Loving You As You Age

Dear —

I know right now you’re going through a lot of changes and they can’t be easy for you; things that you used to do before are now more difficult. They take more energy, they take more thought, they even may take more skill than you have right now. And I’m sorry for that. I’m sorry that the process of aging strips us from so much. We lose friends over time. We lose a job that we’ve done all our lives and therefore much of our identity that went along with that job. We start to feel that the world doesn’t need us anymore. That what we have to offer, to teach, to share, just doesn’t mean anything and that has got to be strangely isolating and scary and I would think from time to time that you might be wondering so what’s next.

I feel that pain and though I don’t know what it’s like to be older and aging or losing my capacity for doing things I’ve done all my life, I do know what fear and change and chaos I’ll feel like. I know what it’s like to have the feeling of not being needed or that your voice doesn’t matter, or even that you don’t matter. I know what it feels like to have someone tell you that you don’t know what you’re talking about or that your ideas are outdated. As I sit and watch you, I wonder if maybe you’re having those feelings right now?

My heart opens and I can feel sadness for what’s going on right now. It’s not easy to be compassionate for ourselves when we’re feeling so bad. It’s not easy to be compassionate to one another when every day hassles seem to become bigger and more difficult to cope with. But instead of frustration or fear, I propose that we handle these things with love.

You know, maybe the kind of love that we were never given as kids. Maybe the kind of love we never found in our life. Or maybe the kind of love we’re not even sure we are capable of giving. But just love and acceptance for what’s going on and compassion for any pain that there might be, whether it be physical or mental or emotional or even spiritual.

Let today be the day that this gets turned around, that we give more love and more patience, more deep breaths, and even more sighs, if they’re able to bring into the here now and be present to each other.

So starting now I vow to give you more love than I feel like I ever received from you.

What Do You Think?

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I read time and time again, “The Body Heals Itself”.  What do you think about that?  Do you believe that the body is wise and eventually under the right circumstances rights itself and moves back to a state of healing?

Do you believe that we are born perfect and with time, wear and tear, and age, grow less perfect and more diseased and aged?

Do you believe that we are born with potential and grow and thrive?

Are we talking about the body anymore or are we talking about the whole of human existence?

Can we be healed but not cured?  Can we be unhealthy in body but stellar in mind and spirit?

If we have an affliction of the body, are mind and spirit automatically affected?

If any part of us, mind, body, or spirit is affected, can we be whole, healthy, perfect or perfectly good?

Do certain parts of your body hold certain emotions or messages for you?

Do we hold stress or fear or other strong emotions in our body or are our bodies a reflection of our psycho-spiritual state?

I’ll be honest.  I am not sure what I believe anymore.  My training was to believe that under the right circumstances, people moved toward healing.  With support in place, a container to maintain their needs, a safe space to explore, people healed that which was ill and that it was the lack of these things that created dis-ease in their lives.  But I’m not sure.

I’ve come off a time in my life, well, a “past life” so to speak, where I saw the worst in people.  I saw everyone hustling, playing the system, you know, working it.  I saw people always taking the path of least resistance and sometimes actually running away from opportunities for growth or nurturance.  It shattered all my beliefs, all that I had come to hold true and dear.  If you’ve read other posts, you know I’m on a search and creating a new life.  Part of that new life is looking at what I believe and throwing out what doesn’t work anymore and reconnecting with truths that still hit me in my core.

So I’m asking you, what do you believe?  Are we innately wise beings that find our way to healing?  Are we created in the image of something divine and whole and no matter what we are in this world, we are whole and perfect in another world?  Do you believe that we’re dealt a hand of cards and we are nothing more than muscle, tissue, synapses?

Until the next blog post,

May you be healthy and thriving.

May you be filled with light and joy.

May you reconnect with the little things that bring you great happiness.

May you have peace of mind and be on solid ground.

May you love and be compassionate while being loved and shown great forgiveness.

May you be at ease and at peace.  

