Category Archives: Growing
My Caregiver Left
Yesterday was my nurse/caregiver’s last day. She’s moving out of state, and is beginning her new life in semi retirement. I’m a bit anxious to find someone to fill her very large shoes, but truly excited for her and her new journey ahead. She has more than earned it after a lifetime of looking after people.
She began her nursing career by working in every single unit in the hospital, but in more recent years, she’s done the highly specialized job of a home healthcare worker. She will take on a patient if her church has been contacted with a special need in the community, but more often, she works in home hospice care. She has a calling for it.
You wouldn’t believe the stories she has told me over the last 2 years!
Like the one about the old man who she realized was in his final moments, so she ran upstairs to get his wife. She encouraged his wife to crawl into the bed with him, and tell him everything she wanted to say to him. His last breath was taken in the arms of the woman he spent his life with, as she whispered her love into his ear.
Another story is the not-so-old man who was fighting so hard to hang on. Finally, she asked his family to gather around his bed and tell him out loud that they were all there, and one by one they told him how much they each loved him. He hadn’t been conscious for some time, but he must have heard them because he let go that night, surrounded by his family.
(She says sometimes at the end, people wait to hear from a particular loved one before they can let go.)
Or the one about the woman who was rushed into the ER after a terrible car accident. Later, she was finally stabilized and unconscious when my nurse was cleaning her up.
Then suddenly the woman sat straight up, with her eyes looking wide in front of her, and said out loud, “Jesus, you’re here!”
Then she fell backward and flat lined.
This is how I see her. There are nurses and birthing coaches whose job is to help give birth to babies, but on the opposite end of life, she is there to help ease terminal individuals out of this world in their own natural time. Kind of beautiful, isn’t it?
She played a very different role in my life, however. She came in to assist me with errands and personal hygeine tasks. For me, it eases some of the stress on me and on my relationships to have a professional who I feel comfortable asking for personal assistance, as well as for the additional things I wouldn’t be inclined to burden someone else with. For example, if I’m feeling nauseous, on a rare occasion, I might ask her for a cup of herbal tea. I wouldn’t ever bother someone else to make me hot tea (literally never), but yesterday, the tea kept me from having to take my anti-nausea medications which sedate me, and it enabled me to eat something.
It might be a small favor from her perspective, but it’s a luxury most people in my position simply do without. I tend to ask for necessities like food, drink, and clothing, and have learned to let most other extras fall to the wayside. If you have someone in your life, whether it’s a spouse, parent, friend, or professional carer who is happy to do the extras on occasion, then you know how special those people are, and how much they care.
I can’t tell you how positive it is for a person’s mental health and well being to be given some options and control back… especially if they’ve had many of their personal freedoms taken, such as by disability or illness.
When she came into my life as a part time carer/helper, she understood what it’s like to be in that “in-between” stage after a divorce, and she also had the benefit of knowing me as a healthy
headstrong teenager. When I told her my secret– that I was hoping to move into a nearby apartment/ shared house, she was one of the few people who responded with excitement!
Amazingly, she didn’t ask if I was able, instead she saw it as a matter of making it possible. And then she helped me make it possible!
Together, we spent this entire last year planning, packing, moving, and then finding the right assistive devices to make the apartment accessible and safe. She was far from the only one, of course, but her belief and encouragement have been an incredible driving force and confidence builder.
This year has been such a positive growing time. I’m very glad that I took the leap toward independence, regardless of the obstacles. Looking back on the last 2 years with her, I believe that her timing in my life has been purposeful.
I’m going to miss her friendship the most, but as her friend, I’m so happy she’s having her own big life adventure. Maybe it’s silly but any sadness is being drowned out by the excitement I feel for her.
Now I’m praying for someone new- the right someone to come and lend me a gentle hand.
It can be a daunting prospect, but I’m choosing to trust that whoever it is will be the right person once again.
Thank you for visiting.
Take good and gentle care of yourself,
Learning Resilience and Optimism
Did you know that being positive isn’t necessarily the same as being optimistic? Did you know that your methods for coping with stress might be hurting your health, even if they make you feel better?
