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Posts Tagged ‘Relationships’

Give a Caregiver a Hug

Monday, April 14th, 2014

Adult caregiving hijacks your life. None of us agree to do it because it sounds like fun. But when a loved one needs it, we step up.  Ongoing, it’s a daunting job; at times, it’s downright harrowing.  Once you are in the middle of it, reality warps.

An article published by the American Medical Association reported, “One of society’s greatest assets is the many family members who provide care to ill or disabled relatives.”  One study estimated there were over 15 million American adults serving as unpaid caregivers—in 1998.  And yet, the needs of those doing it remain unnoticed.

Last week in a single four-hour stretch, I spoke with three different women friends, each up to their ears in challenges related to caregiving for aging loved ones.  Each had taken on the caregiving role in addition to the ample responsibilities they still held as professionals.

The first was weathering a major health scare with the man in her life. She had taken him in when he got sick and then became his advocate through all the tests and procedures.  She was struggling to find the right boundaries in what she did for him.

The second needed to find a way to convince her parents to let the housekeepers, who were provided as part of their assisted living rent, into the apartment to clean.  Her folks said there was no need.  But she could smell their unit when she got off the elevator.  She’d been cleaning every time she visited and worrying in the interim that they might get evicted.

The third has been spending her own money for a caregiver for her husband, so she can continue to work as a college professor.  He has a non-Alzheimer’s version of dementia.  She has power of attorney and pays his bills.   His funds could easily cover the cost of the caregiver, but she thought she had to pay for it herself because he would have refused to let her spend money for that if he could still think.  Reality tilts in odd ways when you’ve been a caregiver for long enough.

It’s easy to think it would be different if you had to do it.  That you would draw clear boundaries and insist things be done your way.  But that’s the cruelest part of the caregiver role.  When it gets intense, you don’t realize the boundaries are out of whack or that what you’re doing doesn’t make good sense in the broader scheme.

It’s a lot like the classic experiment with frogs.  They did a study where researchers put a frog in hot water.  It jumped out to safety immediately.  But if the water was cool when the frog was put in and was heated gradually, the frog kept swimming until the water was so hot the frog died.

We do the frog-in-slowly-warmed-water thing as caregivers.  As the disease progresses beyond what we can really handle, we just keep going.  Our own lives evaporate.  We think we are doing fine when we’re not.

Three years ago, I became caregiver to my boyfriend when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  Every day there was a new problem, and always one with which I had zero experience.  With each new side effect, I had to figure out something new that was needed to keep him safe and, hopefully, comfortable.  The volume of work was massive, and the possibility I might hurt him by not doing the right thing was terrifying.  Yet when friends asked me how I was doing, I’d say “Fine.”  I wasn’t being a stoic angel of mercy.  I was too worn out emotionally to find more honest words.

In an ideal world, unpaid caregivers would have mandatory breaks.  No one’s going to legislate that.  So it’s up to the rest of us to make a difference.  If you know someone who’s caregiving, do what you can to provide support.  A hug is a good start.  But then offer to do something specific.

I am all too guilty of saying “Call if you need anything” and leaving it at that.  For a long-term caregiver, there’s not enough mental juice available to convert those words to something useful.  “Would you like me to clean the kitchen?”  Or “Why don’t I sit with Aunt Irma for the afternoon so you can get away?” works better.

Caregiving is hard duty.  If we all remember this and offer support in all the ways we can, we can keep each other from ending up in need of care ourselves because we carried too big a load alone.

This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of Barbara Morris’s online newsletter Put Old on Hold.
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Mary Lloyd is a speaker and writer and author of Supercharged Retirement:  Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love.  For more, see her website.

Bless the Caregivers

Friday, September 6th, 2013

The next time you’re stuck in traffic, say a little prayer for caregivers.  You probably know some personally, but even if you don’t, every one of them needs all the help they can get.  Caregiving is an impossible role.

When children are first born, taking care of them is pretty daunting.  You don’t know what they need–or want.  You don’t know how to do whatever it is that they are wailing for.  You are sleep deprived and shackled to someone else’s needs all day every day.

