Love Is How You Spend Your Time

September 13th, 2010

I was at someone’s home the other day and inscribed on their bathroom wall was this expression, “Love is how you spend your time.” In this very hectic life we lead where we are all so busy, have you ever asked yourself whether you love what you’re doing?

How about right this minute?

Take a moment and consider how you spend your time.  Are you spending your time doing what you love?

No worries – just notice what’s true right now.

Permission to be right where you are granted.

In fact, here’s a blank permission slip to do whatever you want  – and hopefully, that will be something you love to do.

As for me, I do my best to live by this mantra.  Love IS how I spend my time and here are a couple examples.

  • I love God – I spend some time every day meditating or walking with the prince of peace in some way
  • I love my dogs – I spend time with them every day.
  • I love writing – I spend some time writing and reflecting most days.
  • I love moving my body – I either walk, exercise,  or do yoga
  • I love my kids and my close friend Donna – I talk to each of them most days

These things are my prescriptions for well being.  They work like a charm to infuse my life with meaning, purpose and connection.  When I don’t do some combination of them for more than 24 hours, I can feel the effects.

Love is how I spend my time.

I’d love to hear how you spend your time?  What makes you well keeps you well.  What’s your prescription for well being?

How To Deal With Depression

August 2nd, 2010

Have you felt so depressed that it’s too hard to talk about? Are you afraid of wearing out your welcome with your friends because it just doesn’t seem to change?  Do you find yourself often at square one again – thinking you’ve already covered that patch of the track and can’t get past it?

When we know that our downward spiral won’t “last forever”, we can fake it til we make it. But sometimes that downward spiral appears to have no let up.

Just as often, though, we feel the after-burn of knowing that we haven’t gotten our needs for acknowledgment, understanding or connection met which often leaves us running for the nearest escape to indulge in.

I do this quite often myself.

When I keep coming back to those sad feelings over and over again, it reaches a point where I can’t talk about them anymore. It feels like there is no help that I can get from anyone else, from a book, or an mp3.  It’s that very absence of help that is my sign to listen more intently to myself.

It’s my doorway to what’s truly needed:  a chance to sit down and have a chance to catch up with myself.

I have found that by continuing to listen, to be willing to acknowledge what is really true for me, to feel the longing in full swing- well, there is relief in that. I get it.  I understand.  Even if I can’t explain it to another person, even if my own belief in God has been shaken – I always have me.

Somehow, I’ve learned over the years that I can’t wear out my own welcome.

I think the greatest form of compassion I can offer myself is simply to listen, to acknowledge, appreciating the strength it takes to feel these feelings for yet another day.  And also to understand that like everything else, feelings change.  They ebb and flow like the proverbial ocean.  If we don’t hang on to them, they move through us and – even though we may return to that place of melancholy – there can be moments of respite from it.

Most of all, what I know now is that feeling many different emotions doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me.  It means that I’m human – the life is complex – and that I can strengthen my ability to help myself in countless ways.

And that’s the message I want to leave you with today:  if you’re feeling depressed, overwhelmed, frustrated or alone, there is help for you.  And the first step is to spend some time listening to what’s going on inside – whether you do this by journaling, dancing, walking, taking a bath or talking to your dog.  It often helps me to nod my head knowingly or hug myself to help me ride out the more difficult junctures.  I encourage you to find what works for you.

Inevitably by listening, and by allowing the longing I feel and making it totally safe to feel whatever it is, I can break things down into simple do-able steps to take action on.  And by taking action, things over time do shift for me.

I do not believe these feelings are a diagnosable illness – I believe it is part of the human condition.   Just like the weather, our feelings rise and fall. There’s nothing wrong with us.

These feelings come up over and over again and I simply rinse and repeat the very same cycle:  notice what I’m really longing for, feel that with all its intensity, notice how impossible often times it is to have what I really want, and break it down into the teeny-est, tiny-est most doable steps.  It’s pretty empowering to have become so skilled at doing this over the years.

