My colleague, Renee Lamborn, and I sat at a local coffeehouse the other day, sipping our espresso drinks and swapping work stories. We were talking about how parents of special needs kids can feel quite isolated at times. I told her about my stepsister who has a teenager with Asperger’s. My stepsister still hasn’t met any other parents of kids with the syndrome, even after years of seeking out and using supportive services.
Renee then told me about talking with a woman, the mother of a special needs kid, who enlisted Renee’s help as a special education advocate. The woman had been trying to advocate for her child in the school system herself and was completely overwhelmed. She felt alone and as though no one understood her. Renee’s vast experience and understanding nature helped the woman feel supported immediately. After she got off the phone with Renee, the woman burst into tears.
“What’s wrong?” her husband asked, concerned.
“Nothing is wrong,” the woman wept, “It’s just that I finally found an ally.“
I smiled. Community activator Bruce Anderson long ago taught me the importance of the ally role in working with people on the margins of society. I remember him teaching a seminar on recovery from chronic psychiatric disability at the mental health clinic where I worked at the time. He was telling a story about a group of clients who experienced severe mental illnesses and yet were doing very well in their communities.
“What do you think was the number one factor that the clients themselves named as the most important in their recovery?” Bruce asked us.
“Effective medications?” someone suggested.
“Learning social skills?” ventured another.
After several more guesses, Bruce said, “Those are all really good ideas, but the number one factor the clients pointed to was the presence of a person in their lives who believed in them and stuck with them throughout their journey with their illness.“
After Renee told me her story about the mother weeping in relief because she found someone who understood her, I smiled and felt tears welling in my eyes. I remembered the comfort I felt from my cousin who doggedly stuck by me after my partner died. I still think I probably would not have made it through without her.
Moms of special needs kids, people with chronic mental illness, and those who are lost in grief all need allies. But don’t we all? Life is about the big stuff and the little stuff, the huge mountains and deep valleys as well as the everyday rises and dips. Knowing we have an ally helps us make it through any terrain in life.
Who is your ally?
And maybe more importantly, can you be an ally for someone else?
Takeaway points: An ally is someone who will see you through the tough spots in life and stick with you. You may not see them or talk to them everyday, but just knowing they are there makes all the difference. Engaging in life requires us to both have an ally and be one to somebody else.
Looking for an ally? I’m happy to help you through life’s ups and downs. Call me at 650-529-9059 or email me for an appointment.
Mucking around the internet in my constant quest for cool stuff about resiliency, I came upon the work of Dr. Kristin Neff. I am adding her work on an important component of acceptance, self-compassion, to my list of research to follow along with Barbara Fredrickson’s work on positivity and Brene Brown’s shame resilience research.
Dr. Neff not only studies self-compassion in a scholarly setting, but has life experience to weave in as well. Her son, Rowan, has autism and her and her husband’s ability to accept, rather than resist, his diagnosis led to them discovering the healing powers of horses in his life. Their story is the subject of the book, The Horse Boy.
Neff believes that self-compassion is made up of three things:
Rather than being tossed about by your own thoughts and feelings, holding a stance of merely being aware of them without passing judgment is a key component of mindfulness. How often do you find yourself frustrated or angry but unsure why? It’s because you are doing what most of us do: going through the day quite unaware of what we are really thinking or feeling.
Taking a moment several times during your day to stop and check in with yourself is a great first step toward mindfulness. How are you feeling? What are you thinking about? Breathe!
2. Common humanity
Ever feel like you’re the only one who is going through something? Maybe it’s a small thing like a bad habit or a more impactful experience such as having a special needs kid or losing your job. For some reason, it’s human nature to think we’re the only ones who have these problems. Realizing that we share everything from bad habits to special needs kids to job loss with other people puts us in the same boat and encourages mutual support rather than isolation.
I vividly remember sitting in a grief support group listening to a man berate himself about what he “should” have done to prevent his wife from dying. “I should have known she wasn’t acting herself . . . I should have taken her to the hospital sooner . . . I should have . . .” he sobbed. Finally, one of the facilitators put her hand on his. He took a breath and looked at her. With the utmost kindness in her eyes, she said softly, “Have mercy.”
Self-kindness and sympthy toward oneself is a necessary ingredient to healing and self-compassion.
While the pursuit of high self-esteem is tenuous and has actually been shown to cause problems with competition and aggression, Neff says that, with self-compassion, “whether we’re on top of the world or at the bottom of the heap, we can embrace ourselves with a sense of kindness, connectedness and emotional balance.”