There was an entire revolution in psychological treatment called “Positive Psychology” which began after the book Learned Optimism changed everything in the 90’s. Before that, psychological practices were geared toward treating severe functional mental illnesses.
The author of the breakthrough book, Martin Seligman, asked the question, why aren’t people fulfilled and thriving when we know more about human behavior than ever before?
Because he challenged the field of behavioral sciences, an entire branch of psychology became dedicated to helping (otherwise normally functioning) people become their best selves.
In his book, Learned Optimism, he discusses the surprising spike in depression, anxiety, suicide, and drug addiction when we live in a happiness-driven society. He believes it is much more than simply public awareness of mental health driving the rise in diagnoses.
In his book, he explains that children were once taught how to overcome obstacles, how to cope and persevere, however the focus in education has instead shifted to boosting self-confidence regardless of effort. Seligman theorized that the self esteem movement, which was standardized in classrooms around the country during the 80’s and 90’s, played a major role in changing the way early childhood minds develop and learn coping strategies.
One point that I found particularly interesting is that he proposes individuals of prior generations (Boomers and earlier) were raised to believe they were surrounded by an invisible support system.
Today, that sense of strong community doesn’t exist for most young people.
In the past, there was a sense that one’s support system shared responsibility for every success and failure. This support system contributed to the overall person that one became. Since there was an awareness that outside forces had a hand in their lives, when their hard work did pay off, they were happy to share their triumphs and celebrate with their circle of support. Likewise, when their attempts failed, they wouldn’t fall too far or stay down too long as they had a safety net ready to pick them up and get them back on their feet. Just as the successes were shared, the devastation of each loss fell not only on one person’s shoulders, but they shared it with their community.
In the past, community looked quite different than our version today. For most people, that community consists of acquaintances we selectively share information and photos with on social media. The community of today may give approval, encouragement or compassion, but is often lacking in deep supportive relationships and the accountability that Seligman discusses.
Americans once valued country, faith in government, religion, family, patriotism, even the President. People were raised connected to a personal faith in God; organized religion provided another strong support structure of people they viewed as their second family. They were inclined to make life long connections inside of their schools and residential areas where they were urged to be active citizens. Above all, the nuclear family was once the cornerstone of society.
Just the sheer idea that others believe in you can be the difference between a devastating pitfall that derails your life and a curve ball which you can bounce back from. Today, most don’t grow up ingrained with the same surrounding support system, lasting personal connections, or strong faith in God and country.
To clarify, I would personally never want to go back to those days, but learning about these changes in our community structure helped me understand how we see the world so differently, and why we might be developing such vastly different coping and social habits from our parents and grandparents.
We are independent. Our successes are our own to take pride in and celebrate. Most learn to have faith and rely only on themselves. There is great emphasis on self-determination, therefore we reap our own rewards when we succeed. But on the downside, our tools for coping with inevitable life failures and day to day stresses may unfortunately be lacking. We are taught that personal responsibility and success are absolutely everything, but when we fail (as we all do), the personal fallout can be emotionally and psychologically devastating…even traumatizing.
I was working on my Learned Optimism piece when I read an article on Resilience, and was surprised to find that the number one quality suggested in becoming more resilient is to create the same types of communal support that past generations grew up with (as Martin Seligman found).
Surrounding yourself with close connections, friends, family members, becoming more connected to faith, plugging into community, and making permanent, lasting relationships with “people who affirm you, recognize your strengths, natural, innate abilities, and provide the support and acceptance you need” will increase your resilience [Mary J. Yerkes].
More ways to become more resilient:
-Accept “good enough” instead of expecting perfection
-Focus on the things you can control and let go of the things you can’t
-Find deeper meaning in life
-Accept advice from your loved ones and those who know you best
-Take care of yourself
-Ask for/accept help
-Don’t be surprised when life changes suddenly
-Have faith that things will eventually get better
-Set goals you can achieve
Being resilient isn’t about silencing yourself through turmoil or ignoring your emotions, but resiliency is a method of utilizing multiple positive coping strategies along with a mindset that is always ready to “roll with the punches.”
Martin Seligman writes, “If we habitually believe, as does the pessimist, that failure is our fault, it will undermine everything we do.”
