Posts Tagged With: Narrative Therapy

Day 2210: The exception that proves the rule

I wonder if this post will be the exception that proves the rule.  In order to know that, we need to know what “the exception that proves the rule” means.

“The exception proves the rule” is a saying whose meaning has been interpreted or misinterpreted in various ways. Its true definition, or at least original meaning, is that the presence of an exception applying to a specific case establishes (“proves”) that a general rule exists. For example, a sign that says “parking prohibited on Sundays” (the exception) “proves” that parking is allowed on the other six days of the week (the rule). A more explicit phrasing might be “the exception that proves the existence of the rule.”

An alternative explanation often encountered is that the word “prove” is used in the archaic sense of “test”.[1] Thus, the saying does not mean that an exception demonstrates a rule to be true or to exist, but that it tests the rule. In this sense, it is usually used when an exception to a rule has been identified:[clarification needed] for example, Mutillidae are wasps without wings which cannot fly, and therefore are an exception that proves (tests) the rule that wasps fly. The explanation that “proves” really means “tests” is, however, considered false by some sources.

Does that exceptional definition, from Wikipedia, prove anything?  Maybe we need to know what the rule is, here, before we prove any exception.

One of my rules here is providing some clarity and explanation about why I’m writing each of my daily posts.  Maybe this post will be an exception to that.

Or maybe not.   In narrative therapy, it’s important to identify exceptions to people’s unhelpful, generalized, negative rules about themselves and their lives.  For example, if somebody sees themselves as a loser or a failure, the narrative therapist helps them identify and talk more about the exceptions to that self-defeating rule.

When I hear exceptions outside my therapy office, I sometimes say, “That’s the exception that proves the rule.  Whatever that means.” I’m realizing now that I do know what it means.

Let’s see if any of my photos today illustrate “the exception that proves the rule.”


Usually we don’t have balloons of woodland creatures in the cafeteria at work.  Yesterday, there was a holiday celebration called “Wintery Woodlands,” where employees received hot chocolate, chocolate-covered pretzels, a calendar, and a lunchbox.  Because I’m exceptionally distracted these days, I left my calendar and lunchbox in the cafeteria. The rule is only one calendar and lunchbox for everyone, so I guess I’m out of luck.


That’s my new and exceptional co-worker, Alice.  She’s also taking a picture of the wintry woodlands in that photo.  I have a rule, in this blog, of not identifying where I work. I don’t think this photo is an exception to that. (Although I have slipped, one or two times, during the two thousand, two hundred, and ten days of blogging, so I guess those posts are exceptions that prove the rule.)


I’ve taken a lot of photos of this hotel marquee, but none of them have ever said, “12 Days of Music.”   I am predicting that this photo won’t be the last one that says that. I’ve also included a lot of music in this daily blog, but I don’t remember ever including any punk.  If so, today will be the exception that proves the rule.

Here’s a punk rock cover of “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”


If you usually don’t comment, why not make today the exception that proves the rule?

I’m considering not thanking people at the end of this post (which definitely is a rule at this blog), but some rules I do not want there to be an exception to.  So, exceptional thanks to all those who helped me create today’s blog and — of course! —  to YOU.




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

Day 1306: Stories

My story — and I’m sticking to it — is that everybody has the right to tell his-story or her-story.

Last night, people in my therapy group told many important and interesting stories.  As an exercise, I suggested that we each create and illustrate our own personal book  — building that story in just twenty minutes!

Here’s the story I created in group last night:





These other images were part of my story yesterday:






How would you tell your story in just twenty minutes? What might be the background music for your story?

This storied song was part of my story, yesterday:

I always end the story of each of these daily posts with gratitude for all who help me write my story and for those who read it — especially you!

Categories: blogging, group therapy, personal growth, photojournalism | Tags: , , , , | 23 Comments

Day 996: What’s the story?

What’s the story?

What’s WHAT story?

One story at a time. On my way to work, yesterday, I saw this …


… and I wondered,  “What’s the story?”

Whenever a story has parts unknown to us, we make up stories to understand, make meaning, and move on. When I saw those abandoned baby shoes lined up neatly outside of Boston’s Fenway Park, I thought

What’s the story I would make up about that? And what stories would other people make up about it?

For the rest of the day, I thought about stories.

What’s the story with that?

Well, since I’m

  • a psychotherapist,
  • an English major, and
  • somebody who loves to read and write

… stories are very important to me. No mystery, there.

What’s the story, with these other photos I took yesterday?

