could it not?

I’m not sure whether I’m any more resistant to new things now, than I was when I was younger.

I can’t remember!

That’s not exactly correct. I can remember a lot of things. I’m just not sure how to interpret all that data, regarding this particular question: Am I more resistant to change — now that I’m older — than I was before?

My guess, right now, is that I’m more resistant to change if I have some fears about the changes.

And the more secure I am in my competence and skills in adapting to change, the less fear I will have, and the less I will resist a change.

And, actually, dear reader, I’ve been thinking lately that the trend, for me, is to become MORE secure as I get older.

I confess: I like getting older. Whenever somebody asks me, what age would you like to be? I always answer, “This one.” I never name an earlier one.

This makes me feel weird, to tell you the truth. Because I hear so much noise, out there, regarding fear of aging. And I understand it. I do! Because the more we age, the closer to (the big D) we are.

(I didn’t want to freak people out, by using the D-word.)

But, for some reason, aging doesn’t make me feel closer to death, for the most part. (Ooops! I used the d-word.)

Actually, I know the reason. It’s because I was born with a heart “defect”, and I got that message loud and clear from people around me: You probably won’t live very long.

And about two years ago (when I was 58 years old), a doctor finally said to me, “You know what, Ann? I think you’re going to live as long as anybody else.”

So this unusual life of mine has given me several gifts (I assume):

  • I am often in the moment.
  • I am grateful for being alive (almost always, although I lose track of that sometimes)).
  • I enjoy aging.

Just so you don’t think my mind is filled with rainbows and unicorns, I will say this: I’m still afraid of death (although I’m working on that). And there are down sides to being as much in the moment as I am. (I have trouble planning ahead, for one.)

However, I do see My Unusual Life as bringing many more gifts than drawbacks.

Now, some of you, at this point, may be thinking:

What the hell is the deal with the title of this post? What does THIS have to do with Tweeting?

Good questions, astute readers!

Well, my intent when I started writing this was to discuss how I have resisted getting on Twitter, and to wonder whether this reflected (1) resistance to change, in general and (2) resistance to a (relatively) new-fangled technology, from me, an older person.

But, as Dr. Seuss said ….

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Thanks for reading, everybody.

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

Day 67: Fears AND Antidotes!

Today, I still have fears that I might be ill with endocarditis.

I am not quite as paralyzed by fear as I was yesterday, when I wrote this blog post  before leaving home in the morning.

 (I am letting go of judgment, right now, of how confusing that post might have been, and about how I might have included Too Much Information.) (Poof! )

Better.

So even though I’m feeling more centered and calm today, I am still in the challenging and difficult position of waiting for the results of the test for endocarditis.

When I work with people in therapy, I point out to them what a difficult place this is to be: Not Knowing, while waiting for important results. How stressful it is being in a position where you have no control over an outcome which may have a major impact on your life.  (For example, waiting to hear if you’ve gotten into the school you want, waiting for the results of a biopsy, etc.)

I often forget to tell myself what I invite my clients to tell themselves: This is a very difficult place you are in. Therefore, be as kind to yourself as possible.

In groups I do, I hear this very common theme: we can see what works for other people, but it is hard to apply it to ourselves.

That reminds me of the following antidote for unhelpful thinking:

The “Double-Standard” Method. Instead of judging yourself harshly, talk to yourself as compassionately as you might to a friend with a similar problem. Also, ask yourself, “How would I react if somebody else did this?”

That gives me an idea for the rest of this post for today.  I’d like to focus  on antidotes. And when I say “focus on”,  I mean “ramble about in that general direction until I get to the point I want to make.”

 I am now going to reframe some negative mind-reading I am doing,  assuming that you, my reader, might find my writing style annoying.  I am going to reframe that into this: “Maybe some people find my writing style … charming!”  Oooh!  That helped me feel better. I will now reframe again into a more balanced thought:  “Some people might find my writing style annoying. Some people might find my writing style charming. Enough people will find it understandable and worth reading.”

Better.

Yesterday, I did two groups at work, and  I was very focused on inviting people to look at The Positive.

Okay, time for a digression about a way I think about therapy.

Digression about How I Think About Therapy

 I think there is a duality about therapy.  I think it is important to leave room for people’s ambivalence — their experience of the positive AND the negative. I think it’s important to leave room for people’s hopes AND fears.  The light AND the dark.  The good in them AND the not-so-good in them.

