Life lessons

Living in Opposite-land

((Warning: INFP piss-n-moan gripe session)))

What does Opposite-land look like?

Due to the unique perspectives provided By introverted feeling and extroverted intuition, my perspective in life is filled with overlooked and uncommon truths.  My greatest frustration lies in the fact that while these greater truths are guiding principles in my life, this seems to produce puzzlement in others.   For whatever reason, it seems as if “conventional thinking” requires us to ignore the obvious fact that social reality is more a matter of perception than fact.  The following quote comes from philosophytalk.org and summarizes my thoughts superbly:

“…social realities are all around us. Think of cocktail parties, football games, bar mitzvahs, political rallies, and even nations…And in connection with this sort of thing both parts of that phrase “social reality” are worth focusing on. All the things I just mentioned are things that really and truly exist…But at the same time, they’re all made up entities, at least in a sense.   People just sort of decide that these things are going to exist. And so they do exist. Seems kind of like magic….social realities are just creations of the human mind. Not individual human minds, but collections of human minds…put a bunch of people together, let them exercise their imaginations together; let them agree; and presto, you’ve got a new social reality.” (Taylor, n.d.)

Functioning in this sort of socially-defined reality, requires a bit of self-deception.  We must learn to abide by the rules of the game.  Ignoring the obvious for me is an ongoing struggle.  I’m like that child in the Hans Christen Andersen fable “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.  I wanna ask “why that man is naked?”  However, I suppress this desire out of a painful awareness that pointing the obvious isn’t “a good idea”.

Acccepting The Backasswards Flustercuck…

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There is a place called oppositeland where bullsh*t is truth and truth is bullsh*t.

It is a reality that exists thanks to the active willful collusion occurs amongst society’s members.  As individual members of society, we tend to live out what we are taught. For most of us this means embodying an existence that presents as a reflection of greater sociocultural misperceptions. As a result, we ignore greater truths in order to perpetuate trivial falsehoods.

Systems-of-belief remain unquestioned “truths” and are perpetuated as self-fulfilling-prophecies.  We fail to acknowledge the possibility of believing otherwise.  Life becomes an endless hedonistic treadmill.  We chase after affectively forecasted futures like hamsters on the wheel.  Our greatest oversight: failing to recognize the solution can’t be uncovered with the same mindset we utilized to create the problem.

Reading the fine print

Playing by society’s rules is really quite simple:  blindly follow like a happy little mushroom.  Mind you, it’s important to read the fine print before you sign up as a willing participant.  In order to maintain the status quo, we must, as members of society, collectively ignore greater truths in order to perpetuate trivial falsehoods. This status quo is an an agreed-upon reality of “the way things are”. This predefined & familiar reality is essential as a paradigmatic reference point in our daily lives. It tells us “who we are”, where we’re going and how to get there.

In his book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” Thomas Kuhn, (2012) describes paradigms as explanatory models comprised of beliefs and assumptions that provides us a “way of understanding”. When society’s members work together to support a belief unquestioningly, many aspects of this belief system appear objective facts. With social norms in place, individual’s are liable to page a huge price for bucking the trend of conventional thinking….

The problem is paradigms are self-perpetuating. We can’t see the solution from within the same mindset as we utilized to create the problem. Therefore, we’re complaining about what we see in the world, when in reality it is our “way of seeing” that’s the biggest issue.

Examining the Price I’ve paid….

  1.  Life has became an endless hedonestic treadmill. I’ve engaged in a never-ending process of affective forecasting that has meant weighing current decisions from a cost benefit perspective with the overarching goal of maximing happiness & contentment.  Along the way,  the present moment has been sacrificed for past sorrows and future worries.
  2. I’ve lost sight of who I know I am, in an endless chase for acceptance, love and belonging.  I’ve allowed others’ opinions to dominate myself perception.  I present to the world, what I feel it wishes to see, while denying the very truth of who I am.
  3. Despite my best efforts, I’ve felt like I’m running toward nowhere, stuck in the same place.  Little did I know my problem was simply a matter of misplaced motivations, and an incomplete understanding of the problem.

Working through this mess?

*STEP ONERadical Acceptance  (Think Serenity Prayer)

*STEP TWOAccept Responsibility for Your Life..

*STEP THREELearn from Your Mistakes.

*STEP FOUR – To make chance happen, take consistent efforts to transform your life, (i.e. stages of change & DBT)

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References

Kuhn, T. S. (2012). The structure of scientific revolutions. University of Chicago press.
Taylor, K. (n.d.) Social Reality, [blog post]. Retrieved from: http://philosophytalk.org/community/blog/ken-taylor/2015/04/social-reality

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“Seeking Answers”…On my computer

This post is inspired by material found within those old storage bins in my hallway closet for a blog I never got around to.   Underneath a pile of random articles, letters and magazine clippings, is a copy of an email from a friend of mine.  In it she states the following.

“If you wonder what you are really committed to, examine your life. What are you creating? Your creations give expression to your commitment. Make sure that this is how you want to invest in yourself.”

