Inviting My Inner Critics To A Tea Party = Courageous Living

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I have decided to make friends with the Critical Voices in my head. I imagine inviting them all for tea and a round table chat—welcoming them in instead of automatically shutting the door in their faces, which is what my defense-mechanism gut is urging me to do.

I will let them know that I have invited them over to listen to and hear the value in what they have to tell me, observations they may have after years of “hanging around” my life. But that I will also accept these words with conditions. I honor and respect myself enough now to do so.

Historically, these voices have presented themselves in un-helpful ways:

  • They speak in black and white; they tend to have no “grey zone.”
  • They show up as voices of reason, which can be confusing. But instead of “You’re not ready yet; maybe later.” I am ready to shift their thinking to:  “You may not be ready right this moment, but let’s see how we can get you  there.”
  • They can be repetitive. We know, intuitively, that they are irrational, but their persistency can be deceiving.
  • The more we resent these voices, the more they gain power over us. But when we try to form a healthy relationship with them, space opens up; for more kindness, love, compassion and understanding– for ourselves and others (we all have these inner critics).

So, let’s start with an example. It’s a biggie, for me:

My Critic often tells me: “You won’t be able to achieve (or even begin to attempt) this desired dream/goal of yours, until you are physically better. Until then, it’s unrealistic to push forward with this endeavor. It will only be frustrating and create overall, unnecessary distractions in your life.”

I am now going to respond differently to this old introject of fear and negativity:
“I can tell your intention is loving. But the majority of your words are simply untrue. And all they serve by my believing them, is for me to sit and wait for this far off ‘perhaps I’ll be better future.’ Or even more detrimental, they have convinced me to believe that I am not good enough, complete enough, whole enough. Now. As is.”

Then I am going to reframe this original feed-back:
“You have shared some useful information with me. But a more loving and helpful way of speaking it would be …”

“I can see that you have some exciting dreams and desires right now and that your physical limitations have created an impediment to you achieving these goals. So instead of ‘waiting to get well’ I would like to lovingly point out some valuable ways you can achieve your goals: you cannot continue to go this alone. What support, physical and mental, can you access and/or welcome into your life to help you make attainable and doable steps towards your goal? What modifications need to be made to your overall goals so that you can set yourself up for success instead of failure?”

And, here’s the miraculous thing, once I made space for this critical voice in my life, I opened up my heart in new and expansively loving ways. Suddenly I was seeing possibilities instead of roadblocks! And my Inner Judges switched from being critical to critically thinking.

I realize I’ve let this repetitive Critical Voice begin to re-define who I am, and even more so, who I am not (or not capable of being). Constantly telling me what I cannot do, until X, Y and Z happen… until all of my cosmic stars align!

I think we can all relate to this on some level. For we all have Inner Critics. And many have become life-long roommates, hogging up head space since as far back as childhood. Yet, we try to get rid of or ignore these inner voices instead of integrating them.

Kate Swoboda says, “In truth, your Critic is your ‘best friend, with lousy communication skills.’” They are the scared wounded parts of ourselves that deserve compassion instead of distaste.

I, who doesn’t see myself fundamentally as a black and white thinker, had become one. I truly began to embrace these Critic’s voices as my own- as my one true voice- until the point where I thought I was doing myself a service instead of a disservice by listening to and heeding their messages.

They caused me to re-write my story: because my body isn’t currently equipped to truly meet my goals, “reaching for the stars” just isn’t in my current repertoire.

Believing that whole “lower my expectations, so I don’t set myself up for disappointment.” But all this has served is to create disappointment. In life. In my body. In Myself. Leading to resentment.

Yet, what I learned through an amazing workshop called “Your Courageous Purpose,” by Molly K. Larkin is that these critical voices can and do serve a purpose.

Listening to them, welcoming them to my round-table, has opened me up to hearing what’s really going on. How I really feel about the situation; allowing all the big, ugly feelings in first like anger and sadness, before the healing can begin. And then creating some solution-oriented, forward-focused thinking.

So, let’s boil it down to the basics:

  • My body has physical limitations.
  • I do not know when, or even if, this will ever change.
  • Waiting for things to change or “get better” isn’t working. IE: it isn’t serving me or my highest good.
  • In the past, when I have reached out to others or openly welcomed their offers of help and support, I have been able to achieve unimaginable goals and dreams, in spite of my physical impediments.

