Posted in Caregiving

Are You Leaking?

I had a very interesting human exchange yesterday that wasn’t pretty, but afterwards made me think long and hard.  I’m working in a retail establishment and a woman came up to the counter asking for a manager.  Our policy is to first request what the matter is about before passing it on to the manager of the store.  She asked if I was a manager and if I wasn’t she didn’t want to speak to me.  I responded that it wasn’t necessary for her to be extremely rude.  Her response was once again rude, loud, and obnoxious.  She asked what I was going to do about it and I responded I would need to call the police and have her removed.  Once again she became mouthy saying that her sister had cancer and was treated poorly and did I want the news station to come down.  I passed her off to the sales manager because we were at an impasse.

After the woman left the counter I saw her sister who was obviously going through treatment, evidenced by the hair loss.  It was clear that the woman who came to the counter was feeling overwhelming emotions and as the Buddhists discuss, she was leaking.  Her emotions were too much for her small body to hold and it was oozing out of every pore.  The eruption was probably a result of her powerlessness to save her sister’s life; at least that’s what I would like to believe.  We all know that walking around that angry is a date with health disaster.

When I got home and reflected on the exchange I felt a deep sense of sadness for the woman who was drowning in a wave of powerlessness.  Watching a loved one become increasingly sick and incapacitated is devastating.  Knowing that the only thing you can offer is love, support, and compassion may feel like you’re not doing enough; but it’s a tremendous amount.  You may not have the cure for the disease your loved one is facing, but if a spoonful of sugar can make the medicine go down, imagine what buckets of love can do.

I wish this woman comfort in her own journey as a caregiver.  I can see that her anger wasn’t directed at me, I just happened to be in her line of fire.  Illness is stressful and stress makes us do crazy things.  If you’re leaking please find some support, or way to relieve the pressure building up within.  It will make you a better caregiver and may improve your own health!

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

What Happens When Every Day Seems the Same

We read about the rich and famous whose lives seem fascinating because on a whim they pick up and travel the globe, are seen at fancy restaurants, and attend glitzy events.  I don’t know about you but I certainly don’t live that life, do you?

In most cases we are living a fairly routine life.  We go to work or stay home to take care of our families, but daily life seems like a routine.  It’s often too busy for it to be boring, but it’s a bit on the predictable side…that is until you were diagnosed with a chronic or other life-altering illness.

Following a diagnosis life is anything but routine.  At the beginning you’re often overwhelmed with medical appointments because a baseline has to be established and treatment begins.  Once that passes the routine sets in just as it did before but it may feel more complicated or burdensome…it’s certainly not fun.

It’s not a surprise to hear people tell me they’re feeling like the walls are closing in because they feel as if the scope of their lives seems a bit smaller.  Due to side effects from treatment of medication or physical limitations some of the activities you engaged in previous to the diagnosis may have to be put on hold.  so with your world feeling smaller and very routine, how do you get the spark back in your life when every day seems the same?

Years ago I spent a lot of time at San Francisco Zen Center and Green Gulch Farm, both Buddhist practice communities.  Although I wasn’t a Buddhist, being immersed in Buddhist philosophy you can’t help but integrate some of it into your own life.  I was working about 40 miles from home and every day seemed to be the same.  Once I got to work the day was great, but the drive, especially in California freeway traffic was rough.

One of my friends recommended that I approach my trip with a beginner’s mind.   Every day when I drove to work I was engaged and encouraged to take the trip as if it were the first time I was driving the trek.  I was instructed to get in my car and find something new on the drive every day making it a  new experience.

Fast forward to today and our discussion about making every day life with a health challenge new…what can you do to approach your day with a beginner’s mind?  Fortunately, the medical facility I go to for care buys a lot of art.  I make a point of seeking out the art pieces and taking in the beauty the artist put forth and shared with the world.  I’ve turned the office staff and medical team from opponents to team mates so when I go in we talk about other things than my health.  I’ve taken the journey with a medical assistant as she got her LPN degree.  I’ve discussed quality of life issues with my doctor who then decided to retire and move from the cold of Colorado to the warmth of Phoenix.  It changed my view of my illness and treatment and began to expand my world

When every day seems the same it’s important, and yes it takes practice, to approach each day with fresh eyes.  I mentioned I’m working in Buffalo, NY for a a few months and when I got up this morning the first thing I heard was the snow blower.  Yes another day in Buffalo and another day in snow.  My co-worker said something the other day that caught me off guard, she said, “I’m glad it’s  snowing because it covers up the ugly snow.”  The new snow, even though I know the ugly snow is underneath, brings a clean slate to my day.

Posted in art and healing, creativity and health

Lessons Learned and Wisdom

Is there a difference between learning and wisdom?  Just because you know something do you use it?  What if it gets in the way of holding on tight to beliefs that aren’t serving you in a particular moment?  What if you’d rather be right than better?  It’s something we all have to face because we’re human and change is a difficult process for us all, especially when it involves a health challenge.  Wisdom is a tricky thing because it is a comprehensive and cumulative experience in our lives.  We aren’t born with wisdom; it’s something we acquire or earn throughout our lives.  Wisdom for many comes a huge cost, but it doesn’t have to if we keep ourselves open to possibility.

If you’ve ever read Pema Chodron you’ve read or know about wisdom.  Pema is a Buddhist nun whose writing isn’t filled with filler, but full of substance.  She cuts to the chase and if we all that in all areas of our lives we’d save a lot of time, effort and energy.  Yesterday I was reading her book “The Places That Scare You”, something we all can relate to, and found the following passage:

         “In vajrayana Buddhism it is said that wisdom is inherent in emotions.  When we struggle against our energy we reject the source of wisdom.  Anger without the fixation against our energy is none other than clear-seeing wisdom.  Pride without fixation is experienced as equanimity.  The energy of passion when it’s free of grasping is wisdom that sees all the angles.” p. 29

I wanted to share that passage with you because many facing health challenges try and keep the emotions at  bay.  Some believe that delving into the emotional realm is like opening Pandora’s Box.  The truth is that we need to open Pandora’s Box, but our own version.  The version that allows our truth to emerge through our emotions.  The emotions aren’t going away because you suppress them.   As humans containment of our emotions is very difficult.  Most of us leak our emotions without even knowing and it comes out in negative ways.  We don’t look at our emotions as wisdom when in fact the are the fountain of wisdom.  They are the lessons learned and taking a cue from them can save you a lot of time and turmoil.

We live in a culture that sings songs like “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” or attach negative emotions by claiming someone is “wearng their heart on their sleeve”.  We imprisoned by how we look to others and don’t honor the truth in our emotions.  It’s our emotions that make us multi-dimensional.  It’s one of the reasons that artists are so important in our culture; they speak, quite vividly, about their emotions through the language of creativity.  They refuse to squelch the wisdom that lies in their experience. 

How will you honor your wisdom?  What will it take to experience the wisdom gained from your emotions?  How wise are you?