Simple but not easy, done with deep humility for how difficult the plight of humans can be when they are hurting and there aren’t long lasting solutions.

How do you get through your dark nights of the soul?


What do you do when you love someone so much – you’d do anything for them – and they are suffering?

How do you help your loved one get through a dark night of the soul?

Jane (not her real name) contacted me because she didn’t know who else to turn to.  She was very concerned about her father who she described as the most giving person she’d ever known. He’d always been the strong one, the rock of their family, and he loved his active lifestyle.

Jane’s mom and dad met in the Peace Corps and had been married 40 years. Her mom died unexpectedly about 8 years ago.  Jane knew this was so hard on her dad and in his typical style, he rarely talked about his feelings.  Instead, he often told stories about his mom and how amazing she was reminiscing about the good times.

Then, Jane’s father decided to get back in the Peace Corps and do some volunteer work in various parts of the country.  He loved travelling and this was a great fit for him.    From there, he worked locally with habitat for humanity.  He found meaning in his life again and was doing okay.

One day, Jane got a call that her dad slipped while running.

In the process of getting her dad the care he needed,   the doctor also discovered he had COPD (a lung condition).  Suddenly his whole world changed.

First, he had to adjust to portable oxygen.  Then, he needed special oxygen equipment in the house.  He also needed surgery for a torn rotator cuff plus a pin in his ankle making it impossible for him to get around as he used to.

Life as he knew it was turned upside down.

Now his life revolved around doctor’s appointments, oxygen tanks, and adjusting to constant pain.    He was so used to being the one who helped everyone else; now, even going to the bathroom was incredibly exhausting.  Needless to say, Jane noticed that he wasn’t his usual chipper self.  She could feel his frustration, his sadness, and his pain.

Recovery was going so much slower than either of them expected.

They had always been a family of faith which got them through many hard times.  Almost every time Jane spoke to her dad, he would say something like: “I wish I could just be with God and your mom already.  It’s too painful to live like this.  And I have no choice about this one – because God takes you when he’s ready, not when I’m ready. ”

This concerned Jane more than anything else.  She sensed his deep despair and felt like a helpless bystander.  All she could do was listen – and listen some more.  Her attempts at encouraging him to hang in there felt trite, even to her.

I listened to her and felt her heavy heart.  This kind of thing is so difficult for everyone involved.   It is so scary especially when we feel so helpless.

The first thing I said to Jane was that, in addition to the physical changes for her dad, I suspected some grief may be surfacing for all of them. Jane was used to her mom and dad being together.  Her dad was facing the most difficult time of his life alone, without his wife beside him.

Being ill brings us face to face with our losses. When we ourselves get sick, it can bring up all kinds of grief as the one we counted on isn’t by our side.

I think the views of our society on grief are flat out wrong.  They always say the first year is the hardest.  I disagree.  The first year is very very difficult and the waves of grief often crescendo in unexpected ways for the rest of our lives.

I understand only too well how grief can come up when we least expect it.  I’ve been widowed for almost 20 years and some days it feels like it was just yesterday that my husband was by my side.

In my humble opinion, grief is our constant companion in one way or another when we’ve lost someone we dearly love – regardless of how long it’s been since they’ve died. We learn to live without our loved ones – we grow around the experience – but we never “get over” it.

When we don’t feel well, we feel vulnerable.  We need other people’s help and we don’t want to ask for it.  We don’t want to wear out our welcome or seem like we’re complaining – so we try and keep it inside.  That’s human nature.

And when the one we love isn’t there to help us, it’s understandable that we often feel sad, worried, helpless, afraid and lots of other things. Needless to say, we’re all different so our feelings on this are as individual as our fingerprints.  And our feelings are always with us regardless of whether we acknowledge them out loud to others or not.

Often those unexpressed unacknowledged feelings create that dark night of the soul that I’m referring to.

I’ve been doing an experiment for the last month.

Before I go to bed, I figure out 3 things I want to accomplish the next day.

Just three things?  Yep – you heard that right.  And those 3 things have to meet these conditions.