So instead of the “wait and see approach,” wouldn’t it be more beneficial to ask myself some critical questions:

  • What do my current goals and dreams look like? Feel like?
  • What are some modifications I could make that would allow them to be more manageable? How do they look and feel post-adjustments?
  • What are the most important aspects of my dreams (the ones I have the strongest emotional attachments too)? Defining these will help me clarify which parts I can more easily let go of and which ones are the most important for me to hold on to and make work.
  • Now that I know the most important parts of my dreams, how can I make them possible now?:
    A. What are small, “bite-sized” steps I can take today to move towards these dreams?
    B. In what ways can others help me in reaching these goals?: Ways others can help/support in the actual achievement of the goal. Or ways they can support in other areas of my life (cleaning, shopping, etc.) so I have the energy to take small daily steps towards my goals.

When doing this process yourself, stay aware of what additional Judges pop up. Old ones, new ones, old ones in new ways. What are they saying? What do you need to acknowledge in their messages? Is there any useful information hidden in the Critical Voices?

For example, just in the process of writing the above exercise for myself, I heard an old judge begin to persistently whisper:
“You’re being selfish. If you have any physical energy on any given day, it should go towards taking care of your home, to supporting your husband and others. Then, if there is anything ‘left over,’ you can reach for your own dreams.” Which translates to: “Your needs/wants aren’t worthy.”

Obviously, this is a multi-layered process. Where did I put that handy-dandy onion peeler again? The one that removes all layers in one swift motion, with no tears? Ha. If only!

But that’s the gift of removing one layer at a time.

So who are you courageous enough to invite to your round table today? I guarantee the process will pay off in the end. Setting yourself free to live the life you are meant to be. Now, that’s Courageous Living!

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Healing Through Pain

We have all experienced post-traumatic stress (PTS) from intense life experiences. It can come from a variety of sources: a near-brush with death; the impact of battling intense and painful illness; losing a loved one; a difficult childhood; or breaking off a long term relationship; to name just a few.

The event itself doesn’t matter so much as how it influences us.

This PTS can manifest itself in a number of ways: fear of future life-altering events; free-floating anxiety; newly formed phobias, unrelenting grief; unbidden tears; loss of affect; isolation; and withdrawal from activities. Many times the symptoms are insidious and creep up on us. We don’t even recognize the impact this life event had on us; or we are in denial of it.

We don’t want to admit we are vulnerable.

And, let’s face it, there’s a stigma around the acronym “PTSD.” Oftentimes, we associate it with major catastrophes and/or assume it manifests itself in ways that prevent the sufferer from engaging in life at all.

But once we take away our generalized perceptions of PTSD, there is much that can be gained by recognizing it in our lives, and working through it instead of avoiding it.

Let me give an example…

A dear friend suddenly lost her pet dog last fall. Using the descriptor “pet” seems to diminish the importance of their relationship. She, too, battles with chronic illness and her beloved dog (“L”) had been by her side and been her main partner through some of the toughest years of her life… those days she didn’t think she would ever get out of bed again. But her dog provided love, licking away her tears, and motivation to move, even if just slightly, because eventually she had to be taken outside.

Pets can be important companions to many of us, but I think they hold a special place in the hearts of those with chronic illness. They are the one being in our lives that love us no matter what… unshowered, in pain, grumpy, disheveled, confused, and lonely. They’ve seen the all of us and love us unconditionally.

I witnessed my friend experience months of unrelenting grief. I felt lost and powerless at ways to help her. All I could do was hold the space with her as she traversed this process at her own pace, and in her own way.

Then, one day a couple weeks ago, she had a revelation.

She was walking at the local reservoir, a favorite spot that her and her dog would wander. And she suddenly no longer felt alone.

She reflected on all the times L greeted her with unabandoned adoration, even when she didn’t feel like she deserved it herself. She remembered feeling so down all she could do was lie prone on the couch, too fatigued and depressed to even lift a hand to pet L. But her pup didn’t care, she would climb right up on that sofa and comfort my friend instead. She chuckled as she recalled 10 hour days away from home, rushing in worried because she hadn’t even stopped in to let L out to pee. But, again, her pup didn’t care; she greeted her with enthusiastic excitement just because she was home. No judgement. No shame.