I recall receiving the email on a late sleepless night.  For whatever reason, I decided to search selected parts of her email in google.  Due to sheer boredom I wondered what answers google might provide to these searches.  I then printed the first article that popped up.  I decided to keep an open mind while reading each article in a desperate search for my lifelong stuckness.

FIRST I GOOGLED: “What are you committed to?”

About 5 years ago, when I conducted these searches, the first article that came up on Google has since been copied on a blog post titled “How to Stop the Drama That’s Keeping you Stuck (Goodison, 2015).” In this post are insights into why people become stuck….

What is the Problem?

13904832413_82c34f4a5b_zThis article begins by describing drama and dissatisfaction surrounding “the gap between what you have and what you want….[and] who you actually are and who you really want to be (Goodison, 2015).”  As this author conceives the problem, our “personal dramas” are simply excuses we use to avoid implementing a solution.  Personally I don’t think this advice applies to my cases, however I can see how it can be relevant in certain situations.   However, I do relate to the idea of personal drama lingering disparities between where I am and what I want to become.

What is the Solution?

STEP ONE: What are you committed to? (Goodison, 2015).  

This author notes that the choices we make are an indication of what we are truly committed to.  Actions speak louder than words.  What are your choices saying about what you’re committed to in life.

STEP TWO: Using the “what if” technique (Goodison, 2015).  

Next, the author of this article discusses a “what-if technique” that requires a suspension of all judgment. Setting aside personal evaluations, and instead acknowledging possibilities can help us get unstuck.  We start to see solutions where we used to see problems….

However I have one reservation about the Goodison’s (2015) advice.  She discusses the law of attraction here briefly.  While I do think we act as creators in our lives through our actions, words, beliefs, thoughts and emotions, I have my reservations about this particular self-help movement. As I understand it, the law of attraction states you magically attract what you think about.  In case you’re wondering, real life doesn’t work this way.

STEP THREE:  Regain Your Power.  

“When you are feeling lost or confused you have lost your power to choose.  If you want to be successful simply take full responsibility for your life (Goodison, 2015).”  This advice resonates with a personal belief of mine.  In fact I blog about it here.

THEN GOOGLED “ Examine your life, what are you creating???”

6633958639_39543e0b8e_zThe next phrase I googled from my friends email was the phrase “examine your life, what are you creating?”  This search produced an article titled “Know Thyself” (Allen, n.d.).  In it the author makes the following statement:

“If certain scenarios show up in your life repeatedly, it is time to examine what part you are playing in creating these situations.” (Allen, n.d.)  

I like this advice because it requires us to examine the causal role we have played in our lives.  By examining how our lives as a personal creation, a road map can develop that can lead you to a solution. This advice seems simple enough, however we are often to busy looking elsewhere.  It is easier to point the finger toward someone else.

FINALLY GOOGLED: “How You Want To Invest Yourself”

The final random phrase from my friends email that I googled was: “How you Want to Invest Yourself”. This phrase produced a google book titled: “Learn to Balance Your Life” (Hinz & Hinz, 2004).  Google only allows a “snippet view” of this resource.  However, I did appreciate what I was able to read.  In particular we are asked to examine how we can convert intentions, by asking the following questions:

How do we want to invest our time & energy into life, knowing it exists in limited quantities?
What are the pragmatics of each possible time & energy investments?  
Develop a schedule and plan of action to bring this idea into reality.  
Take slow and steady action in direction of your goal.  

Any Conclusions???

5036572725_00e194bcb4_oUsing Google to obtain advice in life is definitely a random “crap shoot”.  However, the occasional useful nugget of information can be found for the determined individual.  I’m completing this post grateful to have finally crossed one thing off my bucket list: “Do those things you never get around to doing”.  Every time I post something based on old blog ideas, I’m gradually confronting the cause of stuck-ness head on.  

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References

Allen, L. (n.d.).  Know Thyself… Because Wherever You Go, There You Are! [Blog Post] Retrieved from:  http://innerself.com/content/component/content/article.html?id=5444
Goodison, B. (2015, April 18).  How to Stop the Drama that’s Keeping you Stuck [Blog Post] Retrieved from:  http://cheerteamcoach.com/how-to-stop-the-drama-thats-keeping-you-stuck/
Hinz, M., & Hinz, J. (2004). Learn to Balance Your Life: A Practical Guide to Having It All. Chronicle Books.

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Loving what is right or hating what is wrong…

Yesterday was the Fourth of July.

It just occurred to me that it had been three years since I last spent this holiday with my family.  In 2015 & 2014, the 4th fell on a weekend so I was left out of all holiday festivities.  As a weekend night shift worker, my participation has been limited to the pictures my husband texts to me.  I try not to gripe about this schedule but the aggravation has increased exponentially over the years.  Its now been over 5 years since I’ve had a full weekend off to spend with the family.  When I’m off, everybody is gone (work/school).  I see them rushing off in the morning or coming home tired at the end of a long day.

