Posts Tagged With: writing

Day 118: We really don’t know how we affect other people

About a year ago, I finally got up the courage, for the first time, to start writing a book,. (See this blog post for some thoughts about “The P-Word” —  procrastination.)

I started this blog, on 1/1/13,  as way to move forward with that book. During my first days of blogging — and overcoming my natural insecurity of doing something new — I sometimes “went to the well” of what I had already written: the draft of my book.

And when I posted chapters of the book (here, here, here, and here), I got good feedback and comments.

But I’ve resisted quoting chapters from this book,  for the most part, as I’ve continued blogging.

Why?

Because I wrote that stuff last year, people!  And I feel like I’ve been learning so much, every day since then — writing these posts, doing my work,  meeting new people, having new conversations with friends, thinking new thoughts  — that I assume that what I wrote months ago is now “out-moded.”

Also, I usually wake up in the morning wanting to write about what feels relevant “in the moment,” as a way to help me deal with whatever is facing me that day.

Also (I confess),  I can be very self-critical.  I often have fears of reading what I’ve written before, because I know that my inner critic — my internalized judgment — might be present, and I don’t want to hear what that critic has to say.

My worst fear is this: if that harsh, inner critic is present when I re-read what I’ve written before, I might stop writing.

And I want to keep writing.

So I’ve resisted reading what I’ve written before — in my book and in these blog posts.

At the same time, writing these blog posts has been helping to quiet down my inner critic.  Which has been wonderful.  So I’ve gotten up the courage, every once in a while, to re-read previous blog posts and look at chapters I’ve written for the book.  I’ve looked at something  I’ve created and said, “It was good (enough).”

So what does this post —  that I’m writing now — have to do with the friggin’ title?  You know, that title you read, a while ago:  “We really don’t know how we affect other people.”

Here’s the deal:  I wrote a chapter, for the book, with that title. And I woke up this morning thinking about that topic.

And I’ve decided that I’d like to share the draft of that chapter, here, today.

So, here it is, ladies and gentleman ….


We Really Don’t Know How We Affect Other People

(Draft of Chapter #? from AFOG: Another F***ing Opportunity for Growth)

 by Ann Koplow

When I am supervising and teaching social work students, here’s one of the (perhaps more annoying) things I might say to them:

“While you are working with people,  you may offer an insight, analysis, or other intervention that you just know is brilliant — that encompasses everything you know about this work.  But that comment — while it shows creativity, empathy, and skill — may not be the game changer you hope it is.  On the other hand, you will say or do things you barely notice which  have a major impact on somebody’s healing. We just don’t know.”

I don’t know how that speech affects my students.  But here’s an example from my experience.

One day, many years ago,  I was talking to my own therapist about some difficult memories of feeling scared, lonely, and sad in the hospital. When I shivered almost imperceptibly, she offered me a blanket, rushed to get it when I nodded, and handed it to me.

When I think about my years of therapy with her, that’s the first memory that often comes to mind.  The blanket. How she noticed I was cold and frightened.  How she asked me if I wanted a blanket. How I said yes. How she gave it to me. How comforting it felt, as I went on, now warmer, to tell her more.

During our work together, she showed me, in so many  beautiful and effective ways,  that she heard and accepted me.  But it’s the blanket she offered me one rainy, raw day that touched me in a way nothing else had.

Who knew? She probably didn’t, either.

I think about that blanket, sometimes,  when I feel proud — or when I feel nervous — about something I’ve said or done as a therapist to others.

© 2013 Ann Koplow

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Here’s the reason I wanted to include that chapter here, today.

Last night, my son and I had dinner with an old friend, Jon, whom I’ve known since Junior High School, and his wife, Debbie.  Jon had reached out to me yesterday, at around 5 PM, out of the blue, and invited us to join them for dinner. And we were able and happy to do so.

Jon and I were both really tired and also (I think) more stressed than usual, partly because of what happened here in Boston on April 15 (the Marathon bombings).  So, over dinner, he and I were having some heated discussions about how the authorities had responded to the situation in Boston.

I got mad at him, during dinner, and expressed it.  I felt a little bad about that, at the time,  because I don’t feel particularly comfortable with my own anger (I’m working on it!).

Last night at dinner, I was afraid that my anger might have hurt the other people at the table (especially my son, who is 15). But after the dinner, when my son and I were driving home, I found out what my son and my friend’s wife had been doing when I had been getting pissed off at Jon.  They, apparently, were looking at each other, smiling, and getting a kick out of it.

In other words, it was fine. My worst fear — that my anger had been hurtful and inappropriate, to a damaging degree — was not true.

I really didn’t know how I was affecting people at the table.

And, one more thing, before I end this post.

My friend’s lovely and kind wife, Debbie, told me last night that she is reading this blog. And she appreciates it. And she’s getting something out of it.

That means the world to me.

I didn’t know how I was affecting her.

We really don’t know.

Thanks to you for reading today. And thanks to Jon, Debbie, and — last, but certainly not least — my son.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

Anxiety can heighten a sense of time and place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How have I been dealing with that, this year?