IMG_5099IMG_5104 IMG_5110 IMG_5114IMG_5113 IMG_5115 IMG_5116 IMG_5119 IMG_5120 IMG_5123

What’s the story you might create, about any of those images?

What’s the story with today’s music?

What’s the story with “Aja” by Steely Dan?

I chose “Aja” today because

  1. I heard it on my walk home, when I was looking at some of the above images,
  2. I’ve never included it in a blog post before, and
  3. people tell lots of different stories about that song, including these (from this web page):

The song is pronounced “Asia,” and was inspired by the continent. Steely Dan have several songs with a Far East influence, since Donald Fagen believes it is a symbol of sensuality. He told Rolling Stone magazine that the title came from a high school friend whose brother was in the army and came back with a Korean wife named Aja, although he wasn’t sure how she spelled it.

I thought it very obvious that the song is about a fictional Bordello on the California coast, perhaps San Francisco area. That’s why you hear the police whistle. The part with Wayne Shorter’s is where the police raid the place.

Yet another subtle drug reference in their music: “Break out the hardware, let’s do it right.” Hardware is another name for the needle, spoon, flame used for shooting up, mainly heroin.

When they refer to the folks up on the hill how they don’t give a damn. It’s CAPITOL HILL….. duh?

Louis Armstrong called jazz “Chinese music”, you can guess along with me why (my guess – that jazz is not rational and western, it’s intuitive yet has its own definite yet different kind of logic). So this song is about playing jazz for people who often don’t get it or don’t care.

Since I live near San Francisco, I interpret “up on the hill” to be wealthy bored people on Nob Hill. Coincidentally, someone wrote that Kid Charlemagne” also had a reference to “up on the hill”, and that song was about Owsley Stanley, the guy who (among other things) synthesized acid for the acid tests in SF.

The story goes that Steve Gadd walked into the studio in NYC – put on the cans – and 8 minutes later – he was finished – one take ! Had the privilege of seeing him in Johannesburg with Joe Sample and Randy Crawford. AJA is the perfect number !

The lyrics of Aja paint a picture of a man, perhaps a heroin addict or drug dealer whose only salavation day after a day is running home to the arms of Aja…which lends credence to the lyric of “when all my dime dancing is through, I run to you”

While Donald Fagan wrote the song about a friend’s South Korean wife, named Aja, you cannot help but think that the courtship began as a man knowing where to get his ultimate fix.

The model on the cover of the album “Aja” is not Korean but Japanese. Her name is Sayoko Yamaguchi, whom Newsweek chose her one of the top six models in the world in 1977. She passed away on August 14, 2007.

i was named after this song, and i have great appreciation for its perfection and character, but my middle name is Victoria, and 8 out of ten people ask if that is a porno name…

What’s the story with that?  SO many stories, about just one song, from just one website. And, I’ve told stories to myself about that song, for years, that are different from each one of those stories above.

What’s the story you might create about “Aja”?   Please listen to it, if only to experience the story of its brilliance.

Finally, what’s the story with all the various stories in this post?

Here’s my story. I believe that

  1. being as much as possible in the present moment,
  2. being present with all your senses,
  3. letting go of fears about the future and regrets about the past, and
  4. telling the story of your life, in new and illuminating ways

… can help us all heal, learn, and grow.

Gotta go hear some more stories at work, dear readers.

Thanks to all the people, places, and stories that helped me create this storytelling post and thanks to you — of course! — for reading all the stories here, today.

Categories: personal growth, photojournalism, Psychotherapy | Tags: , , , | 33 Comments

Day 866: Looking up

Since my heart-related surgery 12 days ago, many things have been looking up, including me.

Almost every time I looked up where I  work last week, I saw people looking up to each other in group and individual therapy. Looking up at them, as they worked on looking up in their lives, I heard language like

“Staying above it all”

The language of looking up affects how we look at things, I believe.

Yesterday, I saw the following images, as I was looking up:




Looking up at those photos, I see the familiar and the unexpected. What do you see, when you are looking up?

This photo …

… which I took looking up in the cafeteria at work, reminds me that when we look up, we often see birds (and, sometimes, gluten-free food).

Speaking of birds, as I’m looking up ahead to my June audition for the  musical Follies (with music by Stephen Sondheim, whom I greatly look up to),  I’m looking up at this bird-related Sondheim song as a possible audition piece:

Looking up at that video, I wonder if I’m setting my sights (and my voice) too high with “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” from Sweeney Todd.  Things will probably look up if I imagine my audience looking up at me, while I’m singing,  with appreciation and approval.

