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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: November 2008

Sunday, November 30, 2008


It's not new. Though I think it's really worth a mention. Whenever I write about depression, or grief, or anger or pain of any kind, I always have in mind how hard it sometimes is to push ourselves over the hill to do whatever may help us to feel better. Even when we are fairly certain it will help.

Of course the medical evidence and studies abound about the benefits of exercise. The mind, the body, the soul, all are recipients of movement. But walking I find is in a category all it's own. Deep strides, or a meandering stroll, fresh air on your face, in your lungs. Your eyes to the sky. You can clear your head. For those of you that are already sold, you know what I am talking about. But for those of you who think about walking and just have not gotten out the door yet, or for those of you who have not tried it, or who put it in the category of "have to exercise" or tedious chore of the day, I am suggesting you give it a chance.

There are of course all the facts about how it lifts vital hormone levels in your brain, and how it gets your blood going, carrying better mood lifting chemicals throughout your system. Maybe that's the science of it. I suppose I am not really so interested in that part, though I am a believer. The part that I find worth writing about is the relief part. The part where you can actually walk off pain, frustration, anger, fear. Okay, it does not disappear, but I can almost guarantee you that if you get yourself to go out and stride, you will, after a time, feel better.

It's like shaking off dust that you did not know was there. Certainly, for pent up hostility and anger, it's great. But I am thinking more along the lines of thinking. Of having a rolling space to let your thoughts tumble, to let you head clear. To think. Or to just stare at the sky and remember that there are things bigger and more vast then what you can see. Explanations that go beyond. And calm that can come forth.

The trick is getting yourself out the door. And for this I say can only say what everyone else says. You just have to do it. Do it and you will see. You will see that it's one easy, free, access able tool for soothing your tired weary heart.

Walk. Breath. Rest. Think if you want to, but get outside and go. No offense to the treadmill or elliptical. But there is no substitute for space. If you can get to a park, great. If not, any sidewalk will do.

Forrest Gump fans may recall that he had to run the whole country (sometimes, you gotta run too). Sometimes I hear about pain so great that it seems like it would take all 3000 miles to walk off the hurt. Betrayal is up there with the worst feelings. Forrest had to cover a lot of ground. But we don't have to do all 3000 miles in one shot. We may get relief in bits and pieces.

And I find that giving yourself permission to wander is a way of finding yourself amidst all the confusion.

You will most likely come back a little lighter, a little safer and a little more contained, which I think is a good thing. I think we all need a little wind in our hair, and, on lucky days, sun on our face. These are the good and simple things in life that can hold us until things get better. And carry us along right in the moment, when things seems upside down, but may actually be okay in some meant to be, but not yet known kind of way.

Walk on!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Gratitudes, Attitudes and Platitudes

"Grace isn't a little prayer you chant before receiving a meal. It's a way to live." ~Jackie Windspear

I know it's a bit predictable at this time of year, but I can't help it. I am thinking about grace and gratitudes. I always feel a bit of a tug when I do this, as if I am being disloyal to the problems of life. Or to whatever pains or griefs might exist. And whenever I suggest thinking about, or writing down a list of, or saying out loud, all the things that you are grateful for as a way to ease emotional pain or lift a mood, I get a crinkle on my face, maybe even a wince, as if I am not really understanding or tuning into, or honoring the hurt. But I really do believe that paying deep attention to gratitudes is useful.

One: It gets you out of yourself. Even if you are thinking about what you yourself are grateful for. It's not such a bad idea to take a break from hurt when you are hurting. There is no rule that says that you have to be absorbed in your hurt all the time.

Two: Everyone has things to be grateful for. At this moment, your eyes are working. Your lungs too. Your heart is beating and you have a computer. If you are willing to stretch yourself a bit, come up with an A to Z list. I know that when you are hurting, it's not something that comes so easily, but if you want some relief, this is a good path for sure.

Three: You do not have to feel grateful to be grateful. Feelings are not facts. They are important, but they do not have to call the shots. You can recognize goodness and light and positive things in the world, and in your life, even if you feel the overall picture is dark.

Four: Being gentle with and gracious to yourself may be one of the hardest but most important ways to get from bad to better. There may be a million reasons why being gracious to yourself seems impossible, but I think it's the right way to walk. I am not saying that you don't have to take stock of yourself and your life, and take responsiblity, but I am saying that a little grace goes a long way. And a little grace is a great thing to be grateful for. And gratitude is a gracious thing.

