In December of 2017 I wrote a post with the same title. At that time, my daughter Anna discovered she had both acute and chronic rejection of her transplanted lungs. Chronic rejection led to her need for new lungs this past fall…again! So much of my life in the last six and a half years has been affected by Anna’s declining health, transplants, hospitalizations and unknowns. Today, I’m kind of tired of the unknowns as I sit in this added unknown of COVID 19. I don’t know about you, but right in this moment, I’m over it. Can we just be done? Oh! That’s right, NO! We don’t get to decide that.
I kind of want to have a temper tantrum. I feel two years old and part of me wants to kick and scream on the floor until I get my way. Just a part of me wants to do that. I’m not totally down. In fact, my day started out really well. I was productive. I had a meeting with a client and then I participated in a planning group for an organization I volunteer with. Activities that fill me. But then I sat down and thought about what I wanted to write for this blog post and this is what’s coming out.
I’m thinking this is how a lot of you are feeling, too. Some moments are fine, some are great and some suck! Yes? The stay-in-place extension may be taking its toll. We sometimes cling to a number. “I can do this until April 12.” But when April 12 comes and goes and we are still confined to our homes it can feel depressing. Are you feeling that, too?
There’s no magic. There’s no healthy formula to not feel depressed or sad or mad. In fact, I believe ignoring our emotions will take its toll at some point during our lives. It’s best to honor your emotion. Let the tears roll down your cheeks or have a safe temper tantrum on your bed. Tell a friend or family member how you are feeling. Then, find something you can do that feels good to you. I have a cleaning project I’d like to tackle (not the most fun but it will feel good to get it done).
We can do this. We can take it breath by breath, emotion by emotion. I hear Dory from Finding Nemo sweetly reminding us, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…” So that’s what we will do.
From certain angles the pandemic and its effects are just too much to deal with. It seems you have no choice but to succumb to the despair. That’s one view. What we know about humans is we have the ability to look at the exact same situation and see a variety of realities all occurring at the same time. With this ability comes choice and hope.
What can you do to get out of despair or protect yourself from falling down that slippery slope?
Enlist your ability to choose and have power over your circumstances:
You get to decide the view you want. You can look at the circumstances around you and see all the bad or you can look for the good. Maybe you have COVID-19, feel miserable and are quarantined. The good here is if you are reading this it tells me you have internet access and a device to stay connected to others. You likely have shelter, too. What else can you come up with that is positive?
Engage in activities that elicit joy or at the very least busy your mind so you don’t swirl in the negative. This can be simple like going outside and listening to the birds or more complex like cleaning out your closet. Finding a way to volunteer or help others can also do a lot to move you to sense of purpose which helps with feeling more peace within.
One of my favorite reads related to choice is Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. He found purpose and choice as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. If he mustered up the ability to choose in those dire circumstances, we can, too!
The stock marketing is taking a dive and COVID-19 is spreading. It’s easy to get caught in the panic. Panic has never made anything better. It doesn’t feel good internally, it doesn’t help us think clearly, and it doesn’t have the power to change anything. When you find your thoughts ruminating on one topic that sends you into anxiety, it’s important to take control.
There’s another approach when bad things are happening and that’s to ignore them completely. I like to think of this as sticking your head in the sand and pretending everything’s fine. You are completely disconnecting from reality and it’s not a healthy response either.
We have panic on one end and ignoring on the other. The best place to be is somewhere in the middle. You are aware of what’s happening but not owned by it. You prepare as you can without going overboard. Don’t spend all day watching the news or reading everything you can get your hands on. Check on things now and then, but spend most of your day doing what you used to do like work, study, be with friends and family, read something enjoyable, go for a walk, prepare and eat meals, clean, shower, sleep. In general, take care of yourself and don’t get swept up in the panic.
Have you heard the phrase “Running around like a chicken with its head cut off”? When I was young I had friends who lived on a farm. One time when I was there they butchered a chicken for dinner. They chopped its head off and it ran around for awhile without any direction what so ever. It’s a visual of panic. We’re running around in a frenzy but the rational part of our brain is not engaged. We are controlled purely by the emotional part.