She realized that all these negative thoughts she was having about herself were in direct contrast to what her dog had felt for her. That the best way to honor L’s life was to treat herself with the same unconditional acceptance and love that her pet had.

And then she said the most remarkable thing: “If I could find meaning in her life, I can find meaning in her death, too.”

She went on to say she had fallen into the victim role, angry at her pet for not being here to help her through this grief. Knowing this is an irrational thought, but her heart aching because L had been the one to help her through every difficult emotion over the last decade+. And this was the most painful emotion she had ever faced.
But, another “a-ha moment” had come to her: before L died, she only had her there to help her when they were physically close. Now, she had her with her all the time, and could tap into that unconditional love and understanding whenever, and wherever she needed it.

“To live in the hearts of those we love is never to die.” (Thomas Campbell)

She concluded by realizing that by taking care of herself, she is better able to be there for others. She won’t reach out if she isn’t making life choices that are in her own highest good.

And I have witnessed this transformation… she is now providing support to others that are grieving, because she is authentically speaking from her own experiences.

And by sharing her experience, strength and hope with me, she affected me deeply. It demonstrated the importance of living through the PTS until you can see a purpose in a difficult situation.

I, too, am in the grieving process right now. I am not grieving a specific person or being, but then again, that’s not entirely true. I am grieving someone. I am grieving myself. The person I was pre-illness. And I realize I have been living with the silent stalker of PTS for years, because I haven’t allowed myself to fully open up to this process of grief yet. I thought I was “okay,” that I had moved past it, that I was accepting of my situation. And in many ways I am, but that doesn’t negate the need to grieve what was and what could have been.

I need to look at that “lost Tam” with unconditional love and then give my current self that same gift of love and acceptance.

What experiences in your life have left a residual stain on your soul? An echo of yesterday that you haven’t completely been able to let go of yet?

I realize PTS doesn’t just go away by wishing it so. The passage of time doesn’t necessarily allow it to fully fade into the sunset. And pushing it to the recesses of our minds, tucked away in the box marked “things I’d rather forget” doesn’t work either. The only way to move beyond the experience and the left-over PTS, is to move through it. To dust off that box, open it up, and feel every ugly, painful, sad, angry, resentful, shameful emotion until we are spent. Until there is nothing left except an empty box to start re-filling with healing thoughts of love.

And, remember, this process can be big and scary and overwhelming. But you don’t have to go it alone! In fact, it’s advisable to find people that have traveled this journey before you to light the way. My friend experienced all the stages of grief with the help of support groups, hotlines, and friends. And she is now paying this gift forward by helping others. And I’m reliving my past with the help of a mentor and my friends, no longer holding these feelings in secret.

May today mark the beginning of a new healing journey for us all!

When Your Resilience Is Tested

Churchill going thr hell quote When your resilience is tested, where do you go? Who do you turn to? What well do you draw from?

There are times when life pushes back one too many times, and I think, “I Just Can’t Do This Anymore!” And… yet, I do. I keep getting back up and taking steps forward – even if they’re itty, bitty baby steps.

Do we all have resilience in reserve? And, if so, is it something we are born with?: Each of us granted a certain set amount of resilience from the universe. And when the well runs dry… well, the well runs dry. There is no overdraft protection on this account.

Or- is it more than that? A bank that receives deposits as much as it gives us the power to withdraw? Think of it like this: every time we experience a stumble in life, yet find the skills, tools and support to get back up and keep going, we remind our soul, the core of our existence, that we have the power, the determination, the inner strength – – the resilience to face the most difficult of circumstances and survive.  We deposit these resilient memories into our mind’s bank.

And “survival” isn’t always “pretty.” In fact, it can be pretty darn painful. Often, we come out of the experience sporting battle scars- – both the kinds that can be seen and the unseen variety.

I used to look at the criss-crossing roadmap that now constitutes me belly and feel pride. Each mark was another war wound – – a battle I had faced and conquered. For just the fact that I am alive today to tell of it = success. I need to remind myself of my Inner Warrior now and again.