If more upbeat music and lyrics help you look up, I just heard Los Lobos, in “A Matter of Time,”  sing

It will be all right

As I’m looking up at this post I’ve just written, I want to express something else about “looking up.”

After dealing with scary uncertainties and difficult decisions (especially about my health) — as I have the last six months — it can be difficult to put all that aside and  focus on looking up.

Things are definitely looking up today, in that regard. I suppose it was only a matter of time. 

I’m looking up, with thanks, to people I work with, to all those who help us find our way, to my fellow social worker Lauren, to worms and bots, to Fenway Park, to Wild Willie’s in Watertown Massachusetts, to Stephen Sondheim, to cast members of Sweeney Todd, to finches of all colors, to linnet and ceramic birds, to Los Lobos,  and to you — of course! — for looking up, here and now.

Categories: gratitude, personal growth, photojournalism | Tags: , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

Day 841: Storytellers

On Saturday, I took this photo:

Every picture tells a story. Does that tell a story to you?

I often tell the story that we are all storytellers, as we communicate and shape our life experiences.

During this  Patriots’ Day weekend, I told stories here on WordPress and elsewhere. I also heard stories told of and by other people, including:

As usual, the storytelling included attempts to make meaning out of very different aspects and behaviors of human beings.

I shall now continue the story of this post by asking this question:

What kind of storyteller are you?

If I tell a story by asking others a question, it’s only fair that I answer that question, too. So, what kind of storyteller am I?

Well, I strive to be a storyteller who is:

  • authentic,
  • thoughtful,
  • inclusive,
  • open-minded,
  • gentle,
  • unblinking,
  • clear,
  • serious,
  • humorous,
  • helpful in some way, and
  • always learning.

I just asked my boyfriend Michael, “What kind of storyteller are you?” and he said

Beats me, baby

so I’ll tell this very particular  story about what kind of storyteller Michael is:

A delicious one.

Here’s some Storytellers music:

I’ll end today’s story by showing you somebody who somehow reminds me of the luck-dragon in The Neverending Story:


That’s my story (and our cat Harley).

Storied thanks to all good people and creatures who helped me tell my story today and special thanks to you — of course! — for reading it.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , | 31 Comments

Day 831: How do you tell the story?

I am starting my story today with the last picture I took yesterday, in my office.

I wrote that in a therapy session, where somebody  was  telling a personal story with paralyzingly harsh self-judgment  and hopelessness about the future.

I have witnessed, many times, how people can get stuck in negative stories about themselves, ignoring  positive exceptions and different perspectives.

Yesterday, I encouraged that person in therapy to

  • let go of an overwhelming and crippling sense of personal failure,
  • to  see themselves as the hero of their own story, and
  • to allow for the possibility of hope and change.

And by the end of the session, there were some glimmers of hope about the future.

How are you telling your own story these days, to yourself and to others? Are you the hero of your own story? I hope so, because who else could possibly play that role, in The Story of You?

How might I tell the story of the photos I took yesterday, presented here in chronological order?






Each of us could tell the story of those pictures in many different ways — depending upon what we notice and the history and assumptions we bring to those images.

I’ll tell you my story of this photo:

Everybody is self centered. The difference is the size of the radius.

And here’s my story about these two:

I have no idea how those photos got on my iPhone.

As I often see in clients (and in myself, too), negative stories tend to stick, leaving less room for the positive ones.

For example, 10 days ago, a cardiologist told a doom-filled, scarily negative story to me, about me, my health, and my future, even though he had just met me and had no medical tests on hand about my very unusual heart.  Ever since that very upsetting encounter,  I’ve  been trying to get that negative story out of my head, by telling parts of it here and elsewhere.

Retelling a story sometimes includes rewriting new dialogue. For instance, since I was too shocked to respond to that cardiologist telling me that —  if I didn’t have  valve surgery  as soon as possible — I would “die a miserable death, ” I am now wishing I had changed that story by replying:

Well, at least I am not living your miserable life.

I don’t know if that’s the best way to tell that story, but I am hoping that telling and re-telling the story of that miserable doctor’s visit — with or without new dialogue — will help me let that story go.

Based on the advice of several people I respect,  I am seriously considering telling the full story of my awful meeting with that doctor to the appropriate hospital authorities.  My main reasons for doing that would be

  1. to prevent other people from telling an upsetting story about encountering this doctor in the future and
  2. to help put that anxiety-provoking story behind me, as I prepare for a less invasive surgery on May 4th and allow room for the more hopeful and complete stories my long-time doctors are telling about my unusual, story-telling  heart.

