Posted in connections, ebb & flow, know better do better, marriage, mindset, parenting, podcasts, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

Podcast quote: problem maintenance

As I mentioned a bit ago, I have been bingeing on Where Should We Begin? by Esther Perel.

The first episode of the second season (“You Need Help to Help Her”), she’s talking with a couple who has a young adult daughter with problems. Most of the details of the episode aren’t relevant to this post, but if you have a child with any sort of mental health issue, you might gain some insight from it.

Basically, there weren’t (known) problems, and suddenly, there were big problems, and the whole family dynamic and structure changed.

At the end, Esther is summing things up, and she says this (emphasis mine):

“When mom speaks of the holistic view, the way I would define it is this. I am a family therapist. I think systemically. I think about problems in context, problems in an ecology, not just what causes them but what maintains them. How is the relationship system, how is the family organized around the problem?”

Maybe you’ve thought about this before, but I’ve never thought specifically about problem maintenance (when the problem doesn’t start as a systemic one).

I’ve been thinking about this and am starting to apply it to my closest relationships.

  • What am I doing that maintains problems? (within my level of awareness)
  • How can I change that? (within my level of control)
  • Where can I connect disconnects to make life happier for everyone who lives here? (within my levels of awareness and control)

Hopefully, in time, we can all connect in to that, but I’m starting first, and we’ll go from there.

Blew my mind.

Problem maintenance.

Posted in cancer, connections, mental health, physical health, vulnerability

It’s not you, and you can’t fix it

I wrote yesterday about things that people said to me during my cancer journey and in the time since (though one could argue that it’s all the same journey).

I wanted to talk about it a little more.

I don’t think people are intentionally being mean or dismissive or any other unpleasant thing.

I think people are trying to protect themselves, to give order to events where there is none, to relieve themselves of guilt for it not happening to them, to relieve themselves of the discomfort of “what the hell do you say to someone who was just diagnosed with cancer?”

(I can help answer that last one. Will get to that but not going on that tangent yet. Also, all of this applies to all sorts of sudden life unpleasantries, not just a cancer diagnosis.)

Our brains’ mission in life is to keep everything predictable which makes us comfortable. This is why people who are miserable with their lives don’t change—they’re comfortable in their misery. Change is scary, and what if it’s worse on the other side? The demon you know versus the one you don’t kind of situation.

So when we’re handed something that immediately provokes change, we don’t like it. So we resist (consciously or not). And offer platitudes to the person/people who are at ground zero so we can feel better about ourselves and our position in life and shrug off how close it came to being us.

Is there a growing number of people who “need” cancer to learn a lesson, or to grow, or to change? No, I don’t think so.

Are there plenty of people who go through it and come out the other side without having learned any positive lessons, without having grown, without having changed for the better? Yes, there are.

And of course, there are plenty of people who don’t come out the other side.

It’s nearly guaranteed that you’re going to be at the center of a horrible little universe one day. Whether a medical diagnosis, the death of someone close, financial ruin, something, someday is going to knock your legs out from under you and kick you while you’re down.

While I don’t advocate for worrying about it, I also don’t advocate for blowing off other people’s pain to help you ignore the possibility of it showing up at your door.

For another day, you’re not at ground zero. It’s not you.

Is it awkward and uncomfortable to be with someone in that space? Yes. Yes, it is.

Do it anyway.

Your people need you. Step up. Be brave—just by showing up.

You can’t fix the problem.

Once more:

You can’t fix the problem.

You’re not going to say something that magically makes them feel better about their situation. But you can make them feel better for this moment. Be present. Be real.

What do you say? I’m sorry. That sucks. When do you want/need company? What meal can I bring you or your family? (Or, if you already know what would be welcome, What day can I bring you xyz?) When do you need me to watch your kids? Give me your grocery list and let me take care of it for you. Let me come over and vacuum (or dust or clean bathrooms or do laundry) so you don’t have to worry about it. I know it feels weird to get help with things you’re used to doing, but please let me help you so you can take care of you. I can’t kill tumors but I can wash socks and watch kids.

