I was feeling depressed about putting my life on hold while helping my daughter as she recovers from her lung transplant. This chapter of the journey began almost a year ago. Since then I put my counseling practice on hold, taking very few new clients. I was feeling discouraged about stalling out my career…again. I did this in 2013 when Anna got her first transplant. Thoughts like, “Why me,” “I just can’t get a break,” “This isn’t fair,” started percolating up to the surface. Then a new thought emerged. A thought filled with lightness and acceptance. My life isn’t on hold. This is my life! I’m living it right now, right here. Living my life is what I’m doing every moment of every day no matter what I’m doing or where I’m doing it. I find peace in this realization. Instead of wishing I was doing something else, I’m finding contentment in what I’m doing right now. 🙂
Anna is slowly healing. She goes to Pulmonary Rehab Monday through Friday where she walks, bikes, lifts tiny weights, and stretches. Tuesdays are the exception because that’s the day she goes to the clinic to see various medical personnel and her counselor. Yesterday, while waiting for her during one of her appointments, I was reading Jesus Calling. It’s a daily encouragement…like God calling you to tell you just how much He loves you.
It started out, “This is a time of abundance in your life…you are now traipsing through lush meadows drenched in warm sunshine…” at about this point I literally sighed, scoffing at these words. Abundance?!? A Meadow?!? Uh, no, I’m sitting in a hallway-turned-waiting-room on a rain soaked, dreary Durham day. My daughter is struggling to recover from her lung transplant. This isn’t my home. I am not working because I am busy taking care of my daughter and without working in my counseling practice I don’t make money. Hello! Abundance??? I don’t think so.
It was a lovely rant. As I stopped to take a breath, I realized instantly that I had missed the point. All those things that are hard in my life right now are true. I am also deeply loved by God. I could stop here and that would be enough. But wait! There’s more! My daughter is being cared for by one of the top lung transplant teams in the country. We are warm and dry on this cold wet day. I have access to healthy food and clean water…I am living in abundance! Sometimes it just takes tilting my brain to see things from a new perspective.
After 25 days in the hospital for her double lung transplant, Anna was discharged! I don’t say, “Anna went home” because home is in CO and she can’t go home until she has fully recovered. She went to our apartment in Durham. It’s our cozy ‘home’ here. People in the Duke Lung Transplant Program refer to home as their Durham home and home-home as the place where they lived before coming here. People come from all over the world to receive a life saving lung transplant at Duke University Hospital. One of Anna’s transplant buddies is from Israel!
This journey, while a tremendous gift, has not been easy. Anna battles feeling discouraged. At 28, she wants to live a “normal” life. She wants to be like most 28 year olds: healthy, finding meaningful work, living on her own, dating, getting married, having children, enjoying time with friends…While she is grateful for this chance to live, at times it’s hard to keep her perspective on the good.
A reality for humans is having sorrow and celebration all mixed together as we travel through life. It’s healthy for us to allow ourselves to sit in the sad space at times. It’s part of grieving our losses. The things we don’t have in the moment are real and it’s important to acknowledge that. It is also important to remember the good. I find it helpful to keep the two in my mind at the same time rather than all one or the other. As I grieve a loss, I visualize the good, too. Neither one discounts the other, they are simply allowed to be in the same sphere of acknowledgement. It helps to bring balance to sorrow and celebration. 🙂
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!
Do you remember a time when you did not prepare adequately for something that resulted in a negative experience and then you spiraled into a pool of shame? I do! I’m an Adjunct Professor for Dr. John Townsend’s Masters in Counseling graduate school at Concordia University in Irvine CA. Recently, I was teaching a live class and couldn’t get a video I wanted to show to work. I did not prepare, I just assumed I would have no problem.
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.