Judd’s nasty bug I mentioned in my last post ended up turning downright vicious. It went from flu to pneumonia with the speed of light, and poor Judd ended up in the hospital from March 5th until late afternoon of March 17th. He’s been home for a little over a week now and is steadily getting better, but time’s gonna take time.
This stuff is pure evil—and not the kind you can banish with a healthy dose of smudge. So please, everybody, take care of yourselves.
Judd ended up tethered to all kinds of IVs, fed countless pills, and caught in a love/hate relationship with oxygen masks. The fact that my beloved human timber wolf allowed all this to be done to him without protest (or jailbreak) is a testimony to how very sick he was.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried, not to mention downright scared sometimes. But one thing I’ve learned through dealing with my various fears and phobias over the years is not to let it immobilize me. Life’s gonna keep on keepin’ on, and I have to do the same.
I’m scared of hospitals, but I love Judd and wanted to be with him so I spent lots of time there. I got to know the people, the routine, how to bend a few rules here and there, how to advocate when needed. (Did I mention I’m afraid of confrontation?) Being in the hospital was really hard for Judd, and anything I could do to make things easier for him was far more important than any pesky little fears.
Judd’s definitely doing better. He’s on oxygen therapy for now, which means he travels around our two-story house with several miles of tubing. There was a bit of a learning curve at first—he almost lassoed one of our Buddha statues during an early pilgrimage down the stairs—but now the man has got it down!
I would never, ever have wished for Judd to get so sick. But being there to help him in any way I could is the most worthwhile thing I’ve done in a very long time.
When someone else makes a mistake, I always tell them, “Hey, no big deal. Perfect people are boring.”
When I make a mistake, however, I summon up the Spanish Inquisition, a howling Greek chorus of condemnation, and the ghost of Sister Mary Gwendolyn from fourth grade.
And from what I hear, I’m not the only one.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Darned if I know. All it does is make us feel worse than we already do, and it certainly doesn’t improve the situation. I could analyze the whiz-bang out of the whys and wherefores, but I’d rather look at a few home truths that just might help:
To err is human.
It really, really is. And–guess what? We are all plain old garden-variety humans, and we’re going to screw up. To think otherwise is to foster the unrealistic expectation that we are supposed to be superhuman, above and beyond mere ordinary mortals. (Sounds kinda arrogant when it’s put that way, doesn’t it?)
A mistake is just something that happened.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that because you make a mistake, you are a mistake. I’ve been known to hop on board that particular mental crazy train, and in no time at all I convinced myself I was a complete, total, hopeless
Don’t go there, okay? It’s not a fun trip, and it can be awfully hard to find your way home again.
Listen to Eleanor
It really sucks when you screw up in front of other people. When it happens to me, I’m always morally certain that everybody’s buzzing about it behind my back, texting about it to their friends, and plastering it all over their Facebook pages until I remember one of my favorite quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt:
“You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”
It’s definitely humbling, but oh so very comforting.
So anyhow, folks, we are all flawed vessels, doing the best we can with what we’ve got. So take it easy on yourselves, okay?
If your mental world looks frightful, And everyone seems spiteful, When it’s all a big tale of woe, Let it go, let it go, let it go! (To the tune of “Let It Snow”)
Yeah, I know–easier said than done. But not impossible.
I’ve spent more years than I care to think about trying to will the world to conform to my expectations. If brooding was a natural energy source, I’d be a gazillionaire twenty times over. If obsessive thinking moved the minds and hearts of others, I’d be breaking bread with Gandhi. And if driving myself crazy with worry or stewing with resentment made the slightest difference in the martyrdom of pinpricks we call daily life, I’d be as simperingly sweet as Pollyanna. (Okay, that last one’s a bit of a stretch, but you get the idea.)
A few months ago I came across a book that turned my old mental patterns upside down (for the better, let me hasten to add): The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer. Reading this book helped me see that, while my mind is a nifty little critter, I am not my mind, I’m it’s owner.
And, like other nifty little critters the mind needs to be controlled by its owner, not the other way around.
This, my friends, is power in its truest form, the one area in our lives which we truly can control: how we choose to let our thoughts color reality.
Here are a few excerpts from “The Voice Inside Your Head,” the first chapter of Untethered Soul, that grabbed me from the get-go and kept me reading:
“There is nothing more important to true growth than realizing that you are not the voice of the mind–you are the one who hears it.”