My own process of helping myself feel safer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s different.

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

There’s  distance between danger and you, Ann.

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

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

It’s safer than you fear.

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

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

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

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

You are not alone.

It’s safer than you fear.

What I see in others, now

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

I went to that diner with people I adore.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All healing is mutual.

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

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

Thanks so much for reading, here and now.

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

Day 110: Arrrghh! I might still be in this guy’s movie

Writing this blog, this year, has turned out to be therapy for me. And I’ve especially needed This Writing Therapy, this past week, since I live — and work — in Boston.

Yesterday, I wrote about how weird, how awful, it was for me, that all the scenes on TV —  as they hunted for the Boston bombing suspect — were so friggin’ familiar.

And that surrealism continued throughout the day, after I published the post in the morning.  Every place the media went, every place they set up their cameras — all were super familiar to me.  I recognized everything.

And the climactic scene, last night, in Watertown?  Hovering in the background, as the news media people waited, was my favorite diner.

Deluxe Town Diner

The Deluxe Town Diner in Watertown. I’ve spent countless hours at that diner.

My favorite t-shirt, which I wear when it finally gets warm enough in these parts (like now!),  is from that diner.

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All the people I love in the world?  Most of them have been to that diner with me.

I am grieving for that diner, right now, in a way. I feel very sad, as I’m writing this —  for how that diner — and all those other familiar things —  have been tainted, in memory, by the violence in and around Boston this week.

But I’m also mad right now, as I’m writing this.

(Anger is part of grieving, too, which you may already know.)

Here’s why I’m angry, right now.  I thought this was over (for me).   Like most people, last night, I was relieved when they captured the guy, and he was alive. The media told us he was on his way to a Cambridge Hospital.   It was over.  The healing could begin.

And I woke up this morning, eager to write this blog post.  Eager to write about lots of things I’ve learned, from this experience.

I love when I’m in that place, of eagerness to learn.

I’ve blogged about something, several times this year (because it’s important for me to remember).   When I’m feeling bad — helpless, powerless, depressed — my own personal experience of  “traumatized” — I forget something. I forget that I will get through that bad period.

But I always do.   I  always move through the bad times and come out the other end, with lots of gifts.  Those gifts always include some sort of wisdom — things I’ve learned that I can apply to my journey through life.

This morning, when I woke up, I thought I was through the Bad Time — the time when things feel out of sync, unfamiliar, scary, overwhelming, confusing, shocking — of this Boston Trauma.

But I’m not.

Now, I’m reading that the media is reporting that the guy might be at the hospital where I work.

So when I go back to work on Monday (after missing work yesterday, because my home was on lock-down), I’m assuming that my world will look different.  The media will be there.  The police will be there.

When I was talking to people — staff and patients —  last week, at the hospital where I work, I could see that people were traumatized by the proximity of the pain of the explosions.  Some of these people had run in that Marathon.  Almost everybody knew somebody who was in the race or watching the race.

And, according to the media, several of the severely injured people from the bomb blasts were at the hospital where I work. Staff talked a lot about how we could help others — and ourselves — deal with the nearness of all this.

I am so angry at “the bombing suspect” (as the media calls him) right now. I’m so angry I can’t even go there — write about it —  right now.

I’m especially angry that I might still be in this guy’s movie.

I’m also angry at the media — the ones who are making this friggin’ movie.  I’m especially angry about the misinformation that the media puts out there. I’m angry about the mistakes they sent out over the airwaves — throughout this experience that overtook my home — without ever owning their mistakes.

Digression about Why I’m So Pissed at The News Media

As I wrote,  earlier this year  (regarding how Weather Forecasters Never Admit When They’re Wrong, here),  it drives me up the wall when people promote speculation as fact. I don’t like when people  say they’re sure about something, when they’re not sure. And I don’t like it when they don’t own their mistakes.

The more powerful the people are who promote Speculation as Fact — the more angry I get. I judge it as irresponsible – because it hurts more people.

That drives me up the wall because I, personally, am soooooo careful to  say: I Am Not Sure About This.  That is a value of mine — to own when I don’t know something. I don’t want to mislead people. I don’t want to use my power — my expertise — to give somebody the wrong information.

The 24-hour News Media?  That doesn’t seem to be a value of theirs, at all. And I can understand the forces that dicate their being that way — that viewers want to know what’s going on, that they don’t have time to fact check, etc. etc.  But it still drives … me … up … the …. wall.

End of This Digression

So, right now, I’m assuming that my place of employment — the location where I get to do work I love — might be crawling with the media on Monday, when I go back there. Lots of law enforcement around, too.

Can you picture it?  Imagine what that might be like?

I’m imagining this: Bright lights, armed people.

The volume — and the visuals — turned WAY UP.

Dear readers, I was so ready for my world to start looking normal again.

For me, it might still be Trauma Central, on Monday. Because this is how I am defining Trauma, right now. It’s when the familiar and the safe becomes strange and frightening. It’s when we have trouble seeing past that, to a return of normalcy.