For this reason, yesterday was quite special.  The kids had no school.  My husband wasn’t working.  My internship site canceled the supervisory mtgs.  We had an entire day to relax.
*You know what I did for most of it? I NAPPED.
*At least until about 2:00 p.m.  (((Yeah I know: truly pathetic.)))

In some respects, this means it really isn’t a day off. However it was still blissful.  After sustaining a month-long 70+ hour schedule, it was nice to sleep.  The feeling of rejuvenation was wonderous.  I had no need for caffeine .  I wasn’t multitasking,  just me present in the moment, enjoying time with family.  I’ve since concluded that I can no longer maintain this schedule.  Knowing that I can’t quit my job limits my options. Knowing that this internship site can’t reduce my work load, allows me to accept the solution available.  I’m in a position of having to find new placement.  The key will be not losing my sanity before this quarter comes to an end.

…The burgeoning well of anxiety & depression have since subsided.  I’ve relaxed into the experience and accepted that this is the reality of my life for the next month.   The pissing and moaning have sinced been replaced with actions aimed at resolving the matter.  I see light at the end of the tunnel and am so excited for it “TO BE OVER” 

Examining Personal Motives

I have to be honest, as I reflect upon these six weeks of unadulterated HELL, I’m finding difficulty understanding how fellow interns at this site manage to keep up the pace without losing what’s left of their sanity.
Is it that they have a “STRONGER CONSTITUTION”? Or am I just a pathetic “PANSY ASS??”

The idea of maintaining such a crazy schedule, with minimal supervision and constant stress, is INSANE.  What are their motives???? I found the answers recently, when I sat down and talked to them about my concerns.  The insights they provided, have caused me to reflect a bit.  As I move forward and consider my next course of action, I feel its important to examine my personal motives.  Defined as your reason or purpose for doing something, motives provide fuel for your mental engine.  So what sort of fuel sits in the belly of my being?  In order to answer this question, I’d like to stop a bit first and share some personal thoughts on the concept of motivation.

Newtons Laws & The Nature of Motivation….

imageThere’s this movie that sticks in my brain as I write this post.  Its titled “Bodies Rest & Motion”. Eric Stoltz, Pheobe Cates & Bridget Fonda are in it.   Honestly, I haven’t seen this movie in ages, and wouldn’t necessarily describe it as a favorite of mine. However, it provides an excellent cinematic illustration on the nature of motivation as described in Newton’s Laws of Physics Here’s IMDB’s brief description of the movie:

Physics is the mother of science. As such, I believe that psychology should anchor itself in physics. After all, psychology was directly born out of physics. One of the most fundamental laws in the realm of Newtonian physics is the law of momentum. Essentially, this states that an object in motion tends to stay in motion (in a given velocity and vector) unless a force of equal or greater intensity is applied.” (Duvinsky, 2013)

Newton describes laws of motion which allow us to predict how objects respond to the application of externalized pressure.  As I’ve observed in my conversation with these fellow interns, we all move forward in our goals based on qualitatively different internal forces.

*I’m in STASIS MODE, after a long journey on the HAMSTER WHEEL, I’ve finally found peace and serenity. 
*I recognize that SOLUTIONS can’t be found with the same mindset that I had as I entered into the PROBLEM. 

My education is simply a path of personal development.  I hope to expand upon my current abilities and interests.   I like my job, I’m financially stable, have two amazing kids and a loving husband.  I hope to maintain these positive aspects in life through a work / life balance.  In contrast, the interns I’ve met are under huge pressures from externalized forces (i.e. financial instability, relationship issues, an unpleasing boss, long work hours, or single parenting).  Against the motivative push of these externalized pressures, they are “BODIES IN MOTION”.

*As a BODY IN MOTION, an internal resistance provides a motivate push.
*They are RUNNING AWAY from unpleasurable experiences, they refuse to accept.
*They are RUNNING TOWARDS their preconceived ideas of a BETTER LIFE.

Newton’s First Law.

An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. – The Physics Classroom (n.d.)”

I’m certainly not a physicist, so my understanding of this concept is only rudimentary.  However, it is worth noting that this law pertains to the concept of inertia.  In physics, inertia pertains to the tendency of an object to resist forward motion.  In the field of psychology, inertia refers to any internal resistance to change. As my husband noted jokingly, we’ve become very “inert” lately.  He’s in a hot warehouse all day, enduring 110+ heat indexes for a full 8+hours.  I’m working crazy hours to the point of physical & mental exhaustion.  When we get home, we’re completly exhausted,”lazy-ass-itis” sets in & the urge to nap becomes insurmountable….

….However, being inert isn’t always a negative thing, as this example might lead you to believe.

Inertia is defined as the “tendency of an object to resist changes in its velocity” (The Physics Classroom, n.d.)“.  This resistance to external forces can be a positive thing if it leads you to a state of equilibrium.  In physics, equilibrium is the result of balanced oppositional forces.  For example, the textbook sitting on the table next to me will remain there unless I push it off.  Unless I do so, the influence of equally balanced opposing forces cause the book to remain on the table.  The table pushes it up, while gravity pushes it down.   In much the same manner, my body requires a certain amount of rest each day.  If the activities in my week require an excess expulsion of mental and physical activity, exhaustion is a result.  Stasis sets in as I find myself rushing home to bed at the end of a long day.