This is what it’s like to be a caregiver.  Except babies grow up.  When you are caring for someone as they advance into feebleness, usually because of some physical condition, you don’t have a timeline that reassures you things are going to get better.  To the contrary, in typical caregiving situations, things are growing progressively worse.

Babies will cuddle and coo to make you feel all the strain is worthwhile.  That’s not what happens with end-of-life caregiving.  Often, instead of gratitude, a caregiver gets sworn at and cursed out because of the nature of the decline.

Even in the simpler cases, where someone you love has a grave illness and you’ve stepped in to help on a temporary basis, you have no idea how long it’s going to take for that person to get well enough to take care of themselves.  And while you are doing that noble work, your own life is quite literally hijacked.  Plans you made get turned on end.  Projects you had planned to work on gather cobwebs and dust.  You cook what the patient needs not what keeps you healthy.  Even going out for a walk is not feasible.

Instead your focus becomes someone else’s needs.  And that someone, who used to care for you in many cases, is so far into the difficulty that they don’t even know what they are asking of you.  Often, a loved one does this work without relief.  It seems so trivial, this loss of identity–at least if you’re not the one experiencing.  But being sucked into someone else’s illness and decline drains your own energy and joy in life with alarming speed.

Right now I can name five friends currently caught in this kind of caregiving.  Two have husbands with Lewy Body Dementia (a form of decline that puts Alzheimers to shame in terms of the amount of “on call” attention the person demands).  One has a husband with a mystery malady that’s caused him to lose 75 pounds–and this man was not overweight to begin with.  One is caring for her mother as she deals with terminal cancer–and the mother/daughter bond has not been that loving one we all wish we had.  And one is dealing with a stroke-incapacitated alcoholic husband who could just as easily start the house on fire as take a nap.

This kind of caregiving takes an incredible toll.  You don’t know what’s going to happen next but whatever it is will not be fun.  Every new turn in the patient’s health creates a new sense of being inadequate.  So often you have no idea what to do–but you know you have to do something.

You end up on a first name basis with nurses and pharmacists, social workers, and therapists of all sorts.  You’ve memorized what is and isn’t covered under current health care arrangements.  And still you are caught by surprise.  Again.  And again.  And just when you think you are done for the day and are starting to unwind from the tightness of what’s being expected of you, all hell breaks lose and you’re in the emergency room until three in the morning.

Caregiving is hero’s work.  They need more support than they get from the community.  A lot more.  So at a minimum,  if you a lucky enough to be out and about all by yourself, doing what you want and having a lovely day, say a prayer for the caregivers.  Even if you are having a crappy day and are trying to please the boss from hell, put in a good word for those doing the caregiving work.  There is none harder.

They give so much and no one even notices.

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Mary Lloyd is a speaker and consultant and author of Supercharged Retirement:  Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love.  For more see her website.

Living a Hijacked Life

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Unless you are a complete loner, at some point, your life is going to be hijacked. It may come gradually, like when you learn you are going to be a parent. It may come with great celebration, like when your daughter gets engaged and you become enmeshed in wedding planning. It may come suddenly, like when someone you love has a medical emergency.

I am submerged in the third of the above-mentioned scenarios.  My boyfriend fell playing tennis last week and broke his wrist in “several” places.  He will have surgery later this week, after which he will be in a cast for three months, maybe more.  For the foreseeable future, he will need me to drive him to his appointments, tie his shoes, and yes, cut his meat.

And that means, of course, that the things I was going to do in my own life are going to get at least postponed and more often erased.  It also means that when his needs veer in an unanticipated direction, what  I’ve committed to for myself gets cancelled on short notice.  I’ve been down this road with this man before. It really does feel like a hijacking.

I was raised in a family that values helping.  I do like to make a positive difference in others’ lives.  But I will not pretend I’m delighted with this turn of events.  I’ve been riding shotgun on his cancer detour for the last two years.  Before that, there were other situations where he needed my help  because of health challenges.  Just how often am I supposed to let this guy’s problems take over my life?  Am I enabling a “drama queen” with all this helping?