Damn it!

Well, as my sister said to me this morning, if he is there,  he won’t be there for long.  That helped — to look ahead to when my personal healing can begin.

And it’s a relief to know, that for many people around me — the people who were “locked-down” yesterday, the people who recognized the locations on TV yesterday, the people for whom the Boston Marathon was a comforting touchstone, the people whose sense of reality was disturbed in any way by the bombings here on April 15 — the healing process DID begin, last night. It began with the capture of the suspect, last night, in Watertown, MA.

I felt that relief, last night, too.  And I guess — I know —  that I will feel it again.

And for the rest of this weekend, I can try to help that healing process along, before I might need to return to the Familiar/Unfamiliar at work on Monday.

I will use those things that help me,  this weekend.

I’ll be more in the moment. (I’m not at the hospital, now!)

I’ll listen to music I love.

I’ll walk around my no-longer-locked-down town, and take in all those beautiful flowering trees — the ones I wait all year to see.

I’ll connect to people I trust.

I’ll talk about it.

And I’ll write about it, here.

Thanks for reading, as I do.

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

Day 109: 7:09 AM These guys are turning my world into a violent movie

I live in one of those communities, shut down, right now, by the escaped Boston Marathon bomber being on the loose.

I’m writing this as I’m watching this on TV.  I assume many of you share this with me — seeing these scenes.

It’s hard to feel safe right now.  Again, as on Monday, I am getting messages from people who are NOT here, asking me if I’m okay.  I appreciate people reaching out.  That does help.

I just got a phone call from the local police, telling us not to leave our homes.  I am picturing this guy, roaming the streets, becoming more desperate, perhaps about to break in to my home.

My bf came downstairs, while I was in the kitchen, and I jumped. I jumped out of involuntary fear.

Every place that is shut down, right now, is a place where I’ve lived, worked, or gone to school.

As I am writing this, the media are showing “an unfolding scene” in Kenmore Square, another place I’ve spent many, many normal, pre-2013 Marathon Day hours.

The whole world is watching, as the media — right now — is filming this “movie”, this story, filled with speculation and fear, with “tension so high” (I am quoting the TV commentator, as I am watching too, right now).   I’m in a movie I didn’t choose — that I didn’t want — right now.

I recognize all the scenes they are showing, on TV —  as these two guys have been wreaking more havoc– these guys, whose movie I am apparently in, right now.

I’ll say it.

This feels traumatic, on some level.  This is — in the moment — changing my world in ways I cannot control. It is making my world look different  It is making my world — all these familiar touchstones of my entire daily life — look dangerous.

I am in the first stage of trauma, I guess. Shock.  Not understanding.  Trying to make meaning, in the midst of violent chaos which also FEELS VERY FAMILIAR, but in a new way. What’s being reported by the media — more bombings, shooting, escapes, chases — are familiar to me from movies.  The location, the geography, the visuals, are super familiar to me, from every day life.

I don’t know about you, but I get really affected, when I see a local scene I recognize in a friggin’ movie.

This is new, though. Not sure how it’s going to affect me.  I am aware of lots of people, all around me, being affected — being changed by a new experience.

This will have an effect, for a while.  I’ll see it in myself, in others who live where I live. I’ll see it, in my work, as a psychotherapist, who works at one of the affected hospitals.

I don’t know how this story is going to end, but I do know that I’ll be seeing the effects.

I know that I — and lots and lots of other people — will be trying to make meaning of this, in order to regain a sense of “enough safety.”

Like I am trying to make sense, right now.

I wrote on my Facebook page, earlier this week, the following:  “I’m grateful I live in a world where I can blog. Really.”  I wonder if people knew what I meant?  I wonder if that makes sense to you, right now.

When I was working with people in groups, yesterday, we were making lists of “What Helps Right Now.”  People named these things:  “Distracting,”  “Helping Others,” “Taking Care of Myself,”  “Not watching TV”, “Connecting with others.”

My addition to the list?  “Writing about it.”

Here.

Thanks for reading.

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

Day 102: How to stop and tie your shoe

Yesterday, I wrote about Bill Rodgers, who won many marathons during the 70’s, and how he stopped during an important race to tie his shoe.

This story spoke to me about my current need to take care of myself.  To slow down.  Because I am definitely doing too much (work) with too little (external resources), right now.  And that can be a self-perpetuating cycle, because the longer this kind of stressful situation continues, the less internal resources (stamina, health, enthusiasm, focus) I’ll have to drawn on.

So, the first question I would like to ask myself, right now, is this:

What helps me, in the moment, when I am feeling that level of stress?

Here is what is coming to mind right now:

  1. Asking for help and support.
  2.  Allowing room for all my feelings, even if those feelings include anger — new AND old. (Most of us have certain feelings we “don’t like” or “disown.”  And  repressing those feelings — which is an old habit — does NOT help.) (I’ve been screaming in the car lately, which is actually fun.)
  3. Setting limits, clearly and firmly.
  4. Recognizing and owning my personal power (for me, that includes realizing that I am not helpless and small, like I was when I was a child) (it also includes realizing that I have options — that I am not trapped in a current situation).
  5. Realizing that I am not going to do a great job at everything. I just can’t.
  6. Setting priorities (because of #5).
  7. Letting go of past regrets and future worries, to be in the moment with all my senses (especially since the trees are starting to flower!!!