Takeaway points: Self-compassion is a part of accepting what is going on in your life and being kind to yourself about it. Mindfulness, the idea of common humanity, and kindness are components we can practice to treat ourselves more gently, a needed tool in our resiliency toolkit.
Is it easy or hard for you to practice self-compassion?
I know two things about ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease: 1. It’s awful, and 2. It’s awful.
I have only had a couple of experiences with ALS and those were just knowing people who had a loved one with the disease. A friend of ours lost her partner of thirty years to ALS in 2007. I never knew Jane, but Andrea said she was witty, vivacious, and fun. Andrea also said it was excruciating to watch Jane lose her speech first, followed by declines in motor functioning that eventually led to no mobility at all.
Andrea and I sometimes talk about what it would be like to have a disease like ALS, to watch helplessly as your body deteriorates until you can no longer move. What kind of life is that? How can one be resilient in this worst of scenarios?
It never fails that when I ask these kinds of questions the universe slides an answer right under my nose. Literally, this time, as I sat at our kitchen table bent over our weekly paper, The Almanac. A headline caught my eye: “Teacher dies after battle with ALS”.
Hmmm. There must be more to this story as this was no usual obituary but an actual article written about this man. I picked up the paper and began to read.
Jason Picetti, age 42, former middle school math teacher, diagnosed with ALS in 2008. Married and the father of a three-year-old daughter. “Aww, poor guy,” I think to myself.
As I have observed previously on this blog: O, me of little faith.
Reading further into the article, I see that Jason wrote a blog. “Yes, good resiliency skill,” I note, “Probably a great way for him to vent.”
Then I read the title of his blog: The Adventures of ALS Boy. I grin. Wait a minute. This is no mere venting blog, I can tell that by the title. This guy has chutzpah. I go to my computer and punch in www.alsboy.com.
After reading three posts, I came to the conclusion that my “Aww, poor guy,” response wasn’t even close to an accurate thought about Jason Picetti. “Wow, what a guy!” was much closer.
Here are just a few of the aspects of resiliency to be found in Jason’s writing:
Jason has listed a quarter of his posts over the last three years under the category of “Allegedly Funny.” I think he is the only writer who has made me laugh over stories of haphazard drooling and the “unearthly howls” of spontaneous yawns.
2. Radical acceptance
I would have just called this regular ol’ acceptance until my friend Susan pointed out that it is really radical acceptance. Jason had been diagnosed with ALS – a fatal and “awful” disease – only seven months earlier, and here is how he introduces himself in his blog:
In his days prior to wearing the cape and cowl of the Amazing, Inspiring and Adventurous ALS Boy, Jason Picetti’s not-so-secret identities included weekend warrior rock star, enthusiastic and motivating middle school math teacher, and all-around decent guy. While still a decent guy, he has been battling the evil forces of ALS since being diagnosed in February of 2008. Never one to shy away from a good fight, Jason has been combining the healing forces of western medicine, alternative medicine, a positive and never-give-up attitude and mindset, and the love and prayers and support of his incredible family and friends to win the toughest battle of his life.
Here is a man who knows what he is up against and accepts it fully so he can utilize his arsenal of “healing forces.”
3. Using an arsenal of healing forces
Not to be redundant, but Jason’s use of his medical team, family, friends, and anything he can think of to live well with this disease is a great example for us to tackle even our “ordinary” problems with an eclectic arsenal of support.
4. The art of active non-resistance
Although Jason uses language like “battling the evil forces of ALS”, he also practices non-resistance by being able to hold two fairly opposite thoughts/feelings at the same time using the magic word and: I don’t like ALS and I’m going to live my best life with it.
At one point, Jason tells a story about how he figured out on his own how to get his thumb unstuck from his involuntarily clenched fist in the middle of the night. He ends with:
I grinned like a cat who had just made short work of the family’s fine feathered friend as I drifted off to sleep dreaming the dreams of the victorious champion.
Jason, you will always be a champion to me. Thanks for showing me that just because a disease is “awful” doesn’t mean your life has to be the same. Rest in peace and joy.
Takeaway points: Want to be inspired? Awed? Laugh out loud? Read The Adventures of ALS Boy. Start with the first post and read all the way through. You’ll laugh, cry, and you’ll never be the same.
What do you learn from ALS Boy?
Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip.
2. Robert Louis Stevenson
Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but of playing a poor hand well.
3. Viktor Frankl
He who has a why to live for can endure almost any how.
4. Charles Darwin
It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.