Which brings me back to this Resilience Bank. Every memory, experience and story of survival adds to my well.

Personally, I think it is a combination: each of us is born with a certain amount of Resilience Reserve. Some of us may be granted more than others. Or, perhaps, we’re all granted the same amount, it’s just that each of us perceives this well differently. A half-full vs. half-empty kind of mentality. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s there, for each and every one of us. It’s what we do with it that matters.

As the old adage goes: “It doesn’t matter what happens to us in life, it matter how we react to it.”

“We are naturally resilient. We have the capacity for growth and positive adaption in spite of the constant barrrage of stress we all feel on a daily basis.” (excerpt from The Resilence Scale webpage).  Test your “Resilience Score” HERE.

But the most interesting and complexing thing about resilience is the stark fact that we actually have to experience strife and hardship in order to build it.

Think about that for a moment.

It worries me that we are so concerned with young children feeling worthy and successful, that we actually shield them from failure. The exact thing that creates self-reliance. Aren’t we actually doing a disservice to this younger generation?

Think back to some of the most monumental building blocks of your youth. Many of them are uncomfortable to relive. But, at the same time, they are also the experiences that shaped us and helped us to learn integrity, cooperation, self-reliance, perseverance, and resilience. We had to learn how to handle failure such as our team losing a game, or disappointment like when our 6th grade best friend decided to stop talking to us in 7th grade, or determination like when we got a poor grade on our report card because we had slacked off on studying.

Failure builds character. When we rescue loved ones from experiencing, and in turn overcoming, strife, we steal this opportunity from them.

These starts and stumbles of my youth prepared me for the difficult adulthood I’ve had to endure. Because my parents and teachers didn’t rush in to save me, I learned self-coping skills (even if I didn’t see the advantage to this at the time!).

Last Sunday marked the 8 year anniversary of my colon perforation and my first near death experience; the night they told my husband and me that I had a 10% chance of living, and to say our goodbyes.

Today, I have a choice – – I can drown myself in that memory or I can look at it in a different light – – recognizing that albeit these last 8 years have been enormously challenging, I’ve been alive to experience them. I chose not to say goodbye on that fateful night and I continue to make that same choice today.

The last 3 weeks have been some of the most painful in my life. My Trigeminal Nerve is inflamed and Angry- causing shooting pains across my check to my nose to my jaw. The lightest of breezes and gentlest of touches can set it off. Combine that with a continuous cluster migraine that’s like an icepick in the top of my head, and it can be unbearable. Yet, I am bearing it.

Am I scared? Yes. Am I angry? Yes. Am I in excruciating pain? YES. But, I also remember that the fact that I am feeling these big emotions means that I am alive. And if I pause and remember, I can use my past experiences to get through today. 8 years ago I was in more pain than I ever thought possible. And, yet, today, my mind shields me from truly remembering the intensity of that pain. I was drenched in fear then- of the unknown. Of the known. But I soldiered through. The pain passed. The fear passed—and eventually even transformed into hope.

So if I had resilience then, what’s to say I can’t tap into it today? I just need to practice it, nurture it, fill up the well, drop by drop.

Resilience doesn’t mean I’ve discovered some magic button to prevent me from experiencing some future strife (I wish!). And it doesn’t mean I bounce back from hardships unaffected or unchanged. It does mean that I don’t let the fear of these difficult experiences keep me from experiencing life now. It means that I know that in the past, it has passed. Which means, that this too shall pass. I will be okay. I will survive. maya encounter defeats quote

National Rare Disease Day: Effects Us All

rare disease

An estimated 25 million Americans have what is considered a “rare disease.” I am one of those lucky few people. Actually, a whopping 5 of my diagnosed conditions are considered rare: Trigeminal Neuralgia, Sjogrens, Vasculitis, Gastroparesis/IBS and the “Big One:” Relapsing Polychondritis. To be qualified as “rare” the disease has to effect fewer than 200,000 people. Relapsing Polychondritis effects only 3.5 people per million, making it an extremely rare disease. Yippee!