And there is one more:

8.  Writing down my thoughts and feelings.

Voila.

Thanks for reading (as I stop and tie that shoe).

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Day 91: The difference between arrogance and confidence

I am writing about this topic  because I dealt with somebody today, in a position of some power,  whom I  experienced as arrogant.  “Arrogant” was the adjective that occurred to me several times during the interactions I had with this person and the interactions I witnessed with other people.

And that had an effect on me, especially because I spent a lot of time in the hospital, as a child, dealing with all sorts of medical people, who were in positions of power.  I found it particularly challenging — and painful, at times — to deal with arrogance in that setting.

I will look up a definition of “arrogance” shortly, but first I want to say that my definition of arrogance definitely includes the following: a disinterest in listening to and learning from others.

I hesitated to write about this topic today, because I am, obviously, being judgmental here. To a certain extent, I am mind reading — assuming I know what is going on in the mind of somebody else.  How do I know whether somebody is disinterested in learning and listening, really?  I’m just guessing.

Here is an on-line definition of arrogance:

n.  offensive display of superiority or self-importance; overbearing pride; haughtiness.

Looking at that definition brings to mind something else.  I also hesitated to write about this topic today because I see so many people who are afraid of being arrogant — to the extent that they are afraid of being confident in themselves.

That concerns me. I often want to encourage people’s confidence and their belief in themselves. And it’s tricky, because how do we know if our pride and our sense of our own importance is “offensive” or “overbearing”?  Fear of being too confident often results in “playing small,” as described in the Marianne Williamson poem I included in a post, here.
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I don’t know if this will help, but here’s another of my own personal definitions of arrogance:

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If you are afraid of being arrogant, chances are you are not.

That’s a nice simple rule, isn’t it?

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I also wanted to take this space to respond back to another blogger’s kind wish to connect with me and other bloggers by asking a series of questions.  And, as I’ve written before in this blog, I love questions! (See here for more about that, plus a tres cool special about Jackie Chan.)

Caliwow asked me to answer the questions she posed in this blog post.  I will now do my best to answer them authentically (while also sleazing out of answering some of them):

Q.  How old are you? *muwahahaha!*      

A. I  made it to 60!  

Q.  What is your favorite country and why?              

A.   I will pass on that question, because I don’t want to hurt any country’s feelings.

Q. If you could be any other race, which would it be and why?          

A.  See above for not wanting to hurt any feelings.

Q.  How do you make decisions?    

A.  Very reluctantly.  According to my Myers-Briggs test results, I have a high level of Perceiving (vs. Judging), which means I love collecting more and more data before actually making a decision.

Q. Share one moment in your life where you legitimately thought you were going to crash and burn; end up either losing all your friends, becoming homeless, have to move back in with your parents, etc…

A.  I’ve dealt with a couple of severe — although thankfully short-lived —  depressions in my life.  I definitely had some fear of “crashing and burning” during those.

Q. What are some of your top things to blog about?

A.  Questions and answers!!!

Q.  Who you pick from history to sit down and explain McDonald’s to?

A.  I have trouble explaining most things, much less McDonald’s.

Q.  Would you rather wake up naked and sore with no memory of the night before next to the Burger King telling you “you had it your way” or next to Ronald McDonald who told you how much you were “loving it”?

A. See above regarding my difficulty making decisions.

Q. Which TV show would you like to be a guest on?

A.  The Daily Show.

Q.  If you HAD to be a dangerous criminal from history in your next life, whom would you choose?

A.  I’m not coming back, if that’s my only choice.

Q. What type of utensil do you prefer while writing? Pen, pencil, marker, crayon, calligraphy brush, etc…

A.  Oh, man. Those were the good old days.  These days, I’m writing with a keyboard.  When I do use a utensil, it’s a pen.

Thanks, Calliewow, for including me in this question tag,  and for your inquisitive mind.

And thank YOU, for reading.

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

Day 90: How I got back to sleep last night (featuring selling and sound effects)

Good morning!

Even though I often wake up feeling uneasy, this morning I woke up feeling pretty centered, relaxed, and optimistic.

I woke up in the  middle of the night, too.  (I’ve posted about mid-night awakenings and other sleep challenges,  like here, here, and here).  And I came up with some ideas, after waking up,  about how to get back to sleep.  I liked those ideas, to the extent that I thought, “I’d like to blog about that tomorrow.”

(Hmmmm.  It’s a weekend blog; therefore, I feel a digression coming on.  And what I would LOVE, right now, is  a sound effect for digression.  How about a quick day-dream-y harp?)

Digression about Selling

I’m STM (Smiling to Myself) right now, because I’ve noticed that the first few paragraphs of this post sound like I might be trying to sell you something. The language reminds me of the beginnings of advertising pitches: “I USED to have THIS PROBLEM. And then, I TRIED THIS.”