5. Japanese proverb
What’s your favorite quote?
I’m available for individual therapy sessions to help you get your bounce back. Call me at 650-529-9059 or email me for a free 30-minute consultation.
Several years ago, I sat with my partner, Ruth, as she recovered from her second round of aggressive chemo treatment. She had metastatic breast cancer and this was the last of several different kinds of treatment she had received over her four-year journey with the disease. This particular concoction made her very weak and ill.
When we are ill, we may feel lost as to what to do or where to go. Waiting may have the feel of being passive, but think of the caterpillar in the cocoon, the seed in the ground, or a mother bird sitting on her egg. Waiting in our lostness is sometimes vital for the journey into wholeness.
“Does that mean I’m going to become a butterfly?” Ruth asked excitedly.
“I think it does,” I replied, squeezing her hand.
I knew what she meant. We had often talked about the reality that this cancer would eventually kill her. She was talking about being set as free as a butterfly when she died.
Which she did, two months later.
Suddenly, I was the one in the cocoon. I wasn’t prepared for the intensity of my grief and I felt utterly lost and unsure of everything, including life itself. It took almost three years before I crawled out of the cocoon, my fragile, weak wings dewy with both tears and anticipation. And, finally, I started to fly.
I wasn’t the same as I was before; I was very different and there were times I longed to crawl back into the cocoon. But my new life was beautiful in a way that would not have occurred had I not allowed myself to cocoon and “wait in lostness”. The experience of grief filled me out and made me more of a whole person, able now to be with others in a healing way on their paths of grief.
Sometimes it’s easy to misinterpret your need for cocooning as being passive, the feeling of lostness as being undesirable. And yet, maybe those times are the very thing you need to be whole.
Be gentle with yourself when you find yourself lost and waiting. Perhaps you need that time to become the beautiful butterfly you were always meant to be.
Takeaway points: Although our culture promotes being action- and goal-oriented, there are times when lostness and cocooning are necessary for much-needed but unexpected growth.
Have you had times of cocooning in your life?
If you are feeling lost and unsure, I am happy to walk that path with you or have gentle, healing conversations within your cocoon. Call me at 650-529-9059 or email me for a counseling appointment.
Part of being resilient in the outer world is learning to be resilient in our inner worlds. If we
don’t have a solid concept of who we really are inside, then it is much more likely that events happening outside are going to rock both our inner and outer worlds, and not in a good way.
I first shared these words from Anne Lamott in a previous post called Becoming the person you were meant to be:
We begin to find and become ourselves when we notice how we are already found, already truly, entirely, wildly, messily, marvelously who we were born to be. The only problem is that there is also so much other stuff, typically fixations with how people perceive us, how to get more of the things that we think will make us happy, and with keeping our weight down. So the real issue is how do we gently stop being who we aren’t? (My emphases.)
And here are some thoughts from Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.
When we spend a lifetime trying to distance ourselves from the parts of our lives that don’t fit with who we think we’re supposed to be, we stand outside of our story and hustle for our worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving. (p.23)
Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.
Choosing authenticity means
- cultivating the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable;
- exercising the compassion that comes from knowing that we are all made of strength and struggle; and
- nurturing the connection and sense of belonging that can only happen when we believe that we are enough.
Authenticity demands Wholehearted living and loving – even when it’s hard, even when we’re wrestling with the shame and fear of not being good enough, and especially when the joy is so intense that we’re afraid to let ourselves feel it.
Mindfully practicing authenticity during our most soul-searching struggles is how we invite grace, joy, and gratitude into our lives. (p.50)
Takeaway points: Even though we are so often encouraged to be someone we aren’t, only cultivating the courage to be our true selves allows us to live freely and authentically – a good recipe for resilience.
I know I sometimes struggle with authenticity and feel the pressure to be someone other than my true self. How about you?
Brown, Brene. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. 2010. Hazelden; Minnesota.
I often write about your “resiliency toolkit” so I want to give you a handy summary of the tools that have been mentioned here on the Bounce blog. The links on each tool will lead you to the past blogs that highlight that tool.
Acceptance – the art of being realistic about your world and what is happening in it – good or bad.
There are many subsets to this tool such as acknowledging your emotions, even when they are “bad“, learning non-resistance, and accepting life as it is not as it should be.There are also more thoughts about acceptance here, here, and in this post about bouncing back after financial loss.
Social support – generating and accepting help and emotional support from others.
Gaining perspective – learning to look at life and adversity from a variety of different angles.
