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!
After class I started beating myself up for not having taken the time to prepare the video for class. I went into an accurate yet harsh spiral that moved into an inaccurate and harsh spiral. I could feel all of this icky energy in my stomach and hearing the message, “You should not be a professor! You are not good enough for this task!” I felt the all too familiar pull toward a shame spiral over it.
Eventually I also employed skills to battle the spiral. I reminded myself that I was using a harsh voice. The truth is I wasn’t prepared and it took away from valuable class time. The harshness came from a meanness toward myself which then shifted to inaccurate shaming statements that I shouldn’t be teaching and that I’m not good enough. I made a mistake, yes, but that is not a definition of who I am.
I didn’t magically feel better after battling the shameful harsh judge inside of me, but I did stop the powerful avalanche of all the ways I fail from dislodging and suffocating me. The next day, I shared this experience with my husband and later a trusted group of women (we had scheduled this gathering weeks before-I’m so grateful for God’s perfect timing!). It felt good to speak it aloud and also hear their encouragement. We all need it!
This reminds me of the power of Dr. Townsend’s book, People Fuel. We need others to hear our hurts and help us activate our healthy coping skills. Our healing journey is just that, an ongoing journey. For me to ignore or dismiss the disappointment I felt would only set me up for further damage and deny my actual experience. That denial would lead to stuffing my authentic experience and pretending I was fine. This pretending leads to disconnection with others because I then project the “I’m perfect” facade and no one can relate to that. The disconnection with others leads to unhealthy behaviors like quitting things I love after making a mistake (I have a history of doing this!). Instead, I embrace my reality because it gives me an opportunity to choose community over isolation, healthy over unhealthy, and growth over stagnation. This embracing also reminds me that perfection is unachievable and never what God intended. 🙂
Limbo. Fun, when it’s a game, not fun when it’s where you’re at in life. Most of us are working toward something the majority of our lives. We go to school so we can get a job, hopefully doing something we like. We work at our job so we can enjoy the present and save for the future. We get to retirement years so we can do all the things we didn’t do while we were busy working. We think we are only in limbo now and then when we’re waiting for something like a baby to arrive or the healing of an injury. I think, the time between our birth and our death is a limbo of sorts. We don’t really know anything about what’s ahead. I don’t mean to convey we shouldn’t be working toward goals. I do think it can be helpful in some instances to stop looking for what’s next, allow ourselves to be in the moment we are actually in, and not put too much emphasis on what lies ahead.
In Living in the Moment, I talked about making decisions with the information you have at the time. Here we are nearly six months later and Anna is wishing she had stayed in Phoenix. Her treatments stabilized her lung functions and she is hovering at 30% lung capacity. Not bad enough for a lung transplant, not good enough to have much energy, especially at 5200 feet in Colorado. She wishes she knew this is how things would be for her. If she did, she would have kept her apartment and only taken a medical leave. Instead she is sitting in Colorado waiting…waiting for her lungs to fail further so she can move to North Carolina and start the process for getting listed for new lungs.
The best we can do for ourselves when we have the view of the past from the present is give grace for the decision we made. Anna’s decision seemed the best at the time given the limited knowledge she had.
That was my theme of learning for 2018. As I look back over the year, that concept popped up repeatedly and in completely different arenas. I can’t say I was always successful at detaching from how things turned out, but I made progress.
Detaching from the outcome does not mean I emotionally detach from my life or shut down from feeling what I am experiencing. It does not mean I don’t care if what I do is any good. I do care about what I am doing and how well I am doing it. I put effort into my work. I just don’t stress out about the results.
This is a fine line to walk, being conscientious but not concerned. It’s easy to slip onto one side or the other, careless or anxious. When I am fully in the detached place, I feel freedom from the pressures of other’s expectations, even my own perfectionism (which is unattainable). In that freedom, I have more energy and creativity.
I am curious about two things. 1) As you look back over 2018, what themes of learning rise for you? 2) How are you doing with detaching from the outcome?
What to do about those unwanted thoughts or emotions? It’s crucial that you first understand what you are feeling or thinking. After naming it, find connections to help you understand why you are thinking or feeling what you are. Here’s an example: if you are feeling fear, what is the fear reacting to? Perhaps you just heard about impending layoffs at work and you’re not sure if you’re going to lose your job? It makes sense to feel fear when you don’t know what’s going to happen.
Now that you know what it is and why it’s there, you can work to change it. How will you benefit by continuing to feel the fear? Perhaps it will help you do your job well. Maybe it will help you update or start your resume, to begin thinking about the possibility of a job change for yourself. Think of channeling that fear energy into doing the things you can to prepare yourself, just in case.
Next, focus on the thoughts that led to fear. It’s likely something along the lines of, “and I’m going to lose my job.” What do you know is true and real beyond a shadow of doubt? Perhaps you received a memo from HR that announced upcoming layoffs. All you know is you received that memo. That’s it. You know nothing more so don’t add to the story: “Oh my gosh! I’m going to be laid off, I’m not going to be able to find another job and I’ll be living under a bridge.” You don’t know that won’t ever happen, but you also don’t know it will. You don’t have any data to support this. Have people lost jobs and ended up homeless? Yes. Do you know beyond a shadow of a doubt it will happen to you? No.
When you put your thoughts through this test, it helps to minimize the emotion that is connected to the thought. Now you can free up some mental and physical space to work on your resume, just in case. It’s ok to prepare for the worst while acknowledging you don’t really know what will happen.
You will likely need to go through the process again and again of asking what is true and real about your thoughts on this very same issue. I like to say, “rinse and repeat” because our thoughts have a way of going back to square one. Just recognize what you are thinking and feeling, and repeat the process.