And just yesterday, I wrote about selling, fears about being taken advantage of, and how that can screw up  interpersonal connection.

But let’s face it, I try to sell people things, too.  We all do, don’t we?  Passing on advice or ideas is a kind of selling, even though the focus of giving advice (and of this blog) is not generating money.  Here’s a definition of “selling”, from the Free Dictionary:

1. To exchange or deliver for money or its equivalent.

2. To offer for sale, as for one’s business or livelihood: The partners sell textiles.

3. To give up or surrender in exchange for a price or reward: sell one’s soul to the devil.

4. To be purchased in (a certain quantity); achieve sales of: a book that sold a million copies.

5. a. To bring about or encourage sales of; promote: Good publicity sold the product. b. To cause to be accepted; advocate successfully: We sold the proposal to the school committee.

6. To persuade (another) to recognize the worth or desirability of something: They sold me on the idea.

I’m focusing on that last definition, which fits best.

As much as I think of myself as a Person Who Does Not Like To Give Advice (even though I’m a therapist!), I do like to persuade people — especially if it’s about something valuable I’ve learned.  So even if I do lose my investment  in the results of my persuasion — whether it actually helps somebody or not —   it’s still a kind of selling (according to Definition #6).

I mean, geesh!  Even linking to another blog post (as I have, several times, in this post) is an attempt at persuading you. When I link like that, I am essentially saying, “This is something else you might find helpful.”

So, in conclusion, Ladies and Gentleman of the Blog-o-Sphere, I am selling, too (according to Definition #6), even if it’s just Something That Might Help.

(Okay, now I want a sound effect to indicate the end of a digression, and a return to the point before the digression.)  (How about a gong?)

End of Digression About Selling

So here’s what helped me last night, when I woke up in the middle of the night.

I asked myself these questions (and gave brief responses!):

(1)  Is anything worrying you?

(2) If there is, what is it?

(3) Is it really something to worry about? That is, might you be safer than you think?

(4) Is it something that could be attended to right now?

(5) If so, could you do something quickly, as a next step?

(6) If not, could you make a quick note about it?

I didn’t have a pad of paper by my bed (or my cell phone) to make a note (which seemed like an important part of the process to me). Nevertheless, I got back to sleep pretty quickly.

And I woke up feeling pretty centered, relaxed, and optimistic.

That’s the data, folks.

I’m going to put my cell phone within reach tonight, before I go to sleep, and try this (one weird trick) again.

Thanks for reading!

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

Day 66: Random Thoughts, before an 8:30 appointment

I woke up this morning feeling scared, and my natural preference for that was to isolate.

So I was choosing to write in my blog, rather than to talk to my boyfriend.

I noted that, and realized that it might be more helpful to connect with another person.

So I consciously chose to talk to him, briefly, before coming downstairs to write this blog post.

My wish this morning is to write this post before I leave for an 8:30 dentist appointment.

I know that what will help me to write this blog post quickly is to give this post a title like “Random Thoughts,” because that will quiet down my critical self, and allow me to just write, rather than judging and rewriting as I go.

I woke up pretty scared this morning, immediately aware of my hip pain, and my associated fear that I have endocarditis.

I wondered if this hip pain is “psychosomatic” — that there is actually nothing wrong with me.

I also have been worrying — now that I’ve blogged about this fear, sharing it with who knows how many people — that sharing this might have been a mistake.

Of course, it’s done, and I can’t undo that, and worrying about what is in the past does not help.

But that worrying has been very pervasive since I posted yesterday, so it might be helpful to look at that for a moment.

What seems to help me — when I’m scared — is to identify a link with my past, when I was a scared little girl in the hospital, dealing with heart problems and surgeries, alone without my parents for most of the time. (I write more about that experience, here.)

I had a pacemaker, starting at age 10, and because technology was so new, the pacemakers would break, a lot. The batteries would run down, the wires would break in various places, once the casing of the pacemaker — which wasn’t strong enough — “got permeated by my body fluids” (I swear I remember them using that exact phrase, when I was a kid).

It’s occurring to me now that my family and I, if we had been a litigious bunch, I suppose, could have sued about this stuff. Because, looking at it now, with the eyes of an adult, in a law-suit-permeated society, I guess we could have “made the case” that they were putting these pacemakers in a child before the pacemakers had been tested enough.

But this was at the dawn of pacemaker technology, and we didn’t have a choice. It was either use new pacemakers or lose me. At least, that was the story the doctors were telling, and i think that was a reasonable story at the time.

I remember my mother telling me the story of how the doctors broke the news to them that they had decided to put a pacemaker in me, at age 10. I had a heart stoppage during an observation visit at the hospital, which the doctors had never witnessed before. We think that my heart had stopped twice before, at that point, because I had fainted, once at home and once in the school yard. “Heart stopppages.” That term might not be accurate, right now, because in all three cases, my heart started up on its own again.