 

Holding

Since my doctor took me off of a medication I’ve been on for the past 20 years, one that I feel like has contributed to a lot of pain I’ve experienced, I have found new insights and had a shift in my body awareness.

I don’t have the same level of chronically tightened muscles. In the past, I’ve had horrible muscle tension in my traps, shoulders, upper neck, jaw, temples, and occipital area. My muscles feel more pliable and relaxed unless I am having an issue with a migraine. Then my body tightens up but seems to better relax when I have the occasional day without pain. And I still have referred pain and trigger points but again, they don’t seem to be as intense all the time.

What I have become aware of is what I refer to as holding. I may be laying in bed, “relaxing” and find that I’ve braved my body. I may have my jaw clenched or have a part of my body stiffened. I can be laying there and realize that if I take a deep breath and exhale, I can sink into the bed or the pillows more fully.

I find I am more aware of this absent-minded behavior at a variety of times. I may be sitting at the kitchen table watching the birds. Or I may be laying on my yoga mat, sitting on the couch crocheting, etc. I’m not sure what originally caused me to do this — I’ve injured my spine several times, have been in several car accidents, and had some sort of chronic pain on and off for 30 years. Perhaps at first it was a positive adaptation? But it has long since lost its effectiveness and is contributing to my overall pain and suffering.

I find that simple breath work and I asking to myself, once I become aware of the tension seems to help. But I always try to change the situation in a mindful, thoughtful way so that I train my body that it’s overkill or exaggerated or unnecessary.

So, scan your body right now. Simply allow your mind to become aware of how your body feels starting with your head. Move this awareness down to your neck, shoulders, upper back, arms, etc. Do you feel any excessive “holding”, bracing, tightness, or do you even feel like you are holding your breath? If so, simply say to yourself “relax”, breath in, and consciously release the muscles and allow them to loosen up. Scan different parts of your body, initially scan large areas first. As you get comfortable with the practice, let your mindfulness get more specific. Over time, you will find you don’t even have to scan as much or you will see a pattern of where you chronically hold yourself and start there.

I dedicate the benefits of this new awareness to all those who are in pain and who are suffering. May the awareness that I have found be helpful to anyone suffering with chronic or acute pain.

After you have tried the exercise a time or two, please drop a note and let me know how it goes. Feel free to share any insight, changes, or experiences you have.

May you be free from suffering and the roots of suffering. May you be at ease and find comfort.

Words at the Borderline

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The words are so often spoken.

You tell me that you love me,

and I swear that this time it is true.

In the next instant

you turn your back on me.

I am pushed away

or worse. . .

My heart is broken.

 

The words are so often spoken

You tell me you love me

and I swear this that this time

— it is real.

You buy me flowers and diamonds

and act so concerned.

Only to leave me when I need you most.

 

The words are often spoken.

I told you I love you

I know you do not feel it.

You do not see what I see.

I have learned to hate those

three little words!

They only cause me more pain.

Nothing is ever right for you,

and I begin to feel the anger

welling up, but not escaping from

within you.

 

The words are spoken time after time.

I told you that I love you.

Stop your self-destruction.

Stop turning on yourself.

Trust me, while there is time.

You heard them say that they love me.

You cannot hear ME!

You yell.

You cry behind the doors

of your Soul

and whisper in the dark

of untold things.

I have learned that this is

how love goes. . .

and it never escapes. . .

it just starts over

once again. . .

 

The words are so often spoken. . .

 

1/4/94

to MHS

Using Rosenberg’s Exercise

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So, it was after midnight my time on New Year’s Eve. . .well, technically, New Year’s morning and my family had finally gone to sleep.  I climbed into the overstuffed recliner and threw a cozy blanket over me.  The room was only lit with the white lights of the Christmas tree and the only noise was a few fireworks being shot off my some neighbors.