He was not looking for this kind of attention when I met him, I am certain of that.  He still does all he can on his own and tries to help with chores even with one arm wrapped in fiberglass.  So no, I don’t think this is a situation that demands the tough love of walking away.  It’s life–at it’s most maddening.  My life.  And his life.  Intertwined as they should be when you are blessed to have in your life people you care about and spend a lot of time with.

When things happen to me more than once, I see them as lessons I didn’t learn well the first time.  This is one of those situations.  Maybe you can learn from me.  So what’s to learn (and do/no do) when your life gets hijacked?

  • Forego the martyr routine.  It’s highly over-rated.  Sure, you can’t do what you had wanted to do with your time.  But you still need to take care of yourself along with meeting the other person’s needs.  If you literally have no time to lavish on yourself, you can still maintain your posture and make an effort to breath deeply.  Maybe a 5-minute meditation or a 20-minute nap is feasible.  I do laps around the hospital when I end up waiting there.  Find the things you can do for yourself and do them.  You are the only person who can totally deny yourself what you need.  Don’t.
  • Expect whoever has stolen your life to do as much as he/she can for themselves. That gives them as much dignity and sense of worth as possible and you a breather.  It’s tempting to scurry around trying to make everything right for that person, but that doesn’t serve either of you as well.  Even with children, this is the case.  A newborn is helpless and pretty demanding.  But babies who have alone time (in an infant-safe place, of course) learn faster than those whose parents haul them around and entertain them every waking minute.
  • Find the balance points.  If you are doing all the giving in this context, look for receiving in other contexts.  Maybe you get to watch the TV show you want together instead of letting him have his preference.  Maybe what you have for dinner is your preference instead of his (or hers).  This feels “wrong” because so much of the focus is on the “sick person” but trying to balance things where you can does a lot to forestall resentment and burnout.

When a loved one hijacks your life, respect your own feelings about that.  Yes, you want to give the care that’s needed.  No, it’s not automatically what you want to do at a specific moment.  When it isn’t, feeling frustrated or just plain angry is normal.  Find safe ways to channel that away.  (I yell in the shower and also find moving dirt in the garden helps.)

And see it for the gift it is. Yes, your life has been hijacked.  That means someone trusts you enough to ask your help.  You are a good person.  But please, be good to yourself, too.

 

A Proper Hello

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

You can learn the most amazing things from the littlest people. Last week, my one-year-old granddaughter taught me a huge lesson about saying “Hello.” She knows how to do it right. Me? Well, let’s just say I’ve gotten a bit too complacent.

When someone Cora loves comes to where she already is, her excitement at seeing him or her is expressed with her whole body.  A huge smile spreads across her face–ear to ear, no kidding.  She throws her arms open in welcome and starts forward, a miniature version of an Italian grandma.  (She has not one drop of Italian in her.)  Then comes the best part.  She does this delighted little happy dance where she hops from foot to foot in rapid succession before she comes running toward you.

That welcome still has me smiling a week later.  In fact it impressed me enough to decide I want to do a better job of saying “Hello” to those I love myself.   The first test of that commitment came yesterday.  I wasn’t expecting myself to pull off the happy dance but I wanted to at least offer  a warm, sincere acknowledgement of my joy at seeing someone I care about.

The friend I was going to visit was one I hadn’t seen in more than a year.  She’s helped me through a very rough patch and is, truly, a dear friend.  But despite my desire to be obviously joyful when we first met, things didn’t quite work out that way.  She was taking the dog out when I got there.  You can’t interfere with a dog’s business.  And then her husband appeared from the backyard, and we got lost in conversation quickly.  So much for the delighted hello–happy dance or not.

It was wonderful to see her again and great that we had the chance to get together.  But why didn’t I greet her with open arms and obvious joy?  Was I on autopilot?  Was I too timid?  Or was the whole idea really out in left field?

Maybe it was none of those things.  I wanted to make sure my friend knew I appreciated the chance to spend time with her. That happened.  We talked about many things and enjoyed catching up with each other’s lives.  Did we both miss out by me not doing that little happy dance?  Probably not.  But I still wish my exuberance had been a little more obvious.