Depending on the person, maybe they’d just like to have conversations about other things. Maybe living with this and talking about it as much as is necessary is enough, and they’d like a bit of time back in normal life. Maybe they’d like to play a game. Cards, or a board game for few players.

Find something to help them pass time when they’re alone. Puzzles, magazines, a subscription (Netflix or similar) if they don’t already have one (even I would have watched TV through chemo). Books if they can read (I love reading but couldn’t get through a paragraph of a book because: chemo brain). A journal and a nice pen. Tools for a skill maybe they’ve been wanting to learn: knitting, crocheting, playing an instrument, drawing, painting, etc.

And then—a few months later, when most people have fallen off (because life events are longer than attention spans)—check in again (if you haven’t been all along). Same offers. New offer. Whatever. And then again.

Any questions?

 

Posted in connections, vulnerability

“You are often unaware of the effect you have on others”

I came across a video the other day. It’s a few years old but, aside from the event that she references, it’s timeless.

I have no connection to the site, to the woman, to the organization, to any of the people.

She just has a good message.

The past handful of years, I’ve been trying to do better, tell people that they’re important to me, that I love them, that I’m grateful for them. Tell them especially when they did something that maybe didn’t even feel like a big deal to them but meant the world to me. (Those little things mean so much, don’t they? I got teary just typing that sentence.)

I’m not great at it yet, but I’m getting better.

I think we all can do better.

Watch it here.

There are lots of ways to do it. Cards. Texts. Emails. Phone calls. Face to face. And so many ways within those categories, both straightforward and creative. A message. A poem. A song. A picture (drawn, purchased, photograph) with a caption.

Let yourself be vulnerable. You’ll be better for it. So will they.

 

Peanuts
I don’t remember where I saved this from, but I’ve sent it to a good number of people.
Posted in connections, mental health, mindset, socializing, thoughtfulness

What is our responsibility?

People need people to thrive. Numerous studies in the last decade point to social networks as a critical variable for longevity, and for general functionality and thriving.

As both a teacher and a parent, I see articles and videos about special needs kids, and to teach your kids to be kind and to be friends with them.

Kindness is reasonable. Getting to know someone who seems different than you is reasonable. But if you get to know someone a little and really just don’t care for them, are you going to be friends with them because they’re different?

As we get older, we don’t generally spend social time with people we don’t like (unless maybe we’re related to them). It seems we don’t even spend time with people we do like! I don’t know anyone (that I know of) who is friends with someone they don’t like just to provide a friend.

It’s not limited to special needs people. We have an epidemic of loneliness and isolation right now, causing or feeding record numbers of people with depression.

Where is the balance? Whose responsibility is it to be the social network for people who don’t have one?

We, collectively, can’t even agree on helping people who need money, which is (or seems like it should be) less complicated than helping with social-emotional support.

What do you think? Whose responsibility is it to provide the village, now that villages are gone?

 

Posted in connections, parenting, socializing

“Can you play?”

The Kid had lots of energy the other night and wanted to play with other kids. It was too late in the evening to try to call around to see if any of his friends were available.

(This is a huge disadvantage to him not going to the neighborhood school—his school friends don’t live around here. Another story for another day.)

“You can go across the street and knock on the door and see if the kid there wants to play.” (They’ve played before when they and the kids next door happened to all be outside, but there’s been no doorbell-ringing.)

He looked at me like I was nuts.

“That’s what we did when we were kids. We just went to friends’ houses and knocked to see if they could play.”

He seemed unsure (and was completely uncomfortable doing it), but he wanted to play badly enough that he decided to go for it.

I went to the window to watch.

Before he made it across the street, the boy came out. A few minutes later, The Kid came back and said they’re riding their bikes to the park and can we go?

And so it went. (The park is far enough away that parents chaperoned.)

They planned to play again the next day. “When I’m ready in the morning, I’m just going to go ring their doorbell.”

He did go ring the doorbell the next morning, and they did play for a while. Later in the day, the neighbor came and rang our bell to see if The Kid could come over.

Feels like a little piece of the so-called “good old days” is back.