  • I can accomplish each one within a day;
  • They are things I really want to do, not things I should do; and
  • When I complete each thing, I will step back and notice what I’ve learned from doing it.

This has been so hard for me to do.  Limiting myself to 3 things?  Whaaaat?  Commitment – ew, ew, ewwwww.

And what I’ve noticed is it totally works.

An example of this is spending one hour learning new software by 7PM.  Notice I didn’t say mastering this software or that I would spend an indefinite amount of time doing this.  I just committed to learning it to the best of my ability with a timer for one hour.

When I completed this, I noticed that I felt proud that I could learn a skill that I”m pretty resistant to.

It feels so un-sexy and un-ambitious  to me to commit to just 3 things.  AND when I look over the month, I realize that by taking things in baby steps I’ve gotten quite a few things knocked off my list.

So, as much as my inner critic kicks and screams and says that nothing will ultimately be accomplished by doing this, what I notice is that that inner critic is flat out wrong.  Wrong, wrong, wrong!

What I’ve learned from books on neurobiology is we are programmed to notice what’s going wrong.  It’s a survival instinct  that goes back to caveman days where we hunted and gathered our food, or went hungry.

The problem is – it’s so instinctual to notice what isn’t working, that it can be easy to overlook the things in our lives that do work. Like small simple steps.  Like acknowledging ourselves and each other when things are working in our lives.

This “slow and steady wins the race” approach is exactly the way I suggest we approach our health. Noticing what feels good as we do it – whether that’s exercising, stretching or resting.  And gently noticing what doesn’t feel so good – in the most compassionate way possible.

For example, I notice that when I type for more than 45 minutes, my hands ache.  In particular, the tips of my fingers of my left hand  and both wrists are particularly ache-y.  What helps is taking a break, doing some stretches I’ve learned in Occupational Therapy and spending some time with a cold pack.

So, I take those small steps.  I step away from the computer.  I do my stretches.  I have a coldpack nearby.  And I come back to my work with less pain and take the next simple step.

And those small simple steps, impossible as it may seem, work every time and result in me getting more done, with less pain. The biggest thing I have to deal with is my own unwillingness to believe that yes, taking things slower and noticing what works can actually lead to getting more done and improving my health.

There’s an expression:  “What you feel you can heal.”

I have a love-hate relationship with that saying.  Why?

Because sometimes I don’t want to “feel” something, but I want it to be healed!

In other words, I want it healed BEFORE I feel it. It’s so understandable how no one (including me of course) really wants to  deal with uncomfortable stuff.

There’s nothing worse than feeling “forced” into facing what’s going on with your body or in your life. And I also have no use for any approach that forces us to do something we don’t want to do.

I do, however, love simple steps that help me take things that are scary, overwhelming or feel “too hard” and break them down into do-able actions so I can take good care of myself.

I also find that most people feel less overwhelmed, scared and doomed when they can break things down into simple steps that they can follow through with.

So, with that in mind, I invite you to substitute your own “stuff” (and I’m deliberately leaving that word vague) and see if you recognize yourself in my example.

I’ve had this weird feeling in my hands.  It started out as something I could ignore, so I did.

I didn’t have time for it – I already have other health stuff to deal with and don’t need one more issue.  Maybe it will go away if I don’t say anything.  I found myself mumbling under my breath . . . . please, please not now.  No room for you.

I didn’t want to put words on it.  I didn’t want to even feel it.  See what I mean about my love hate relationship with that _____ expression:  “what you feel you can heal”?

Over time, it got worse – affecting my ability to type, write by hand, and hold the steering wheel.   These were small shifts that occurred in minuscule ways over time.  I found myself (and still find myself) noticing that it hurt to be typing and typing anyway.  I then found myself holding the wheel with my non-dominant hand more often, while resting my dominant one.

I couldn’t use my laptop anymore, though it took me a while to admit that – and I still try and use it, feeling irritated when I find out it’s just too painful.  I ordered a book and then hid it in the closet – hoping this _____________ (unspeakable thing!) would go away.