Put your head back on. It’s really hard and sometimes impossible to do on your own when you reach full panic mode. It’s best not to let yourself get there. Start practicing now. When it comes to things that are not completely within your power to stop, find out what you can do that is healthy, legal and wise. Take time periodically throughout your day to breathe deeply a few times. With each exhale feel the tension in your muscles loosen. This will allow more oxygen to get to your brain so you can think more clearly and stay away from panic
Fill in the blank. What kind of Christmas or Holidays are you dreaming of? What kind is actually happening? For some the answer is exactly what you’re dreaming of. For others, it’s not at all what you’re dreaming of. I have been dreaming of a Christmas where Anna comes home to Colorado from North Carolina. I’m dreaming of smooth sailing, few challenges and a time of joyous reunion. I’m not so sure that’s going to happen. Anna is back in the hospital again. She has RSV and an area of fluid in her chest cavity that is infected. Surgery helped remove some of the fluid, and chest tubes will hopefully draw out the rest. Antibiotics and an antiviral are on board to battle the infection and RSV. This hospitalization is a setback…or perhaps it will help Anna really move forward. That fluid has been an issue since she got her transplant. Now that it is finally draining, maybe she’ll be able to fully heal. We don’t really know…we know what’s happening now which is she’s in the hospital and getting the care she needs.
Sometimes our dreams are exactly what we get, and sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes it’s up to us to make our dreams happen and sometimes there isn’t anything we can do. Being aware of the type of situation you are in and how you feel in the midst of it is critical to your emotional and physical health. Awareness and acknowledgement help you decide what you can do. Maybe there isn’t anything you can actually do to change your situation but you can always enlist self care and connection with others in the midst of it. Don’t know how to do that? One action you can take is to purchase my WORKBOOK or take my recently released VIDEO COURSE.
NOTE: The link for the video course will take you to a site called Teachable where I am hosting my courses. Currently I have two options available: A free mini course on Awareness and the full course. Try out the free Awareness course with no obligation from you…who doesn’t want something for free?!
The wee hours of October 8 marked the beginning of Anna’s eight hour surgery to replace her first set of gently used lungs with the precious lungs of another family’s lost loved one. For Anna, it was exciting and terrifying all mixed together. She is still in the ICU healing and getting better in different ways every day. It’s a bit of a roller coaster trying to balance the medications they are giving her for pain, keeping fluid off the lungs while also keeping her blood pressure stable. The bottom line is, she’s doing well. Anna told me last night that this transplant is way better than the last one. 🙂
My mental health tidbit for this post is, it’s so important to let our feelings have a healthy outlet. This is an emotionally and physically exhausting adventure for all concerned. The most challenging job is Anna’s. While on the ventilator she had to calm herself down so she wouldn’t be constantly fighting the breathing tube. She has hallucinations. She knows it. So she talks herself down from whatever the hallucinations might be telling her or simply reminds herself, “Yeah, this isn’t real. Random people are not hanging out in the corner of my room singing to me.” 😊
A few nights ago I noticed myself getting really snippy with my husband and he totally did not deserve it! The next morning I took time for myself doing yoga, spending sweet time with God, and soaking in a bit of peace and sun outside. I felt the rise of tears but they disappeared. I started texting a friend and the tears started to roll down my cheeks. Yay! I needed this. I cried and cried. My friend called me and I cried with her for a bit. It felt so good just to let all the built up emotions out. I had spent the last six days being strong, holding it together, staying positive. That’s an important part of this process: the ability to contain when necessary but also the ability to let the emotions out in a safe space. I felt teary most of the morning. It was hard to shut down the faucet but eventually it ran dry. By the afternoon I was feeling grounded and clear again. I don’t feel so exhausted either. A good cry goes a long way!
Waiting is becoming a very common theme in my posts. I wonder what you are waiting for? I think we are all waiting for something. Sometimes we’re waiting for big things, sometimes we’re waiting for small things. It can be hard to be patient in the waiting. We have options. We can be irritated, grouchy, miserable, intolerant, and so many other icky feeling emotions. Sometimes it feels good to go to the icky feeling place. Sometimes it doesn’t. We can also choose to find peace and contentment in waiting. I think of it as a release of control that I don’t have anyway. It’s an action that can be hard to do, to let go, but when I do I feel so much lighter and relaxed. I can take deeper breaths. I sleep better. I am much less irritable. It’s more enjoyable to be around me, too!
Anna is getting lots of practice waiting as she is still waiting for her gently used set of lungs. She must wait for just the right set, not any lungs will do. Her body is already on to this “lungs from another body” deal. So the new lungs will have to be very different from her current set. This will help trick her body into leaving the new lungs alone and not seeing them as a threat. Our immune systems are so awesome at fighting bad intruders but they don’t know the difference between bacteria that’s bad and life-saving lungs that came from another person’s body. So Anna waits. Her wait is worse than mine for so many reasons. I spent three weeks with her and then returned home. I’ll go back in a few weeks. But she must stay in North Carolina waiting every day for a call where she will hear, “Anna, we’ve got lungs for you!”