I attribute my own STASIS MODE, to a state of equilibrium & DBT-Based Insight….

imageMuch of my early-adulthood was spent “RUNNING AWAY” from some undesired experiencse.  I had lots of unresolved regret and trauma that I wanted to avoid.  With a head full of skewed thinking, my mind produced bassackwards ideas that only magnified my problems.  The motivational pull, as a “BODY IN MOTION”, were those things I dreaded about my life. I sought a cure for those things about my life & myself I which I hated.  This was my motivation.   However, since these internal forces were based on bullshit ideas the solutions weren’t as effective as I had hoped.  Instead, I would end up with the same or worse.  There’s definitely truth in that saying: “what you resist persist”…

After many years running on the hamster wheel that was my life, I decided to stop and re-examine why I felt perpetually stuck in the same place despite all my best efforts.  What I discovered is that the problem wasn’t so much about what I was looking at but instead how I choose to “look at it.”  An underlying pattern existed in all aspects of my life that I needed to wrestle with.  A pervasive sense of inadequacy left me seeking validation outside myself.   The idea of self-acceptance didn’t occur to me.

*I did this in my first serious relationship, only to magnify my old wounds ten-fold through manipulation and emotional abuse.

*I did this in the aftermath of our financial troubles  following my son’s surgeries.

*I did this in when I tried to lose weight or start that “get which quick” business scheme.

Here are a few notable characteristics of STASIS MODE…

*RESISTANCE TO EXTERNAL PRESSURE.  Good if it leads you to taking proactive solutions based on self-responsibility.  Bad if its a byproduct of rebellion or unresolved trauma. 
*EQUILIBRIUM – The object is at rest and not changing its rate of acceleration towards a goal.  It is a byproduct of a balanced combination of forces.  Internally, I am mindful and self-aware.  Externally, I find myself in a good place right now.  I’m happy where I’m at. 
*CHANGE REQUIRES AN IMBALANCE OF OPPOSING FORCES:  Externally, this internship places great demands on me physically and mentally.  Internally, I’m becoming increasingly dissatisfied, unhappy & exhausted. 

Newton’s Second Law.

Newton’s second law says that acceleration is dependent on the forces acting upon an object and the mass of the object

Force is a push or pull upon an objects causing a change in direction or velocity of movement (Physics classroom, n.d).   When the balance of influential forces upon an object change, then objects are no longer in equilibrium.  Acceleration of an object’s momentum is produced as a result of an imbalance of forces.  In physics, this means the book on the table remains there in a state of equilibrium.  Two opposing forces act upon it (the table and gravity).  If I push it with my hand, the velocity and movement of the book changes.

As it pertains to my own personal motives, the “how come” underlying my actions is often more important than the actions themselves.  This also implies it is important to examine the motives underlying past mistakes.

All mistakes in my life come down to one simple Motivational Error: A refusal to accept myself as I am.

Here are a few notable characteristics of OBJECTS IN MOTION…

*MOVEMENT & ACCELERATION  – Internally, your emotional discomfort level rises to a level you can’t stand.  Your life is undergoing a state of change in order to remedy a rising discomfort.   Forward motion in this sense is somewhat Pavlovian.  We move away from what displeases us.  We head towards what appears desirable.  
*COGNITIVE DISEQUILIBRIUM – A state of  mental instability and sense of uncertainty.  Developmental Psychologist Jean Piaget describes this as a response to situations that don’t define our pre-existing psychological schema.  We find our current tool box of coping skills are ineffective in the given situation.  Something needs to change. 
*REACTIONARY MOTIVATION –  Goals push us forward in an often reactionary manner based on heightened emotions of something highly displeasing.  If motives remain unexamined, schemas act as self-fulfilling prophecies, recreating a similar situation down the road.   The key is thinking through motives first, in order to attain some clarity.

Newton’s Third Law.

Every Action has an equal but opposite reaction.  In every interaction, there is a set of opposing forces acting on objects

What I love about Newton’s final law is it requires so little explanation.  This final law of motion essentially asks us to understand the consequences of our actions. The nice thing about being north of 40, is the clarity which comes from life experiences.  You begin noticing patterns in your life and see how things are starting to “add up”.  From this insight comes an ability to predict the consequences of actions, without having to learn things the hard way….

Concluding Thoughts…

My mother is a walking fortune cookie….

She has a tendency to sprinkle her parental lectures with idyllic platitudes.  One of her favorites comes from the Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam:

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

While digging through my old blog file ideas recently! I found an old letter by my mother in which she wrote the following diagram.  Naturally, it included another quotable platitude: perfect for a refigerator magnet.  This letter is dated 1990, around the time I first started dating “IT”.  It provides an excellent example of how to discern between positive and negative motivations…

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“Loving what is right is different from hating what is wrong and feeling write about it.”