But the doctors still reacted very strongly when I fainted at the hospital, and they realized that my heart had stopped (and then started up again). They totally changed the game plan, and decided to put in a pacemaker the next day. My memories are that they had never even mentioned a pacemaker as a possibility before. (Or maybe they had mentioned it to my parents, who then kept that possibility from me. But I don’t think so.)

So after I fainted in the hospital (which I think was either on November 20th or 21st, 1963), the doctors decided to put in a pacemaker ASAP (which was on Friday, November 22).

That is a date which some readers will recognize immediately. November 22, 1963.

Anyway, I will say more about that in a future post.

So to return to my immediate goal this morning — I want to write a post that is helpful (for me) (and, therefore, perhaps for others) and reasonably coherent, by 7:15, which is 13 minutes from now.

So what is it that is most important for me to communicate this morning?

These random things:

When I am more scared than usual, there is usually an association with my past — when I was (apparently) a terrified little girl, alone in the hospital.

It helps me to name that. It helps remind me that I am NOT a scared little girl, alone in the hospital now.

I have skills I didn’t have then.

I have knowledge I didn’t have then.

I have connections I didn’t have then.

While I feel like I’m alone — while I feel like I have to withdraw from others in order to protect myself — I am not alone.

I think that’s what I needed to write this morning. I feel better now and ready to go out into the world, meet my obligations of the day, and bear my fears about my current medical condition.

However, I have seven more minutes!

So I’ll use the time to write down some other, less crucial random thoughts, dear reader.

Here they are:

When I use the term “dear reader” in my blog (even though both my son and my boyfriend don’t like that term), it’s my way of consciously trying to connect.

I’m good at connecting with people. I had to be, to survive as a little girl alone in the hospital.

I love that I’m good at connecting with people. It makes me good at my job, as a psychotherapist. It adds color and value to my life, every day, at work and everywhere else I go.

When I’m more scared, depressed, in worse mood, “more symptomatic” (whatever language I use for feeling worse), I tend to isolate.

And part of isolating is mind reading — projecting onto others my fears and judgments about my self.

One thing I’ve been doing since I blogged yesterday — which was a tough and important post for me to write — has been feeling some shame about sharing things that feel that personal — and medical — with people I know but also many, many people (even though I don’t know how many) that I don’t know.

It has been occurring to me a lot lately that blogging — sharing in the blogosphere — is very much like doing a therapy group. It evokes a lot of the same benefits — connecting and letting go of old habits and fears — as well as the same fears — have I said too much? will people judge me?

Sometimes I feel like a facilitator (group leader) when I’m doing this “Blogging Group”, and sometimes I’m more of a participant.

When I write about illness and fear, I feel like more of a participant.

Being a participant in a group is riskier than being a facilitator/group leader.

I have three more minutes!

It’s helping me to write down these thoughts.

There are lots of other things that I might write here, because I have lots of thoughts and have had a rich and complex past.

But what feels most important for me to say?

I guess I want to let you know that I have been projecting some old fears and hospital experiences on to you — my readers.

I’ve felt scared because I told you, yesterday, about my fears of having endocarditis. And that got me into a whole series of scary thoughts, which remind me of when I was a kid in the hospital, with a failing pacemaker.

Here are some thoughts that came up when I was a kid thinking something was wrong with me medically (that my pacemaker was failing), and which come up now (that I am afraid I have endocarditis):

Should I tell other people about this?

If I do tell other people about this — that I’m afraid that there is something wrong with my health — something that might be life-threatening — there are some risks.

I might be wrong. If I’m wrong and I got other people scared, I might lose them. They might get annoyed that I caused them unnecessary worry. I might lose credibility with them. “She’s the girl who cried ‘Wolf!’ We stopped listening to her!” And I did feel, when I was a kid, that I had to be right, 100% of the time, when I let people know I feared that my pacemaker was failing. If I was wrong one time, I believed THAT is what would stick — and they would never believe me again. But if I didn’t say something, I might die, because of a faulty pacemaker, which I was aware of, because my heart was skipping, but which was intermittently malfunctioning, so that the doctors could not replicate the problem at first. So i DID need to say something, But I might be wrong.

So being wrong was/is very scary.

I might be right. If I was right, I would need to have surgery (or — if I’m right about the endocarditis, I’ll need to leave work for a while and be on IV antibiotics for 6 weeks, and this will have been the fourth time, and last time, they said they might need to take some drastic measures, like extracting all my teeth) (NO!!!).

So being right was/is very scary.

Okay, I ran three minutes over. I think I can still get to my appointment on time.

I am not reading this over, at all, dear reader, before I post. I might, later, read this over and make some very basic corrections, if my fear is that I’ve lost you too badly. I want you to understand me!

Okay, now I’m done.

One more thing, of course: thanks for reading.

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

Day 52: Preparation and Spontaneity

While I’ve thought of several different topics (and titles) for today’s blog post, here’s my ultimately goal for this post:

I am giving a 30-minute presentation, later today, at the hospital where I work, to somewhere between 8 and 15 doctors and residents. The presentation is about the work I’m doing at the hospital, which includes group therapy. So what I want to get out of today’s blog post is the following: (1) reducing my anxiety about doing this talk  and (2) helping myself prepare what I’m going to say.

