Tuesday, March 6, 2012

When everything falls down, it's an opportunity to rebuild

Ishvari - the Hindu Goddess of Never Not Broken
This one is kind of long, bear with me... I've noticed a lot, with myself, with the people I've counseled, that we have a tendency to rush through solving uncomfortable problems. It's not just habit... We came to this process for a reason. It makes for a quick resolution so our lives don't have to be interrupted horribly. We tend to forget, however, what we're feeling in the first place. We simply say, "I'm feeling X. X is bad. I need to stop feeling X." Wham, bam, problem solved, right? Except that we've forgotten one key step (and I forget this all the time too...). We forget to check to see if the feelings are reasonable, if they're warranted, if it's not just the feeling we need to solve but that there's a larger problem going on. "I'm feeling pain. Pain is bad. I need to stop feeling pain." This can quickly turn into managing a symptom while a larger problem (the one causing the symptom) festers and grows into a crisis. This is true for both physical and emotional feelings.

The one where this stands out the most is fear. "I'm terrified. Terrified is bad. I need to stop feeling terrified." Sure. I agree. But let's also stop a minute, after the terror has been addressed, and look at what got us there in the first place. What caused the feelings of terror? It may be perfectly reasonable. They may not be constructive feelings right now, but we didn't get to this line of thinking because we were delusional. We got there because we've had bad experiences in the past, and this one is starting to look just like that one, and OH MY GOD GET ME OUTTA HERE!!! WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!!! This is usually diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). They call it a disorder, which by their book is true. But that doesn't mean it's bad. We obviously survived that god-awful situation that made us twitchy. We did something right... Is that really a disorder or the voice of experience? So who am I to say that you're not exactly right that this situation looks like it's heading that way? But is that actually where it's heading? Are we sure?

If we drop a brick from a 60-story building, does it necessarily hit the ground? No. It may hit a balcony on the 32nd floor. Someone could stick their head out the window at just the wrong time. It could land on a truck driving past before it hits the ground. Just because the brick is falling, doesn't mean it hits the ground. Just because I know it could go hell-fire-fury bad, that doesn't mean it must go that way. And even though I see the possibility and the possibility terrifies me, I need to remember that I'm not going into this, without experience and wisdom. I'm a medical veteran. Some folks are actual veterans. We've been the dark places, have been broken to serve a horrible necessity, and come back to try to fit ourselves back into normal society, where people can't even imagine what we've seen. That's lonely. But you're not alone. You're elite.

Much of the problem I see is that we don't always recognize our successes. We take our successes for granted: why keep working on it if it worked? On to the next one. We remember the failures: if we're going to avoid it in the future, we've got to beat ourselves up right good so this never happens again.... That can easily lead to a lot of sleepless nights and poor self-esteem, quickly. Mommy clapped and cheered the first time we tied our shoes. We were so proud. Do we still clap and cheer each time successfully tie our shoes? No... we've got this one in the bag. We're an old hat at it. No need for praise, I know I'm a champion shoe-tier. It's when I'm not sure of my skills that I want the reassurance and the recognition.

I don't want you to hear, "I'm sick! I'm sick! I'm sick!" all the time. I want you to hear, "I'm dealing with something new and scary that even my doctor, the professional, can't tell me about very well... I'm scouring the internet because no one can tell me what's going to happen to me, and everything I thought about the world has been turned upside-down!" But that's a mouthful, and it took me over a decade of research to realize that's what I've been trying to say this whole time!

And though it may be silly, I've taken to rewarding myself, like I was when I was a child, when I'm able to do things that I normally can't do because of my illness. I'll clap and cheer, by god. Yes, I was an old pro at that... under healthy body conditions. But now I'm going at this on the expert difficulty levels, so there's going to be a learning curve again. Things aren't going to come as easily. It's going to take more work for less payoff. In some cases, I'm going to have to come up with an entirely different game plan, test it out, and find what works by trial and error. So it's doubly important that I recognize what an achievement it is. It looks the same as the million other times I've done it, but the experience is not the same. Getting through it wisely is what makes me mighty.

Comparing me to a healthy person just isn't fair. To the healthy person! Sure my young friends can run around and hike and zip and play on the mountainside. But they crash for naps afterwards, while I paced myself and could enjoy the whole day. I'm also an expert at functioning when I feel like crap. Their first instinct is to fall out. Mine is, "yeah... what else is new?" So as they sleep, I'm able to have the place all to myself. It goes back to the old Einstein quote: "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."

Sure, based against most human activities, I'm no good at those. But put me in my element, and just watch me soar. I never lose my abilities to handle a crisis or keep going when it gets tough. They sleep most of the time, because "my element" are moments that don't come often, and thank goodness for that. I wouldn't want everyone living in my element. That's just too rough. If my being sick means someone else doesn't have to go through this, I'll take one for the team, no problem.

Too often I think we forget this big picture. We forget that it's reasonable to feel scared and abandoned and inconsolable and all that... Just because we'd rather not have those feelings doesn't mean they're always something to be avoided. Sometimes they're things we need to embrace as part of the process. They're important feelings, and they're uncomfortable so we'll take notice of them! But these bad feelings don't have to be the end of the story. They can be a simple chapter in a long book that ultimately ends up well.