Apparently, when she was traveling for an annual cytogenetics meeting, she saw the quote above on a bathroom stall and decided to write it down.  This bathroom wall quote comments on the nature of our internal motivations while also providing discerning guidance.  Actions motivated by resistance and self-righteousness are often doomed to fail.  On the other hand, embracing the reality of our lives while being grateful for the glass-half full component yields greater chances of success.  From this perspective you’re living in reality of what is, rather than the unreality of what is being wished for…..

Hating what is wrong….

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“If you hate what is wrong, you just break your heart in the process and end up with a heartache.”

This insight is reminiscent of Linehan’s concept of Radical Acceptance which I discuss in another post.  Essentially according to Linehan, suffering is the result of nonacceptance.  If you continue choosing nonacceptance, you’re opting for misery over healing.  Pain becomes unsufferable as you continually narrate about how it isn’t supposed to be like this.  You start ruminating over how you wish things could be.  The unreal ideal becomes more acceptal than the imperfect reality of your life.  This leads to overwhelming negative emotions in response to what you are wishing wasn’t.  You can’t see beyond this to the reality of what’s in front of you. Those things you have to be grateful form are overlooked.  The solutions lying within the reality of what is are ignored, you don’t want to go there.

*I used to wish I was prettier, thinner, and more stylish.

*I used to wish for a career & educational background that could garner respect.

*I used to wish for the conventional materialistic trappings of success.

Loving what is right….

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“If you love what is right, you avoid, recognize, or accept what is wrong, and remain whole in the process”…..

I’m in STASIS NOW, no longer running on that hamster wheel.  The tenants of the serenity prayer guide my life.  I accept what is unchangeble, and focused on actionable solutions.  This dialectical balance has provided a clarity that helps me go with the flow of my life….

*I see beauty in me as I am – warts and all.  I make self-care a priority.  My outer shell, is transforming to an accurate reflection of my inner being….

*I started focusing on the value of my role as a caretaker, and the lasting impact I have on others.  I noticed my own unique gifts and skill set.  I’m now well on my way to a new career….

*Almosting losing my son, sister, and mom, has put things into perspective.  You can’t take these things with you.  I’m wealthy beyond all reason in the ways that matter most.

References:

Duvinsky, Jerry, (2013, March 30).  Momentum & Motivation: Applying Newton’s Laws. [Blog Post] Retrieved from:  http://www.mindfulexposurebook.com/momentum-and-motivation/
The Physics Classroom (n.d.) Newton’s Laws. Retrieved from: http://www.physicsclassroom.com/Physics-Tutorial/Newton-s-Laws

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second chances

Shakesphere notes astutely that “when sorrows come, they come not as single spies but battalions.” At first, I react to crises like these with a momentary WTF!!! piss-n-moan session.  After I’ve regained my “sea legs” I struggle to see beyond my hedonic knee-jerk reaction.  Throughout life, holding onto this deeper meaning  has been vital for purposes of emotional resiliency.  For example, despite how much I can complain about my job, I appreciate knowing I’m positively impacting my patients in some small way.    Thus far, I’ve only discussed this coping indirectly as it pertains to daily life.  I believe, however, it is best illustrated when facing a life crisis.  As I reflect on my life, I realize I’m much like a cat, granted with more than my share of second chances in life.

What follows are personal stories of  three “almost” losses including: (1) my sister’s breast cancer diagnosis; (2) my mother’s pancreatic cancer; and (3) my son’s heart surgeries….

Almost is not Actual….

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Before I continue, it’s worth mentioning that almost losing someone isn’t the same as the finality of actual death.  I can’t speak to this loss in any way and have no desire to try. As a healthcare worker, I’ve seen more than my share of it first-hand.  The emotional impact of losing a loved someone is truly “unknowable” until it happens to you…

…the experiences I share here involve the impact of serious illness on your life perspective. During my sister’s recent cancer diagnosis I was assigned to the oncology floor.  Watching someone pass away from this diagnosis was impactful in ways which are difficult to verbalize,  When my son was first diagnosed with a heart defect, I met a family who had just lost their son due to a similar diagnosis. During his last surgery, I met a mother who was grieving the loss of her son.  My mother lived 40 days with a pancreatic cancer diagnosis only to find out it was a “mistake”.  These experiences have left me a changed perspective…

A Series Of Wake-up Calls…

With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight I see these events as a series of second chances or “wake-up calls”.  As an Oprah fan, I recall a comment she once made that summarizes these wake up calls perfectly:

“A lesson will keep repeating itself until it is learned. Life first will send the lesson to you in the size of a pebble; if you ignore the pebble, then life will send you a brick; if you ignore the brick, life will send you a brick wall; if you ignore the brick wall, life will send you a demolition truck.” – Oprah.

“pulmonary atresia with a ventricular septal defect”

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My oldest son was born on June 26, 2000, after an uneventful pregnancy and painless delivery.  At just under six pounds I called him my little peanut.  I will never forget the moment I first laid eyes on him.  The love is instantaneous and overwhelming.   I couldn’t let him go and refused to let him leave my sight….

