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Archive for the ‘Emotions’ Category


We have all seen a play or two (or a hundred) in our lifetimes. Some are funny, some simply entertaining, some poignant, some shocking. In the past week, I saw two different plays, one a combination of several genres, the other profundly moving me to want to do something.

Tiny Beautiful Things is a play based on a book of essays by Cheryl Strayed, the person behind an advice column called “Dear Sugar,” her pseudonym. She wasn’t a trained psychologist but a good writer, and she acidentally fell into the non-paying job when her predecessor had to give it up.

She explores some very intimate subjects and gives her advice by sharing her personal stories and experiences. She is transparent about her lack of credentials, and gives her advice from the heart – and with heart.

People have joked to me that I have been a therapist since the age of sixteen. People share things with me in supermarket lines, while shopping for clothes, on trains. People I DON’T KNOW! So, its a gift, I guess. The reality is that helping others parse their challenges takes me away from my own problems. And I daresay, I am usually helpful as I help someone see their options or inspire them by sharing my own challenges and victories.

This blog is often filled with such nuggets of advice or inspirations, always from my experiences. My other blog, about nutrition, is also there for the taking: advice on nutrition-related subjects, culled from the science I learned in school, by credentials and experiences. And a third blog which is now dormant, awaits my time and attention, and deals with matters relating to death, dying and grief. There, my experiences surrounding the topic lend some good advice and comfort too.

So I have thought about starting an advice column. I worry it would consume me if it caught on, so I need to think more about it. But it really draws me in. What do you think? I’d like to know.

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Few people are comfortable talking about death. But those who are dying often long to talk about it. Most don’t because they know it is uncomfortable for their loved ones or because they sense it is a taboo subject.

I have been on both sides of the debate; in a position of being near death and longing for its release, and being with those who are dying, supporting their need to talk about it and be given permission to let go when they were ready.

My father suffered immeasurably as he died slowly and painfully with bone cancer. My brother made all the decisions: if he should take the morphine, if it was better to have him alert but in pain, if they should have a nurse help or if he would do it all himself, believing only he could take care of him, if they should disconnect his defibrillator/pacemaker before the day came his body gave in and it would keep shocking him. My sister and I were 1,300 away, so we had no choice but to defer to him, even when we didn’t agree with his decisions. My father privately called to talk to me about hospice, then after he unloaded his needs, made me promise not to tell my mother and brother that he called. They were insistent that he didn’t need it, because they were not accepting the reality of the situation as easily as my father did.

It was a year filled with anxiety. Traveling to where he lived when it looked like the end was near, then having him rally at seeing his girls and or grandchildren who accompanied us on some of the trips. Then a few months of the same and starting the cycle over again. It was a full year before he succumbed, and we were fortunate to be with him when he finally let go. But even at that moment, my mother was still in denial, trying to will my father into living as he drew his last breaths. And me, now the mother to the child, telling her to stop so his last moment on earth would be peaceful; not filled with worry about her. He had already sacrificed enough, holding on for their sake, in spite of excruciating pain. It was time to let him go.

I know how much he suffered because I was in his shoes. Not for as long, not suffering with cancer, but I was in a place of terrible physical suffering. I was not as stalworth as he was, rather begging to be let free of my life so the pain would stop. But my family would not hear of it. And because I was in and out of consciousness, I was sometimes in charge of my destiny, and other times it was ceded to my husband, who would never make the decision to let me go.

Hindsight is 20-20 of course, and now I am glad we all fought for my life, but the memory of that time is still fresh, even 4+ years later. I see every opportunity as a gift, every day as a bonus. My perspective is different. I am unwilling to put up with nonsense because most of it is unimportant. I am able to ask for what I need (most of the time) and say no when it compromises something else more important to me.