I think it’s important for me to show my acceptance of exactly where they are AND have hope with them for what they want to change — in themselves and in their lives. And I work hard to invite people to do the same for themselves.

I think it’s important to invite both sides — the positive and negative. But I want to be careful to invite the negative, especially, because — if I focus too much on the positive —  people might not feel seen, with all their pain, shame, and fears about themselves and their lives.

Lots of clients/patients (I don’t like those labels, but I have yet to find a title I like for people I see)  tell me that others  in their lives don’t want to hear their “negatives” — their  depression, anger, despair, fear, or hopelessness.  The people I see at work often tell me they feel bad about  how other people in their lives react to their pain. This might make them not want to talk to other people. It can cause them to isolate.

And I understand how people who love my clients/patients — or who are otherwise connected to them — might not want to see my clients’ pain.  These people may feel exhausted, helpless, or incompetent about what to say.

I think that’s a big reason why people go into therapy, actually, because they are desperate to have the “negative” parts of themselves — their anger, hopelessness, fear, despair  stuck-ness, etc. — acknowledged, instead of avoided.

So human beings are both  positive and negative,   holding both hope and hopelessness — and they are ambivalent about many things.  By “ambivalent”, I mean that they have two conflicting feelings. For  example, someone might want change AND fear change at the same time.

End of Digression about Therapy in General

In the groups I did yesterday, I wanted to go more towards the positive  (while, at the same time, leaving some room for negative thoughts that were in the room, too).  But I remarked in myself that I really wanted to focus on antidotes yesterday.  I wanted to focus on hope, not on leaving as much room for people’s pain in the moment.

And I named that, in the moment, to the group members.

And I knew (although I didn’t name it) that my wish to go toward the positive was related to my fears about my own health.

And we focused on antidotes, during the group.

As I said in this blog post, I like to use props in therapy.  And two of my props are (1) The Bowl of Distortions and (2) The Bowl of Antidotes.

bowls

There they are — straight from my office to your screen!

What’s in The Bowl of Distortions?  Slips of paper containing the definitions of all 13 cognitive distortions.  The Bowl of Antidotes holds slips of paper containing descriptions of ways to challenge these (which I keep adding to).

Yesterday, because I really wanted to focus on the positive, I suggested that we use the Bowl of Antidotes. And each person in the group chose an antidote from the bowl,  and talked about it with the group  (including details about whether the person used that antidote, how they used it, whether it was useful, what got in the way of using it, how to use it more, and so on).

Here are some antidotes the group members chose from the bowl yesterday:

  • List the positives. To deal with the tendency to focus on the negative, make lists of good things that are happening, good things about yourself, and things that you are accomplishing (even little things). Focus on what you ARE doing, rather than on what you’re NOT doing.
  • The Semantic Method.  Substitute language that is less emotionally loaded and less judgmental.  For example, instead of telling yourself, “I should have known better,” you could say, “I didn’t know that.”
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis.  List the pros and cons of a negative thought (like “I always screw up”) or a behavior pattern (like isolating when you’re depressed). A simple version of this is to ask yourself, “Does this [thought or action] help me?”

Another antidote somebody picked from the bowl was “The Double Standard Method,” described earlier in this post. And this one came up, too, which the group discussed at length:

  • The “In Case of Emergency, Break Glass” Technique. Prepare for the possibility that when you are feeling at your worst, coping strategies and solutions might be difficult to remember. Write down a couple of things that might be helpful to remember when you are feeling bad, and put that in a special place. Also, consider telling somebody else about these “emergency messages,” so they can remind you.

The members of the group really liked that one, and talked in detail about ways to put this one into effect.

Here’s two more antidotes, which we didn’t pick yesterday in the group, but which I’ve been trying to use a lot the last couple of days:

  • Reality testing.  Ask people questions to find out if your thoughts and concerns are realistic or true. This is a particularly effective response to the distortion of mind-reading.
  • The So What? Technique. Consider that an anxiety-producing possibility (even the worst case scenario) might not be as bad as you fear. For example, “So what if this one person doesn’t like me? Not everybody is going to like me.” or “So what if I lose my cell phone? It’ll be an incredible hassle, but I’ll be able to deal with it.”

Antidotes can really help.

Thanks for reading.  As always, I would welcome any comments on any antidotes you find helpful.  And, I love collecting antidotes, so let me know if you have others you like in addition to the ones listed here.

© 2013 Ann Koplow

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