Yeah, we’ve all had these moments. We pointed out to another person something that we considered useful or helpful. At other times we have been the recipients of someone’s wisdom. The most surprising moments though, were ones in which we had a sudden realization or a flash of insight and life once again clobbered us over the head with some knowledge it thought we sorely needed. In these cases, both the teacher and the student was ourself. We sat up quickly and our brains clicked into gear. We focused. We knew or understood something we hadn’t just a moment or two before, or maybe it was something we thought we understood, but then we saw that wasn’t the case at all. We were just going about our business, doing a very mundane task, fulfilling our job responsibilities, shopping, having a cup of tea, when the “epiphany” hit us.
When this has happened to me, it has thrown me off guard for a bit. This was especially true if my new-found awareness reminded me I was missing or ignoring something pretty obvious that I “should have known”. (Those shoulds always get us into trouble and erode our confidence and self-esteem, don’t they?)
Have you ever been struck by a situation or piece of information about which you thought you had a pretty good grasp and all of a sudden knew that you had not truly grasped whatever it was? Perhaps you saw that you had forgotten this thing and how it made others feel, because life may have been going too smoothly for you for a while. I guess that is what life lessons are about. They make us catch our breath, feel things more sharply and think of them differently. They remind us in a big way of how very human we are.
I have lived through a great deal of loss and have gone through periods of depression, as well as times of extreme, practically unbearable grief. If you live long enough, it’s unavoidable. An outside observer might not have considered me lucky in terms of many of the things I have endured, but I have taught myself how to be grateful for what is positive and good in life in spite of this not having been my orientation for a long while. Somehow I managed to pull myself out of the deepest, darkest pits. I had help with this at times and was always able to find a core of strength within myself that I used in order to boost myself up and travel to a new and more tolerable or happier place. I think most of us can do that in one way or another, but we just need the right support and for the universe to be lined up in a way that lets us get help and help ourselves.
I don’t mean that people who suffer from dreadful demons, who trudge through the muddy riverbeds of grief and/or serious clinical depression and just can’t seem to pull themselves out no matter what, are to blame. I would never, ever think that. I know that when you are paralyzed by fear, sadness, shame and anxiety, and are in the throes of pain and suffering, it is hard to feel anything but agony. I know this personally and professionally and have had more than my share of experience with the topic. I guess that’s why I feel so good when I get to help someone find a ray of light in what might feel like a hopeless situation. I truly like assisting people in reframing how they view things and in finding tools that are already present within themselves, but with which they have perhaps lost connection. Sometimes the toolbox is old and rusty and a new key needs to be made, or we have to find a practical way to pick the lock if necessary, to access what it takes to change things. I know for a fact that you can turn grief into growth and loss into lessons that lead us eventually to some light. I am a life coach, I have been coached and also have been in therapy at various times in my life, because I believe it is a useful and healthy thing to do. I believe people shouldn’t suffer alone. That’s why I also have always been a proponent of support groups. I believe in asking for help and in encouraging others to ask for help.
Nonetheless, I have still been taught some life lessons that took me by surprise. When I ran the adoption agency I co-founded, I derived my greatest satisfaction from working with people who had been through the mill, in trying to create their families. Sometimes after riding the roller coaster of infertility or even the horrendous loss of a child, clients endured some negative experiences with other agencies or adoption providers before coming to us. Though the “perfect” families were easier to work with, I usually enjoyed the challenging ones. The more complicated and sad their stories, the more committed I was to helping them, once they had met the prerequisites dictated by law. I was often disgusted by the obstacles erected by bureaucrats in different countries, including our own, when there were so many needy children and parents ready and willing to adopt them and eventually my disgust reached a level of my just not being able to tolerate the work, as rewarding as it once was to me. I felt the most rewarded when finding families for children with unique challenges in the form of disabilities and/or traumatizing histories. I digress here, just to give you a glimpse into what adoption work meant to me. My point is that I was pretty much perceived of (and perceived of myself) as someone with a great deal of compassion, empathy and understanding about the suffering my clients (parents and kids) had endured.
Then one day I was taught another lesson by life. I won’t detail it here, because it is highly personal, but suffice it to say that even though I had thought I was one of the more sensitive, caring adoption workers/agency directors I discovered myself in a situation that tested me and that increased my empathy a hundredfold. Very suddenly, the lens through which I viewed clients became much more clear and I think this helped me to do an even better job than I had previously done, once I had sorted out all of my feelings. At first, though, I was shocked with myself for feeling the things I was feeling, as well as surprised and dismayed that even with all of my experience in the field (and as an adoptive parent who had been through the process multiple times) I had not fully realized or felt emotionally what became known to me one fateful day.