But, as I noticed that it was really painful being on the computer AND continued to stay on it anyway, at some point I turned a corner and decided it was time to get some help.

I couldn’t avoid it any longer.  Well, I could have avoided it a lot longer – and I would have liked it to go away on its own but that wasn’t happening.

And that was the problem.

This thing-a-ma-jig with my hands wouldn’t go away.  And that’s as much language as I had for it.  It was painful, hurt when I typed, made it hard to grip the wheel, hold a pen and was beyond annoying.

I read a Zen saying recently that said, “Nothing in life is true unless it is a paradox.”

The paradox here is that I didn’t want to feel this (unspeakable thing) so I didn’t want to put words on it AND I needed to find language for this pain so that I knew what I was feeling, and what things were making it better and worse.

My light bulb moment was realizing that I needed a working knowledge of what my issue was before I could get any help with it.

What a pain in the ___!

And what a blessing that there is language for our experiences so that we can make sense of them in our own head first instead of being run by our feelings and our stories.

Digressing here – I had all kinds of stories about this.  Things like I’m making this up, there’s probably no way anyone can help me with it, it’s going to cost too much money to figure it out and fix it, it’s going to make it impossible for me to work, blah blah blah.

My point here is what I had were hands that hurt, but not enough information to know why they hurt or what my options were.   I needed to gather information to fill in that part of the picture.

As you think about your own situation,  I invite you to notice what’s going on with you and what stories, if any, you’ve got running around in your head.  Stories are how we make sense of things – it’s how we put things together.  And, there’s nothing wrong with stories.

But, stories can get us into trouble when they’ve got no facts at all behind them.

In order to get some help with your situation, a couple things have to happen:

  • Fess Up:  You have to be willing to admit something doesn’t feel right to yourself first. This is the biggest and often the hardest thing to do because – as I said – we all wish we could look the other way, and whatever the problem is would just disappear.
  • Use Your Words:   This is an equally tough thing to do because putting words on it can be scary.  It requires that you distance yourself from what’s wrong so you can describe it.  Since no one is in your body but you, you are the only one who truly knows what you’re experiencing.
  • Notice How Finding Words Helps You:  Even when you don’t feel good, you may notice relief in finally being able to describe what’s been niggling at you.  When you describe it to yourself first, you can then get some help from someone else if you choose to ask about it.

I invite you to look at what’s bugging you with your health if you’re willing (no should’s here!) and see if you can describe it objectively.

Now that I have faced what’s going on with my hands, I can begin to think about who can help me with this.

How about you?   I’m  offering  a free teleclass on Thursday, July 15th at 1PM EST (that’s 10AM PST; 11AM MST; and Noon CST) on How to Get Your HealthCare Needs Met.  I’ll be sharing a tried and true process to help you communicate first with yourself, and then with your healthcare provider so that you increase the odds of getting your healthcare needs met with in a kinder, gentler way.  If you’re interested, please leave a note here or contact me at char@the-first-step.com.

What does it mean to you when you feel healthy? Lots of energy?  Feeling pain free?  Waking up ready to take on the day?  Feeling peaceful inside regardless of the status of your various aches and pains du jour?

Everyone has a different definition of health based on whatever is going on in their lives at the moment. When we were in our early teens, most likely the subject of “feeling healthy” may never have crossed our minds.  As we’ve gotten older and busier, undoubtedly niggling health concerns have come up – a rib out of place, a twinge in the back, knee stuff, mood issues etc.

I’d like to talk with those parts of you that you can’t tune out that are talking the loudest to you right now. Maybe it’s your mood which is casting a dull haze on your life in general.  Maybe it’s your right shoulder that makes it hard to carry groceries or put gas in the car.

Take a moment – right now if you can – and just ask that part of yourself what’s up. One of my favorite ways to do this is to sit with myself as I would a close friend, asking questions and deeply listening to what she is sharing.

Here’s an example of my conversation with my mood:

Me:  “Hey, how you doing today?”