Why is it important for you to be aware of rare diseases? We all know someone with a rare illness, even if you don’t realize it… for many it is as close as a dear loved one, for others, a co-worker or neighbor. Rare diseases impacts us all. 1 in 10 Americans has a rare disease. Many are disease names that would sound completely foreign. But others are startling familiar; all but a few cancers are considered “rare.”

The biggest challenge of living with a rare disease is treatment. Very little research is done on rare diseases and therefore most treatment options are considered “off-label.” More and more insurance agencies (especially Medicare and Medicaid) are beginning to deny these treatment options. I am all too familiar with this struggle:

One year ago, I started an infusion (IV) therapy that was showing remarkable progress in the decrease of my symptoms and increase in my quality of life. I was hopeful about my disease and the possibility of remission for the first time in a long time. Then on the eve of my third treatment, the doctor notified me that my insurance decided to deny the treatment because they could not find any research on record of it being effective (obviously!). They not only halted all future treatments, they retroactively denied the treatments that had already been given, totally ~ $7000!

I have tried to appeal this decision, get help from government agencies and representatives, receive grant or medical support funding, and to find clinical trials I qualify for. All to no avail. There are many trials being conducted with this particular medicine, but all are on already studied and established diseases.

Beginning this calendar year, I have run into the same situation, but now with drug options that I have been receiving for long periods of time, all shown to be effective in my individual care. But these documented facts are not being taken into account. And my medical insurance is either denying them, or placing such high deductible payments on the prescriptions that I can no longer afford them.

For some reason, the insurance community has yet to recognize that by denying these effective, albeit unstudied treatment options, it is only increasing the cost of medical care in the long-term as my, and millions of others, diseases rage out of control.

This same situation is happening to millions of Americans. Most likely someone you know has experienced this. We all know someone battling a rare illness, even if they are living in silence with it. Currently, there are about 7000 rare diseases… and less than 400 FDA-approved treatments. Just pause and think about the impact of that for a moment.

This is why rare diseases are often referred to as “orphan diseases.” For we have been abandoned by the medical, insurance, and pharmaceutical communities.

People with rare diseases have difficulty obtaining an accurate diagnosis, and oftentimes wait 3-6 years to receive any diagnosis. But that’s just the first hurdle, because once a diagnosis is given, it can be even more difficult to find a doctor with experience and knowledge to treat the disease. For me, I have to see a myriad of specialists who each treat one part of my disease, or one set of symptoms. They rarely communicate with each other (if at all) and no one doctor is looking at the “whole picture.” Many times, I am the one educating the medical provider on my disease. This puts a lot of pressure on the patient to be their own advocate and teacher. It’s exhausting!

This can all begin to feel overwhelming. And you may be wondering how on earth you can even make a dent in this problem.

Well, today is National Rare Disease Day. An event that is really only in its infancy, but growing globally every year. It began in Europe in 2008 and the US adopted it in 2009. It is sponsored by NORD (National Organization for Rare Diseases), who since 1983, has been the biggest proponent in the advancement of research and treatment develop for rare diseases.

This year’s focus is on recognizing the stories of those living with and alongside rare diseases.

For the biggest challenge of living with a rare disease, is not the lack of medical care, or knowledge and accessibility in the medical community… It’s actually the feeling of isolation that comes along with these rare diagnoses.
But, by sharing the stories, your own or that of a loved one; by posting them on social media; and publicly showing support for all of the 1 in 10 Americans diagnosed with a Rare Illness, you are shining a light of love, support and hope on all of us.

By bonding together, through not our individual disease, but through the collective difficulties and trials that come along with a “Rare Disease,” WE are no longer alone. WE are no longer isolated.

As the NORD motto states: “ALONE WE ARE RARE. TOGETHER WE ARE STRONG.”

You have all given me that gift over the year and a half that I have shared my journey through this blog. Thank you for that .

For today celebrates not only the super human strength of those who get up to face each day despite the challenge of their disease, it also celebrates YOU… the caregivers, spouses, medical providers, friends, and co-workers who support us and carry us through. And it is for the anonymous “kind strangers” that open the doors when we’re struggling and give us smiles of encouragement. Today is for ALL of us. For Rare Disease is not an individual problem, it is an American Problem.

Rare Disease Day Video (watch, post and share!)