Those initial months flew by, and consisted of a blur of sleepless nights.  However, one morning everything changed.  It was late August and we were celebrating his “2-month birthday”.  My husband had left for work in a town about sixty miles way.  He was unusually colicky that morning.  Since he as normally a contented baby, I was terrified by the way he cried.  I called the doctor’s office and brought him in immediately…

…On the way to his office I heard a strange grunting from the back of the car.  After pulling over to the side of the road I noticed his skin was mottled in appearance. No blood was visible in his oral mucosa and was a dull skin-colored tone.  I started yelling at him and shaking his arm gently to elicit a reaction, but he remained unresponsive.   Nobody was home.  I would learn later that day he was in cardiogenic shock for an (as yet) undiagnosed congenital defect.

The remainder of that day was a blur, however I managed to make it to the hospital in one piece.   I recall being brought up to the neonatal ICU area and being pulled aside by a few nurses who attempted to comfort mew old hospital staff hovered around my son.  Since this was early 2000, fancy cell phones were a thing of the future.  I stepped aside and started calling family while watching them attempt to revive my son from a distance.  I notified my husband first about what was happening.  He told me he would get home as quickly as he could.  Since he was working in a neighboring town about sixty miles away it would take just over an hour for him to make it there. While waiting on his arrival, I called my parents.  Since my mother is a physician, I looked to her for guidance.  After speaking for some time with the pediatric cardiologist on call, my mom began explaining the particulars of his diagnosis.  They would need to drive him in an ambulance to the children’s hospital nearby since there was no available helicopter at that time.  The plan was to stabilize his condition and install a shunt in a vessel called the “ductus arteriosis”.   Since he was so small, they hoped this would give him time to grow before doing a complete repair.  This full repair involved replacing his pulmonary artery with a tube. 

By the time my husband made it to the hospital, the ambulance had arrived and they were ready to take my son to Children’s Hospital.  Two nurses and a respiratory therapist would take the drive to Omaha and manually bag him on that hour-long trip.  Since there was no room for me in the ambulance, I was told to go home, pack, and meet up with them at the pediatric ICU.  My mind was a jumble of nerves and I began crying uncontrollably on that drive home.  Unable to know of my son’s condition during this hour-long trip, I prayed I would arrive to find him stable.  I tried to console my panicked mind by reminding myself that my mom would call the physician’s assigned to his case for updates…

…When we arrived at the hospital he was hooked up to tons of tubes.  They took him into his first heart surgery that evening.  Thankfully, all went well and we were home within the week.  The next seven blissful months flew by despite mounting medical bills.  As his second surgery loomed in our near future, our house we went into foreclosure ans we initiated plans to file for bankruptcy in the weeks following his surgery….

…ironically, my prayers for a respite from these financial stresses came in ways I would not have expected.  While his surgery went well, my son was struggling after his second surgery.   Doctors all came in with a look of concern.  Fearful of how his lungs responded to removal of the breathing tube, they told me the next few hours should give us an option few of how well he would recover. Since my family had left to eat, I was all alone with my son.  I tried my best flto soak in every sensory experience associated with that moment.  My was a mind flood of mixed emotions, as I began to beg God for more time For us to be together. Nothing else mattered to me in that moment than the hope of a chance to watch him grow, and shower him with all the love I had to give…

Pancreatic Cancer: A horrific misdiagnosis

imageOn the wall of our living room is a painting my mom did of a butterfly.  Whenever I see it, I’m reminded of that time she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  This was back in 2007, when my oldest was in second grade and my youngest was a toddler.  My sister just had her oldest child, still an infant.  As per usual, my parents decided to handle things privately.  “Impression management” has always been a concern of theirs, especially when it comes to feelings.  They are logical, pragmatic intellectuals who exude an air of stoicism.  They avoid any open expression of emotions and utilize intellectual distancing as a defense mechanism….

In this instance, they sought to provide my sister and I with what they would want in a similar situation.  They kept us out of it in order to spare us needless worry and useless emotion.  We only learned of this diagnosis in the days leading up to a review of that could confirm this diagnosis.  It was only some time later that I have slearned, my mother lived with a pancreatic cancer diagnosis for 40 day mistakenly.  Additionally, the specifics of my mother’s health scare are limited, since I had only learned about all this “after the fact”.  My sister, however, was fortunate enough to learn about it a bit sooner and provide support.   In the week leading up to a final confirmation of this diagnosis, they invited my sister and her daughter up to visit.   Hoping to spare my oldest son from having to see his grandmother gravely ill, they kept me out of the loop.  Meanwhile, my sister and her daughter could keep my father’s mind busy enough to stave off idle worry….

