Wednesday, January 26, 2011

When to shovel and when to hire a teenager to do it

I just finished shoveling my driveway and sidewalk and cleaning off my car. As I sit down inside to rest my body and dry off from the freezing rain that has plastered my hair to my skull, I wonder, “Was shoveling the best use of my time this afternoon?”

Now I’ll admit that there are many measures for determining “best use,” and no two people will reach the same conclusion for any given thing. In looking at this particular choice, I can consider time (an hour that could have been spent doing something else), money saved (I did it myself rather than paying someone), the potentially beneficial exercise I gained by shoveling (I say potentially because my I suspect my “form” was off and, while my heart got a good workout, I insulted my back), and the prediction that we will be getting another 4 to 10 inches later tonight so the whole thing will likely need to be done again. While it is true that I got some exercise and that, if I need to run to the emergency room in a hurry, I now can, I suspect I could have done something else more enjoyable, productive, or soul-uplifting with that hour. Yoga, talking with a friend, meditating, finalizing program details for an upcoming workshop, even taking a nap – these may have all been better ideas. So why did I do it?

As awake and enlightened as I aspire to be, the truth is that I am as perfectly flawed as the next person and vulnerable to the same irrational rationalizations. I looked out the window and saw that my neighbors' driveways were already clear. I looked on Facebook and read posts from friends busy shoveling.  Although I had already decided to hire a teenager to shovel me out in the morning – after all the snow eventually falls – I allowed myself to be swayed in what I perceived to be the court of public opinion. If everyone else got out there in the snow to work, I “should” get out there too.

Maybe not. Maybe next time I can make a different choice and refrain from listening to whatever “should” is trying to catch me under its spell.  I can give myself permission to do exactly what feels right for me in that moment, choosing to relax and enjoy the day or to shovel as feels right, and trusting that the plan I have to practice good self-care is absolutely the right plan for me.  

So, what now?  That hour is over, and I’ve already embarked on a new one – chuckling about the whole thing, suggesting to myself that I’ll call a friend next time, and feeling gratitude that this silly situation inspired me to write this blog.  

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Celebrating Personal Milestones

Yesterday, I had the great privilege of hosting a dinner party for a dear friend who wanted to celebrate her ten-year anniversary of being mania-free.  Having struggled with Bipolar Disorder throughout her adult life, this was a significant milestone, and we were thrilled to applaud it. We gathered as a community of friends, shared delicious food, and made toasts to honor her and the mindful care she has given to her health and wellbeing over these years. A truly gracious, humble, and amazingly resilient woman, my friend made a point of recognizing all of us – her circle of friends – for our presence and support in her life over these past ten years. She reminded us of the importance of community and the power of friendship to sustain us during even the darkest hours.

One of my friend’s greatest gifts is her ability to laugh at the absurdities in life, and we enjoyed doing just that during our fun evening together. She can talk about her mania with humor and perspective now, and we all marvel at how incredibly healthy she is today in contrast, knowing full well that her steadfast dedication to her wellness has created that reality. Witnessing her mindful attention and devoted care to the stabilization of her illness over the years, I have been awed and inspired. What a phenomenal model for resiliency!

I absolutely love that she set aside an evening to honor this important milestone. How often do we allow our personal victories to go unnoticed, perhaps dismissing them as not important enough to merit recognition?  How many opportunities have we missed to celebrate our own achievements and experiences of overcoming? Often, we are simply grateful that the hardest times are no longer upon us and want to move on – before really honoring our strength, resiliency, resourcefulness, and the support in our lives that made the transformation possible.  What if we were to change that and begin honoring our milestones? How might our lives be enriched? 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Balancing Public Awareness with Media Over-Exposure

Limiting my exposure to media is one of the ways I support my resiliency – and a key ingredient in my ability to stay present to the pain of those I serve.

Yesterday, I found myself horrified and saddened when learning about the violent rampage in Arizona yesterday where Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot. The Congresswoman was participating in a “Congress on Your Corner” event, at a Safeway grocery store in the community she represented. Six people were killed, including a nine-year old child. A total of twenty people were shot in the senseless assault, all victims of a young 22-year old man with a history of problems.

I’d had a full day yesterday, including an enjoyable road trip with my husband. We’d been away from the radio or television for hours, so it wasn’t until I was checking friends’ Facebook posts later in the evening that I first caught wind of the news. I noticed my impulse to go online and learn everything I could about what happened. What had happened? Where did it happen? Who did this? Why? 

Reading, in reverse order, the chronology of news reports as they had funneled in, I gained a basic picture of the “what” of the day’s events, but the “why” remained, for the most part, foggy speculation. As best as anyone can figure, the man who plotted to kill Giffords was angry, and he convinced himself he had identified a target for his rage.  Reviewing the news reports, I found myself incredulous, questioning why someone would kill another human being. Could someone really believe violence was the solution for a difference of opinion? Is this a world where people believe killing innocent citizens and a nine-year old child is justified to “make a point”? I just sat there, shaking my head, stunned, sad.  

This internal searching, this predisposition to ask questions of “Why?” and “How?” may be a positive attribute in my work as a counselor, but when it comes to distressing events in the news, I've learned that it can also become a liability. Curiosity can drive us to vicarious trauma through media over-exposure if we are not cautious.  Generally, being informed about major news stories can be useful - if only to provide a bridge to clients and colleagues whose thoughts may be influenced by the recent sad events. However, I have learned over time to pause and assess when enough media on a particular story really is, enough. 

I think I learned this most poignantly after the tragedies on September 11th. The news media covered the day’s events around the clock for days and weeks – and information and interviews continued to be in the foreground for many months beyond that. I knew too many people who became so engrossed in watching these stories unfold that they disconnected from their lives and loved ones – becoming unable to listen empathically to the stories and hearts of those around them. I witnessed some parents whose own obsession with viewing the day’s unfolding details unwittingly harmed their children, as the children were exposed to graphic images of violence that haunted them for a long time thereafter. Some colleagues became so consumed by the media stories, the questions being asked, and the heartache flooding the airwaves that they lost their ability to be present emotionally with the everyday hurts our clients expressed.  As for me, I did watch the news for the first few days after September 11th . . . and then I stopped.  I knew that if I allowed myself to watch too much, I could become flooded by images and emotions, vicariously traumatized, and rendered useless in my work. Instead of disconnecting from those around me, I unplugged from the media. I limited my exposure and remained open to clients, friends, and family.  I trusted that I knew enough about what had happened – and could let the rest go.

Last night, I read the news online for a while and then made a conscious choice to turn off my computer.  I was struck by the tragedy in Arizona, yet I knew it was in my own best interest to discontinue my searching and reading, to unplug from the media for a while and regain my own center. I chose to brew a cup of tea, read my Spirituality and Health magazine (a favorite), and begin to unwind for the day.  I am so glad I did.  It feels good to listen to and trust what is right for me.

Being human, I can still feel the tug of a compelling “why” from time to time. It helps me to pause, to take a deep breath, and to accept that some things happen that defy comprehension. It also helps to refocus my attention on the love and goodness in my life and the work I do each day to make a positive difference in the world.