To find out more about Rare Disease and ways you can help, follow the links in this blog and below:

NORD: National Organization for Rare Diseases

Rare Disease Day 2015

“Living With Rare Disease”

Dr David Trentham (article on Relapsing Polychondritis by leading physician for disease)

Finding My Own Integrity

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Integrity has become the cornerstone of my life over the last several years. And not in the moralistic sense of always doing the right thing, “even when no one is watching.” But in a deeper, more personal way: To always do as I say and say as I do. And what I really mean by that catchphrase is:
To be whom I am. At all times. To be true to myself. To proudly present myself—warts and all. To celebrate the imperfectly perfect person I am!

I used to confuse integrity. I thought I walked that path but in truth I was practicing external integrity instead of internal integrity. I believed that my primary purpose “of serving needs greater than my own,” translated to taking on whatever you held as your integrity; helping you fight for it, preserve it, advocate for it. I would don the appropriate mask for that particular occasion or interaction, performing the part I thought was expected of me. I thought I was acting in integrity by being whoever you needed me to be; that forsaking a part of my own identity was just part of the bargain, a necessary sacrifice of sorts.

I strived to be the best me in your eyes and the eyes of society. I imagined what a person of integrity looked and acted like and I played that role to a tee… the perfect wife, daughter, friend, employee. Thankfully, I have now come to learn that a person of integrity is being the best possible person I Am. As Is.

It wasn’t until I entered a 12 step program almost 5 years ago that I was able to take an honest look at myself. Part of re-learning integrity was learning to let go… of all the ways I thought I “should be” or “had to be” in order to be considered “good.” It wasn’t until I took all the pieces of me—each and every facet that created my beautifully flawed whole—that I integrated the all of me.

Reflecting on the word “integrity,” my mind quickly traveled down the word chain… from integrity to integral to integrated. My curiosity led me to the dictionary where I discovered the cohesive evolution of these descriptors:
Beginning with Integrity: the state of being whole and undivided. Leading to Integral: lacking nothing essential. And finally landing on Integrated: to blend into a functioning whole. Essentially, to become “completely, soundly and entirely united.” PS- Also see: “Honesty”

How fitting is that? Because I now know that to have integrity is to be honest with one’s self. That when I approach any situation with a clear picture of my abilities and truest self, I walk with integrity. I heed my intuition; I act as no one other than who I am.

For me, one of the biggest lessons in integrity I’ve learned is committing to only what I am capable of. So that I truly “do what I say and say what I do.” This can be a challenge with my physical limitations; because I need to recognize the all of me—from my strengths to my shortcomings. And have faith that the all of me is enough exactly as I am.

I cannot commit to everything I want to. But, when I am honest about what I can and cannot do, when I remove all masks and stand proudly naked for the world to see, I am respected. By others, but most importantly, by myself.

And when I remove the self-imposed obstacles of all the ways I used to think I should act in order to be perceived as one with perfect integrity, I am free to flow through life as an unimpeded river of grace. I feel the strength of my own center. And I live from that place: from my own truth.

Martin Lurther King Jr. said, “On some questions, cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it polite?’ And vanity comes along and asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’”

My conscience is the seat of my integrity, the guardian to my inner voice, that when heeded never steers me wrong. But I used to confuse the question, “Is it right?” I would use this assessment as a moral scale, which in my mind said, “do you think what I am doing is right?

But, I now know, after much shedding of external layers, that I know what is right. I know my own integrity. The key is pausing to listen, truly listen, to what my intuition is saying or asking. To not question it out of fear or judgment of myself. But to open myself wholly to the person I am.

In 12 step programs, there is a daily 10th step inventory where you ask yourself, “What action did I do today that I want to keep?” (IE: where did I walk with integrity). And, “Are there any actions from today that I would do differently in the future?” (IE: in what ways did I not act in my highest good). The beautiful thing about this process, is the more you do it, the more the list of “do-overs” becomes fewer and farther between. Because you learn what it is like to walk with integrity every day. And there is so much joy surrounding this feeling of being honest with yourself–with being 100% pure you– that you no longer want to be or act any other way.

Being honest with yourself is like finally freeing your soul from the caged expectations of self-imposed “I’m supposed to be’s.”