My Mood:  “Well, if you wanna know the truth, I’m pissed because the fridge broke again and I had to unload it which really hurt my back.  And I’m grateful that I was persistent enough to get the repair guy to come today.  And I’m disappointed because my kids are in town and I somehow can’t shift this funk I feel. And. . . . . (the conversation continues)

Me:  Tell me more about the funk.

My Mood:  My funk feels like dark clouds over my head, like schlep-rock in the peanuts cartoon.  I just feel this dark cloud following me – even when things go right, I’m having trouble finding joy.”

As I continued asking myself questions, what I learned was a whole litany of reasons for feeling frustrated and disconnected.

The reason I share this with you is because getting information about your mood and your body is really useful.  Here are the reasons why:

  • Shift happens by your willingness to acknowledge what’s true: When you give yourself a moment to just acknowledge a mood or a pain, sometimes just that moment – in and of itself – is enough to shift your frame of mind.   A couple deep breaths of understanding where you’re at is often enough to change your perspective.
  • When you know more about what creates tension in your life, you can develop some strategies to deal with it.  For example, unloading the fridge hurt my back.  One thing I could do in the future is make more trips unloading the fridge rather than carting everything out of the house in one agonizing load.  Another is to ask for help.  A third is to put a note on the fridge telling everyone to make sure to close both doors with two hands so that we don’t have the problem with the thermostat again (according to the repair person.)
  • Tuning into yourself in teeny tiny ways throughout the day sets the stage for being more attune to your wants, needs and desires in general.  It doesn’t have be a huge deal to do this.  A couple breaths, a simple stretch while you’re driving, a yawn in the bathroom – this is very simple stuff that we often don’t think we have time for. And that’s a big fat lie.  We always have time to breathe – if we don’t we’re six feet under or well on our way!
  • Tuning into what feels good helps too. When we notice what’s working (which is something our reptilian brain doesn’t do naturally as it’s more geared for survival), that’s practice for noticing what’s out of whack that is asking for attention.

Try this for yourself:  Listen to whatever is asking for your attention in this moment and see what pearls of wisdom it offers you.  You may be surprised what you learn when you’re willing to pay attention.

As much as I wish this was true, when I am in pain – I can’t be un-pained. When I am sick, I can’t undo it.

It’s like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube –it doesn’t work.

Oprah has struggled with her weight for years.   Her struggles have reflected the challenges many of us have with weight loss. The lesson?  Weight loss is not an easy fix.

Similarly, if you have back pain it can be beyond difficult to deal with it. The same is true if you’ve got tendencies to be depressed, anxious, or are tired. I’ve seen this with others and speak from personal experience as well.

What I’ve learned is nothing that you probably don’t already know.

When I realize that I’m having pain of any sort, what works every time is this:  Simply noticing what’s going on in my body and my brain and taking a breath.  And asking myself what might help me feel a teeny tiny bit more comfortable.

Self kindness.

And it takes me time to surrender to being kind to myself.

Being kind to myself can feel like one more “should” in my day.  It also takes patience to be willing to ask myself how I’m feeling.  It takes even more patience to take a moment to be with what comes up.

And it’s so totally worth it.  It makes all the difference in my quality of life.

I’m working on reframing that view of kindness in small ways.   Baby steps like noticing how I’m gritting my teeth as I type – pausing, taking a breath, and letting my jaw drop as I type, inviting a yawn.  That’s kindness.  It doesn’t have to be a big deal – and it’s those small moment by moment invitations to myself that make all the difference in my pain level.

When I have less pain, I enjoy my day more.

Again, that’s a simple awareness – but not easy to do.  And also well worth the effort.

Often, by the time I think of being kind to myself, I’m in so much pain that kindness is actually my last resort.   I realize that powering through just isn’t working for me.

And I’m getting better at noticing where there may be a little window for kindness to come in.  Like icing my hands before they are so sore I can’t touch the keyboard.  Like setting the timer so I get up and stretch every hour.