I settled into the chair and spent some time on the Basic Exercise.  I looked to the left for 90 seconds and looked to the right for 90 seconds with my hands behind my head.  And then I did the Salamander Exercise which is similar to the Basic Exercise.  I never experienced a sigh or a yawn but I felt very relaxed and my neck and shoulders stretched out.  I spent some time, before sitting up, moving my neck in circles and moving my head from side to side.  I sat up and did some shoulder rolls and another stretch I just learned in a yoga video.

The room seemed a little brighter and I felt tired.  Of course it was between 1-2 am and it had been a long day without my usual nap.  But the pain that I constantly have in my shoulder (my trapezoid) seemed to ease a bit.  This shoulder has been chronically in pain for over 20 years and despite Botox and trigger point shots has given me a lot of trouble.  My neck moved more freely before I went to bed but as I moved it, the movement was jerky and awkward.  Still, it was better range of motion than before.

This morning I woke up and had no pain in my should and for almost all of today, the pain stayed at bay.  Today was the first day in months that I showed no sign of migraine and did not need to take a NSAID or muscle relaxant.  Was it the exercise?  I’m not sure.  I plan to do them again in a few days but it was nice to start the new day off with no pain and a decent amount of energy.  I’ve learned to savor these days because they are few and far between.  Rosenberry has some other activities that I plan to do this week and will refer to them as I finish my posts on his book and the Polyvagal Theory.

So tonight, may you be free from suffering and the roots of suffering.  May you find the grace to live with your problems but not be defined by them.  May you have the good fortune to have a loving family and a deeply connected family of friends that stand by your side through the good and bad.  May you be at ease and know pain-free moments.

These are my wishes for you.

 

Mind-Body-Psychological Health

I’ve started reading a new book, Accessing the Healing Power of the Vagus Nerve, self-help exercises by Stanely Rosenberg.  Rosenberg has training in mind/body modalities such as craniosacral therapy and Rolfing and has worked in the field since 1983.  He has an interesting approach to dis-eases that we normally think of as purely psychological.

In the 30 some odd years I have lived with some sort of chronic pain, having been on multiple medications over the past 20 years to combat a specific aspect of my pain, I can tell you that any medication that you are put on from a cardiac medication to an antidepressant affect you on more levels than just what you are being treated for.    What do I mean?

Without going into the science and pharmacology behind it, cardiac meds can affect your stress level and outlook.  Psych meds like what are given for depression or bipolar affect you physically — either lowering or raising your blood pressure, causing constipation, dry mouth, headache, weight loss or gain, etc.  Medications can alter your perception, mood, and reality and after being on a med or two or dozen you come to realize that there is no such split as mind-body and you are the totality of your experiences in this life.

So I found it interesting that Rosenberg wrote this book.  What I like about his approach is that he looks at “psychological problems” from the stance of the central nervous system instead of brain chemistry which has been the norm for quite some time.  In his book, he looks at migraines, anxiety and panic attacks, phobias, domestic violence, PTSD, depression, etc by looking at dysfunction with nerves of the central nervous system.  And he uses the Polyvagal Theory by Porges as discussed in my blog post.  I was happy to find the book because although I knew about flight, fight, or freeze, I did not know about the whole theory or the wider implications of the Polyvagal Theory, the biggest implication is that there is not just one vagus nerve but multiple that all have different functions.  If you are old like I am, when you were in high school health class or biology or you were in Psychology 101, you learned about the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous Systems that

The reason why I am writing a blog post on the book is because although I think the book is great, I found it to be really dense.  It didn’t seem like it was for practitioners when I bought it but having a background in mind-body medicine and psychology helped me to get through it.  (And admittedly, there were sections that were very physiological based that I skimmed over because they were certainly above my pay grade and my interest level).  So I thought I’d write a post about it because I think the information in it is important and the general public could really benefit from understanding the Polyvagal Theory given how many people in our country (and world) are plagued by what we continue to think of as mental health issues or worse character defects (which continues to be an unfair prejudice from mental health and physical health care practitioners and frustrated loved ones).

