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.

Have you ever felt like you didn’t have the right words to explain what you were feeling to someone else? Perhaps, you get slight twinges in your knee when you least expect it (I mean, who wants to expect that anyway?)  Or, maybe, you’ve got arthritis, fibromyalgia, or depression that is pretty constant but the shades of it change in subtle ways.

Part of being human is that when we feel things unexpectedly, it takes a moment to recognize that and then to find a way to describe it.

What I’m suggesting is to give yourself a moment to just check in at those inopportune times when things are going slightly or very much awry. That, in and of itself, can be a bit of a retraining.  If you get nothing else from this post, just notice whether you’re willing to do that.

And here’s a blanket permission slip to accept the first answer that comes to you . . . whether that’s a complete willingness to notice for one second what it feels like being you or an absolute no.

Because you can’t do this wrong.

Even if you’re unwilling to notice what’s going on with those little aches, twinges, or constantly changing illnesses if you have one, that’s information.

And getting that kind of information is a first step to getting the healthcare you deserve.

Make an appointment with yourself FIRST to get the healthcare you deserve.

Whaaaaaat?  How can that possibly help anything? Whether you think it’s hopeless trying to describe what you’re going through or you think there’s no one in the world who can help you – or anything in between – I can show you how to get your healthcare needs met easier, better and faster than you could before.

And, if you’re someone who is frustrated because you know what you need and have explained it over and over again, I hear you. It is frustrating when you’ve done your best to be articulate and things still aren’t changing for you.

AND, there is a way to increase the odds that you and your provider will speak the same language so you can get your healthcare needs met.

Curious??

I’ll show you how to do this at my free teleclass “How to Get Your Needs Met By Your Healthcare Provider” on Thursday, July 15th at 1PM EST (10AM PST; 11AM CST; Noon CST).  You can sign up on the blog by sharing your email address or contact me and I’ll send you the call information.  There will also be a recording of this class (technology willing) if you can’t make it.

Hope to “see” you there!

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?

It is so hard to take care of ourselves, notice what’s going on inside our bodies and make mindful choices.  Even when those choices involve taking care of ourselves, there often is a sense of losing control when we say no to certain activities we’re used to doing, choosing to take care of ourselves instead.

When I describe it that way, check in with yourself and ask how you feel about that.  Consider those things you honestly feel you “should” do because they are good for you that seem inconvenient and take time, even though often we feel better afterwards.

Let’s look at physical exercise.   The exercises that feel so good as we’re doing them often hurt when it’s over – or maybe even while we’re doing them.

A client of mine has fibromyalgia.  While she’s working on improving her posture because that’s supposed to help with some aches and pains she is having, it’s painful to do the exercises.  It h-u-r-t-s!

Some may call that whining.  I call it being honest and in touch with your body.  And sometimes the truth of what we’re feeling isn’t pretty – it can be powerfully immobilizing.

Imagine a boxer showing up at a boxing ring with a tutu on.  Ridiculous huh?

Well, many times what’s asked of those of us struggling with pain is to show up in life with our most beautiful “tutus” on and do pirouette’s around the room.

Our “pirouette’s” may show up as hosting parties,  being there for other people who have “bigger problems than we do”, attending weddings in our finest attire, or decluttering the house for guests that are coming in from out of town. That’s just as ridiculous as a boxer showing up in the rink wearing a tutu.  Why?  Because it’s not appropriate behavior for how we’re feeling.

My client was hip to this idea.  We’d been talking about the importance of being mindful of her symptoms and flare-ups.  She was not about to host a party, had drawn firm boundaries with others who were zapping her energy, had declined numerous parties and had lowered her standards about decluttering her home for others.

The changes in her life were aligned with how she was feeling – low energy, unpredictable pain randomly circulating throughout her body, and mood changes were all part of her life right now.

It surprised her when she said to me the other day: “I don’t get it.  It is so tiring trying to be present with these symptoms and accommodate them.  I’m so sick of being mindful of what my body needs.  And it seems like once I make one adjustment, something new pops up. I do my exercises and take Motrin afterwards.  My depression goes away but my body hurts.  I rest and feel better afterwards and feel ready to talk to a friend.  I do it and feel zapped.  Will my life ever be normal again?”