Gratitude takes willingness and practice. My experience is that it's worth the trouble. You will not end up dishonoring your grief, or giving in to false cheerfulness, or trite "look on the bright side, honey." You will end up with a realistic stance that life is mixed. And that swimming around only in the bad feelings, and the frustrating or disappointing facts is really only one side of the coin. You can round out the picture a bit, while you are waiting for better days. You can help better feelings to come by pointing out whatever facts you can reach for that suggest that the good stuff can exist as well.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Here Comes the SAD

Sometimes low can get lower. Your mood goes from good to okay, or from okay to shaky, or from shaky to gutter. It does help to know why whenever possible. When we just know that the mood-o-meter is registering a zero, one thing we can do is take a look inside. And outside. And really study what is effecting our feeling state.

So of course you can scan through the usual cast of possibilities: interactions with people (anything bothering you about a particular relationship or conversation?), job or school pressure, money worries, hormones? What things are on your mind that you are aware of, or could become aware of, that affect how you are feeling?

It does take a bit sleuthing sometimes. Reviewing the events of the day, and taking a few moments to study what feelings we were left with and what thoughts we had.

And then for those of us who are living in parts of the country that are cooling off, and getting browner and darker, instead of staying a steady 8o degrees of sunny delight., there is the added possibility of Seasonal Affective Disorder . AKA SAD.

I really do believe that the weather effects us, the temperature effects us, light effects us. For some folks, it's really business as usual, but for those who are sensitive to environmental factors, we need to take extra care of our psyches.

There are lots of gadgets and ideas out there. Sun lamps, electric blankets, hot tea. I think anything that nurtures and warms the body is good for the soul.

So I am just putting in a plug for knowing what you can know about yourself at any given moment, especially during low points. And then giving yourself permission to tend to your mood. You can stay in it, or you can try to bump it up a bit. But you do have choices. You can honor sadness without becoming hopeless. You can honor anger without becoming destructive. You can tend to yourself, and to others, without sinking into SAD for the season.
And you can check out my fellow blogger's post on the topic for some good words and ideas.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

When You Just Can't or Lightening During the Day

When the world says, "Give up, "Hope whispers, "Try it one more time."~Author Unknown

There are some days when you just can't. Can't go to work. Can't go to class. Can't be calm. Can't feed your body. Or can't stop eating. Can't deal. Can't stand it when..... Just Can't.

Like lightening during the day, the negative voice is there, flashing away. Telling you that you can't. If you pay close attention, you will hear it. The feelings are the thunder. When they are big and heavy and overwhelming, then you know that the lightening, the voice, is hard at work in your head.

Most of the time, we just go about our day. Or we don't. We stay stuck in the muck of the bad feelings. But if we are willing to stop, and then to pay attention to the thunder, and then to listen to that voice, we will begin to hear what is really going on in our head.

Can't. Can't. Can't.

And then we can talk back. We can change the can't. The other day I was walking across the street at a crosswalk on a slightly busy residential block. When I started out there was a car coming down the block, but at least a few hundred yards away. As I started out, the car sped up. And then, of course, so did I. It blew by me. As I got to the other side. I started feeling pretty bad. Somewhere between mad and sad, frustrated and resentful.

Voice: You can't stand it when people do that! You can't even cross a street peacefully. You can't catch a break today!

Reality: I don't like it when people are not paying attention the way I want them to (but I can stand it). I can cross the street just fine. Best to pay attention to the cars though. My legs are working, the air is fresh and the leaves are looking lovely.

I am not suggesting that we all turn into Miss Cheery Sunshines, or dismiss our feelings. Quite the opposite, I am thinking we can honor the feelings by paying attention to distortions. I am thinking that we can pay attention to the can'ts, and rewrite them. It goes along way. But if we are not willing to consider that there are ways out, ways up, then we may stay stuck.

There are real sadnesses in life, of course, and there are many frustrations and disappointments, but the can'ts make things seem a lot more hopeless. Sad is sad. You may not like feeling sad, but you can stand it, and take good care of yourself. You may not always know what to do, or how to do it, but you can learn.

It's about giving yourself a chance to learn what you can yes do. Not what the voice tells you that you can't. And then to look up at the possibilities.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Bed Dread and the Day Ahead

O bed! O bed! delicious bed!That heaven upon earth to the weary head.~Thomas Hood, Miss Kilmansegg

Or not.

Some mornings some people wake up with a racing heart, and a feeling of being entombed under a wall of heavy concrete. Even the idea of getting up seems too much to bear. The day ahead seems so awful and daunting that it's hard to imagine even putting a foot out front under the blanket. Sometimes it just seems impossible to even want to think about getting up.

Add to that if it's cold. Add to that if it's dark out. Add to that if you did not sleep well. Or at all. Add to that if you are sad about something. Add to that if your mood swings from the trees like Tarzan. Add to that if you hate your job. Or hate your school. Or don't feel like you are particularly connected to anyone in particular.