SO what did I learn?

 

Rosenberg describes a state of  “social engagement” is the term that Porges’ uses to describe a state that we used to describe as the parasympathetic nervous system.  Under the new theory, there is proper tone in the Ventral Vagal Nerve and it brings about the following:  a decrease in defensiveness and responses to triggers and

an increase in:

  • Digestion
  • Intestinal Motility
  • Resistance to Infection
  • Immune Response
  • Rest and Recouperation
  • Circulation to non-vital organs (skin, hands, legs, feet, arms)
  • Oxytocin (a neurotransmitter involved in social bonds like between a newborn and mother or other nurturing relationships)
  • Ability to relate and connect with others

With proper tone in the Ventral Vagal Nerve, a person is thought to be in “social engagement”.  They experience joy, groundedness, compassion, mindfulness, are open and curious, and are situated in the present moment.  This reminds me of the higher stages of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs where a person has their basic needs met and can focus on more than safety, food, shelter, and sex but focus on health, relationships, self-esteem, respect, intimacy, confidence, achievement, creativity, problem solving, etc.  That sounds like what we all long to achieve or are blessed to be experiencing already.

So what happens when there is dysfunction of the Spinal Sympathetic or Dorsal Vagal Systems?  Check back in the next few days when I will write about both.

Instead of questions to end this post, I will end it with a wish for everyone 2018:

May 2018 bring about great change in the world towards peace, equanimity, and growth. May the root of our problems be observable and be readily and easily changed.  May we be open to the support, love, and compassion of those around us.  May we understand that we suffer from trauma, grief, physical, psychological, and spiritual dis-ease and that the most compassionate thing we can do in the year to come is to take several deep breaths.  May we breathe deeply to change our nervous system and calm ourselves down.  May we breathe deeply and pause before we use hateful or hurtful speech.  May we breathe deeply and patiently and remember that we are all interconnected on this planet.

Wishing you gentle care, compassion, ease, and good health in the year to come.

 

 

 

 

 

Trauma – Common Symptoms

When we think of trauma, we usually think of vets having PTSD when a car backfires or waking up in a cold sweat.  But for many people, the signs and symptoms of their trauma are much less dramatic than what we might see on tv.  Remember that so much of trauma literature or education has been about vets, rape and assault victims, etc.  The trauma that’s experienced due to multiple losses, illness, multiple accidents, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse or secondary traumatization that comes with working in fields with traumatized people can be much more subtle.

These symptoms can include:

  • Hypervigilance
  • Intrusive imagery or flashbacks
  • Extreme sensitivity to light or sound
  • Hyperactivity
  • Exaggerated emotional and startled responses
  • Nightmares and night terrors or other difficulties sleeping
  • Reduced ability to deal with stress
  • Abrupt mood swings, rage, temper tantrums, crying
  • Panic attacks
  • Phobias
  • Avoidance behavior
  • Attraction to dangerous situations
  • Amnesia or forgetfulness
  • Loss of sustaining beliefs
  • Excessive shyness
  • Diminished emotional responses
  • Inability to make commitments
  • Chronic fatigue or very low physical energy
  • Immune System Problems
  • Migraines
  • Environmental sensitivies
  • Chronic Pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Asthma
  • Digestive Problems
  • Depression
  • Reduced ability to formulate plans

It should be noted that just because you have some of these symptoms does not mean that you have suffered a trauma.  You could also have another reason for having any of these symptoms — for example, you might have migraines because you have increased pressure in your spinal column from excessive spinal fluid.  This list is a partial list to give you an idea of what symptoms may indicate that there is something wrong and that you should work with a qualified mental health professional to get to the root of the problem.  Seeking help from a social worker, therapist, psychiatrist, primary doctor, etc is appropriate if you are suffering from any of these problems.  Check with your insurance or call your local mental health agency if you are not sure how to find a referral.