I was formally notified on Saturday, that they would learn something more definitive that Monday.   Since I was off those two days, I spent most of that time worrying, with little-to-no sleep.  My drifted back and forth between three troubling thoughts. Firstly how would my father fare without our mother.  I imagined this lonely “curmudgeon”/hermit with no meaningful social access to the world around him.  My mind then fluttered with glee at the impending release of duty at my mother’s insistence that I maintain a civil relationship where they make sister.  Finally, when the reality of this impending loss hit me, I fretted that there would be things left unsaid between us…

My sister’s breast cancer diagnosis…

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Since my sister’s breast cancer diagnosis is fairly recent I’ve already touched upon it in a recent post.  For a blow-by-blow of my immediate reactions to this information start with this post.  In the months since this post, my sister ended up having a mastectomy and hysterectomy.  However, since she does not carry the “breast cancer gene”, she won’t be needing any chemotherapy.  Finally, since my own breast cancer gene results appear negative, life has fallen back into that familiar swing.   The familiar coldness and brevity that defines our relationship is  restored.  My biggest challenge  is accepting the reality that things might never be different between us.  Since I can only change myself, there is only so much that can be done to remedy the situation.  Its only since her recent diagnosis, that this fact has been clear to me.  I intend to respond by leaving the door open, remain civil, and allow things to unfold naturally….

So what have I learned?

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When life hands you “second chances”, it is best to look at them as gifts.  However, making most of these gifts is often easier said than done.  Doing so requires you to take in a bitter truth as a much-needed reality check.  This reality-check has the potential to alter your life-course for the better for those willing to do the work.  That’s where I am now: letting go of the past, accepting radically those things I can’t change and directing my attention toward what I can…

So where am I at now??? I hold onto the gratitude I have for these second chances in the aftermath of an “almost loss”.  I’m trying to accept responsibility for all my actions and/or misdeeds as a mother/wife/sister.   As I reflect upon it now, here are the lessons I’m struggling to work through….

My son has taught me life is a gift & that I shouldn’t allow the inane details in my day obscure this fact.

It is for this reason, that I hold my role as mother a top priority, before all others.  I live each day in awe of how my boys are maturing and am grateful for the opportunity to watch them grow.  The idea that life is a precious gift rarely escapes my mind.  As a result, I’m aware that all well-laid plans are just minor details against the realization that they can obscure my enjoyment of the journey.   As a married mother of two boys in graduate school, I cling to this insight and grateful for the perspective. Almost losing my son taught me that the only things I can give that cab have lasting impact on my boys are: (1) happy memories; (2) unconditional love; (3) a sense of self; and (4) an education.  These are my priorities and I don’t stress over the details (or anyone else’s opinions for that matter…)

…And I’ve kept that promise I made in my prayer almost 16 years ago at my then-infant-son’s bedside.  I tell him everyday I love him, and everyda I say it, I mean it with all my heart…

My mother has taught me that the truest measure to who I am is in the lasting impact I make upon others….

By upholding a culturally-relevant ideal of duty and obligation as an unwavering force in my life, my mother has always provided me  love and support.  While familiar to my mother based on her own cultural background, it was unfamiliar to me and remained unacknowledged far to long.   I am at fault, for failing to consider mother’s actions and words from the standpoint of intended meaning.  By taking time to understand my mother I’ve learned quite a bit bout the all-encompassing influence of culture on how we perceive, communicate, live, think and feel.  For this reason I’m actually grateful for the cultural divide that had one separated us.  It brought into our lives, several valuable lessons.

The differences between us don’t end here though. My mom is an ESTJ: a polar opposite to my INFP personality type. My mom is an ESTJ: a polar opposite to my INFP personality type. Our innate cognitive preferences are divergent based on Myers-Brigs Typology.   She is extroverted and I am introverted.  She is a thinker and I am a feeler.  She is a sensor and I am an intuitive.  Isn’t it fascinating that two people so different could be placed in such a relationship with one another?  It has forced us  to see an unfamiliar side of the coin in life we would otherwise avoid altogether.

This second chance inspired me to enter therapy so I could get “unstuck”.  I learned my problems were largely due to “backasswards” thinking.  I misperceived consequence as cause.  What I got in relationships existed as a byproduct of what put into them.  In this respect, the issues weren’t so much a matter of what I was “looking at” but how I chose to “look at it”.

My sister is now teaching me valuable lessons in forgiveness and letting go…

I have to be honest, as the last in a series of “second chances”, I still struggle with the life lessons brought about by this experience.  Lately, my interactions with her feel like pouring salt on a wound.  I struggle to let go of the past hurts and am truly my best to forgive as we move forward.  It is definitely a long and complicated process much like watching an ice cube met or pot of water boil…

….In a future post I will discuss this struggle in more depth and review the concept of Forgiveness and Radical Acceptance. For now, here’s a snapshot of an email I just got from my mother, as she attempts to provide a bit of encouragement…