What will I do in the future, with that upsetting doctor story? I am in the process of figuring out what will benefit me and my personal story, going forward. In other words, the ending of that  story hasn’t been written, yet.

Speaking of ending a story, what musical story should I include, now?

Bette Midler tells an amazing story, doesn’t she?

Many thanks to Bette Midler and to all who help me tell my story in a hopeful and healthy way, and special thanks to you — of course!– for reading my story, today.

Categories: inspiration, personal growth, photojournalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 41 Comments

Day 699: True detective

My son and I started watching the HBO series True Detective this weekend.


(The truth is I detected that image of True Detective many places on the internet).

It’s true you would have detected this on my Facebook page last night:

The best TV show ever? I’m thinking maybe yes, after watching two episodes.Thanks for the push, Jonathan.

You don’t have to be a detective to find out who Jonathan is.  He’s my ex-business partner.

Together, for many years, Jonathan and I detected as much truth as we could, in the murky, confusing, and (let’s face it) profit-driven universe of marketing and advertising.

That’s how I would begin telling the story of Jonathan and Ann in the World of Advertising and Marketing.  The truth is that I don’t know what words Jonathan might use, detecting the truth of that experience.

That reminds me of the narrative structure of True Detective, where the two detectives involved in a case tell the story very differently.

Where is the truth in  any situation, when all involved tell the stories somewhat differently?  How do you detect the truth in all of that?

In my own way, I’ve tried to be a true detective throughout my life. Here are some truths I’m detecting right now:

  • It’s raining outside.
  • I’m going back to work tomorrow — detecting truths, as best I can, as a group and individual psychotherapist in the outpatient clinic of a major Boston teaching hospital —  after a four-day Thanksgiving vacation.
  • Like one of the detectives in True DetectiveI often take my pulse by feeling the artery in my neck.
  • I wonder what it all means sometimes (like some characters on True Detective).
  • I don’t like spoilers, so I just turned away from the internet when looking for different True Detective links for this post.
  • I don’t know what the truth is about my health.
  •  I’ll be seeing four medical detectives in December (who might narrate my story differently).
  • December starts tomorrow.

I detected some photographic truths yesterday and before I present the evidence, here’s the theme music from True Detective (found here on YouTube):

My images, from yesterday:

IMG_2603 IMG_2604 IMG_2605 IMG_2606 IMG_2607 IMG_2610 IMG_2611 IMG_2612 IMG_2616 IMG_2618 IMG_2619 IMG_2620 IMG_2622 IMG_2623 IMG_2625 IMG_2628 IMG_2629 IMG_2630 IMG_2632 IMG_2633 IMG_2634 IMG_2637 IMG_2638 IMG_2641 IMG_2643 IMG_2644 IMG_2645

What true story would you detect and create, out of those?

Thanks to everybody who truly helps me detect and create my my own story, every day, and to those reading my story here (including you, detecting your own truths on the way).

Categories: blogging, personal growth, photojournalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 35 Comments

Day 413: Zipping along

Today, I am flying back home, to a climate that will be more inherently painful to me than the weather in my current location. That is a given.

But, maybe, just maybe, I will experience that pain differently than I expect.

Yesterday, during my last full day in Boquete, Panama, I went zip-lining for the first time. Expectations were present; the reality was different.

Like THAT never happens.

Zip-lining, from the beginning, seemed like a risk, fraught with possibilities for joy AND pain.

Like THAT never happens, either.

The Joy/Pain possibility is a tough one to predict, but it can seem really critical to figure that out, before making a move.  And for days, during my time in Boquete, I did extensive research, and kept coming up with different answers to the question:

To zip or not to zip?

On the Pro/Potential Joy side were these factors:

  1. The potential of flying like a bird, something that sounds darned appealing to me.
  2. More views of the spectacular local scenery.
  3. Bragging rights.

On the Con/Potential Pain side were these factors:

  1. I am afraid of heights.
  2. I have never done a pull-up in my life, although there was controversy about whether this would be a critical factor.
  3. My capacity for physical endurance has lessened recently (and has rarely been “normal”, since childhood).
  4. “Shaming rights” — that is, feeling weird, different, or otherwise “less than.”

One person who was very pro me zip-lining was Ingra, who manages the daily operations of Los Establos, where we have been staying in Boquete.

Here’s Ingra, pre-zip yesterday, as she was giving me advice about how to let go of anxiety and just enjoy zipping along.