Ironically, since we are both grandmas, I ended up telling her about Cora’s full throttle hello.  And she asked why she hadn’t gotten that.  I didn’t (and don’t) have a good answer.  It would have been fun for me. But it’s Cora’s way to say hello.  I’m not sure I can make it mine.

Maybe it’s not Cora’s hello that I need to master here.  What I want to do better at is acknowledging the presence of a special person when we first reconnect.  That can be my kids. Or grandkids.  Or siblings. It could be friends, neighbors, or long lost cousins.

More often though, it’s my significant other.   And sometimes, when we return to each other’s company, even the basic word “Hello” gets lost in hauling in groceries or making sure the garage door closed properly.

Life would be sweeter if I remembered a happy “Hello!” though.  If I want to be happy, I need to acknowledge the things that make me happy–like returning to the presence of someone I love.  Then again, maybe I need to come up with my own dance.

 

To Plan or Not to Plan?

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

At the moment I am on the road–with a guy who prides himself on not planning. I am a planner. A very good planner.  When I take charge of something, it gets done–right, on time, under budget…all that.

So far, I have not gone into catatonic shock in this effort to not plan, but I am starting to ask myself some important questions. As in “How much of this trip should I really be doing his way?  Am I denying who I am in an effort to “get along?”  And the really scary one–“What do I gain by not getting it my way when I don’t?”

Maybe they are questions we all need to ask ourselves every once in a while.

I decided to try “his way” on this trip just to see if I could learn to be more relaxed about how I travel.  But this version is a whole lot less relaxing for me.  It’s the same issue we have with laundry.  He thinks it’s easier to do it when he runs out of clean clothes.  I do mine so that I always have clean clothes–which makes life simpler for me.  I don’t discover I need a certain pair of jeans washed twenty minutes before I want to put them on.

On a trip, when he doesn’t plan and I don’t plan, we end up checking into a dumpy motel at the end of the day exhausted by what we ended up having to do to get that far.   We pay way too much for the lousy lodging.  We miss things along the way that we might have liked to see because we didn’t know they were there.  We didn’t tag up with friends and family living nearby because we didn’t bring their contact information along.  But we do have total flexibility and plenty of room for spontaneity.  So it really is a matter of trade offs.

So I guess that’s what I’ve learned this time:  This “not planning” is harder, more expensive, and seems to me to net us less interesting days.  I’m not in favor of planning every second in advance–or even every day.  But thinking more about what might be part of where we are going and checking information about what that would add/subtract just makes for a more refined product–vacation.  But that’s me.  He’s just in favor of hitting the open road and seeing what happens.

So why are we doing it all his way?

Well…I said I would this time, and that’s a biggie for me.  I agreed to do this trip with minimal planning.  But there’s more.  I have spent two weeks making my own life more stressed for the sake of him having everything the way he likes it–every day.  What’s with that?  Why am I not admitting what I need and asking for it?

It is with horror that I have to admit that I am still running the old tapes…You know, the ones about the high priority of pleasing your man.  Argh!!!!!  That is not what I want to do.

Stress as a Duet–an Important Insight

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

All of us get stressed–just not the same way or at the same things. The way we react to that stress is unique to each of us as well.  But when I read about one key aspect of all these differences, an insight formed that has helped reduce the anxiety my sweetheart and I were feeling about a particularly stressful situation considerably.

Much as I mention this in the context of a primary relationship, being aware of this difference can help you get through tough situations with kids, coworkers, parents, or friends–anyone with whom you’re trying to get something difficult done.

The key distinction?  Whether we over-rev or pull back when things get tense.

Brene’ Brown marked this difference in her 2010 book The Gifts of Imperfection.  The book is about other things. (Its subtitle is  Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are).  However, she includes the observation that there are two ways to deal with stress in terms of taking action:  Some of us kick it into an extra gear, working to get far more done than is reasonable.  Some of us pull back and attempt far less because of the emotional onslaught.

Let’s make something clear here.  Neither way is better.  They are just both ways people deal with a situation that feels out of control.

