Always We Hope. . . .

February 2nd, 2011

I went on a retreat this past weekend   I thought I’d share with you this poem, by Lao Tzu, which helped me turn a corner over the weekend with respect to my recent bout with insomnia.  This insomnia has been particularly acute for the past couple months and reached a critical point over the weekend.

Thank God I was graced with this good supportive environment which, along with my healthcare providers and my loving family, helped me through this.

Always We Hope

Always we hope

Someone else has the answer

Some other place will be better,

Some other time it will all turn out.

This is it.

No one else has the answer

No other place will be better,

And it has already turned out.

At the center of your being

You have the answer,

You know who you are

And you know what you want.

There is no need

To run outside

For better seeing.

Nor to peer from a window.

Rather abide at the center of your being;

For the more you leave it, the less you learn.

Search your heart

And see

The way to do

Is to be.

I am hoping that, if you’re in the middle of depression, anxiety, or chronic pain, this poem may offer you some comfort.  And, if you’re not struggling with these things, my wish for you is to embrace whatever is happening in your life and rest in the knowledge that you do in fact know exactly what you want and what you need right now.

I’m relieved to report that my insomnia is behind me at the moment.  I have had two nights of restful sleep and am feeling so much better.

All of my issues are right where I left them – waiting for me to attend to the details.

My commitment is to attend to them with simple steps, noticing what works and being very gentle with myself in the process.  I share this with you because I hope, that by being vulnerable and transparent about my own process, that in some way this will encourage you to do the same for yourself.

As always, if I can help you along the way, please feel free to contact me.

How Can I Help?

January 3rd, 2011

I thought a long time about how to title this post .  The question “How Can I Help?” turns me off when someone offers this mixed blessing to me in a store.  On the other hand, it is the most honest way I know to ask you how I can truly be of service to you if you’re struggling with health issues and sincerely want to figure out how to help yourself.

What I really want to talk about today is my intention for 2011 and how it came about.  Why?  Because I believe intentions, instead of resolutions, are great ways for setting our sights on what we really want our lives to feel like so I’m hoping this will inspire you to set an intention if you’d like.

Of all the parts of the holidays that I enjoy, setting my yearly intention is one of the things I look forward to the most – it feels so nourishing to me.

My theme for 2010 was prayerfulness, which I defined as inviting myself to ask God for help more often. I can’t really tell you if I learned more when I remembered I could ask for help – or when I forgot, and then remembered it was an option later.  In any event, it made for some good laughs and some hard won lessons.  And, as always, asking God for help and being willing and able to listen is a lifelong work in progress anyway . . . . so I won’t be running out of opportunities to practice this!!!. For example, my New Year’s eve gift was my computer crashing leaving me with no way to access my emails or files and needing to figure out what to do for a computer. So, for the last several days including today, I have found myself asking for help about how to deal with the bane of my existence – technology.

It has also been perfect timing for the birth of my 2011 intention which I refer to as Skillfulness. Skillfulness combines asking for help from God with attending thoughtfully to the practical details of my life and my work.  It has been a humbling experience (to say the least) to ask for help as I skillfully navigated Best Buy today, purchased this computer, set it up with the help from my angelic tech support, and wrote this blog while putting up with all the mis-steps and surprises of acclimating to a new system.  Oy!!

I am skillfully attending to the practical details of teaching others how to help themselves through their own ups and downs of physical and mental pain in ways that are truly useful. I deeply respect that what helps people deal with these kinds of issues is not a “big box solution” – there is no one size fits all, no one book or method, no one thing that works and fits every situation.  Why?  Because life changes, we change and we are all different.

I’m developing classes, teleclasses, podcasts, and blog posts to support you and those you love who are struggling with pain, depression or anxiety.  Are there some specific situations that come to mind that  you’d like some support with?  Would you like to be part of a small group of trustworthy people like you who also really want to learn solid skills to help them through the ups and downs of these unpredictable situations?

Please leave a comment here or pick up the phone  and call to let me know (as I can’t access my email. . . . yet!)

Wishing you all life’s blessings in 2011 and always!!


Survival Skills for the Holidays

December 25th, 2010

The holidays can be such a surprising time.  They take us out of our routine which can be both wonderful and a welcome relief from the day to day routine.

At the same time, there can be comfort in our day to day routine that may get discombobulated as our  lives build to a fever pitch in anticipation of everything “closing down” on Christmas.