But back to the point of this post. Death comes to us all. sometimes willingly; sometimes not. Sometimes too soon, sometimes when we have lived enough and are ready. But it will come, one way or another. So we should consider that discussing death, our wishes for it if we do have a choice, and planning for the matters that need to be addressed, is actually the more practical and kind thing to do. Especially if it is known that the end of someone’s life is approaching. The gift of listening to the person who wishes to talk about it is comforting to both that person and to those who listen. It is a gift to those who must deal with the formalities of death, to grant the dying person’s wishes.

Let’s take the discussion of death out of the closet. It will reduce the fear it instills. It puts death into the category of one of life’s stages to be experienced, in all its complexities, vulnerabilities and honor.

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A clautrophobic’s guide to surviving an MRI

If you’ve ever had an MRI, you know the ominous feeling you get as you stare down the narrow tube that looks like a coffin. If you have any degree of claustrophobia, it is positively terrifying. I forgot what it was like and chose an MRI over a CT scan as I didn’t want any more high radiation imaging, having had more of them than you can count. I actually wonder if I am radioactive by now. Also, a one time, a reaction to CT scan dye started a serious allergic reaction, so whenever I have a CT scan, I have to go through a 24-hour premedication protocol that messes with my head and body. So, I decided to get an MRI.

No sooner was I looking into that impossibly narrow tube, that I realized I had to do something. It was too late for an anti-anxiety medication. I was there, and had to decide to proceed or go home. Wanting to get to the source of the reason for needing the MRI, I decided I would proceed.

Here is how I survived nearly an hour in the “coffin.”

I shut my eyes and didn’t open them until it was over.

I invoked deep breathing and mindfulness. The cacophony of excruciatingly loud noises (a variety of different ones, different pitches, tempos, etc.) started up. I listened mindfully, making “music” of the beats. I noticed two different sounds, not beating in the same rhythm. I noticed the different pitches. I imagined what else they sonded like. (Admittedly, some were like nothing else in real life.)

I employed counting to pass the time when told how many minutes each blast would last. Counting slowly made the time seem shorter.

FINAL TIPS: Whatever you do, DO NOT WEAR hearing aids to this exam. If you have better ear protection than 30-decibel reduction they provide, bring them. Their measly earplugs do nothing!

I am rethinking the next time I need imagining. I might prefer the pre-medication and drinking icky stuff for a 10 minute CT scan to the energy drain it took to survive the hour-long MRI. But that’s me. If you don’t suffer from claustrophobia, you will probably be fine with an MRI and lessen your exposure to radiation.

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I read an article this morning (link below) that triggered thoughts I have pondered in the past. At times, we rush by people who may be rude, inappropriate, reclusive. We usually respond in kind. But what if that person just experienced something awful, was in an abusive relationship, just received a dire diagnosis, had a severe lifelong challenge? What if they were in pain, had an invisible illness? Would you respond differently?

Chances are you’d respond with more compassion. As humans of any mature age, chances are you’ve been in a situation that no one (particularly strangers) would know about, and they didn’t respond nicely to you. I’m not discounting the fact that there are some people who are just plain mean, but there is often a reason.

Next time that happens, as long as it is not unbearable to do so, stop and think before responding. The next time something is causing you not to be so kind, hopefully someone will respond to you with the same consideration.

Thanks to the author who inspired this post.

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The following is from a letter I wrote to my sons five years ago. I never published it then as I was too raw and overwhelmed at the time. I came across the email today and decided I could share it, though God knows, the danger has not passed. If anything, there have been far too many more incidents of violence since. So many that we are becoming numb. This email reminded me to remain vigilant and hold onto my sons, no matter how old they get.