“Eventually you will see the real cause of problems is not life itself. It is the commotion the mind makes about life that really causes problems.”
(When listening to all your internal thoughts): “What you end up experiencing is really a personal presentation of the world according to you, rather than the stark, unfiltered experience of what is really out there.”
“If you can’t get the world the way you like it, you internally verbalize it, judge it, complain about it, and then decide what to do about it. This makes you feel more empowered….In the thought world, there’s always something you can do to control the experience (italics mine).” Note to self: there usually isn’t…
“Reality is just too real for most of us, so we temper it with the mind. You will come to see that the mind talks all the time because you gave it a job to do. You use it as a protection mechanism, a form of defense.” In other words, we’ve given the mind an impossible task–protecting us from the World Out There. No wonder it never shuts up!
In Chapter Two: Your Inner Roommate, the author has you imagine your constant mental chatter as coming from another person who’s always beside you–when you’re trying to sleep, take a shower, watch TV, get some work done. How to handle this obviously neurotic individual who never, ever gives it a rest? I don’t know about you, but I’d bitch-slap her to Mars!
But bitch-slapping your own mind isn’t so simple. Resorting to copious amounts of drugs and/or alcohol might shut it up, but only temporarily, and a hiatus of this nature often leaves a host of problems in its wake.
So how to handle the never-ending stream of thoughts that emanate from the eternally-babbling monkey-mind?
As soon as they pop up, every time they pop up. Then go about your business.
After reading Untethered Soul and doing some additional research, I’ve managed to cobble together a little routine that serves me pretty well:
Example: As I’m driving to the grocery store, my mind shifts into protective mode: “You should have started out earlier. The store’s going to be crowded. It’ll be a madhouse. You’ll get all stressed out. You might even have a panic attack, like that time in 1982. You don’t want go through that again, do you?”
What I do: I cut off the babbling brook in midstream and ask myself the following questions:
1. “Is any of this helpful?” Answer: Hell, no. 2. “Can I release these thoughts/shut them off?” Answer: Of course I can. I’m the owner, right? 3. “Do I want to release these thoughts?” Answer: Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. 4. “When do I want to release them?” Answer: How about right now! (I usually accompany this last one with a gesture like I’m throwing a handful of sand into the air, but that’s just me and I’m weird that way.)
Then I crank me up some reggae and get on with my errand.
When I first started challenging my thoughts this way, they were not pleased and resisted as hard as they could. (The mind’s trying to protect me, remember?) I just kept releasing them, every time they cropped up–and they cropped up a lot! Eventually the thoughts became less frequent. A lot of them have gone away for good. My little routine became second nature to me, and I found myself becoming a much happier and more relaxed person. (Added bonus: I’m actually a whole lot more productive than I ever was back when my thoughts were riding herd on me all the time.)
I’ve come to the conclusion that my mind is like television–chock full of all kinds of programming, available 24/7 whether I want it or not. It’s up to me to remember that I’m not a captive audience. I’m the one holding the remote, and I can hit the mute button–or change the channel completely–any time I choose.
See that brightly-smiling lady snuggled up to the singularly handsome bearded gentleman? This picture was taken at a Kenny Wayne Shepherd/Johnny Lang concert last summer.
It was held at a medium-sized, very crowded venue called the Hard Rock Rocksino. To get to the seating area she had to walk through acres of slot machines, noise and flashing lights. She’d never been there before, had no idea what to expect, but look at her–she’s absolutely glowing.
You’d never guess it, but for years that same lady was terrified of crowds and unfamiliar places. She developed a comforting routine built around well-known stores, arriving just as their doors opened and scurrying home long before the thundering herd (read: more than ten people) arrived. Anything outside this routine left her riddled with anxiety and totally drained of energy.
I know all this because I’m that lady.
The year leading up to that concert was insanely stressful, and I’d been clinging to my safe little burrow even more tenaciously than usual. My wonderful husband and I both tend to be homebodies, so there was no pressure to go out, do stuff, socialize. I might have stayed in my cozily decorated rut indefinitely if I hadn’t seen the ad online: “Kenny Wayne Shepherd/Jonny Lang. Hard Rock Rocksino. June 23.”