Trauma. . . it’s not what you think it is

imagesFor many people, when they hear the word trauma, they automatically have things that come to mind:  a scene from their favorite war movie, a violent assault, being a refuge, child abuse, etc.  But trauma can be so much more and a lot less. Trauma can be repeated illnesses or surgeries.  It can be repeated exposure to other people’s trauma (known as secondary traumatization or compassion fatigue).  It can be a car accident, witnessing an accident or abuse.

Regardless of what it is, it seems to me, from the reading I have done thus far that trauma is trauma when it is unresolved and the body and/or psyche have not been able to process it.  For Peter Levine, trauma is a biological event and therefore must be dealt with on a biological level.

It stands to reason that a person can have compounded trauma that they might not even realize is all affecting their health.  What if a person has had several car accidents over a number of years, has an extremely stressful job, no support system, and over times, stops the very things he/she did to combat stress because of being so stressed out.  Pile on top of that loneliness (a known killer and also know to diminish the functioning of the immune systems), not eating well, sleep disturbance, and well it’s enough to create a strong brew of discontent, ill health, and chronic pain or illness.  It doesn’t take much to pile up and tear apart one’s health on all levels.  If this were to go on for years, it would be no wonder that a person would end up traumatized.

You can add in any number of other problems. . . depression, substance abuse, over spending, too many bills, emotional abuse, no spiritual community, etc and you can see how a person’s world can come crumbling down.  If things don’t change, the person’s very body will.  It will start to not only show signs of stress such as high blood pressure, GI disturbance, sleep problems but it may also start to show signs such as hair loss, gaining or losing weight, pain, cold hands and feet, etc.  Muscle tension is easy to kick in and the body becomes armored and tries to protect itself.

It’s also important to remember that one set of stressors might not be enough to tip a person into acute stress or trauma.  For instance, I knew a woman to have 3 losses in a very short amount of time. . . her sister, her father, and her uncle all died within a year and a half or two years.  This didn’t seem to phase her as it would other people.  She was a doctor and was Catholic.  From a medical point of view, she believed that there was nothing more that could be done for them and that their illnesses had ravaged them.  From a spiritual point of view, she believed that her sister and father were with her mother and one brother and that gave her great comfort; believing that these family members were united in their afterlife.  She also still had many siblings and several children of her own and a loving husband.  What was more stressful was being disrespected at work and working long hours in an unrelenting hospital atmosphere.  Still, with having sleep problems due to working on shifts and her sleep and work stress aggravating her diabetes, this doctor did not suffer trauma at the hands of such loss and stress.  Two reasons she felt that she could cope with everything going on around her was because she believed she was supported by God and her faith and she was able to get away and play.  She made sure that several times a year she was able to disconnect and be with family, laugh and play, and discharge all of the negative stressors in her life.

Another friend, an artist, was stuck in a dead end job that she hated.  She had grown up in an emotionally abusive family with no support from older siblings that had moved away before she was very old.  Her skills were underutilized and every day felt like a drain on her soul.  Over the years, friends had moved away and she had stopped allowing new people to get close to her, keeping everyone at a safe distance.  Although she was in a committed relationship, she kept him at bay as well.  In addition to her job being unfulfilling, it didn’t pay the bills and she was forced to work multiple odd jobs to keep up with the house taxes and keep food on the table.  There were no mentors in her life, no best supportive friends, and she had learned that everything had to be done the hard way, with no help, lest you were considered weak.

Then a series of things happened that might not be stressful in your life or mine but altogether were traumatic for this person.  She had gotten severely sick and had to take a significant amount of time off of work.  As she was starting to get better, her cat got very sick and she took time off to spend time with her dying cat, her one tried and true friend.  While gardening and keeping food on her table, she contracted lyme’s disease.  Her cat died then died.  A deep depression set in and she shut herself off from everyone and everything.  She lost her job because of all the time off she took and had no resources.  It was easier to smoke and drink than it was to reach out to anyone.  With time, she started to not only shut out the people around her but actually hate everyone and she sunk deeper into her depression.  With such a depleted body due to illness and a non-existent support system, the loss of her one pet pushed her over the edge and added to the trauma of a series of wounds never addressed.