If you’re spending time with family, you may find yourself triggered (as I do myself) by any number of things. Just think of a couple things that may irritate you where perhaps you find yourself saying something like this:

  • “Whyyyyyy do they do that?”
  • “I better not say anything but man that really grinds my gears.”
  • “Remind me why we’re doing this again?!”
  • Fill in your own head scratching question or comment!

When the noise in my head gets too loud, I know it’s time for a break. It can often take me a while to be willing to acknowledge that noise – I often find myself saying to myself “hey, this really is fun!!” – while a teeny tiny part of me says “reeealllly?”

Sometimes it takes me a while to remember that I’m entitled to what feels good to me (which often differs from what feels good to my family) – especially as the voice in my head says, “Look, we’re all together – this is what you’ve wanted.  Right? Just enjoy it.”

Separating myself from that chatter, I remind myself that yes, being with my family is exactly what I want.  And there are many moments that I really enjoy.

And it is unrealistic and impossible to enjoy every single one of those moments.

Sometimes it takes me a while to develop the willingness to try what I’m about to mention – but  here’s what is helpful to me.

I hope that in some way these ideas may help you find your own way to make your holidays more of what you want them to be.

People vary.  Life is complicated.  So, what works for me may not be your cup of tea. (Speaking of which, I think I’ll make one- good idea!!)

Here’s what I do:

1.  Notice What’s Up:  I notice the dialogue in my head feels uncomfortable in some way.  I ask myself gently what’s uncomfortable (common themes for me are I’m frustrated, irritated, annoyed, feeling angry, sad, or resentful about something)

3. Body Talk:  I check in with my body and find a spot that could use a little TLC.  It may be my head, my heart, my hip – you get the idea.  (it goes like this – ohh, tight jaw, shallow breath, right hip aches, etc)

4.  Help is on the Way: I let my body inform what I do next.

5.  Now what? Then, I notice how things are feeling.

This can take all of two seconds and amount to a couple deep nurturing breaths.  It can take the form of a two hour nap.  It can mean cleaning up the kitchen (for the umpteenth time) which often gives me a sense of order which I thrive on.  It can be reading a great book in my room.

I wish all of you moments of great joy celebrating the holidays with those you love – and for those other moments, great survival skills that truly work for you.

Last night while I was making dinner and my son saw my cat Sabby lying in the kitchen, I discovered once again the parallels between dealing with veterinarians and dealing with our own health.

But, this is not a story about me and my cat.

This is a story about all of us who deal with chronic pain, depression and anxiety.  There are so many similarities  I found between my own experience and what’s common for those of us dealing with these invisible illnesses.

“Mom, look at Sabby, ” he said, ” His belly is huge.  Feel this.   He looks awful!”

It was 7:30PM, I was hungry and in the midst of making a late supper for us.   What I was looking forward to was eating (I was long overdue already!) and cleaning up the kitchen, turning in for the evening early.

I so didn’t want to hear that.

The truth is I had noticed over the last couple days that Sabby was acting funny.  He was hanging out in my room by the heater a lot and had had an accident.  I thought to myself, “Oh, it’s just this one time.  Don’t make a deal out of it, this happens.  Just clean it up and move on.”

Pausing here – stepping outside of this example – and noticing how many times I’ve noticed that I don’t feel well, and just passed over it rather than give myself a little TLC in the moment.  How many times has this happened for you?

Anyway, I’d noticed Sabby didn’t seem up to par and I didn’t really want to deal with it.  Not because I don’t care – but because I didn’t have the energy to find out what’s going on.

So, I said to Aaron, “The vet is open on Saturday and I’ll call in the morning.”

In the meantime, Aaron said, “Mom, he looks really bad to me and I have a bad feeling about this.”

Oh, how I hate when Aaron has a bad feeling about something.  I just hate it!!!

“Oh, @$%^#, ” I thought, “Now, I have to deal with it.”  I sooooo didn’t want to.  I can’t tell you how much I didn’t want to deal with this.

Fortunately for me, my vet has an emergency service which she almost always responds to.  She called me back and met me at the office.

After examining him, she said, “It’s not urinary blockage so what we need to do is blah blah blah!”  It’s not that what she was was unimportant –  it’s that I couldn’t understand it.  Nor did I want to understand her.

All I wanted to know is that he was going to be okay.  I wanted reassurance and a plan of action to take care of him.  I didn’t want details.

She continued sharing the details and my ears perked up when she said, “We need to rule out heartworm and feline leukemia.  That could have potentially devastating consequences not only for Sabby but for your other cats at home.”