And noticing how as I’m typing I resent that my hands are asking for ice again.  I just did that!  And, taking a breath – telling myself, “I know sweetie” and grabbing the ice anyway.  Stopping – mid sentence – to invite a breath, and get some ice.

That’s kindness in action.

And when I overrule myself and don’t get the ice, well – the pain gets louder.  Like I said, I realize over and over again that when I’m feeling pain – I can’t be un-pained.  Wish it was different, just like Oprah wishes she’d solved her weight problem once and for all, and unfortunatly wishing things were different doesn’t change what’s true.

So, how can I find a way to be with what’s true which is that I’m feeling uncomfortable?

Same answer – grab the ice and breathe mindfully while I go get it gritting my teeth,  noticing how frustrating, annoying and irritating this is.  And doing it anyway.

How can you invite kindness into your life today?

Sometimes, there are so many changes – in an hour, an afternoon, or over a couple days – that it can be really difficult to stop what you’re doing and catch up with yourself.

A client of mine with back issues was doing much better for a while.  Physical therapy was effective, exercise was working, and things were looking up.

At the same time, those little things that bug her were adding up, there was a death in the family, she felt isolated and frustrated with various personal relationships, she’d lost a couple major accounts due to the economy and life felt unpredictable and out of her control.

On top of all this, she’d just broken her arm, two ribs and her right foot in an accident.

With her tendencies toward depression, all of this stuff felt like being in the eye of a hurricane – too much, too fast, and no way to digest it.

Her usual mode of self care and dealing with mood issues  – exercise, getting out with friends, shopping, being strategic and organized (which she discovered required not just her brain but her arms and legs) weren’t working.

I asked her what she thought the message was.  She sat with the question for a moment and then, in an exasperated tone, said:  “How can I answer that?  All the things that used to work I can’t do anymore – either for financial reasons, because money is a problem, my body isn’t cooperating or because I don’t have people in my life who get it.”

I sat quietly with her as she continued for what felt like a long time – sensing it was my time to let her listen to herself rather than offer suggestions.

“Self care doesn’t look like anything familiar to me.  I’m used to writing, I can’t write.  It’s even hard to hold a book.  Language helps me feel better, talking helps me feel better.  I want to get out of the house.  I can’t drive.  I feel challenged on every level,” she said.

Having lived this myself, I totally get where she’s coming from.  What she’s describing is the need to “retool” when we’ve been hit with more than one thing at a time that affects our attitude, behavior and well-being.

I listened and nodded, and quietly said:  “Yes, you’ve not been through anything like this before.”

“Oh Thank God, you get that.  And you’re not telling me what to do.  I don’t need one more person telling me what to do here,” she said.

I repeated the question again: “So, if you knew what you needed to do to help yourself feel more comfortable, which you do*, what would you do right now?

(* I believe on an intuitive level we ll know inside ourselves what we need to do to help us feel more comfortable no matter what the situation.  It can feel hard frustrating, irritating, and annoying  listening on this level – to say the least – especially when you’re in pain, physically and psychologically.  And if you’re willing to deeply listen and practice that process, the answers are inside you.)

“I don’t know – that’s the problem.”

We paused together.  She took a deep breath.  We sat quietly on the phone.

I said:  “I have an idea.  How about if you talk for the next couple minutes and just respond to this question.  Even if you say I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know. . . . after a few seconds of saying that, you mind, just by you giving it permission to not know, will start to remember what you do know that would be helpful.  Wanna try it and see what happens?”

Through her tears, she said:  “Sure, but I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know and this sounds like a bunch of hippie garbage that I don’t know what to do!   I don’t know how to help myself – if I did,  I’d do it.”

I said:  “Yes, I hear that.  Feeling better may be out of the question right now as you’ve got a broken hand, foot, ribs plus all this other stuff.  But, here’s the sentence for you to complete.  If I knew what I needed to do right now to feel more comfortable, which I do, I would.  . . . Now, it’s your turn to talk.”