Both women experienced losses in about the same time frame and yet both had very different experiences and coped differently.  One had her faith and her family to support her and although she was older and had some health difficulties, she had the means to get away, the ability to step outside of her life, and have some reprieve.  The other woman had no way out and had the ghosts of an abusive, embarrassing family to deal with.  She had settled for jobs that paid the bills, not jobs that inspired her or used her talents and she saw the world as a rotten place.  It is easy to see how she could suffer from long term trauma, especially if at the different points in her journey (each loss or illness or injustice) she did not seek out help.  And much to her detriment, what she did seek out to help her cope made her depression and grief worse.

As you can see, two people can experience similar situations and one can remain unchanged or at least less harmed.  And one can have their world spiral out of control.  So when you think of trauma, don’t just think of a combat vet returning home or a refuge seeking asylum from a war-torn country.  A doctor or paramedic can be exposed to traumatic events every day at work.  A therapist or minister can experience compassion fatigue from tending to 100s of hurting clients.  A widow can live with an abusive husband for decades and then be the one to take care of him during cancer treatment and his subsequent death.   What they all have in common is that these events are unreconciled and if not dealt with will often effect multiple layers of their lives.

Here are your questions regarding trauma:

  • Do you work in a high stress job, taking care of others or dealing with their illness, trauma, or grief?
  • Do you have a strong support system?
  • Do you keep a journal or go to counseling?
  • Do you eat well and nourish yourself by getting enough sleep, hydration, and laughter?
  • Do you find ways to disconnect from the world?
  • Do you have people to go to when you need to talk?
  • Do you exercise, do yoga, meditate, get massages, acupuncture, etc that helps work stress and disease out of your body?
  • Do you practice gratitude, keep a gratitude journal or do meditations on gratitude and thanksgiving?
  • Do you live with or deal with people with emotional problems, addiction, mental health issues, or other kinds of abuse?
  • Do you have a strong spiritual center, connection to a higher power, have a strong faith in something or someone?

 

 

 

 

Being True to One’s Self

th“If you bring forth that which is within you, then that which is within you will be your salvation.  If you do not bring forth that which is within you, then that which is within you will destroy you.”  The Gnostic Gospels

If you read my post, Connection, you will remember the quote from Gabor Mate, “The essence of trauma is disconnection from ourselves”, you will see his words echoed in the quote from the Gnostic Gospels.  Why is it that we are so disconnected with ourselves?  Is this just a part of post modern life?  Is it just a part of what it means to be a human?  Is there any way to repair this disconnect?  Or is it our life’s journey to repair the disconnect?

I don’t know if I believe in a god anymore.  I am not sure at times what i believe anymore.  I would like to think that maybe the journey of life is to descend from unity and be birthed into this world, to struggle, to love, to seek, to learn, to overcome, and then to reunite with that which we came from.  But wow, what a life that means it is.  Does that mean we will cease to find any sense of unity or connection in this world?  Does that mean that any connection we find in this world will be fleeting?  Can we really have a connection to something or someone and if we can, does it change over time?

Maybe life is about a connection to ourselves?  As children, we only know ourselves and have to learn that our parents, mostly our primary caregiver, is not us.  We start to individuate.  Maybe this is the first step to our disharmony?  Certainly school, work, peer relations take us away from ourselves.  We are flooded with ideas and rules.  We encounter other people.  We find ourselves in situations that constantly threaten who we are.  Now, this is not to say that this is all bad.  We learn how to appreciate art or literature, or we learn math to count our change from an apple bought.  We meet other people and learn about love, about language, and about empathy and compassion.