I heard her pain on so many levels.  I understood why she feels as she does.  And I don’t have a solution or a crystal ball as to when things will shift.

The fact is that dealing with fibromyalgia is tiring and unpredictable. Little things can help like modifying your schedule and commitments.  Those same little things can be energizing when you do them and your heart is into them. Like the old saying goes, “it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.”

I wish I could wrap this message up with a bow on it.  I can’t say that fibromyalgia is a gift.  It isn’t.  Some days are harder than others.

What I do know for sure is with fibromyalgia, as with life in general, small simple steps work. When you’re tired, notice what you’re thinking.  What helps?  What doesn’t help?  Try something and see how you feel later.

I’m a big fan of Havi Brooks (no relation by the way) whose work is nothing short of brilliant.  Among other things, she talks about creating the Book of You.

This doesn’t have to be a physical book.  It can be a word document or it can be in your head – though I’m a strong proponent of writing things down to remember them (even if you never look at them again!).

In the Book of You, you keep track of 5-6 key feelings you have and what helps when you feel that way.

With this client, she’s noticed that when she feels tired exercise helps.  She uses Dance of Shiva, low impact aerobics by Leslie Sansone, and yin yoga by Paul Grilley as ways to increase her energy and lift her mood.  She chooses any one of these and inevitably feels better – even though it may hurt while or after she’s doing it.  They always work.

I invite you to create your own Book of You and feel free to share any questions or insights you have about this.

A client of mine has had chronic back pain for a while and things are finally starting to resolve. It’s been going on for a while, she’s been through countless physical therapists, exercises, etc. – everything has helped to a degree, but she’s now able to put it all together and feeling more alive.  She can now go out to dinner with friends, mow the lawn and do other things that were previously off limits because she was in so much pain.

Yeah for her – her success has been a very hard won struggle!!!

I give her so much credit for working sooooo hard to get out of pain.  Seriously, it’s so much easier to live with things sometimes than to actually deal with them – especially when you try so hard and it’s so frustrating.

Moving on with our story here. . . . .

She spends a ton of time on the computer doing her best to create a sustainable business that creates a livelihood for her and her family. She’s a dedicated Mom with kids that are her heart plus a huge animal lover.  She’s got some phenomenal ideas and is finally figuring out a way to put it all together.

Ooops – too much time on the computer apparently has caused her hands incredible pain.

She’s purchased my eBook Patient Power and we were talking the other day.  She said to me:  “I can’t POSSIBLY see my doctor about this – I can’t handle one more thing related to my health.  I’m at my wit’s end.”

I listened deeply as she continued on, in tears, trying so hard to “get it right already” and so sick of trying hard and as she put it “getting nowhere.”

Knowing it was the wrong time to remind her of her progress as she was in such a funk, I simply asked her:  “Well, what do you already know that works for you when you’re depleted and in pain like this?”

“Ahh”, she said, “Great question.”

What I know is I have your book and am taking Advil for this in varying dosages.  I could record those on your 7 day dosage log and get more information about what’s working and what’s not. I could use an Appointment Preparation Worksheet to note what my symptoms are, what helps and what doesn’t, when they are more pronounced.”

I was ECSTATIC that she could see the tools she had already in place that she could use to gather information.

In the meantime, she’d ask for suggestions from others who she felt might know something about this, researched on the internet, and come up with her own suspicion about what this is.

Note:  I never advocate self diagnosing!  But, I am a strong supporter of getting good clear information about what’s going on with you before seeing your provider in non-emergent situations so that they can truly be of service to you.

Anyway, here are a couple things to learn from this amazing client:

  • Get Your Facts Straight:  When you’re in pain and don’t know what to do, gather your facts together.  Figure out what helps, what hurts, and keep track of it.
  • Write It Down:  Use Patient Power to stay on top of your symptoms, your medications to give clear information to your provider.
  • Be Kind To Yourself:   It’s okay to wait in a non emergent situation when you’re “at capacity” dealing with health issues provided you’re not jeopardizing your ultimate well being.
  • Work with What’s Happening To You Right Now: Remember life is always changing.  Ask for support from friends, family, online communities that you are a part of.  You never know what you may find.