The situation that my sweetheart and I found ourselves in was a practical one.  We weren’t worrying about the deep issues of coupledom.  We were (are) trying to get a house ready to put it up for sale.  Anyone who’s sold real estate knows this process is a bit like a negative version of the parable of The Loaves and the Fishes.  For every task you get done, two more pop up that must be done to make the place look presentable.

I usually “rise” to such occasions by revving at a faster and faster rate to get it all done.  I don’t do other things that also need attention.  I short myself on sleep.  I drive myself past the point of physical exhaustion.

My guy goes in the other direction.  He pulls back–to regroup or just plain rest.  He takes longer breaks, has long talks with the neighbors, and runs trivial errands.  Until I realized this is part of our differences in coping style, it was the source of a substantial amount of frustration.  I was in the the fast lane, moving toward outright resentment at well above the legal speed limit.  Why was I working so hard if he was going to take a break and watch TV?  Especially since it was his house we were getting ready for the market!

I was working that hard because that’s how I have always dealt with this kind of stress.  He was watching TV because that was how he deals with this kind of stress.  Let me reiterate.  Neither way is better.  They are just very different.

Knowing that, we were able to begin talking about what each of us was doing–and able to laugh a bit about how odd it must look to each other.  From there we could start to move toward a more common approach–mostly because a lot of the stress went away once we saw how much each other’s coping style was affecting the process.

Is this difference entering into something you’re trying to get done?  (I now realize one of my kids is like this as well–and over the years we butted heads more than a few times because of it.)  The best way to deal with stress is to get rid of it.  And sometimes, just recognizing that the person you’re in it with is not like you in how they are dealing with it is a great start.

 

Thanks for Making Me Laugh

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Some people just leave you feeling a lot better about how your day is going. They are usually not the ones urging you to stay the course when everything is going up in flames or down in smoke.  The folks who do the most good are light-hearted.  They are the people who make you laugh.

Certain people  can do this no matter what you talk to them about.  When I was managing natural gas distribution for a bunch of small towns in Iowa, I worked with a corporate Public Relations person who had this talent.  For those three years of my life, it seemed like some major thing went wrong at least once a week—and usually on Friday at 5:00 PM.  But even when we were working on how to handle things like grand larceny and onsite protests, this woman would manage to say something that made me laugh. I’ve had my radar tuned for these kind of people ever since.

The kind of friend I just described is priceless, no doubt.  But there are other ways people help you laugh.  The people who are willing to do silly or outrageous things with you are a blessing, too.  My siblings do this for me.  One brother and I spent months on The Nun-of-the-Month Club—a complicated practical joke that provided on-going “laughter therapy” that whole time.

Being silly can diffuse something potentially infuriating.  After a 20-year marriage that involved losing the argument about having a “real Christmas tree” every year ended, I was keen to honor my own preferences. But my kids were not available to celebrate Christmas until January 8 that year.  Even in the Pacific Northwest, trying to keep a real tree fire-safe that long seemed impossible.  I definitely didn’t want an artificial tree yet again.  The whole thing seemed unreasonable to me.

I was so close to exploding about it that I didn’t do anything at all—until a few days before Christmas.  Then I asked my brothers, who were both coming to dinner on Dec. 25, to help me build a tree out of odds and ends.  Bless them, they took my silliness seriously and brought supplies and ideas to add to what I’d come up with for the project.

And thus started one of my best Christmas memories ever.  My sister-in-law said we sounded like a bunch of little kids.  After the design and structural support phases were done–where we acted like intelligent adults, we attacked the challenge with the exuberance of five-year-olds.  We even put a name on the thing, using leftover mailbox letters that had been hiding in my garage. We had such a good time with the whole effort we almost forgot about Christmas dinner.

Sometimes, the angels who make you laugh are very young.  The first time I babysat my first granddaughter overnight, both her parents and I were a bit concerned about how it would go.  As my “secret weapon,” I’d brought along a bin of silly stuff (mostly hats) that I started collecting after reading Martha Beck’s The Joy Diet.  My pint-sized charge very carefully put sixteen strings of Mardi Gras beads around her neck and then donned a plastic Viking helmet from the bin.