Being in the moment – appreciating the here and now helps increase your gratitude and decrease worries about the future.
See how being in the moment helps increase “positivity.”
- The art of holding two opposing things at the same time – this strange tool usually has to do with experiencing two opposite emotions (joy/pain) or thoughts at the same time (“I love my kid/I can’t stand my kid right now”) AND being okay with it.
This is really a subset of acceptance, but it’s such an important little tool, I wanted to set it apart for you.
Here’s a quick list of several more tools:
- Problem-solving – sometimes you have to take action to bounce back from adversity.
- See what you can learn – the best lessons for growth and satisfaction often come from the really tough times.
- Look for the gifts – the sand that irritates the oyster eventually becomes a pearl.
- Find meaning in adversity- generate hope by seeing tough times a new way.
- Be okay with making mistakes – and that’s all there is to say about that!
And finally . . .
Takeaway points: Although there are many more tools to come, it’s good to take stock of what’s in your toolkit occasionally.
What’s in your toolbox that I haven’t mentioned yet?
If you’d like to add therapy to your resiliency toolkit, I’m available for you. Please email me or call me at 650-529-9059.
Photo courtesy of sarchi.
“You know how much it costs, right?” she asked.
“Sure. Thirty-five dollars,” I said confidently. The cost had been thirty-five dollars since I had met my deductible earlier in the year.
The pharmacy tech looked down at my bill and leaned forward toward me over the counter. “It’s four hundred and fifteen dollars,” she whispered.
“What?!” I nearly shouted, “That can’t be! I met my deductible a long time ago.”
The pharmacy tech looked as though this wasn’t the first time she’d received this type of reaction. “I’m sorry, ma’m,” she said, sympathetically.
I left the store and sat in my car as I called my insurance company. After fiddling with menus and tersely responding, “Yes. No.” to the many automated options, I finally sputtered, “REPRESENTATIVE!” Once I was connected to a human being, I told my story three times to help the representative understand that, yes, I had met my deductible in March. Finally, he put me on hold briefly then came back on to tell me that I had also unfortunately met my “prescription cap” for the year.
Oh. I weakly thanked him and hung up. I felt a knot of panic form in my stomach. I was sure the insurance company had made a mistake about my deductible or someone had just hit the wrong key on a computer somewhere. But it wasn’t so. Because my medication had been increased, it cost more than it had in the past and I had truly hit the top of my prescription coverage.
I sat quietly in my car as the gravity of the situation sunk in. I took the medication monthly, I had to pay the full amount in January and February each year until I met my deductible and now I was going to have to pay the full amount from September through . . . Oh, no. I would have to pay four hundred and fifteen dollars per month for half of the year.
Like many people, the recession hasn’t been particularly kind to me. I sat in my car trying to fight the panic rising from my stomach and coming up into my throat. Where was I going to find an extra four hundred dollars per month? I had to have the medication, I couldn’t just stop it.
I went back into the store and paid four hundred and fifteen dollars for less than a handful of pills. On the way home, my mind flitted through a dozen different ways that I might be able to save money here, cut expenses there. I took a deep breath and loosened my grip on the steering wheel. I noticed my anxiety and thought, “Well, I just had a big expense I wasn’t expecting, no wonder I’m freaked out.”
I started to relax even more, suddenly feeling my confidence starting to seep back in through the cracks in my anxiety. I paid attention to this new feeling. Where was this coming from?
Then I got it; I realized what I was doing. I have been noticing and writing about resiliency for so long that I had automatically engaged some of my resiliency coping skills without even thinking about it. I allowed myself to experience the natural emotions that come with an unpleasant surprise; I acknowledged that this news was freaking me out. But instead of staying with my anxiety, my mind immediately started to seek out ways to solve the problem. I also noticed my own thoughts and my physical experience and took a deep breath to relax. As my body relaxed, my mind was able to slow down and come up with even more ideas to address the situation.
By the time I arrived home, I was still feeling somewhat shaken, but I had also developed several options to pursue that would help, if not resolve, the prescription problem. At the same time, I was proud of myself for reflexively using the tools in my resiliency toolkit to help me quickly recover from an unexpected shock.
So, the moral of this story is not so much the actual tools that I used, but the fact that the practice and repetition involved in thinking about resiliency allowed me to act quickly on my own behalf.
Takeaway point: The more you think about and practice your own resiliency skills, the more prepared you will be when life throws you a curveball. So make sure to notice and be conscious of the coping skills that work for you.
How confident are you with the tools in your resiliency toolkit?