As Parker Palmer said…
“I now know myself to be a person of weakness and strength, liability and giftedness, darkness and light. I now know that to be whole means to reject none of it but to embrace all of it.”

May I Decide For You?

equal heart

Why do we profess to know what’s best for others? Especially loved ones? Is it because we think we know them intimately more than they even know themselves? This is something that often happens with those battling chronic illness and daily limitations.

Our loved ones, out of fear of pushing us too far (IE: making us “sicker”), make decisions based on our well-being without ever consulting us. Many times, these decisions are made behind closed minds, during the pre-conversation/contemplation phase and we never even know different possibilities existed. And because they are never presented to us, we are never given the opportunity to make our own choices (and, yes, even mistakes).

The decision has already been made for us, under the guise of “loving-kindness.” I know that I have been on the receiving end of this kind of decision making multiple times, especially from my husband. My most recent example occurred in an interaction with a dear friend:

Over the last couple years, I have been mentoring this friend. I was, from the beginning, clear and honest about my physical time limitations but committed to communicating in alternative ways; and asked that if our relationship agreement ever stopped working because of these restrictive parameters, she not hesitate to approach me about her changing needs. We went into the partnership with what I thought was an equal agreement. Then, just a few days back, she abruptly let me know that our arrangement was no longer working and she had already found another mentor.

As much as I respect her needs, I was taken aback by the one-sided decision making. When pressed, she explained that she honors the physical place that I am in and would never want to put un-due pressure on me. So she found someone more “well-bodied” and flexible with their schedule. She thought she was coming from a place of loving-kindness.

But, in fact, she took equality right out of our equation. Out of concern for pressuring me, she took away my opportunity to know and express what is right for me. To check in with my own body and decide whether I could do more to meet her needs or not.

What was removed from our relationship was trust in the other person to know themselves, and respect for whatever decision they make. Regardless of our own opinion.

Let me highlight some ways we all do this in relationships:
– Our partner gets anxious in social situations, so we avoid telling them about upcoming engagements until the last minute, so they don’t unduly fret.
– Our parent worries when we travel, so we hide trips from them until we get home, as not to overly stress them.
– We have friends who have chosen to no longer drink, so we don’t invite them to events where there will be a lot of “celebrating,” so they won’t be tempted.
– A co-worker tends to react strongly when asked to do a project, so instead of giving them the chance to process and respond, we just do everything ourselves to avoid a possible conflict.

We tell ourselves “loving-kindness” stories: “I don’t want this (person I care for) to feel bad/sad/disappointed/stressed/worried…” We’ve already analyzed the situation in our heads, come to the conclusion of how the choice will negatively affect the other person, how they will respond, and what we will do to avoid this.

But, remember, when you make a choice for a loved one, you are no longer looking at them as an equal.

Those of us with chronic illness often struggle with feelings of being “less-than” (as many well-bodied folks do, too!). We already have to limit so many facets of our daily lives. But, we can still make conscious, thoughtful decisions for ourselves.

Doesn’t every adult want to be perceived as trustworthy of their own truth?

And the thing is. . .

We very well may make poor decisions! We may over-commit which over-taxes our bodies or minds.

BUT… that’s how we learn. How much is too much. And how much is just right.

If the right to make our own choices is removed, we are never able to find the balance on our own.

One of the worst things, is discovering after the fact that you could have been a participant in the decision making process, and that was taken away from you. It’s way worse to learn later that a group of friends went out dancing but didn’t invite you only because they didn’t want you to feel bad because your body is ill-equipped to dance right now. A much better scenario is to be given that choice and decide whether you want to sit and watch at the club or if it’s better to stay home, but it sure felt nice to be including in the invite!

So, next time you find yourself making a pre-emptive decision for another out of loving-kindness, try for a different approach:
– Tell that person about the choice and kindly express your concerns for their well-being.
– Let them know you trust them to make the right decision for themselves in that moment.
– Remind them that you’ll support whatever choice they make; and will give them the respect of keeping lines of communication and gentle observation open.

In all interactions, remember that a partnership means that each party is on equal ground.