Not only did our little Mardi Gras Viking Princess make me double over with laughter, the photo I texted to her anxious parents helped Mom and Dad relax and enjoy their getaway.  Sometimes it’s what a child says. Sometimes, it’s what she does.  Sometimes, it’s what  you do together,  But so often they are the perfect tonic for an otherwise hard day.

Yes, we are blessed when there are people in our lives who make us laugh.  But it’s about more than just having a special friend or a happy child that can get you guffawing.  It’s not just a case of having someone who helps you laugh.  We’d all be a lot better off if we could help others laugh, too.  It’s a great form of giving.

At one point in my life, I decided I needed to study humor.  I got a lot of books on it and started working through them methodically.  That proved absolutely lethal–I killed the very essence of “funny” by approaching it so rationally.  So let’s not get too serious about this.  Humor is delicate, highly situational, and personal.  Just stop fretting about everything and say—or do–what seems funny to you.  With that strategy, you can even make yourself laugh.

I did confirm one really important universal truth about this funny business at a writers’ conference a while back.  Jonathan Winters, one of the wackiest guys on TV at one point, was a surprise guest speaker at the humor workshop one day.  His advice:  Laugh with people not at them.  Laughing with people says “We’re in this together and we can handle it.”  Laughing at people says “I’m better than you—or him.”  That’s not humor; it’s meanness.

So that’s your homework for this week.  Laugh.  Then make someone else laugh.

 

Being Perfect Is a Bad Idea

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Perfect is for amateurs. Happy people don’t worry about perfection–in themselves, in those they love, in what they experience, in what they acquire. I have spent way too much of my life being this kind of beginner though.  And you probably are doing more of it than you realize.

The expectation that things have to be perfect before we can just enjoy them has deep roots in the way a lot of us were raised.  It may have started as an overly critical parent, but more likely, it came from people who clearly telegraphed that they were on your side–and just trying to help you become the best person you could be.  It’s important to strive for improvement.  That’s an essential piece of living a good life.  But using feedback to do even better than what you did the last time is different than deciding you’re inadequate because what you did the first time wasn’t 100% perfect.

A lot of what we learn growing up becomes outdated or was just plain wrong to begin with.  Our ideas about being perfect are in that category.  My entire family (of nine) considered Mom the font of all knowledge when it came to facts.  We would bring the interesting rocks we found in the wild places to her for identification.  In particular, I relied on her for the names of flowers or weeds. All I needed was to remember what she’d said, and I’d be right.

Not really.  I’ve had the chance to dig into gardening on my own for decades now and one of the most important lessons I’ve learned was “Mom was not always right.”

I wish I’d learned that before she died though.  Our mutual dance of expecting ourselves–and each other–to be perfect ruined a lot of good times we could have had together.  Instead of savoring the strong women we were, we kept poking at our own and each other’s imperfections.  This particular dance didn’t even involve a lot of words about the situation.  The expectation of perfection was a given.

Being perfect is a bad trip.  It’s like flying to Hawaii and then sitting in the closet of the condo the whole time you’re there, dwelling on how dark it is.  Expecting other people to be perfect is not good for them, to be sure, but it’s even harder on your own good time.  Yes, sometimes a person uses the argument “I can never do anything right in your eyes” to mask controlling behavior of his/her own that sabotages a relationship.  But if you are expecting perfection from that person (and most likely yourself in the bargain), there’s some painful truth in the lament.

Seeking perfection ruins your enjoyment of what’s already there.  Expecting it in others sends a message that they are not good enough unless they improve.  Every time you find them less than what you think they should be, the chance to enjoy each other’s company erodes.  That’s a highway to loneliness over the long haul.

When you do it with your kids, you set them up for the same dissatisfied life.  If you insist that every detail of what they’ve done be perfect, you teach them that as adults, they must take that same “high road.”  And thus, this most negative of all behaviors gets passed on, often with few words and even less scrutiny.

Perfection is not possible.  Many of us can accept this truth rationally.  Some of us embrace it spiritually.  But a lot of us add, “but I’m going to doing everything I can to be perfect anyway.”  That caveat sets everything you experience up as “not good enough.”  Because you’ve decided you’ve been specially annointed to be perfect, you must always get it all right and everyone you interact must be perfect as well.