OMG!!!  OMG!!!  OMG!!!!  My system was on full alert.  I might be dealing with an epidemic rather than one sick cat. As I tried to hold it together for my son who was with me, I could feel my heart sink into the pit of my stomach as tears streamed uncontrollably down my face.

My worst fears were coming true.  This was somehow all my fault.

Here’s what I learned.  As I share this with you, think about your own situation or perhaps that of someone you love who is dealing with chronic pain, depression or anxiety:

This is a No Blame Zone: It’s so common to blame ourselves when we suffer from chronic pain, depression and anxiety.  The truth is it’s not your fault. (Just like it’s not my fault that I have these things.)  It happens, life happens, and it’s up to us to find ways that work for us to deal with it.  That’s the reason I chose to teach Your Health Your Way (which will be starting again – stay tuned for more details soon)

This is Also a No Blame Zone for Loved Ones: When we love someone who is sick, it is likewise not our fault.   (Just like it isn’t my fault that the cat is sick.)  People struggle with depression, chonic pain and anxiety and we didn’t cause it.

Not wanting to deal with health issues is natural and human: No one wants to deal with health issues that get in our way.  I keep learning this over and over again despite the fact that I often ask myself, “Why didn’t you get help for this before?”  The facts are that illnesses disrupt our already busy lives and we have other things we’d rather deal with .  That’s the way it is – it’s not an indictment of our character.

So, if you’ve got health issues going on that you don’t feel like dealing with, I get it.  Permission to deal with them when you’re ready to or when things get acute enough that you feel forced to deal with them – or not.  It’s up to you.

Help – and any number of choices –  will be available whenever you decide you’re ready for it.   And with some experimentation, you’ll find things that work well for your lifestyle.  I believe that with all my heart.

Healthcare Providers may be thinking out loud:  When healthcare providers start talking in what appears to be gobbldy gook, in my opinion, it is okay to tune out of whatever they are saying that you don’t understand. Think about what is most relevant for you to get your needs met.  In my case, what I needed was to be reassured that my cat would be okay and also to know the other cats weren’t potentially in jeopardy.  I also recognized that my veterinarian needed to process things out loud in order to draw her own conclusions

Healthcare Providers often cannot offer us exactly what we are needing:  My veterinarian could actually not offer me the reassurance that I wanted. How do I know this?  Because I asked her directly, “Will he be okay?” and she said, “Char, the prognosis for your cat is not good.”  That’s not what I wanted to hear.  On the other hand, I said, “Does it look like it’s heartworm or feline leukemia which would jeopardize my other cats?” and she said, “At this point, it doesn’t look like that’s the case and I’ve ruled it out pretty much.”  Again, this is not the absolute reassurance I wanted but it helped me.

So, if you’re dealing with chronic pain, anxiety or depression – the good news is there is hope and help available for you when you’re ready for it. And when you’re not ready, there’s still that same hope and help that is available whenever you choose to attend to it.

And physicians and others who speak gobbledy-goop?  There’s ways of dealing with that to get the information that is most useful to you.

Figure out what your needs are from your healthcare provider and ask for them.  For example, you can say, “Can you reassure me that I’ll be okay?”  If that’s what you need, ask directly for it.   Even if they can’t reassure you, that knowledge is better than wondering about it in my opinion.

I offer you tools that I personally have found helpful as I’ve navigated my way through chronic pain, depression and anxiety – and found I was really ready to partner with my providers to take care of myself.  I wanted information that I could understand.  I wanted to help myself find things that really worked for me on my own .  I developed some strategies were truly helpful.

I now offer you these same tools that you can adapt and custom fit to your own ever changing health situations.  To use them in ways that feel truly supportive, loving and give you the information you need to make the choices that are right for you.

When you’re ready, there’s hope and there’s help available for you no matter what you’re struggling with.  And when you’re not ready, and just want support and understanding for whatever you’re experiencing, I hope that you find that too.

Whether you choose to read my blog or contact me personally, I believe that there is hope and help available for you – always – in ways that may be surprisingly simple and do-able.

As for my cat, it’s a waiting game at the moment.  I’m waiting for test results and while I do, I’m doing the little things that help me feel better like doing yoga, staying in touch with my kids, and walking my dogs.  Why?  Because taking care of myself is ultimately taking care of those I love.

I invite you to do the same – is there one thing that comes to your mind right now that would be helpful to you to feeling better?  Share it with us here on the blog – your ideas give others ideas too.  I’d love your good wishes for Sabby too!