Her advice included “breathe, a LOT” and “know that you can always back out.”  I thought these suggestions were wise, especially since I spout them myself, both in the blog-o-sphere and my work-o-sphere, too.

What is extraordinary, for me, about this portion of the story, is that Ingra and I got off on the wrong foot when I first arrived at the hotel.  She and I have very different communication styles, I think. I also projected a lot of judgment onto her. And yet, she developed into somebody I truly like, who seemed to genuinely care that I have a good experience.

Right before I left for the zip-lining adventure, she gave me a hug.

How did zip-lining go, for me?

Well, there are lots of ways to tell that story.  I could say zip-lining, for me, was a personal triumph and/or a personal nightmare. I could say I took a risk, and it was worth it. I could say that I showed bravery. I could say I was different from the others. I could say  I almost quit when I saw the realities of the physical exertion involved, but staff and I decided I should go for it.  I could say I had the thought, “This will be too much for me,” before I even started. I could say I had the thought, “I can do this,” immediately after that. I could say that I did more physical work than any other participant, because — twice! — I needed to make it to a platform by pulling myself hand-over-hand while suspended, alone, over the cloud forest. I could say the zip-line staff went above and beyond in helping me complete the task, once I became physically depleted. I could say that staff and other participants accepted my limits and applauded my efforts.

I could also say that zip-lining and Ann were NOT a match made in heaven (though the location seemed close to it).  Nevertheless, we both survived the experience.

As usual, the worst part of the experience for me was …

…. my old friend, Shame.

Shame told me, once the adventure was over, that  I had NOT REALLY gone zip-lining, because I had needed assistance for the end of the journey.  And I projected those messages of shame, at some points, on all other human beings within zipping distance. And those Shame Thoughts and Projections drowned out what other people were actually saying to me, plus several high-fives mixed in there, too.

My Shame was not impressed, when staff gave me one of these, just as they did to everybody else:


The first thing Shame said was this: that’s not really your certificate, because your name is misspelled.

Like THAT never happens.

And, Shame said, there are other reasons why that certificate of completion does not apply to YOU.

Soon after that, the staff  announced they were going to show us the video they had made of our shared adventure. Shame said to me, “You’re not going to buy that.” Shame also said,  “Maybe you should turn away and hide your face, when everybody else is watching.”

Because that’s what Shame ALWAYS says.

However, I did watch the video. And for most of my appearances, I looked just like everybody else, although maybe a little more … blank.  Maybe a little less happy.

But  I believe that most observers would not have noted the details, which were — at times — so excruciatingly obvious to me.

Like THAT never happens.

It’s true that some of my video appearances were unique. Nobody else appeared tethered to a smiling staff member. And nobody else was shown walking, on a side path with another smiling staff member (who said some very encouraging and cool things to me on our  very short walk1 down to join the others).

Hmmmm. As I’m re-reading what I’ve written so far, and seen how many lines of dialog Shame has in this story, I’m reminded of a photo I took my very first day, in Boquete.  Hold on. I want to find it, to answer back to Shame, right now:


Yay!  I love the chance to use a photo I haven’t shown you before.

Anyway, so back to yesterday .

I DID buy the video of the zip-lining adventure, and here’s proof:


Here’s a better shot of two smiling members of the Tree Trek Staff, on the bus ride back yesterday, after the adventure:


Thanks, guys!  I’m glad I made it.

Now we’ll see if I can make it back in Boston.

Oh, just one more thing. When I woke up this morning, I thought, “Gee, I wonder how small the plane is going to be today, on the way from Boquete to Panama City?”  And my next thought was, “I hope it’s a really small one!”

So maybe I  DID complete something, yesterday.

Thanks to Ingra, Tree Trek Adventures, all the inhabitants of Beautiful Boquete, people who keep up as best they can, those who have all sorts of reactions to zip-lines (and other modes of amusement and transportation), and to you — of course! — for zipping by here today.

1 A short walk, by the way, where we saw another quetzal.  I’m just saying.

Categories: inspiration, personal growth, photojournalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

Day 402: News (good, bad, and indifferent)

Regular readers of this blog know this:  I had my yearly check-up with my cardiologist, Dr. Salem, plus an important test of my heart, scheduled for yesterday.

Regular inhabitants of the United States know this:  The weather has been very challenging this year, and a snowstorm might have posed some challenges, yesterday, for my making this VIP — Very Important ‘Pointment.

Regular readers of this blog know this, also: I have limited time in the morning to write my daily post, which can be a challenge when I have lots to say.