Pessimists feel personally responsible in all success and failure, and helpless to make changes. This thinking leads to tendencies for depression and anxiety. Chronic pessimists are also more likely to have health troubles later in life, according to research in behavioral science.
Does this mean that society’s focus on self-reliance and self esteem could be creating generations of pessimists? I don’t know if that’s true, but it would be very ironic in our happiness-driven, positivity-focused culture.
The good news is, both Resilience and Optimism can be learned!
Sliding Doors: An exercise in “What If”
Sometimes I feel as though I’ve slipped into an alternate dimension. Like there’s another version of me living simultaneously while I live my own life. She’s the same age. Her appearance is relatively the same. But somewhere along my lifeline, she and I took different paths. I am living out this fate, and she is living out another.
I’ve always tried to steer clear of asking what if. It never seems to serve any purpose other than cause unneeded longing and regret. But, after the last few years, and all of the sudden changes, my mind is sputtering to catch up. I’m left with the feeling of… displacement. This what if exercise is definitely risk to me emotionally. If played out fully, I hope it will help me sweep the shattered bits back over into my dustpan.
This past year, I can’t help but feel as though I’m in the wrong life. I can’t shake it.
I imagine what another version of life might be now. I dive into the best and worst of my soul twin, and play out her footsteps.
I sort through the details of her life. There is hurt, longing, and regret of unfulfilled dreams that come along with playing out these fantasies. I’m afraid of going through the looking glass. How deeply will this cut me? But in the end, I hope the exercise will help in some way.
It’s like the movie Sliding Doors; I imagine myself making one different choice and living out my life in a parallel universe.
In one reality, I’m still married. I never fell down those stairs in 2004, we had 2 amazing children, and I have the career in psychology I once hoped for. In this reality, I’m just as outgoing, adventurous and fun-loving as I was at 20. This version of me loves her work, she loves helping people in new and experimental ways, and if she ever finds time, she hopes to write a book about her work some day. I imagine her life busily driving her children to baseball and soccer, standing back stage smiling at ballet recitals, and taking pictures at music festivals with her beautiful family. She loves her children and husband unconditionally, they have a house filled with laughter, and they show her love and affection in return. Every couple months she sells handmade jewelry at an art fair- this is when she feels most like herself. Even though she counsels others effectively, she never had time to resolve the issues from her own childhood, and it shows now in her behavior with her/my parents. She empathizes well with her patients, but she doesn’t understand their suffering, and is frustrated when she can’t fix their problems. Her family stopped going to church and volunteering together- she deeply regrets that for her kids.
Maybe I chose differently after high school graduation, and followed my dream of aid and mission work. Another Mary has been living in a far-off village building wells and working with abused young women for several years. She has collected a different language for every country she has lived in, and always looks forward to her next project. She never married, and rarely regrets the decision to stay single and forgo becoming a mother. She is strong and healthy, but tired, and isn’t quite sure where home is anymore. She wishes she could fly back to the states each time a friend or family member asks her to come to their wedding, birthday…or hospital bedside. She lives a life most can’t understand, but she wouldn’t trade her life of service for anyone else’s.
There’s yet another version of me who never moved away from New York City. She stayed on the path to pursue an art career. This version of me has short, messy bleach blonde hair, and wears an old motorcycle jacket she stole from an ex boyfriend. She works at her friend’s bakery so she can pay her bills. This Mary struggles with depression, but the angst feeds her art so she doesn’t get help. The mental illness ruins her romantic relationships, so she’s lonely in a big city. She has a modest art following online, and has a large network of colorful friends who keep her very busy. She sings in an indie band for fun, writes art reviews for a small magazine, and volunteers teaching sewing classes to inner city youth on the weekends. In her heart, she hoped she would have found more success by now, but tries to remind herself, art isn’t about accolades.
I imagined my existence if I had been born into one of the many communities of the world where healthcare is nearly non-existent. Like most of the world, I wouldn’t have been born into priveledge, with affordable doctors nearby. I wouldn’t have had wholesome food to eat daily, and may have been exposed to the elements, civil war, and sexual acts of violence against girls. If I had developed the very same condition at 22, I wouldn’t be alive at 35. That version of me wouldn’t exist. I would have died a slow, painful death, like so many others with the same diseases that we in the US call “chronic,” and manage day to day, other parts of the world calls them “terminal”.