Question for the day:  What’s going on with you where it would help to have more information but you are “at capacity” dealing with whatever is on your plate?  How can you work with what’s true right now?

I’m in your corner, it’s hard when you feel like $%$%  and you can work with it just as this client did using Patient Power as your pathfinder!!!!

Today, I’d like to share with you my two biggest frustrations that led me to create the Appointment Preparation Worksheet which you can download right now for free by clicking here.

Here they are in a nutshell:

  • Getting uptight and “forgetting my lines” running out of time to say what was really bothering me.
  • Being too sick to talk about what was really wrong and instead minimizing my symptoms, making small talk or “being a good patient”.

We all get healthcare for one reason:  to get help with something. Whether it’s making sure we’re on top of some condition we’re monitoring like heart disease or diabetes or managing active symptoms like pain, depression, migraines, or menopause – we’re there to get help.

We want help – or presumably we wouldn’t ask for it.

Another universal truth is that we were put here on earth to give and receive help.  Helping each other makes us feel good.  Getting help feels reassuring and hopeful.  Since we all want to give and receive help, I designed this worksheet to minimize everyone’s frustrations – both those who don’t feel well and those who are helping us feel better.

Back to my frustration and how this work sheet was born.

Very simply, I created this worksheet because I was sick of not getting my needs met and willing to own my part of it because I wasn’t clearly asking for what I wanted. Why?  Because – like many people – I expected my provider to figure it out based on what I told them and I didn’t put any thought into how to say that clearly.

Here’s my AHA Moment:  When I say things clearer, there is a better chance that others may hear what I’m saying. They may not agree with me or see it my way – and I may find I’m asking the wrong person for something that they can’t help me with – but they’ll definitely hear the question better if I speak up and enunciate clearly.

So, what the heck does that mean?  It means this:  “I have back pain in my left hip that hurts more when I sit cross legged for over an hour at work.  I can fix it by walking every morning and stretching afterwards.  It hurts when I twist to the right and feels better when I straighten my spine.  I want to know what to do to make this stop so I can sit longer.”

Contrast that with this:  ” Uh, I have back pain right here (pointing to my right hip) or maybe it’s over here (pointing to the center of the spine), and sometimes it doesn’t bug me at all but most of the time, like when I’m sitting it’s pretty intense and I don’t’ know why but maybe it’s got something to do with the long trip I took the other day but then I went to yoga and it felt better for a while but Man it killed me the other day and today it’s better but I don’t know why or anything.  I guess it’s not so bad – how are you doing?? ”

Notice how vague the second one is:   Yes, it has some specifics like sitting hurts sometimes and then hurts later, and the person in pain is also minimizing it with no clear request in the end.

In the first request though, the person in pain is actively noticing where it is, what makes it worse, how long it lasts and what they can do to fix it.  See the difference?

Take a moment and imagine listening to both stories.  Which one do you understand more clearly?  Which one helps you figure out what this provider can do to help?

See how it helps to change roles between being the one in pain and the one who’s helping.  THAT’S what we need to do more of.  We need to change hats and see how it feels to be the provider.  (Likewise, I want the provider to develop greater empathy for the ones that they help but I’m saving that for another article.)

True, a doctor can ask you these questions.  Or they may have you diagram your pain.  But chances are they won’t look at that diagram too long or they may forget to ask the most important questions that you have – until perhaps they are well into the appointment if at all.

No one is right or wrong here.  I want to make that very clearIt’s just a question of how best to get your needs met.  And that’s up to you – not your provider.

It’s up to you to say clearly and concisely what’s going on with you, what meds you’re taking, and what you want help with so you know what to do once your appointment is over.

Download this Appointment Preparation Worksheet – it’s free.  Do it right now before you get busy.  Keep a couple copies in your car and fill it out while you’re in the waiting room.

Better yet, fill it out before you leave the house and make two copies.  Give one to your provider.  Wait quietly.  Give them a chance to read it.  Let them keep it and make it part of the chart.

Make sure your questions are answered before you leave.  It will be easier to do when you have your questions in front of you at the time.  And let me know how it works for you.

I designed it with all of us in mind – the one who needs help, the one whose helping and all the people in between – so we can all participate in getting and giving the healthcare that we deserve.