Here’s the short version of what she said:  “If I knew what would help me feel more comfortable right now, which I already know, I would not do one thing but sit here and cry. I’d cry til I couldn’t cry anymore.  That’s what I’d do.  And I wish someone was here to hold me while I cry and there’s no one here do that, and that’s really scary because I can’t do this alone.  I may never stop crying.  I may never get out of this situation and things may never change which is why I am afraid to start crying.”

I asked if it would help her if she cried while I was on the phone with her.

She said, “No – but it would really help me if I could call or email you when I’m done.  Or if I get stuck.  Or if I haven’t stopped crying in two weeks.”

“No problem”, I said. “And I promise you that you won’t cry without a break for two weeks!  I’m pretty sure of that.”

Twenty minutes later she emailed me and said she felt so much better.

I then asked her this question, “Now that you’ve let yourself do what you needed to do to feel better, what have you learned about yourself?”

She laughed and said:  “Well, I won’t cry forever and nothing stays the same.  And now I’m ready to listen to Geneen Roth’s new book, Women Food and God, while I go through some filing and pull some financial stuff together.”

“Great”, I said, “and when you notice that something has shifted for you and this starts getting hard for some reason, ask yourself question number one again.”

So, here’s the recap.

When situations come at us all at once, whether they a personal, professional or both, and you notice you’re feeling overwhelmed, despondent, angry, sad or hopeless here’s a couple simple steps to remember:

1.  Stop what you’re doing.  Something isn’t working.  Your mood is giving you a message that something isn’t right in your world.

2.  Ask yourself this question:  “If I knew what would help me feel more comfortable, and I do, what would I do right now?

3.  Give yourself 2-3 minutes  to talk it through with a friend, write about it, talk out loud (a voice recorder can be handy for this)or some other way to get it out of your head so you can hear yourself think. A timer can be handy to keep you focused. Don’t worry about finding the perfect journal, right words to express yourself or having the perfect space to do this in.  You are of course welcome to contact me and I’ll lead you through this as well.

4.  Let yourself do it.  If you can’t do it right now (i.e. you’d love to take a nap and you’re at work doing this in the bathroom as it’s the only place you can get some peace and quiet), make a date for yourself to do it soon.

5.  When you’re done, notice what you’ve learned and ask yourself:  Now that I’ve let myself do what I thought would help, what have I learned? Stay open and curious – maybe it didn’t help at all and you need to try something different, maybe you feel much more energized, maybe you’re feeling like you wasted your time.

7.  Repeat this process as often as you like.

A few caveats here:

  • Slow down your learning curve on this.  You won’t do it “perfectly” because there is no such thing.
  • Oftentimes, when we ask ourselves what will make us feel better our brain gives us so many things to do at once that it’s impossible to figure anything out.  That’s where writing can really help you think it through because it slows the thinking process down. Getting it out of your head is really useful to hear yourself think.
  • This is a practice – you’ll learn more about yourself every time you do it.

No matter what you’re facing in your life – whether life is on the upswing or things are coming at you in massive ways – asking yourself these questions is my all purpose solution to helping you feel more comfortable. I hope you’ll share what you’ve learned so we can learn from you too.

Self care is a very big concept these days- when we take care of ourselves, it’s easier to attend to our other responsibilities.  Many people talk about this concept and its attendant “should’s” which include exercise, eat right, meditate, spend time with loved ones, among other things.

It can be tempting to think someone else knows more about taking care of you than you do. And what a trap that is.  Other people you know, authors, and random experiences can be very supportive AND you can also trust that you know yourself better than anyone else does (yes, that’s really true – and it’s a work in progress!)

When I feel that I “should” do something is that I resist doing it like mad. Even if it’s good for me, if it’s labeled as a should instead of as a possibility, most likely there’s going to be some push back from me and I’ll find myself fighting with myself about doing it.

Sound familiar?

Self care is not a should! And one person’s self care is another person’s should.

I can feel the difference between doing something because I really want to and that dreaded heavy handed “should” that feels so scolding and harsh.