The door slides again. I step back through the wormhole.
I’m here in my life. In my own body. In my own bed. In my own reality. There is no other fate than mine. There is no other Mary.
This was a challenging, yet powerful exercise- but it did hurt. There were others I didn’t write about here. In the end, it was a success, I did shake off that alternate dimension feeling.
This is the life that was set aside for me. In all of the realities I could imagine, this is the only one where I’ve been molded, strengthened, and shaped to conquer my specific challenges. I am the person whose eyes are prepared to see unique beauty only I might see. I’ll leave only one set of footprints behind when I’m gone.
There is no wormhole I’ll ever slip into. No sliding door waiting for me to step through and merge into my rightful life.
I’m not entitled to any other existence.
This is my one and only life, with all of its shortcomings, pains, privileges, hopes, and unknown future.
It’s not over yet.
Chronic Resilience and Learned Optimism
My sister manages a student property center near one of the best universities in the country. It is known that more students from that school will withdraw due to psychological breakdowns and will have more suicide attempts than any other area college. She has already had several incidents this year at her property alone that ended with students being checked into the hospital for said reasons. They are all the most elite academics, but now, they are in competition with one another. Once the valedictorian of his high school is currently struggling to pass his college courses. So why are even the best and brightest failing to cope with the pressures of life?
I’ve been reading the book Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman. There was an entire revolution in psychological treatment called “Positive Psychology” which began after he wrote this breakthrough book in 1990. Before that, psychological practices were geared toward treating mental illness. Seligman asks the question, why aren’t people fulfilled and thriving when we know more about human behavior than ever before? Now, psychologists and counselors help people to become more than just not-sick, but actually thrive.
In his book, Learned Optimism, he theorizes why there is more depression, anxiety, suicide, and drug addiction than ever before when we live in a happiness-driven society. He believes it is much, much more than public awareness of mental health driving diagnoses. Children were once taught how to overcome obstacles and persevere, but teaching practices have shifted to the current focus of boosting self-confidence regardless of efforts. He proposes that individuals of prior generations were raised to believe they were surrounded by various types of support, and that sense of community has been lost today. In the past, people realized that their support system shared responsibility for every success, failure, and overall person they became. Because there was an awareness that outside forces contributed to their lives, when their hard work paid off, they were sharing their triumphs; when they failed, they wouldn’t fall too far or stay down too long as they had a safety net.
In the past, Americans valued country, faith in government and patriotism. People were raised connected to a personal faith in God, organized religion provided a community, connection with family was the cornerstone of society, and people were inclined to make close connections inside of their local communities. Just the sheer idea that others believe in you can be the difference between a devastating pitfall that derails your life and a curve ball which you can bounce back from. Today, we don’t grow up ingrained with the same surrounding support system, lasting connections, or faith in God and country.
Society teaches that your successes are your own to take pride in and celebrate. You are paving your own way in this world. There is a great focus on self-determination, but the tools for coping with inevitable life failures are incredibly lacking. We are taught that personal responsibility and success is everything, but when we fail (as we all do), the personal fallout can be devastating.
I was already planning to write this piece on Learned Optimism when I happened to read an article on Resilience and was surprised to find that the number one quality suggested in becoming more resilient is to create the same types of support that past generations grew up with (as in Learned Optimism). Surrounding yourself with close connections, friends, family members, becoming more connected to faith, plugging into community, and making permanent, lasting relationships with “people who affirm you, recognize your strengths, natural, innate abilities, and provide the support and acceptance you need” will increase your resilience [Mary J. Yerkes].
Other ways to become more resilient: accept good enough, focus on what you can control, find meaning in life, accept advice from your loved ones, take care of yourself, ask for/accept help, don’t be surprised when life changes suddenly, expect things to eventually get better, set goals you can achieve, laugh. Being resilient isn’t about silencing yourself through turmoil or ignoring your emotions, but resiliency is a method of utilizing multiple positive coping strategies along with a mindset that is postured to “roll with the punches.”