So where does the trauma occur?  Is trauma always a dramatic event?  Can it be the slow deterioration in the relationship we have with ourselves?  Could it be gradual?  A list of choices we make, thinking we have to compromise until we compromise ourselves right out of ourselves?

Peter Levinesays, “The effects of unresolved trauma can be devastating.  It can affect our habits and outlook online, leading to additions and poor decision-making.  It can take a toll on our family life and interpersonal relationships.  It can trigger real physical pain, symptoms, and disease.  And it can lead to a range of self-destructive behaviors.Healing Trauma, 2005.  So maybe it isn’t the trauma itself but how we live with it, interpret, make it part of our life, and resolve it or reconcile with it?

I think before I write anymore, I should say that I believe that a traumatic event doesn’t have to be a house fire or a tour of duty or a life time of physical abuse.  I think it can be much more subtle than that, especially if it is over a long period of time.  Can a surgical procedure be traumatic?  What if nothing goes wrong?  Can it be considered traumatic if you aren’t mentally prepared for it?  Or you have no one to talk to about the ramifications of the procedure?  Or you have no one to help care for you and so you take a taxi to the doctor and you go home to an empty home to care for yourself.

What if you are going through chemo or have been in an accident?  My mom was in an accident years ago and though we went right to the Emergency Room, they did not diagnose her with a broken collar bone.  It wasn’t until it set incorrectly that we knew that it was broken.  Can something similar happen with other events in our lives?  That something we went through would not appear to cause us a trauma or long lasting pain because it does not usually affect people that way but for us, it has, caused harm?

Let’s continue to explore that. . . .

So, my questions are:

  • Can you think of a time that you experienced a break in connection with a person, place, or thing that caused you pain that would not normally affect someone else this way?
  • Is there a part of yourself that you have disconnected from in order to fit in or be a part of something else?
  • Have you experienced a loss, an illness, a trauma, or a situation that fundamentally changed how you see the world or how you see yourself?
  • Do you suffer from an auto-immune disorder, chronic pain, depression, grief?
  • How often do you allow yourself to check out, turn off, and check in with yourself?
  • Are you connected with your body, other than through pain?
  • Can you think of situations that have made you disconnect from your beliefs, truths, or your spirit?
  • Have you been in situations that you compromised yourself for love, for work, for something outside of yourself?

If yes, please come back and check in.  I’d love to hear from you, about how you have learned to live with your illness, your trauma, your loss.  Please feel free to leave comments below.

Peace

SaveSave

You Matter. . . No Matter What Anyone Says

“If you don’t produce, consume, or own matter,

then you don’t matter in this society.”  

Gabor Mate

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Oh how easy it is to fall into this thinking, especially in today’s political climate when freedoms and safety nets are being torn out of the fabric of our society.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.  Right now, I’m not contributing anything to society, except trying to heal myself so I can return back to the tribe more whole than when I left.  And healing and becoming whole is not easy.  Living with chronic pain is not easy.  I figured out that I’ve dealt with chronic pain off and on now for 28 years and a neurological disorder for the past 16 years.  But lately, very lately, I have not been working and am working full time on trying to repair my mind, body, and soul.

I have not blogged much but this has been very good for my spirit thus far.  Getting “likes” helps me to know that I’m not alone. . . whether my words about living with chronic illness ring true or my poem gives you pause, I know I’m not alone.

We grow up believing in this country that we have to be rugged individualists.  Fooey.  I miss the days of knowing our neighbors and living 7 minutes from family.  I miss having rituals like every other Friday night going for pizza and the opposite Friday night going for Chinese.  I miss being able to drive over my friends house at any time, in any weather, looking however, and hanging out with her.  But that’s not the life I am living now and it’s a lesson in acceptance.

I have to say, I’m in good company.  Maybe it is something developmentally with my age group.  I had a friend from college that came down with an autoimmune disease during our Master’s degrees.  She had been told her whole life that she would have to care for her brother when her parents got old.  Her own illness would keep her from that.  I have another college friend who also has an autoimmune disease and he has trouble breathing.  Luckily, he continues to work and have a life but it is stalled.  I have a friend who had a heart attack and cancer in less than the last 5 years.