Dear J and D,
Ok, this is not meant to embarrass you but I wanted to share my feelings with you …
It’s been an emotional week. The bombing in Boston, just on the heels of the Newtown tragedy, has stirred my feelings of helplessness to protect my children in this crazy world.
No matter how old your children are, when a tragedy strikes – anywhere – a mother’s first instinct is to want to hug her children, as if doing so will assure me that you are ok and that I can protect you from harm. These events prove to me that we can’t always do that and it is painful to know that you must eventually protect yourself as I won’t be here forever. And even while I am here, I can’t control random crazy peoples’ deeds. So I tried to prepare you for the world as best I could. But when unexplainable things like this happen, I feel so powerless.
Yet, in spite of it, I know there is goodness – lots of it – shown through the many acts of heroism, bravery and kindness when terror struck. And that helps maintain my faith in humanity.
But no matter what, I needed to give you a hug the moment I saw you when I came home. At least I saw with my own eyes you were safe for the moment.
I am incredibly proud of the men you have become. Sensitive, with the belief you can and will make your marks somewhere on humanity. It doesn’t take a lot to change a life.
So, live your lives fully, in spite of the naysayers and the crazy, deranged people, without fear and with compassion. And remember I am by your side, whatever path(s) you choose, and throughout your lives, whether I am here on earth or in your memories.
Love you forever.

Mom

 

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I love to write. Just as I love to make art. But it is an interesting struggle to do it. On closer inspection, both have one thing in common. Both are creative expression, and had been so stifled in childhood that it feels almost forbidden. My mother forbade me to go to art school, in spite of a teacher who advocated for my talent. Standardized tests (SATs included) measured my writing skills as paltry. So what was a young girl to do but shut down the creative instincts. From time to time I wonder what my life would have been like if I had let loose all these urges.

Despite years of therapy and self awareness, at age 63 I still fight with myself about using all the tools and supplies I’ve been able to afford. I hoard them. As any artist knows, paints and glues dry out and end up wasted if not used. Then I tell myself I have to do all my “chores” before I get to play in my well appointed studio. So it collects a lot of the junk we move out of other rooms when we clean up. And starting an art project means first having to make the space, which adds to the amout of time I need to get started. So it happens too rarely. Crazy, right?

I know it’s crazy, and I hate feeling I don’t deserve the time to create. Yet it is not only a desire to create, but a NEED. My therapists have given me strategies to “make time for art,” to put it on my calendar, and I have. But life always seems to get in the way and push it aside in favor of something more important. But is any of it really?

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Do these words, taken in the same sentence, seem like an oxymoron? It is not.

I’ve pondered my reactions to things I read and how I respond to them. Sometimes charged up and angry; sometimes sad and maybe even weepy. I can cry at the drop of a hat; a greeting card, a thought about one of my children, frustration at not being able to solve a problem for someone I love. But no one (not even me) would argue that I am tough as nails.

To summarize my life, I have lived through enough major challenges for several lifetimes. A divorce, widowhood, a miscarriage, cheating death three times, coma, and severe pain for extended periods of times that made me beg for death. When I made those conscious or unconscious “decisions” to carry on in the face of the impossible, there were factors driving it. Twice, when on the brink of death, my children kept me alive. They were too young to be motherless, so somehow I must have willed my body to stay alive. When I was widowed at a young age, I held onto knowing that I had not yet done many things I wanted to do. Making a life with someone, having children, traveling the world. And the “normal” losses like the deaths of my father, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and many, many pets.

I’ve wondered from a young age how some people seem resilient; impervious to what could be devastating to others. I’ve wondered if it is constitutional, like genetics, personality, or how much it is affected by nurture. I still wonder, as I have not figured it out.

I began this inquiry as a twenty-something-year-old, riding the bus in NYC. A young disheveled, clearly homeless and mentally ill woman spewed horrible words. It appeared she was talking to (or yelling at) an imaginary person. She was distressed and said things that made me think she had been badly abused. I wondered sadly what could have broken her. As I grew older and heard many stories of people triumphing against all odds, not merely surviving, but thriving (Oprah Winfrey). How is it that one person is so damaged that they cannot function, and another succeeds? What factors influence it?

There has been much research on resilience and books written about which factors influence it and how to develop it. But I don’t know that it is something we can quite “bottle.” The human being is such a complex bundle of biology, genetics and environmental influence that no two are alike. No matter what we discover, it will not entirely explain the various outcomes, given similar, even the same inputs.

So for now, I will have to settle for feeling fortunate be resilient, whatever that means.

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