Here’s the deal about #1 above: I’m actually not anxious AT ALL right now ,which surprises the heck out of me, for many reasons.

Here’s the deal about #2 above: I’ve been thinking a lot about preparation lately, and how challenging it can be to balance preparation and spontaneity, which seems so important when you are preparing for  …… um …… anything (including a presentation, a party, a meeting, a therapy group,  writing something, or anything else one might feel the need to prepare for).

I want to write a little bit, right now, about public speaking, because — let’s be blunt — that’s what I’ll be doing today.  And Fear of Public Speaking is one of the most common phobias — it’s often what people fear more than anything.   Jerry Seinfeld has a funny  line about that. I just googled that line and here it is:

“According to most studies,  people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number 2 is death. Does that sound right?  This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

Man, I love Jerry Seinfeld. I’ve loved him since I first saw him — decades ago, when he first started performing  stand-up on late-night talk shows.  I could spend this entire blog post analyzing that above line and why it’s so effective — especially in terms of beautiful communication with the audience.  But I won’t. (Maybe that could be the topic of a future blog post?  That would be fun!  And I do have all year, don’t I?)

So why is public speaking sooooooo scary?

Well, here is my “expertise” about this (based on my own experience):

When I’m anxious about public speaking, I’m afraid I’m going to screw up.

That’s about it, folks.

Well, let’s take a little bit of a closer look of what “screwing up” means to me.  And I can really freak myself out about this — with lots of frightening details, dire results,  and scary images, too.

If I were to get anxious about the presentation today (and I’m assuming that’s going to happen AT SOME POINT today), here are some of the thoughts I might have:

I haven’t prepared enough about this.  What’s the matter with me?

I won’t have enough to say.

I’ll freeze.

They’ll all be staring at me, thinking things like …. She’s an idiot! She has no idea what she’s doing! Who hired her?  I would NEVER refer any patient to her, for group or individual work!  

The residents — my audience — will  be bored.

I will pick up negative signals from them (that they’re bored, impatient, confused, judgmental) and even if I was doing okay before that, I’ll immediately stop doing okay.

I’ve prepared too much for this.  

I have too much to say, and I’ll run out of time.

Because I didn’t prepare enough (or prepared too much), what I have to say is confusing.  

I’m sure I could keep going, with this Festival of Anxiety, but I think you get the picture.  (And I assume that some of you can relate to these kinds of thoughts.)

Okay, time out!  As your Blogging Host, in This Year of Living Non-Judgmentally, I would just to point out  there are several cognitive distortions in my Scared Thoughts, above.  These include — at least! — Fortune Telling, Mind Reading, Labeling, and Catastrophizing. If you want to check out the 13 Cognitive Distortions (and maybe figure out how many distortions made an appearance above) see here.

So I guess I’ve already helped myself, this morning, by identifying cognitive distortions that are often involved in Fears about Public Speaking.  I’m hoping that naming those — here, with you —  will help “inoculate” me for later today, when those fears, inevitably, want to creep in. (That is,  as the 1:15 Time of My Talk approaches).

Eeeek!  (I definitely got a little Anxiety Bump, right then, when I wrote the starting time.)

Okay, reality check here, as I’m writing this post.

I had some things I really, really wanted to write in this post, because I thought that would help me prepare for the talk.

And, as usual, I’ve gone different places in this post (places I value, though). But how important is it —  that I write what I first intended to?

And how important is it that I prepare for the talk, by writing this post?  Wouldn’t it be okay (and make it more fun!) if I didn’t worry about preparation, had faith in my ability and knowledge about the topic,  and trust that I could say useful and engaging things in the moment?

I guess I was just defining spontaneity right there.

So, how should I balance preparation and spontaneity?

And I AM back to my topic.

Well, here is something that I KNOW helps me, when I’m preparing for anything.  It helps me o have some structure in place, that allows me enough room for play.

Structure = preparation.

Play = spontaneity.

And I’m realizing something: The reason I wasn’t anxious as I started writing this post was that I had reached some balance — in my mind –about structure and play for this talk.  I had identified some specifics about creating structure — and how I could play within that. And that had helped, enormously. Hence, no anxiety.

So I’m going to try to put into words, right now, what is giving this talk structure for me.

Structure.

Well, I know how long the talk is (30 minutes).  And I know how many people are going to be there. And I know where I’m giving the talk. So all that helps.

Okay, what I’m going to write here — I’m realizing right now —  is probably THE KEY to why I’m not nervous . The doctor who asked me to give this talk — to the medical residents she helps train — gave me the following information, when I asked her some questions ahead of time about giving this talk.

These residents  have heard all sorts of different kinds of talks — formal, informal, whatever.

They have no particular expectations.

Because they can get nervous about what do when they are seeing patients who are reporting depression, stress, anxiety, or other kinds of emotional pain, THEY WILL LOVE TO HEAR WHATEVER YOU HAVE TO TELL THEM.