And I do have lots to say, today.

So … how to organize this post, to promote clarity and good communication?

I’ve already indicated some organization — in the title. I also like to tell stories chronologically.

Let’s see how this goes, shall we?

Yesterday morning, after I finished my post, I decided to drive to work.  This was a risk, but a calculated one. With a lot of snow on my car, in the air, and on the roads, I chose a post-rush-hour departure time, to reduce the danger.

As I ventured out, I spoke to myself, like so:

Geesh, Ann!  Why are you (and other people) so afraid about snow?  I know snow causes accidents, but it’s beautiful! It’s light and fluffy, too. While you may have read how removing snow can cause heart attacks, you’re smart and experienced enough to figure out a way to get out of here that’s safe!

And once I felt safe enough, as usual, my sense of play kicked in.  And when I looked at my car and pondered ways to clean it off, I thought:

When you were a kid, you weren’t afraid of snow.  You enjoyed playing in it, and so did everybody else. So why not play with it now?  Don’t worry about looking like an adult, or “doing it the right way” as you’re cleaning off your car!  Just have fun with it!

And by:

  1. evoking good memories of my childhood and snow,
  2. imagining the fun I could have in the present,
  3. being in touch with my adult competencies and wisdom, and
  4. thinking about how I could share the results, at some point, with other people (including you, dear readers) ….

…. the result was: magic.

I know, dear readers, that I need to get to “the point” of this post: my afternoon cardiology appointment. But please bear with me, as I show you some photos of my morning.

I didn’t think to take a “before” photo of my car before I had fun clearing it off, so I will show you a photo of my downstairs neighbor Karen’s car:


… so you can get some idea of how much snow there was.  Here’s my car after (what felt like) a short amount of music-filled fun, playing with the snow:



Then, to get safely to work (and continue to have fun), I just needed to remember:

  • I DO know how to drive in the snow (I HAVE had lots of practice)
  • I have a fine little car, for that purpose: it’s a 5-speed manual, and
  • I’ve had lots of practice with that, too.

So, I figured, if I’m very careful, pay attention, get in touch with my driving skill, AND remember this:

You have all the time you need.

(in other words: “Don’t rush, Ann!”) … driving to work should be fine.

And it was.

Here are some photos I took on the way to work.  (I only took photos while I was waiting at lights I knew were very long, so I wouldn’t have to rush, in any way):





As you can see, there was very little traffic. When I got to work, and somebody asked how my commute went, I said, “It was one of the easiest commutes I’ve ever had.”  And because she had driven in earlier, she looked very surprised.

Okay!  Time to write about my afternoon cardiology appointment.

I was scheduled for:

  1. My yearly echocardiogram, which shows much important information, regarding the function of my very unusual heart.
  2. A yearly check-up, with my cardiologist, Dr. Salem (whom I wrote about recently, here).

Good News

Because of the snow storm, very few patients were there, so I got lots of extra time with everybody.

Starting out, I got extra time with a very helpful echocardiography technologist, whom I hadn’t met before, but who was kind and informative. As a matter of fact, for the first time since 1980 (when I first found out about my very unusual heart), I think I may really understand how my heart works!

My new understanding, after all these years, does not reflect poorly on my cardiologist or on me. No, not at all, since the way my heart works is VERY counterintuitive. My heart has two big “mistakes” which cancel each other out (as a result, the blue blood goes to the lungs and the red blood goes to the body, just as it does with your heart). However,  different parts of my heart are doing things that they are … just not designed to do.

Now, I don’t mean that the different parts of my heart are doing something VERY different. That is, my ventricles — which do all the important major pumping (which is THE job of the heart)  — are still pumping blood to all the right places. My heart ventricles are not trying to do something totally out of their wheelhouse1 — like write this post or drive a car.

However (and this should probably be in the category of “Bad News”), the ventricle that is designed to do the tough work (pumping blood to the body) is doing the easy work (pumping to the lungs) AND the ventricle that is designed to do the easy work (pumping blood to the lungs) is doing the difficult work (pumping to the body).

And therein lies the danger — the possible bad news.  My ventricles may fail, prematurely, because they are doing what they are NOT designed to do.

But, we just don’t know.

More good news:

I also got lots of extra time with Dr. Salem AND (unexpectedly) with my other cardiologist, Dr. Mark Estes, whom I’ve written about previously, too — here (credited) and here (uncredited).

Now, why am I SO SPECIAL, that I have TWO cardiologists?  Well, I AM special.  Deal with it.2

Anyway, where was I?

