Posts Tagged With: pacemaker

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 147: Labeling

The Cognitive Distortion Du Jour, dear readers, for this blog post is …..


Labeling.

Here’s the definition of Labeling (from the list of distortions I’ve posted, here).

13. Labeling or Name-calling.

We generate negative global judgments based on little evidence. Instead of accepting errors as inevitable, we attach an unhealthy label to ourselves or others. For example, you make a mistake and call yourself a “loser,” a “failure”, or an “idiot.” Labels are not only self-defeating, they are irrational, simplistic, and untrue. Human beings are complex and fallible, and in truth cannot be reduced to a label. Consider this: we all breathe, but would it make sense to refer to ourselves as “Breathers”?

This is a misery-causing distortion that I see all the time– in the people I treat (as a therapist), in the people I love, and (of course) in myself.

Here’s a way to challenge labeling (from this list of “antidotes”):

Examine the Evidence. Instead of assuming your negative thought is true, look at the evidence. For example, if you think “I never do anything right,” list some things you do well.

Let’s see if I can use this, to challenge a label I’ve applied to myself.

Here are labels I use — names I call myself — when I make a mistake.

Stupid. Idiot.

Let me examine the evidence.

I do have some evidence to challenge that, for sure. Actually, when I said to my bf a couple of weeks ago, “You know … maybe I am a smart person,” he replied, “Ann, if you, of all people, aren’t sure about that, I don’t know what else to say to you.”

He was referring to some pretty convincing data: That is, I did well in school. And I went to a really prestigious college.

And I’ve been trying to gather more evidence to challenge those judgmental, critical labels. For example, people sometimes use the word “smart” and “wise” when they describe me. A couple of weeks ago, I found out that a person I think is really smart calls me “brilliant” when talking about me. (This amazed me, but I took it in.)

I’m examining the evidence and it looks good.

You know what, though? All that evidence, no matter how good, doesn’t matter when I’m feeling depressed or, sometimes, just when I make a mistake. Then, the evidence … Poof! …  disappears.

I’m “brilliant” enough, during those times, to make the case that I’m stupid, an idiot, or simply not smart enough, with “reasoning” like this:

I used to be smart when I was a younger, but I’m not smart any more.

I’m a “book” kind of smart. That doesn’t help me survive in this world.

I got into that prestigious college mostly because the admissions people knew about my heart condition and hospitalizations, and because my cardiologist’s family had some “pull.”

If I was smart, I would feel smart!

How can I call myself smart when I see people all around me who are smarter?

People seem to talk to me like I’m stupid, a lot of the time.

Look at all the friggin’ mistakes I make, every day!

Arrrghhh!

Well, I’m working on letting go of those kinds of thoughts, people.

Here are more “antidotes” that help with that, from my handy-dandy list:

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.

Challenge Labels. If you label yourself negatively, such as “a fool” or “a loser,” remind yourself that such absolute terms are subjective and meaningless, and that human beings are too complex to be reduced that simplistically. Also, consider the possibility that somebody else may have given you that idea about yourself, and that they were wrong.

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.

Okay, people, thanks for staying with me, so far. At this point, I’m going to take a break for a walk (it’s a beautiful day — Memorial Day, here in the Northeast U.S.).

Intermission (for a walk on a beautiful day).

I’m baaaaack! And I want to finish this post up pretty quickly, so I can visit for a little while with my downstairs neighbor, Karen. (I’m very lucky she lives here.)

I thought about this post, on my walk. And I noticed that I was …. challenging labels.

For example, in the past, if I had to label what kind of photographer I am, I would probably have said, “an okay one.” I probably wouldn’t have used the word “good.” Why not? Usually, I’m very aware of all the reasons why I’m not good photographer (e.g., I often get my thumb in the picture, I’ve never been trained, I was “terrible” at art classes in school, and, in general, my natural talents seem to land more in the area of sound than sight).

However, last week, my friend Krystal posted this comment on Facebook, in response to one of my Provincetown photos.

“Ann! You are a great photographer!”

What? “GREAT ….. photographer?”

Even though that label was new and unexpected, I let that new evidence in. That is, somebody I respect thinks I’m a great photographer! Yippeee!

And that helped me feel even happier today as I took these photos, during my walk.

Challenging Labels, on a Memorial Day Walk

A short photo essay, by Ann

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That’s a baby rabbit, people … in the morning! I almost walked by it. It was very small and very still.

I was especially delighted and surprised, since we usually see rabbits at dusk. That’s because rabbits (and cats) are crepuscular — a “label” I first heard recently, thanks to my bf, which means “active at dusk and dawn.”

And I guess I must be smart, because I remembered the frggin’ word today, and how to spell it.

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I saw this tree when the song “Lush Life” was playing on my iPhone. I couldn’t capture how beautiful it was, but I tried, a couple of times.

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By the way, Krystal posted something else on Facebook, after she read my Provincetown blog post:

“Ann! You’re a great photojournalist!”

That was echoing in my head today, too, which helped me take these photos.

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I liked the balance of beauty, there. And here ….

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Okay. One last thing I noticed, on my walk, which helped me challenge another, old thought:

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“Purple and red do NOT look good together.”

That’s obviously not true.

And look what I’m wearing, right now:

photo (54)

Purple and red look good together, even on me! (See here for more about that t-shirt.)

Thanks to my neighbor, Karen, for taking that last picture. I needed a little help from my friends, today, to do this blog post. Special thanks to Krystal.

Thanks to you, too, of course, for reading today.

Categories: personal growth, photojournalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 12 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 59: WORLD RECORD (pacemaker)

I’m typing this post while waiting for an appointment this morning at The Pacemaker Clinic.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this blog, I’ve had a pacemaker since I was 10 years old.   I Am The Longest Surviving Person in the World with a Pacemaker.*  I used bragging initial caps in that previous sentence because of something new I’ve been doing lately. I’m being open, even proud, about this.

A couple of summers ago, at a group therapy conference I attend every year, I was participating in a day-long therapy group. During the afternoon, I revealed to the group my Big Secret for People Who Don’t Know Me: the heart stuff and how that affected my childhood. I also described my fears about how revealing this might screw up my connection to the other people in the group. I was afraid that they would withdraw, or see me in a very different way:  as The Person With The Pacemaker.

There was this really cool woman in the group, who was wearing these great shoes.

kelsi dagger

(They’re Neeves, by Kelsi Dagger, which I’ve since found for myself online.)

This woman in my group said to me, “Why not be proud about that?  I’m hoping that next year, when you return to this conference, you’ll be wearing a t-shirt that says something like “World’s Longest Surviving Person With a Pacemaker!”

What she said made a big impression on me. All year, I considered getting a t-shirt.   And a week before last summer’s conference, I ordered this t-shirt on-line.

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During the day of the conference, I had a jacket over the t-shirt (I was too self-conscious to have it out there completely),  but I did show it to the people from my group the year before.  And they thought it was quite cool.

Okay. Time for my appointment. The people at the Pacemaker Clinic are definitely on My Team, and I’ll write more about them in a post here, very soon.

Thanks for reading today!

* Note: In late January 2014, almost a year after I published this post, I heard from somebody who has had a pacemaker longer than I have.  See the comments below, for more about that. I actually am no longer wearing the t-shirt. I’d like to send the t-shirt to the real champ … we’ll see how that goes!

 

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 43 Comments

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