What brings me to this topic today is that I recently had another similar eye-opener. Life decided I had lost true awareness of something again and needed to hit me over the head a bit to reverse my memory loss. Someone close to me has been undergoing some truly hard times.. The circumstances have deeply affected me and worried me. In my characteristic way, I sprang into action, seeking out resources, trying to understand. I don’t do this because I am a wonderful, selfless person, but I think it’s often because this is how I get through stress and how I cope with trials, though I also seem to be good at helping. However, when I was alone, I felt my anxiety begin to escalate and a lot of my own loss issues and fears began to recyle, as they tend to do with most of us. I wanted very much to help this individual dig down and find some tools to use to take even some small positive actions, but there I was letting my own imagination and fears carry me to unpleasant fantasy lands.
So last Saturday, I decided I needed a little time by myself and a little distancing. My first mistake was to pick a task and a place I do not normally enjoy. Instead of doing what I suggest to clients and finding a locale and activity that has worked in the past to relax me and to help me recharge my depleted batteries, I went to the mall to buy a need new pair of sneakers. I figured it would be a good idea not to sit alone thinking too much and to use the time getting some practical things done. It seemed like a simple task, but when I arrived at my destination, the noise, the hustle and bustle of people rushing about, the superficiality that hit me over the head, was just too much. Without warning, every bone began to ache with fatigue, my mind wandered, tears began flowing intermittently and I needed to get out of there fast. What had felt easy, practical and therapeutic in my head began to feel like a form of torture I had prescribed for myself.
The fact of the matter was that my worry and depression over the other person’s pain had taken hold of me in every respect. My “epiphany” was that when we are in the throes of depression or grief, we simply cannot do the normal things that we expect of ourselves and that others expect of us. We cannot just “buck up and be strong”, no matter how much we want to. It has nothing to do with the strength of our wills or our characters. Sure, I knew that, but I had not felt it on a personal level for some time, so I guess I conveniently “forgot”. I beat a hasty retreat, got myself home and took a nap. When I awakened, I started to think about all we try to do to help people who are going through personal difficulties and I realized with renewed clarity that the most important things actions we can take when someone is depressed, seriously ill, or grieving are to let go of “shoulds”, to be present, to listen, to care and to do some simple, practical things without waiting to be asked. I felt the impact of the message I always do my best to convey to others, which is to take care of ourselves too, when we are under stress. Again, my intellect and instincts knew this, but I very nicely ignored it and set myself up for a fall.
So this past week I made sure to fill my own prescription and to do things that reduced my own stress. The worry was/is still there as big problems are not solved overnight, but in small increments, with help, determination and, in my opinion, prayer. My consciousness, though, of how to just be there for others, and how to do better at taking care of myself has been greatly heightened. I let go of some tasks I did not feel were imperative, and even a few that I might normally think are. I pushed back or canceled some appointments and spent time just resting, reading and writing, as well as cooking, which I often find therapeutic.
My head aches a little from being clobbered again. I will recover, as will you, when life rushes in for a session of show and tell, sometimes welcomed and sometimes not.
P.S. A person I admire who has learned many life lessons and has taught me some, my friend Ruth Deming had her kidney transplant on Friday, in Philadelphia. I hear from her son that she and her donor, her daughter, Sarah, are doing very well. (I blogged about her here and you can look for my tribute to her-http://coachirisblogs.com/2010/11/23/thinking-learning-laughing-crying-reflections-continued/). If you get a chance, do check out her blog, Belle of Cowbelle, The BiPolar Therapist at http://ruthzdeming.blogspot.com/- Ruth Deming’s thoughts, poems, recipes, and links. As soon as she feels up to it she will be blogging about her surgical experience right from her hospital bed. Ruth wrote an article about her situation and the journey of her daughter’s kidney, named Odysseus. You can read about it on her blog and also her article that can be located at http://uppermoreland.patch.com/articles/part-i-april-first-i-get-a-new-kidney-no-foolin#photo-5427414. Please send your positive energy to her for a quick recuperation and a bright and healthy future, and to her daughter, Sarah. Thanks!