Now, the doctor who spoke to me didn’t yell those last words (and I am totally paraphrasing what she communicated to me, in my own language).  But I’m pretty sure those were the messages she gave me about How To Prepare.

So that creates a really stress-free structure, doesn’t it?  And it pretty much rules out mind reading and fortune telling, doesn’t it?  Because NO MATTER WHAT I SAY, THEY ARE GOING TO LIKE IT.

And that’s probably not entirely true, but it sure sounds good as a pre-presentation pep talk for myself — and  a great way to challenge any mind reading and fortune telling that comes up for me.

Again, hence, that lowers my anxiety.

Now I did want to say more, in this post,  about ways I am creating structure for this presentation, because I think that will be helpful, too.  It also fits in with how I tend to create structure (and safety) for the groups I do.

Ways I Will Be Creating Structure, in my Presentation Today

I will start out my presentation by somehow asking the residents — my audience — what they would like to get out of the talk.   I may — if I have THE GUTS! — use my new magic wand, and ask somebody to make a wish about what they’d like to hear from me during the 30 minutes.

Then, the wishes from the residents — about what  they want to hear  — will dictate what I talk about.  I will be prepared for likely things they might ask for, by having hand-outs on information. This will include information  about how they can refer patients for individual and group therapy and what kinds of therapy are available for their patients.

And, if they ask for things I haven’t prepared for, I will probably make a joke about that, and hand out what I have, anyway.

I will have — on hand — elements of the groups I do, so I can demonstrate these  (if time allows).  These components of the groups I do include Mindfulness Exercises (a way to be more in the moment, by focusing on one thing), Check-ins (where people introduce themselves and have room to say what they want to say), Exercises about Developing Coping Strategies, and Wrap-up (where we get closure on the group meeting, and people can say what they got out of it.

Duh!

Okay, a light bulb just went off. (Hence, the “Duh!”)   And this is a very well-used light bulb, which seems to switch on, a lot. (I’m surprised this light bulb hasn’t burned out by now, but I guess that is the advantage to this kind of light bulb — a mental idea.)

This talk I’m giving today?  It’s a group.

Man, so many things I do are — in one way or another — a group. How would I define a group? A Group has two things: People and Communication.

(By the way, blogging?  That’s creating a kind of group, actually.)

And I know a lot about groups and how to do them and how to make them effective enough.

And the components of the group therapy groups I’ve been developing and running at work — those groups I want to tell the residents about today?  I  can use those same group components to give my talk today. 

And in ways, I was already preparing to that: by starting with a “check-in” (where the residents will say what they want)

Okay, I’ve gotten what I need out of this blog post.  Gotta go to work and do some groups!

And I hope you’ve gotten something out of this, too – this thrown-together amalgam of Preparation and Spontaneity, which is this blog post.

At least you got a great Jerry Seinfeld quote, dear reader.

Thanks for reading — and doing this group with me!

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Day 46: Words to Live By

I haven’t written much about how my 60th birthday party went down, way back on Groundhog Day (a.k.a Day 33) (a.k.a. February 2).

Planning that party did make an appearance in this blog,  on Day 16, when I was struggling with some self-judgment during that process.

My goal in planning that party was to create a day which was meaningful and fun, where people I appreciate and love could help me celebrate reaching  quite the birthday milestone.

One of my ideas was to put up on the wall giant post-it notes (these 25″ by 30″ beauties, right here), which people could write or draw on.  On some of those posters, I had written questions or topics that people could answer throughout the party. I  really liked that idea, because I thought that would help people engage and feel comfortable, soon after they entered the party, since the posters were hanging right where people first entered my place. Plus, in general, I LOVE asking people questions, so that made it more fun for ME.

Here were the questions I put up on the posters:

What is something in your life that you love?

What’s a really helpful lesson you’ve learned in your life?

Favorite movie?

Favorite song?

What makes a good party?

What’s something you haven’t done yet that you want to?

Words to live by?

If you could be any animal ….?

And during the party, it was fun for me to see my guests, engaging with each other around those questions. Plus, at the end of the party, I had — as a memento of the day — the answers to keep. All of the answers were anonymous, so that was fun, too — to guess who wrote what.

My idea for today’s blog was to pass on what people at my party wrote for “Words to Live By.”

This is what people wrote:

Disregard everything

Laugh a lot every day.

Laugh at lot at Ray every day. (This, I know, was written by my hilarious friend Janet, married to Ray.)

If not you, then who?

If not now, when?

Everything in moderation, including moderation.

Show up, be gentle, and tell the truth 

Please and thank you.

No, you first.

Leap and the net will appear.

Why not??

Don’t sweat the “small stuff” — it’s all “small stuff.”

Simplicity

Live, love, laugh

Do one thing every day that scares you. (Eleanor Roosevelt)

Life is emergent curriculum.

Those “Words to Live By” were just some of the many gifts I received at the party.

I’m pleased to re-gift them here, to you.

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

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