So what is it with all of these 40-50-somethings being ill?  I have two other friends dealing with mental health issues.  No, they aren’t crazy.  I’m not even sure if they have a brain chemistry problem like psychiatry would have us believe.  I do believe that there is something in all of our lives that is begging us to listen.  And that thing has been calling out for a long time if we have gotten to the point of being ill.

I don’t know about you but I grew up with “suck it up and move on” parents.  Or “don’t cry or I’ll give you something to cry about” parents.  They also made sure we had jobs when we were 16 years old and worked every day since.  Trust me, I’m not blaming my life on them.  If anything, the only thing I have to blame them for our genes that were passed on.  My family has been good to me.  We heard a lot of things from our families.  And I think some of them we allowed to seep into our DNA.  I think society told us a lot of things and we also allowed that to unconsciously sway our thinking.

I’m glad to see millennials are looking at our lives and really putting their money where their mouths are.  I read articles about them living in squalor to pay off student loans as quickly as possible.  I hear they are doing things so they can try to retire early, though I am not sure if any one of us will be able to retire in the future.  Maybe in the next generation or two we will our priorities straight.  We will put money into education, into our environment, into healthcare.  We will look toward countries that have better quality of life than we do and try to figure out what they are doing right.

I think about my own situation.  For all these years, I went to school and got advanced degrees.  I worked hard and have had a job since I was 16.  I believed that if I put myself in debt and worked hard in school, I’d have the life I wanted.  That meant not taking vacations, moving to get jobs or go to school, and working myself to death.  My health was the cost and I never did obtain all the things I was searching for.  But it’s taken all this time for me be able to stop and be able to regroup.  Why isn’t this a part of society?

I read a book a long time ago, “Crazy Like Us” by Ethan Watters and it was fascinating.  It looked at other societies and how they dealt with mental health issues — trauma, schizophrenia, grief, etc.  And it found that other countries deal with this issues in much more organic ways.  What I mean by that is what probably happened in this country at the turn of the last century, during our grandparents’ and their parents’ lives.

If someone had a baby, there was a mother and mother-in-law nearby.  There were also siblings, cousins, aunts, etc to all help out.  If someone was depressed, the community helped out.  It’s not a great example, but think about the book Ethan Fromm.  Ethan’s wife was sick and a young niece or cousin came to live with them.  Families could do that back then.  It’s not as easy today with families needing the levels of income we need today.  When our grandparents were alive, if someone in the family had a difficulty with mental retardation, they lived at home.  If they lived on a farm, they might help out despite a disability or they lived on a farm and were safe to wander the area without the danger of walking out into traffic or wandering into another families’ house.  People could be unproductive, be non-consumers, and still be a valued part of society.  But today, there is no time and as I said before, safety nets are being torn apart.

But what will this do to us?  How will we be productive consumers when our paychecks are split between student loan payments and medical bills?  Who can we reach out to in sprawling suburbia when we are caring for elderly parents or in the prime of our life and stopped short by cancer, heart disease, mental health issues, burnout, trauma, etc?

So my questions to you are these:

  • What are you doing to keep your health, physical and psychological health intact?
  • What are you consciously doing to prevent dis-ease?
  • How are you cultivating community and a larger family?
  • In what ways can you change your life today to make it more sustainable?
  • When was the last time that you took off time and did nothing or better yet did something to improve your life — not taking a vacation to renovate the house or taking a vacation where you had to stand for hours in lines or rush around?
  • How can keep from burning out?
  • What is one thing that I can change so that I can consume or produce less and mean more, matter more?

And in case no one told you today, you do matter.  You do have meaning, purpose, worth, and belong, no matter who you are or where you are.  And if you haven’t been told that today, find some new people to bring into your life that will tell you that or remind me when you need to hear it.

Peace