Oh, yes.  Good news.

Actually, I don’t know how to place a lot of the news I heard yesterday into the buckets of Good and Bad.

I’ll just tell you the news, as I understand it, right now:

  • The two indicators of my heart function MIGHT BE showing a troubling trend.
  • For now, my heart is stable.
  • My cardiologists are not psychic, but they are definitely on top of all the possibilities — that I may or I may not need valve replacement surgery.3
  • Valve replacement surgery had never been discussed as a distinct possibility, before yesterday.
  • My doctors want to switch from seeing me once a year to …. once every three months.  That’s new, also.

As usual, I am trying to interpret “the clues” to figure out how safe I am.

And it’s very confusing, people!

But here’s some good news I’m sure about:

  • My doctors will do anything they can, to keep me alive as long as possible.  After yesterday’s appointment, I “got” that, in an entirely new way.
  • If I do need a valve replacement, they will be doing their best to grab the best window of opportunity, to ensure the best possible results.
  • I asked Dr. Salem, at the very end of our appointment, if he expected to be celebrating my 70th birthday with me. He had read the post I recently wrote, which explains that question. And he said ….


So there it is, in one word: The good (enough) news I needed to hear.

Now, I need to wrap up this post.

I notice I haven’t included  a section for  “Bad News” or  for “Indifferent” in this post  (as I had originally planned).

I think the bad news, from my appointment yesterday, is scattered among the good news. And that’s just going to have to be good enough, for this post.

Also, I want to say this: the “bad news” is probably not as bad as I might fear. What is the bad news that I fear?

That I will die prematurely, and not get to see my child flourish in the world.

But that’s a fear that I probably share with a lot of other people, in one way or another, no matter what kind of heart they have.

And I have great people on my team.  Which is VERY good news.

So what else is missing from this post?  This part of my blog post title:


Here’s what I want to say about “Indifferent” right now.

While I may sometimes assume indifference from my doctors, due to old indifference I experienced from doctors and nurses when I was a child in the hospital in the 1960’s, that is NOT the case, in the present.

As a matter of fact, my current treatment team is the OPPOSITE of indifferent.

Hmmmm. So what IS the opposite of indifferent?


Ooops!  Gotta run. There’s a lecture on Narrative Therapy today, one of my favorite ways of working with patient, clients, or whatever-you-want-to-call those amazing people I get to work with.

But you know what?  Among the many lessons I (re-)learned yesterday is this: I don’t have to rush.

In other words …

You have all the time you need.

Thanks to Dr. Salem, Dr. Estes,  Diane (who did my echocardiogram), people who are different and/or indifferent,  and to you — of course! — for visiting today.

1 To use an expression I’ve been hearing WAY too much of, lately. Why, oh why, are so many people in the media suddenly using the expression “In (or out) of somebody’s wheelhouse”?  What the hell 2 IS a wheelhouse, anyway?  Is it a house made of wheels?  A place to store wheels?  That phrase is totally counter-intuitive to me, people.  I get confused. (Although, I do know what that expression means.)

2 I’m a tad cranky, to tell you the truth, right now. Why?  Hunger (as usual) and, honestly, it’s tough to make sense of all the information I got yesterday. I guess I’ll grab some more food and take a breath.

3  The heart valves are switched on me, also, so one of them leaks quite a bit, presenting all sorts of potential dangers.

Categories: personal growth, photojournalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments

Day 377: Free-floating, re-sticking anxiety (The _ Metaphor)

I know that one way to engage readers, or  listeners, is to ask them a question.

I don’t think I’ve asked my readers, before today, to answer a specific question. But I need help, right now, in completing the title of this post.

Here’s the deal.

Today, I wanted to write about this phenomenon: How anxiety (or dread, or whatever-we-want-to-call-it) can attach to something and — once that issue is resolved — re-attach to something else.

I notice that in myself, and others.

Here’s a personal example. I have a dread of other people’s anger (which I wrote about here and here). Why do I dread that? Probably because I believe, deep down, that if I anger somebody, I will lose them forever. Rationally, I may know that is not true; but my stubborn subconscious still believes it.

As a result, I get anxious if I believe that somebody is displeased or angry with me.  And because I’m human and I personalize things (see here for the cognitive distortion of personalization, among other human distortions), I can see anger or displeasure in a whole range of reactions from innocent bystanders.  That is, somebody else might be distracted or upset about something THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH ME, but my first thought is this:

I’ve done something wrong. They’re pissed off at me.