“Give Up All Hope”? Nah.

namaste

“Give up all Hope.” This was the provocative opening to a recent post by my dear friend and burgeoning life coach, Molly Larkin. I was instantly hooked. I found her words insightful and inspiring. But also frightening. I began to question my own dogma. At first, this unnecessarily “worried” me. Have I been wrong? Have I been influenencing others negatively with my words? In large part because I agreed with Molly’s thoughts and at first they seemed to be in contradiction with my own.

But the beautiful thing about debate (even an internal debate!) is it gets the self to think deeper—to think broader.

And I realized: 1. There is definitely more than one way to skin a chicken and 2. Words mean different things to many different people. That’s why even Merriam Webster lists multiple alternate (and sometimes opposing) definitions for an individual word.

So let me back up a bit to the beginning…

Molly’s post that got my mind a’spinning explained that she has had such “hope” for so long that if she only parented differently, her son would be/behave differently. And recently it was brought to her attention that this may just be the way her son is. “What if it’s always this hard?” her friend asked (what a great question!). She realized she was bringing herself unnecessary suffering by always “hoping” that things will change some day.

“And the hardest part, I came to see, was the belief that things should be or were about to be different. And that it was up to ME to figure out some way to fix them.”

Hence the “Give Up All Hope” post-it.

Expounding on this idea, she brought it full-circle to the roots of human suffering… we spend so many moments waiting for the next moment (the “better” moment) to happen that we completely miss out on the life we are given.

And this is where I got turned on my head. Hope has been the cornerstone of my faith (before I even had faith) over the last decade plus as I have faced medical challenge after physical challenge after personal challenge.

BUT  at the same time, and this was my conundrum, I agree 100% with her assessment of suffering.

So, how can both be true?

It all comes down to reaction instead of action.

For me, I realized, it is not the idea of hope that causes me suffering, it is the attachment to a specific outcome of hope that causes suffering. When I start defining what hope should look like or feel like in my future life, that’s when I get into trouble.

Hope for me is truly: Hang On Peace Exists… internal peace.

It’s remembering that “this too shall pass.” It’s actually the process of not forming an attachment to the present situation.

Hope for me is a personal journey. It is knowing that I am powerless over external forces in my life. That includes friends, family, my husband, my illness and the doctors, the freezing cold weather (!) and many, many other things. But I can also have hope that each day I’ll wake with a little more acceptance about what is. A little more grace and gratitude for what I do have.

Instead of trying to change myself to “better fit” into my environment, I hope only to see a little more clearly each day that everything is exactly as it is supposed to be. And that includes myself.

And that when I hope or pray that “this too shall pass,” I am not hoping that the situation will pass or change but that my attachment to it will. When I start to let go of my attachment to outcomes, it frees up an enormous amount of “heart space” to live and just be, in that moment.

I know this to be true. Because I have experienced it. And because I have experienced it before, I can hope that this feeling of true peace with what is will come again.

This is how I came to terms with the dichotomy of feelings I initially had towards Molly’s post.

I won’t give up hope. Because that to me is giving up any chance that each day can be a little bit better. And by that, I mean, I can be at a little bit more peace. Hold On Peace Exists.

To me, just by writing her brave post, Molly showed hope. Hope for acceptance of who she is as a mother and who her son is as a unique person.

Just imagine if we all hope for a little more of that peaceful acceptance in our lives… we would each begin to walk around looking others in the eyes and being able to fully look our own selves in the eyes, with the truest sentiment of “Namaste:”

“I honor the spirit within you as I honor the spirit within myself.”

So, now read the definition of Hope:

1. “To want something to be true and think it could be happen or be true.” And
2. “to expect with confidence”: TRUST

and look at it in a different light. If the thing you want and think could be true is no longer a specific outcome that will change the current situation of your life but rather that you now “trust” that the thing that is true is yourself, doesn’t it change everything? Have hope and trust that the truest thing is who you are, where you are, and what you are already doing. Now the hope lies in the peaceful acceptance of these facts.

For the other part of “Namaste” is the acknowledgment that god/goddess/spirit resides in all of us. It is the humble removal of ego. It is the awareness that we are all one.

And at that center of that oneness is a perfect creation.
I hope that today you can look yourself in the mirror and wish yourself “Namaste.”

namaste1024