And then there is the opposite of not wanting to get out of bed. Not wanting to get into bed. It's not the bed itself that's the issue usually. It's the sleep thing. If you have trouble doing it. Falling asleep. Staying asleep. Resting.

Different versions of bed dread. So there is the usual cast of suggestions for each side of the issue. Can't get up? You are suppose to try to find something in your mind to latch onto that is good. Some detail of the day you could look forward to. Anything. Even if it means getting some sun on your face, or watching the leaves fall. A stretch, I know, but when there are warm blankets between you and the cold world, you gotta give yourself a chance. Sometimes you just must tell yourself that all you need to do is get to the hot shower. You can dive back in after that if you don't feel any better. You can tell yourself that you are some stellar star for heaving yourself up when brain tells you that you can't. And that somewhere in the day, your efforts will be rewarded. And that you dread is not a fact, just a feeling. And feelings pass. The next right thing.

And the usual suggestions for sleeplessness. You've heard them. Write a list of all that's on your mind and put it in a drawer. Give yourself permission to rest, if not sleep. Forget the sheep. Try imagining redecorating a room, making up a good juicy fantasy. Take yourself to a tropical paradise for the night. Talk to G-d. Or get up. And don't go back until you are falling on your face. Read. Forgive yourself.

Truthfully, I did not mean to be talking about sleeping better. Though we all know that it's the cure for many an ailment. I really just meant to offer up some nuggets about how much we deserve to rest. Not just physically, but mentally. And that the two really do go together of course.

I think that somewhere is our psyches, especially when we are hurting about something, or in the throws of some addiction. Binging, cutting, purging, drinking, we just forget how to stop. Just stop.

And then the cycle. We get bed dread of one form or another. We can't get out: too much panic and mood drain. Or we can't get in. Too much too much. No way to settle.

It has to be that way underneath all the tricks of how to get up, and how to sleep, lies our beliefs about rest, and about life on rev, and about how we deal. If the backdrop of bed dread is our unquiet mind, then we have to cooperate with the small piece of our intellect that just knows that somehow someway we have to practice restfulness. That we don't have to solve all of our stuff, we don't have to have answers. And that really either which way, we don't have to be afraid to be calmer. We can manage with whatever comes our way. We can push ourselves gently to get up when we don't feel like it, and to lie down when our brain says to keep going.

And we can talk it. If we just can't figure out how to get restful, we can talk it out until we figure it out. That and some good deep breaths can go a long long way.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Give a Little Bit, Do-Overs and When You Can't Fix It

"Give a little bit
Give a little bit of your love to me
Give a little bit
I'll give a little bit of my love to you
See the man with the lonely eyes
Take his hand, you'll be surprised"

Goo Goo Dolls

I have been thinking a lot about regret lately. And how sometimes we get a chance to make right our wrongs. And sometimes we don't. I don't really believe that there is ever one side to any story. When things go haywire in a relationship, more than likely it was symphony of feelings and character and glitches in communication. And of course words or actions that were meant to communicate one thing and ended up communicating something else entirely.

Sometimes we can make amends. We can mend fences and heal hurts. We can unpack what happened and offer apologies, and move forward. Or just offer apologies. And sometimes we can't. Either the timing isn't right, or the damage is done. And we don't get a do-over.

So what helps? Well, I think a few things. I think that knowing how we contributed to the problem helps. And giving ourselves an honest, and gentle, once over to understand how we may have acted or reacted that may have caused more trouble. I am not saying that if you get mugged it's your fault. But I am saying that it helps to know what you were doing in a bad neighbor at night to begin with. So that's thing one. Know your self.

And thing two (on a potential list of, oh say, a hundred things), is to forgive yourself. Lots of times we are driven by fear, or by beliefs and feelings that are not necessarily facts, or by the unconscious reflex of protecting ourselves from something. We usually are not evil seeking. Self forgiveness is the light at the end of the tunnel.

And thing three, when you can't have a do-over, and you can't make an amend, is to practice kindness. I pretty much think that when someone is depressed, upset, hurting, lost, angry, there is not really an inclination to go be charitable. In fact, we usually want to be taken care of in some protective and comforting way. Generosity to the universe is not usually on list of things to do.

But that's what I think. I think that it helps to give. I could say when all else fails, and when you least feel like it. Give. Give something, do something, kind for someone, somewhere. And maybe even before all else fails.

It's like forcing yourself to whisper when you feel like yelling. Not that I don't think that you can yell safely when you need to. But sometimes a trip out of self, and into the realm of kindness can go along way toward soothing a bruised soul. Doesn't mean the kindness can't be to your self as well. Definitely. But the universe needs you too.
And it comes back at you eventually. Try it, you'll see.