All heroes go through hard times. But because we're the audience, it's easy to say, "Hang in there! you can do this! Success is right around the corner!!" But we're not in it. We're on the outside. It's a different story when we're trying to be the hero, and it all looks lost. It's easy to lose heart in the fight. Because some days it difficult to tell if we're in a tale or triumph, or a tale of tragedy.

It's okay to feel scared, hopeless, abandoned, etc. It might not be fun, but it doesn't mean eminent death (I hope!!). What we can do is slow down and take a look at the feelings. What started me feeling this way? Why am I anticipating that it's going to be like I'm imagining? Where's my evidence? Okay, which of those pieces of evidence are valid, and which are not? Which are pieces of evidence that could possibly mean more that one thing, that I need to watch and get more information on? What could possibly change to steer this situation in a new direction? Can I make adjustments to help the situation have a more positive outcome than the time that scared the bejeezus out of me? What are my options here?

What we may find is that we're absolutely right! We have been abandoned. It is a hopeless situation. We are scared out of our minds with good reason. But that doesn't have to stop us. So we've been abandoned. That doesn't make us unworthy or unlovable. So it's hopeless. That doesn't mean we don't give it our best shot anyway! So we're scared out of our minds. It's SCARY. You're having a human reaction. That's normal and okay. It's what you do with that, that counts.

The abandonment may have had nothing to do with us at all! Sometimes it happens, and it's sad. The one the you wanted with all your heart may have abandoned you, but they may not have been able to see a good thing when they had it. And if they can't appreciate you, why bother? The abandonment may have been a gift. Or the abandonment may be temporary: the other person needs their space because they're overwhelmed and they need to leave. Sure it hurts. Absolutely. But we keep ourselves. We can help that hurt go away. We can give to ourselves what we wanted them to give to us, and in that way we're able to get our needs met enough. Abandonment comes in all forms. Whatever the form, the answer is the same: Use that time to nurture ourselves so that we can be ready, whatever the future brings. Yes, we're lonely, but we can remind ourselves what we love about ourselves, and in that way remember why we're worth being kind towards.

We may find ourselves in a hopeless situation. There are plenty of medical mysteries that baffle doctors and end up as tragic tales of suffering and death. If you were sick with one of these diseases and not depressed, I would wonder what's wrong with you. It's normal to feel upset about being sick!! Good lord, you "normal" people have no idea how much you whine when you get sick. You think we whine? Dear lord... If I had a tape recorder, you'd sing a different tune! Lol. I see it in my Facebook news updates. The chronic illness folks only complain when it hits epic levels. Healthy people complain at the first sign of symptoms. "Sniffles and sore throat. Oh, man, I hope this is just seasonal and I'm not getting a cold." Compared to, "Had to go to the ER again last night. Thankfully it was only a 4 hour visit." It's two completely different worlds. You can't compare the two situations or even call them similar. So we shouldn't berate ourselves, on either side. Don't judge a fish on it's ability to climb a tree.

We may find ourselves inconsolable. That's okay too. There is something to be said for allowing ourselves a complete and total breakdown. Sometimes, we just hit our limit and have to stop and rest. When we do, all the emotions that we've been pushing aside because we've been trying to Get Stuff Done, come rushing to the surface. We break down. We feel weak and vulnerable. We may feel, because of all this, that we've failed or we're not up to the task. This isn't necessarily true. It may just be that we've hit our limit and need to rest. We need to take a break and concentrate on something else for a little while, because we're frustrated, feeling hopeless and trapped, and it's driving us crazy. None of that means we're weak or inadequate. No one can stand on the shore and hold back the tide. If you judge a fish be their ability to climb a tree... It means we're human animals and we just found our threshold! Like the govenor on a car engine, we can press the gas all we like... the car is not going to go faster. It's okay to allow ourselves time to stop, rest, think things over without pressure, and try again later. Life and love are marathons to be endured, not a race to be won.

Too often, I feel, we find ourselves in these situations where we're overwhelmed and trapped, where we've run into some life problem that no one could handle but we have to anyway... and we end up feeling miserable at ourselves. The situation was traumatic. So our brain holds on to it, ruminating and going over the scenarios again and again in an effort to try and keep us safe. It's obnoxious at best, and life-crippling at worst. We need to protect ourselves from that ever happening again!!! And because we felt couldn't protect ourselves, couldn't protect our friends and family, we end up feeling like we don't deserve to live. We feel like a failure as a human being. We feel like because we didn't feel brave, strong, or powerful, that we can't handle it it if happens again. This isn't true.

Just as bones can be set, mended, and made strong again, so can our sense of self. We will never again be the person we once were (neither are bones after they're broken), but that's okay. We made it through. That situation wasn't the end of us. And that situation may define us, but we get to choose the definition. Broken? Sure. I'm never not broken. But there's a Goddess of "Never not broken" and she seems pretty cool to me. She rides the back of a crocodile, and she is a warrior goddess. Like the line from the Modest Mouse song, Dashboard, "Oh, it should have been, could have been worse than it had even gone...". The things that I have been through should have ended me. But they didn't end all of me. This is an chance to create a new me that's more of what I like and less of what I don't like. When everything falls down, it's an opportunity to rebuild.

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