The author of Learned Optimism says, “If we habitually believe, as does the pessimist, that failure is our fault, it will undermine everything we do.” Pessimists feel personally responsible in all success and failure, and helpless to make changes. This thinking leads to tendencies for depression, anxiety, and chronic pessimists are more likely to have health troubles later in life. Does this mean that society’s focus on self-reliance and self-esteem is creating generations of pessimists? The good news is, both resilience and optimism can be learned!
Learned Optimism by Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D.
Chronic Resilience: An Interview with Danea Horn by Toni Bernhard
10 Tips for Building Resilience in the Face of Chronic Illness by Mary J. Yerkes
Do Higher Levels of Resilience Buffer the Deleterious Impact of Chronic Illness on Disability in Later Life?
A Season of Waiting
Waiting is never a simple task. If you ask me if I am a patient person, I will say that I am patient with others, but have difficulty being patient with myself.
You might be waiting for an important test result to come in, for doctors to finally diagnose you after years of unexplained illness, for the medication trial to become available, or you might be waiting to see if your surgery heals without additional complications. You might be waiting for a loved one to return safely from a dangerous trip overseas, for important news about your finances, or you might be waiting to see if your friend will recover from cancer.
Waiting is a helpless feeling, no matter how much we can “help” the situation…the feeling that we are not the ones in control of the outcome makes us feel useless. Not knowing the outcome causes anxious, nervous impatient feelings that, for me come in waves which are accompanied by a racing mind.
For a person who started out bread to be the go-to person for fixing and fast problem solving, it seems life instead has been teaching me about patience, seeking guidance and waiting out storms. Instead of giving me problems to solve, I have problems that can only be solved through the healing of time.
Even though it is a useless feeling to wait, wait, wait, I don’t believe in waiting we are supposed to throw our hands up and stop seeking guidance. There are always more calls we can make, more specialists we can see, ways we can take care of our health, and people we can reach out to. But, if you have been waiting on something that weighs on your heart, there is only so much you can do to push the pace of the answer you so desire. Sometimes we can spin ourselves into a frenzy trying to get the answer we want to come to us faster, when some things are out of our hands. Praying, quietly seeking guidance and listening are also useful actions- though exceedingly more difficult to choose.
I am waiting for some very important answers in my life right now…Some answers that will forever change life as I know it to be. Maybe you remember a stretch of time like that from your past, and how you felt. How did you fill those long days waiting for tomorrow? Because of so many years of chronic illness, it feels as though waiting has been a regular part of life. Life with chronic illness teaches us to find the good, useful, and gratitude inside of the seemingly unlivable. These years of health struggles have taught me to lean into my faith and seek spiritual guidance. I am so grateful for the support and wisdom from those I respect, and I hope to be molded during this trial – what is God teaching me in this moment? …Because nothing is ever wasted.
Earlier this year, I wrote that “strength comes at the step we are on. Not weeks or months ahead.” As I work on waiting, and asking for patience, I try not to dwell on what challenges might come tomorrow. If you remember, my opening post for 2015 was a “No Fear Campaign.” It makes me want to shake my head when I think of the year God has been preparing me for!
About waiting, many say, “Just give it to God” as though it is as simple as forgetting about your heartache with your spouse, or your worries with your family, or your daily physical struggle with health that I know so many reading this are living with. I’m sorry if anyone has said that to you without compassion for what you are going through.
The past couple weeks have felt like an avalanche in many ways. When all of the rubble and dirt fell over me, and I went sliding down the hillside into the valley with the mound, even though I’m covered in a whole pile of dark unanswered questions, underneath, I’m praying, and studying, and being still (listening). Hopefully, this trial of waiting will lead to growth from that soil and rubble. My story is not finished. God is not through with me. Waiting is not doing nothing, waiting can be the most growing period in a person’s life. I am asking to be transformed during a time in limbo.
What did you do or what did you learn while you were in a season of limbo?
“Patience is power.
Patience is not an absence of action;
rather it is “timing”
it waits on the right time to act,
for the right principles
and in the right way.”
― Fulton J. Sheen
“But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31
“What we are waiting for is not as important as what happens to us while we are waiting. Trust the process.”
― Mandy Hale