I invite you to consider what your version of self care is.  For me, that looks like elevating my foot with a bag of meatless meatballs on it as I sprained it yesterday, taking medication, staying connected to those I care about, asking for help with household tasks and a staycation at home for the next few days.

How about you?

I noticed from the moment I picked up the phone that my client was unusually quiet. She’d been dealing with mental health issues as well as some back pain.   She had been with a competent therapist and psychiatrist for a while to manage her mental health.

She found my material particularly helpful because she could now talk with both her therapist and her psychiatrist more specifically about what was going on with her. The key was when she began using the Appointment Preparation Worksheet ahead of time.  She felt more focused on her issues of the moment instead of thinking through things hurriedly and forgetting important stuff because, as we all know, appointments end all too soon sometimes.

The results for her were profound:  it was easier for her psychiatrist to tweak her medications, her therapist was able to target her needs and suggest specific helpful strategies more clearly, and she was able to observe what her situation was as it was happening because she was tuned into the philosophy of  Patient Power.

When I heard the lifeless tone of her voice, I listened as she described how responsible she felt for the well being of others and how frustrated she was by her inability to just “be okay already.”  She was she was giving up, that there was no help for her and she was unwilling to keep trying so hard to “get it right.”

Please remember that I am not a medical provider.  I am passionate about helping people who don’t feel well speak the same language as their providers so that they can get their healthcare needs met.

Having said that, the first step in speaking the same language as someone else is to meet YOURSELF where you are in the moment.  No one does this perfectly – that’s not the goal.  What I want you to remember is that it’s important to do the best you can to notice your thoughts and feelings and I strongly suggest getting it out of your head and writing it down so you can see it more clearly.

It was her husband who showed her a potential blind spot when he said that he had been reading about bipolar and questioned whether she may have it.

When he said that to her, she said she wanted to throw up – just the idea felt both true and impossible at the same time.  She couldn’t face that this too could possibly be adding to her already complex situation.   That’s the dilemma she called me with.

I listened more carefully to her story and felt her pain.  I felt her husband’s concern for her as well.   I understood her fear, her disappointment, and her love for her family.

What do you think”, she asked me.

I shared how I heard her husband’s concern for her, understood her fear, her overwhelm, her pain and her love for her family. We took some time with this part here as I felt it was important she feel truly acknowledged and appreciated for sharing something so difficult and personally devastating.

After she clearly acknowledged that she didn’t feel unsafe, I made the following suggestion:

“Give your husband a 7 day dosage log and you can both prepare one separately to note the effects of your meds, your mood and also that you’re taking them as scheduled.  Both of you can also keep track using an Appointment Preparation Worksheet of your current symptoms, questions, and how things are changing. That’s the first step.

You can also make an appointment with your therapist and your psychiatrist after you observe this together for a week to ten days.  Then you can go in with clear information if you decide that it’s time to be evaluated.”

She agreed that this sounded like a good plan and would get back to me to let me know how it goes.

Here’s the important learning’s from this case study:

  • Vague information won’t get the job done: Going to your provider in situations like this with unclear vague information is NOT the way to get the healthcare you deserve.
  • Specific information helps:     Sharing short phrases about your state of mind, physical condition, etc gives your provider clear information so they can custom tailor their recommendations according to your unique needs.
  • Listen Up:  Other people’s perspective on your behavior can be very useful (not necessarily definitive though) and we’re all here to help each other.

As always, if you are in dire straits and feel so much pain that you can no longer keep yourself safe, it is IMPERATIVE that you err on the side of caution and seek help immediately.  Only you can be the judge of that.

In Part 2 of this, I’ll share the results of this case study with you and we’ll find out together what this client learned.  My prayer is that she can continue to deal with life’s daily changes in a way that works for her.

I deeply admire her willingness to explore her issues as well as her husband’s courage to share this with her.

What are you willing to notice about yourself today?  Is it possible you have a blind spot like this client did and need an outside perspective?   Or, maybe you’re the person who’s noticing something about someone you love and want to consider talking with them about this?  I welcome your thoughts, comments and insights.