Health insurance.  It’s a hot topic these days. Very hot.

I am fortunate to have comprehensive coverage through Blue Cross Blue Shield.  True to form, there is a rate hike every October.

This year’s premium increase was over 30% which really put a serious dent in my budget.

So, like any good healthcare consumer, I started considering options. And gathering information.  In the process, among other things, I learned that I had been misquoted the actual amount of the increase and in fact it was roughly a 15% increase.  Considering the amount of the premium was already expensive without any increase, I continued my comparison.

Little did I know that at the end of the day, despite what the numbers told me,  I’d value my peace of mind over the potential savings I could have with a catastrophic policy and a Health Savings Account. I bit the bullet and ended up, at the last minute, keeping my comprehensive coverage.

Perhaps I channel Ralph Nader because, at my core, I am a huge consumer advocate. I can’t stand even the possibility of being ripped off about anything when it comes to money.

If I get poor service, I’m discussing it with the employee first and then the manager.  If I see an unwarranted charge on my credit card bill, I’ll be calling them to inquire.

I had to pay almost $500 to apply for the high deductible insurance while I was considering whether to make a change back in August.  Thank God I charged it to my credit card.

I’ve called Blue Cross Blue Shield 4 times and requested a refund.  Each time, I’ve been put on hold, transferred, and been told that it would be “ten business days” and then the check would be “processed.”  It is now November and . . . no check.

So, what’s a healthcare consumer to do? While talking to my friend today, I realized what many consumers do.  Give up.  Because it’s too much of a hassle.

Feeling angry, irritated and frustrated when the system doesn’t work the way it should is totally understandable.

If things worked the way they should, Blue Cross would have refunded my money without me calling in the first place.

Certainly, by the 4th time I should have my check in hand.

The insurance company is not being malicious; they’re a bureaucracy and they’re inefficient. It’s not personal.

Nonetheless, whether it’s five bucks or $500, I needed to get it back.   Since I had paid for this with a credit card, I simply called the credit card company and filed a dispute.  The charge was immediately credited back to me.  Problem solved.

What I also realized today is yet another reason why I’m offering the course Your Health Your Way. This is a class for people struggling with chronic pain, depression or anxiety to help them manage their lives moment to moment.

Frustrating experiences with merchants are just one of the many stressors that can be part of an average day. These experiences can be overwhelming and understandably cause many people (including me) to either ignore them or feel victimized.

It is these very moments which the healthcare system cannot address which often wreak havoc in our lives, increasing our physical or mental pain.

Chronic pain, anxiety and depression often carry such stigma with them that no one really wants to acknowledge them.  Instead we suffer in silence.

If you are one of those silent sufferers, I offer you hope, respect and practical support. Consider joining me – you can participate as much or as little as you like.

Many friends and family members feel frustrated and helpless as they watch a loved one suffer with the crippling effects of these conditions.  I’ve often heard others say how they wish they could “fix it” and how hard it is to see someone suffer.

I’ve been on both sides of this.  I’ve been the person suffering with chronic pain, anxiety and depression.  I’ve also watched others I care about struggle with it.

At the end of the day, we can’t take away each other’s pain. But, we can offer a listening ear, a hug, a supportive resource.

My class will help your loved one find tools that they can use to manage their health in a way that works for them.

I invite you to consider sharing Your Health Your Way with your loved one to see what they think of it.  You may be surprised by their response.

I am the proud owner of two dogs – Phoebe and Savannah – who amuse, inspire and comfort me every day. They are my very best friends.  As I let them out this morning, they horrified me by their behavior with a defenseless squirrel.  Thankfully no one was here to witness my complete meltdown.

Mid-process, my son called and said:  “What’s wrong Mom?”  I told him the grizzly story, alternating between sobbing and trying to catch my breath.  The remains were waiting for me ominously outside.

I couldn’t reconcile the love that I have for my dogs with their atrocious behavior. My son suggested I get some help with the clean up and I told him that there was no one I could ask.  I had to let the dogs out again so it was important that I handle this immediately.

How I wished someone else was here to handle the dirty work.  Sadly, that wasn’t the case so I chose to put on my big girl pants and face my fears alone.

The question I asked myself was this:  How can I make this awful situation as easy on myself as possible?  What would help me even the teeny-est tiny-est bit to get through this?

Here’s what I did.  The results were nothing short of miraculous for me.