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The Art of Failure

In my career counseling course, I had an assignment which required me to review my career path.  While I’m glad to have finally “landed in the right direction”, finding my way to here has taken some time.  I end up with a bachelors in the social sciences after making a decision on this major, midway through my third year.  I graduated, with no marketable skill or career experience, and landed in a slew of dead-end clerical jobs.  With marriage and kids came the need to find a job that worked around my husband’s schedule.  We were financially strapped in these early years after a series of hospitalizations due to my son’s illnesses.  To make a long story short, due to financial need and others pragmatic considerations, I landed a weekend night shift job at a hospital.  In retrospect, my career path has been random and directionless in nature.  I’m like a feather in the winding following the wind’s direction to wherever it leads me…

Running From Failure

352202In reality, my lack of direction as a “feather in the wind” appears to be a function of my own inability to understand the unseen motivational forces in life.  It seems my desire for success, was more of a fear of failure.  In other words, as a moved forward in life, I was motivated by a desire to avoid a repeat of painful experiences which scared me.  In this respect, I wasn’t looking to my future and acting on present concerns as much as I was running away from the past.   In these journal snippets I’ve included, I’m following through on a 453002journaling exercise from a DBT skills class I took about 5 years ago.  Here, I am journaling on a “what if” premise where I act strictly based on insecurities.  I then imagine the opposite of this scenario, where I acted on a “blind faith”.   It seems the price of seeking approval and validation from others, in my life has been an overriding concern.  The act of throwing this shit up here (from my journals) and starting a journal is a big step in the opposite direction.  It means putting myself out there and risking judgment of the two or three readers who might actually look at this.

It is for this reason I seek an alternative path

Examining These Unseen Motivational Forces…

When I started this blog, I was in the process of working on those things on my list I never got around to like: (1) going back to school, (2) repairing my relationship with my sister, and (3) getting into better shape.  While I began to see real progress towards most of these goals, I noticed I still hadn’t gotten around to starting this blog.  I dug out the old plastic bins from a hallway closet containing some of my writing and well-outlined content for a blog.  I decided I would simply work my way through these stacks of material and create blog posts from them.  What I hadn’t expected, is that this endeavor would cause me to reflect upon the course of my life.  When reflecting on journal entries like the one above, I see two key driving forces that guided my happenstance path toward today.   Firstly, I’m running on hope for something “more”.  While this isn’t a bad thing, something more is needed to create forward motion.  Radical acceptance – best reflected in the serenity prayer – is that missing puzzle piece.  I review these insights below…

Running on Hope….

In these old plastic bins sitting in the hallway closet, I found a copy of a book titled “So Far From Home” (Wheatley, 2012).  While I actually haven’t read this book cover-to-cover yet, it contains a description of hope that is worth mentioning.  Firstly, the author begins by noting what’s good about hope: “Hope is not a feeling of certainty that everything ends well.  Hope is just a feeling that life and work have meaning” (Wheatley, 2012, p6)

As I understand this definition of hope, it is an appreciation for what gives our life meaning.  The problem with hope – when no other motivational forces are present – is that it leads to ineffective future forecasting.  Wheatley, (2012) makes the following comment in her book about hope’s double-edged sword:

“Hope is such a dangerous source of motivation. It’s an ambush because what lays in wait is hope’s ever present companion, fear: the fear of failing, the despair of disappointment , the bitterness of exhaustion that can overtake us when our best, most promising efforts at rebuked, undone, ignored, destroyed. As someone commented, ‘Expectation is premeditated disappointment'”(Wheatley, 2012, p6).

Radical Acceptance

imageUnderlying my failure to create headway towards these life goals (until recently) is a refusal to deal with reality on reality’s terms. In dialectical behavioral therapy, a concept is taught to clients who are coming to terms with the a painful truth: “Radical acceptance means that you accept something completely without judging it” (McKay, et al, 2007, p6).   The serenity prayer summarizes this concept succinctly…

Willingness vs. Willfulness…

The problem with “radical acceptance” is in learning to apply it “in real time”.  While sitting here and engaging in an armchair discussion of this concept is easy, upholding this stance with life coming at me is difficult.  It is for this reason, I find it useful to compare two approaches to life in the table below.  One approach is a willful resistance, the other is a willing acceptance….

Willfulness is a resistance and conscious denial of critical components of life.
Willingness is an acknowledgement of the realities of my life today – without judgment.
Willfulness is a desire to engage in life only on my terms with an attitude of “needing to be right”.
Willingness can be seen in a desire to respond to a situation as it requires with a desire for effectiveness.
Willfulness causes us to remain stuck as we sit on our hands and refuse to make necessary changes
Willingness provides us clarity as we engage fully in the situation, with an understanding our role in things.
A willful mind fails to understand that acceptance does not equate to endorsement of what happened or that “they are off the hook”.
A willing mind understands that forgiveness and acceptance are essential to letting go of hurt and begin healing.

…”failing with style”

References

McKay, M., Wood, J., & Brantley, J. (2007). The dialectical behavior therapy skills workbook: Practical DBT exercises for learning mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation & distress tolerance. New Harbinger: Oakland, CA.
Wheatley, M. J. (2012) So far from home: Lost and found in our brave new world. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Retrieved from: http://www.bkconnection.com/static/So_Far_From_Home_EXCERPT.pdf

 

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