I knew my husband liked both of these performers a lot. The date was close to our anniversary, and tickets to the concert would be a terrific present. The price was reasonable, the drive wasn’t bad, and he’d be thrilled. Making Judd happy is one of my favorite things to do, so I jumped out of my chair and headed for the stairs to run it by him.
And then the voice of the Great God What-if weighed in, stopping me in my tracks.
What-if my nerves short-circuited and I got sick on the way to the venue? Or, even worse, what-if I got sick at the venue? What-if I passed out? (Note: this last thing has never happened to me in my entire life, but I tend not to consider such fine points when I’m in full-blown catastrophic mode.)
“Better not chance it”, warned the Great God What-if. “You don’t need more stress in your life right now. Stay in your comfort zone.”
“But Judd would really love to go to that concert,” I argued.
“Judd won’t even know about it if you don’t tell him. No harm done.”
“I would really love to go to that concert!”
“Now, Donna. What if you get all the way out there, have a panic attack and have to come all the way home again?”
That almost stopped me. I visualized the humiliating scenario and cringed. But then I straightened my shoulders, tossed back my hair and replied, “What-if I don’t?”
And the Great God What-if fell silent.
With that, I pounded up the stairs to tell Judd we were gonna go see Kenny Wayne and Jonny.
As a wildly imaginative kid who devoutly believed in Closet Monsters and their equally nefarious cousins the Monsters-Under-the-Bed, most of my childhood nights were spent with the covers pulled over my head (monsters can’t see through covers) or curled up on the foot of my big brother’s bed (monsters are afraid of big brothers) until sunlight restored peace to my universe.
As an adult, my fears changed from monsters to everday things such as driving, crowds, and unfamiliar places. After a particularly stressful time in my life, those fears gave birth to a legion of others, and functioning normally became increasingly difficult. Counseling helped, as did a support group, but certain things can still be challenging. Here are a few coping mechanisms that work for me:
When I find myself floundering and the whole world seems to be closing in on me, I ask myself if any of the H.A.L.T.s might be coloring my world.
If any (or all) of the above are in play, there’s a good chance my perspective is skewed. Once I address the neglected component, I can push a mental “Reset” button and look at the situation with fresh eyes.
H.A.L.T. isn’t my own invention. Many twelve-step groups have included it in their programs for years. It’s simple, direct, and it sure can’t hurt.
2. Is the game worth the candle?
Back in medieval times, candles were expensive–not unlike today’s electric bills! After-dark games required the use of at least one candle; if a particular game was deemed “not worth the candle”, this meant it wasn’t worth the expense of the light with which to see it.
So what’s this got to do with fear?
Example: Social occasions scare the daylights out of me and leave me absolutely drained. When I’m feeling pressured to attend one, I ask myself if the game (social occasion) is worth the candle (my limited store of energy). Often the answer is no; when the answer is yes, I can utilize H.A.L.T. and other coping skills to get me through it.
Not too long ago, I developed a sinus infection so severe my husband had to drive me to the health center. Besides feeling awful in general, I was so dizzy and light-headed that when we arrived I had to lie down on a low pallet in the examining room. When the doctor came in, my husband helped me climb onto the raised examing table. Diziness overwhelmed me when it was time to get off the table and I went into panic mode, certain I’d never be able to make it out of the room, let alone to the car.
Luckily the doctor, who was “on loan” from a local E.R. and suffered with sinus problems himself, was prepared. With my husband standing close by, he said, “Okay, we’re going to transition. All you have to do right now is get both feet on the step-down shelf. Good! Take a breath. Now, feet on the floor, first one, then the other. Attagirl! Breathe. See? You can do it! Remember, transition!”
Transitioning has become one of my favorite coping mechanisms. I use it whenever I’m confronted with a task that seems overwhelming at first glance, but looks much more doable when broken down into smaller increments.
5. Panic attacks– A.W.A.R.E. to the rescue!
Panic attacks are awful. I don’t get them nearly as often as I used to, but I’m all too familiar with the sensation of being trapped, and the feelings of dread and utter helplessness.
I came across a neat little self-training device that I was glad to add to my bag of coping tricks. It’s called A.W.A.R.E, which stands for
Acknowledge and accept
Wait and watch
Actions (to make myself more comfortable)
and it reminds me what to do when a panic attack hits. Check out this link for details.