First, I turned on the kettle to make a cup of coffee when I was done; the whistling kettle would also get me back in the house quickly.  I took the lid off the trash so that it would be waiting for me.   I grabbed a large grocery bag and lined it with another large plastic bag.  Carrying the shovel and the pooper scooper, I began cleaning up the lawn avoiding the area in question.  I found some ratty dog toys that I threw in along with some other debris in the process and finally approached the scene of the crime.  Once there, I allowed myself to scream, cry, quake, shudder and everything in between including falling into a dull silent reverence for the helpless creature.   After a few attempts and some deep breaths, it was over.

As I was coming in the house I asked myself what good could possibly come of this.

Immediately I thought of sharing this with you as evidence of what happens when we can face down our greatest demons.  To hold in my mind that my beloved dogs would do something so awful (even though I know they’re simply acting on instinct) was excruciating.  It brought up all kinds of other losses for me.

And, if I didn’t know how to ask myself the question of how I could make this easier, I could have ended up paralyzed with anxiety. Just asking myself the question somehow opened up ways to handle this that would be more merciful.

I then realized THIS is precisely why I designed my teleclass Your Health Your Way.

I was living proof of the fact that asking myself the right questions to create greater comfort and ease around this horrible situation made all the difference in my ability to move on in my day and share this powerful story.

There is so much stigma around mental health issues.  And that stigma is one of the leading reasons people who struggle with these things try and tough it out, ignore it or pretend it’s not happening.

That may work for some people.

What I offer though is a choice to face your pain and find a way through it with comfort, support and simple steps that you can apply as things happen in your life.

My class will help you see options where you may have felt helpless.  It will help you find hope, where you may have felt hopeless.

My son called later and asked me how I was doing.  I told him that I felt I had faced down one of my greatest fears.  He asked me if I felt happy.  I told him that I didn’t feel happy – but I felt empowered and independent.

My class will also help you feel empowered and independent when managing your mental health.

Dealing with chronic pain, anxiety and depression is difficult and I can’t promise you my class will make you instantly and forever happier.

But, what I can tell you is that this class will open up possibilities for independently and effectively managing your mental health in a way that works for you.

If you’re struggling with this stuff, I hope you’ll consider joining me.  If this isn’t for you, please pass it on as you never know who is silently dealing with the effects of chronic pain, anxiety and/or depression.

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?

Time to Say Goodnight. . . .

August 14th, 2010

Let’s pretend it’s the end of your day.  Imagine with me for just a moment – no matter what time you’re reading this, that you’re going to bed right now.

For some of you – you may go wheeeeee, that’s just where I want to be and it’s 8AM.  Or 2PM.  Or whatever.

And for others, it may be hard to find your way to bed when there’s so much to do . . . . still.

As for me, when I get to the end of most days – I have trouble giving it up. I have insomnia and it seems if I don’t start winding down by 10PM, I’m up til 2 or later.  And that really doesn’t work for me for so many reasons – it makes my life chaotic and stressful, when I know it would be easier for me if  I’d just go to bed at a reasonable hour.

Now, why is that sooooo hard for me? Well, because it involves looking  at what’s not working for me and having a lot of the “P” word. And I hate that word.

What’s the word I hate so much????  P-a-t-i-e-n-c-e. Oooooh, such a hard concept for me.

What I’m realizing is that I have to look at where my system for getting to sleep is breaking down.  Why?  So that I can find the little tweaks to make going to sleep and actually sleeping more restful and less a form of slow torture the way it has been.

So, I’m asking myself this question:

  • If I knew what to do to make it easier to go to sleep, which I do, what’s the first thing I’d try?  Hmmmm – get off the computer by 9PM comes to mind.

(this idea of “which I do” – or what I would refer to as the “gut feeling” -comes from my colleague Janet Bailey whose an ace with mindful questions~)

And then, I’m back to that “P” word again – patience.

Because I don’t want to  get off the computer by 9PM.  I love surfing the web, and connecting with other people.  The world’s such an interesting place – especially when the busy-ness of the day subsides.

Oooooh, that’s interesting.  I’m missing connecting with others.  Well, is there another way to get that met?

Yeah, and I don’t wanna do that either.

So, is there a compromise here? Is there anything I can do to make this slightly easier?

This took a while but I finally came up with committing to being off the computer by midnight. It’s a teeny tiny step towards creating more ease in my daily life and a start towards getting more rest.  And more rest will eventually lead to feeling more rested during the day.

Here’s my question for you:  If you knew what would make it easier for you to sleep, which you do, what’s the first step you’d take?

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.