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, 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 know better do better, marriage, mental health, podcasts

Podcast recommendation

In talking about podcasts, I’ve mentioned Armchair Expert a couple of times.

A week or so ago, I listened to Dax’s interview with Esther Perel, a psychotherapist who specializes in relationships and sexuality.

It was captivating.

In it, they mentioned that she has a podcast, Where Should We Begin?

She’s beginning her third season, so I just started at the beginning.

I’m hooked.

Normally, I listen to podcasts in the car as long as the windows are up, maybe if I’m doing yard work, depending on the work.

In the last few days, I have found a balance between some windows down and still able to hear. I’ve listened while preparing meals. Listened while on a run. Spending time consuming this podcast when I normally wouldn’t bother listening to anything.

What’s she talk about?

She’s with a couple who have come to her for help (though they apply to be on the podcast—these are not her regular therapy clients). They have one three-hour session with her; that’s edited down and she interjects a few overarching thoughts throughout.

Changing relationship roles, affairs, impotence. Straight and gay couples. Cis and trans people.

None of the situations have led me to “that’s me.” But there is a piece in every single one that tugs at a piece of me. Most of them have made me at least a little teary at some point. There are pieces of myself that I recognize. Pieces of my former selves that I recognize. Validations that I want. Lessons I can learn from their experience.

So what I’m saying is … if you’re at all interested in relationship dynamics, or if you want to listen to how she works with others to see what you can take for yourself, this is a podcast for you.

And if you listen and geek out on it and want to talk about it—I’m here for you!

Posted in know better do better, mental health, mindset, parenting, physical health

Exercise as pathology?

I posted this the other day:

“I just read an article about screen time and kids, and it made mention of four hours daily being moderate use. How is four hours of TV/gaming/etc moderate??”

When I was in therapy, one of the things my therapist was trying to drill down into was whether I was obsessed with exercise.

I was, at the time, working out pretty hard at least six days per week, lifting weights and triathlon training (swimming, biking—usually spin class, and running).

I spent 60 to 90 minutes daily, between warming up, exercising, cooling down, foam rolling, and stretching.

How can less than two hours of exercise daily be potentially obsessive exercise, but four hours on a phone, computer, gaming system, or TV be moderate?

The cultural pieces in place that make that possible are problematic.

We normalize lying around. We normalize communication via type instead of face to face.* We pathologize movement and exercise.

Going on a tangent from that: we normalize fast food, dessert, sugary drinks, giant portions, and malign healthy eating and appropriate portions.

(Yes, I understand that obsessive exercise can be part of an eating disorder. What disorder includes “I get home from work and sit and watch TV all evening”?)

I’m frustrated by our cultural norms in this realm.

That said … I understand as well as anyone how easy it is to lose an hour to the phone. I’ve made conscious decisions to write instead of surf (today is post #185!). I make more time to read and play ukulele and garden instead of surf. But it’s a decision; the default is to sit around. Daily exercise is a priority. (Rest days have a way of building themselves in nowadays; life is different than it was in therapy days.)

Find something else to do that makes you happy.** Help your kids find other stuff to do that makes them happy.*** (It’d be great if there was some overlap in there…)

Help make four hours of Candy Crush more pathological than four hours on the trail. We’ll all be better for it.

 

*As a socially anxious introvert, I am grateful for all of the opportunities I have to type instead of talk … but the best connections are in person. Over the phone is second best. This isn’t to say that all of the connecting I do with people online doesn’t count, because it absolutely does. But we need to be able to talk to people.

**I recognize that some hobbies involve “screen time.” I’m blogging on a computer right now. People do photo editing or make silly videos or create apps or a whole list of things that require screen time to do. I think of “screen time” more as not doing something useful. Playing a game. Watching TV. Scrolling through Facebook or Instagram or Twitter or Pinterest. The stuff we do to avoid doing other things. The stuff we do in place of meaningful things.

And yes, many of us use screen time to relax, and I have no issue with that. But I don’t think we’d all be so tired and stressed out if the daily hours we spend on not-productive screens was all relaxing.

***Talking about kid screen time is dicey and people get really defensive really quickly. Sometimes, your kid is sick and watches TV all day. Sometimes, your kid is home and you didn’t expect them to be but you need to work from home so they need to be occupied and TV is the closest thing you have to a guarantee. But these are periodic things that pop up, not a matter of daily living.

Posted in hope, mental health, mindset, thoughtfulness

“I like you, just the way you are.”

I saw this a couple of months ago and saved it. I knew I wanted to share it—or the gist of it—at some point, but I wasn’t sure how. Finally, I just decided to quote it and cite it and let you just read the original.

A good portion of my pro-bono work is defending abused children. It’s a cause close to my heart. In the course of my work I met a man who was an adult survivor. You wouldn’t have known it looking at him. He was this gigantic Polynesian guy. Wild curly hair. I think of him every time I see Khal Drogo on GoT. He was counseling some of the little kids, and doing a fantastic job of it.

I visited his home to get his opinion on something and I noticed a little toy on his desk. It was Trolley. Naturally curious, I asked him about it. This is what he told me:

“The most dangerous time for me was in the afternoon when my mother got tired and irritable. Like clockwork. Now, she liked to beat me in discreet places so my father wouldn’t see the bruises. That particular day she went for the legs. Not uncommon for her. I was knocked down and couldn’t get back up. Also not uncommon. She gave me one last kick, the one I had come to learn meant ‘I’m done now’. Then she left me there upstairs, face in the carpet, alone. I tried to get up, but couldn’t. So I dragged myself, arm over arm, to the television, climbed up the tv cabinet and turned on the TV.

“And there was Mr. Rogers. It was the end of the show and he was having a quiet, calm conversation with those hundreds of kids. In that moment, he seemed to look me in the eye when he said ‘And I like you just for being you’. In that moment, it was like he was reaching across time and space to say these words to me when I needed them most.

“It was like the hand of God, if you’re into that kind of thing. It hit me in the soul. I was a miserable little kid. I was sure I was a horrible person. I was sure I deserved every last moment of abuse, every blow, every bad name. I was sure I earned it, sure I didn’t deserve better. I *knew* all of these things … until that moment. If this man, who I hadn’t even met, liked me just for being me, then I couldn’t be all bad. Then maybe someone could love me, even if it wasn’t my mom.

“It gave me hope. If that nice man liked me, then I wasn’t a monster. I was worth fighting for. From that day on, his words were like a secret fortress in my heart. No matter how broken I was, no matter how much it hurt or what was done to me, I could remember his words, get back on my feet, and go on for another day.

“That’s why I keep Trolley there. To remind me that, no matter how terrible things look, someone who had never met me liked me just for being me, and that makes even the worst day worth it to me. I know how stupid it sounds, but Mr. Rogers saved my life.”

The next time I saw him, he was talking to one of my little clients. When they were done with their session, he helped her out of her chair, took both of her hands, looked her in the eyes and said: “And remember, I like you just for being you.”

That, to me, is Mr. Rogers’ most powerful legacy. All of the little lives he changed and made better with simple and sincere words of love and kindness.

But I have to say—the more I learn about Fred Rogers, the more impressed I am. Maybe over the summer, I’ll revisit some old episodes…