For the past 50 years or so, I have worked very hard at not having that reaction.   However, because of that automatic response, I usually am thinking that SOMEBODY is mad at me.

This “habit” has resulted in various people in my life getting this message from me (in person, over the phone, and — as communication technology has advanced — through email, text, and social media):

Are you mad at me?

Sometimes, that question is more sophisticated; that is, the language sounds more adult. For example:

Because you have not responded to my messages, I’m wondering if it’s possible that I have somehow offended you.  If so, I apologize. Our connection is important to me, and I hope there is some way we can resume it.*

And, ladies and gentlemen, in the vast majority of times that I have asked this question (primitively or sophisticatedly), this has been the answer:

No. I’m not mad at you.

However, despite all this evidence to the contrary, if you asked me, at any particular moment, this question:

Ann, do you suspect that somebody is mad at you?

If I were being honest, my answer would be:


And I could provide the name of somebody, as proof.

For example, right now, as I’m writing this post, I worry that a friend of mine is mad at me.

What is this based on?

Nothing. Everything. Believe me, I can come up with reasons.

Will I ask this person if they’re mad at me?

Yes, I will, eventually. What do I think will happen?  Past evidence predicts they will reply, as above.

No. I’m not mad at you.

And if they ARE mad at me?  Past evidence predicts we will work it out, and re-connect.

What else does past evidence predict?

Once that worry is resolved, I will — too soon — start believing that somebody else is mad at me.

WHY, oh WHY, do I do that?

As I mentioned previously in this post, I have some theories about that. However, these days, I am focusing on changing behaviors and thoughts without completely understanding the Why’s.

That reminds me of another metaphor I used, with a client, last year. A nurse, who was having some confusing negative emotions, told me, “I really want to understand WHY I’m feeling this way.”  And I replied, “I understand that you want to know why.  However, maybe you could start healing before that.” Then, I used this analogy: “You know how when somebody comes into the Emergency Room with a bleeding wound, you start treating it immediately, even if you don’t know the cause?  Sure, you could treat it better if you knew more. However, even with limited knowledge, you still do everything you can, to stop that bleeding and start the healing.”

And, that metaphor was effective.

So where was I, before the Emergency Room metaphor?

Oh, yes. I want to reduce my free-floating anxiety, especially regarding my Dread of Anger.

So, what helps with that — or any other helpful, healing change?

Communicating, through writing or speech.   Reducing the power of the old habit with the power of words — which includes coming up with metaphors (such as those I’ve written about here, here,  here, and here).

Which leads me back to beginning of this post. Today, I would like to come up with a good-enough metaphor for  free-floating, re-sticking anxiety — whether it’s worry about somebody else’s anger, or anything else.

Before I started writing, I tried to think of something — animal, vegetable, or mineral — that sticks, becomes unstuck, floats away, and then re-sticks to something else.

Here were the candidates I came up with:

1.  Barnacles.

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According to Wikipedia (which is where that photo lives), a barnacle is designed to stick, but it does so permanently.  So that didn’t really fit what I was trying to convey.

2. Sea anemones.


According to Wikipedia, again (where that image lives):

Anemones tend to stay in the same spot until conditions become unsuitable (prolonged dryness, for example), or a predator attacks them. In that case anemones can release themselves from the substrate and use flexing motions to swim to a new location. Most sea anemones attach temporarily to submerged objects; a few thrust themselves into the sand or live in burrows; a few are parasitic on other marine organisms [8] and some have symbiotic relationships with hermit crabs.

Hmmm. I think anemones are a better metaphor than barnacles. However, I don’t love it, because:

  1. I have trouble spelling “anemone.”
  2. The word “parasitic” skeeves me out.
  3. I am very distracted by the implications of the “symbiotic relationships with hermit crabs.”


At this point, I believe that a better metaphor –that is,  better than anemones or barnacles — exists, somewhere.

Which leads me to my question: Can you think of a good metaphor for free-floating, re-sticking anxiety?

I hope you’re not mad at me for asking  — or for taking this long to get around to it.

Thanks to creatures who live (or have lived) in the sea, to anyone who gets anxious, mad, or insecure, and — of course! — to everybody  reading this, right now (whether you answer my question, or not).


* Somebody got this message from me, fairly recently.

** This image lives on a post by a fellow WordPress blogger, sajeevkmenon. I wonder if Sajeev will get mad at me for using that picture? Or for screwing up his (or her) name?

Categories: inspiration, personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 42 Comments

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