You’re telling yourself you don’t do that, right?  You may want to take a deeper look.  Most of the judgements we pass are attempts to make our own world perfect.  When you take issue with what someone said, did you do it because the comment was really that unbearable?  Or did you decide that the person “should” be treating you in a more perfect way?

None of us are going to get it all right.  And we certainly aren’t going to get it all right all the time.  Letting go of that expectation can be a massive stress reducer.  It is also one of the best ways you’ll find to get closer to those you love emotionally.

There will be differences that still need to be addressed.  That’s part of living with imperfection.  But your decision about whether to ask for a change in someone else or not needs to be based on whether the current situation is good enough, not on whether it’s “perfect.”

 

 

The Value of Surrender

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Surrender is not the disaster we’ve been taught it is. Yes, sometimes surrender means you are giving up on an important dream.  But more often, it means you are giving up on a specific strategy. And almost as often, you are giving up on a massive amount of work that wasn’t getting you anywhere close to what you really needed.

This time of year is ripe for reasons to surrender.  In a couple weeks for those of us in the United States, the polls will close, the votes will be counted, and we will know who’s going to lead what for the next term at various levels of government.  Perhaps your candidate or cause will prevail.  Perhaps not.  Either way, there’s a form of surrender involved.

For those active in trying to make something political happen, the case is closed–at least for the time being.  Both winners and losers need to switch gears–either from proving that you’re “better than the other” to making what you have in mind work within the reality of a diverse population or to accepting that what you wanted was not what the majority wanted.

But it’s not just politics that requires surrender at this time of year.  Unless you live somewhere warm, sunny, and pretty consistent with its weather patterns, this is probably the time to surrender to the negatives of what’s coming with the change of seasons.  If you’re north of the Equator, that may mean surrendering to your inner hibernating bear.  If you are somewhere that’s moving toward a hotter time of year, it may be your lethargic lizard self that needs to be accepted.

Surrender is an important skill for mental health.  As humans, we like to believe that we can control whatever we decide needs to be controlled.  When that doesn’t happen on something you personally value, it’s tempting to assume that you just need to try harder–kind of like talking louder to someone who doesn’t speak the language you prefer to speak.  Sometimes trying harder really is the answer.

But sometimes, letting go of what you were trying to make happen is the wiser route.  It may be a temporary withdrawal, while you let new ideas come into your consciousness.  It may be reliquishing that outcome permanently.  When you first decide to let go, you won’t know.  What you do need to know is that what you’ve been doing isn’t working and that doing more of the same will net the same result.

This might be a hard pill to swallow if your ego is wound up in what you want to have happen.  (Helpful hint: tell you ego to go take a nap before you make the decision.)

Surrender is a bit like declaring emotional bankruptcy on a single dimension.  You accept you don’t have what it takes to make that thing happen.  “What it takes” may have always been well beyond what you could muster up yourself.  But whether it is or isn’t, you need to just say “I can’t make this happen.”

With that, the emotional slate for that aspect of your life is wiped clean.  That effort no longer consumes the energy you have asvailable to put toward all your hopes and dreams.  You get to start over and focus on more promising things without that burden draining your emotional bank account.

Surrender can mean any number of things–accepting a personal relationship is not going to be what you want it to be.  Or making peace with the idea that that the candidate you worked so hard to get elected is not going to gain office.  It can mean letting go of your frantic cry of “No, I want summer to last forever.”

Surrender, simply put, is accepting that you don’t have the control you thought you did.  That you can’t create the world that’s perfect for you simply by working as hard as you can.

That sounds awful, doesn’t it?!  But the beauty of surrender lies in what comes after you accept that you can’t make what you wanted happen.  That acceptance sets the stage for other possibilities.  And those quite often hold far more beneficial outcomes than the one you were hellbent on making happen.

There’s a whole lot more good stuff out there than what we can envision–especially if we are focused on having it be one certain thing.  Surrender gives that stuff room to come into your life.

 

Autumn — A Lesson in Losing Control

Friday, October 19th, 2012

Life works better when you’re willing to lose control every once in a while. Not as in getting angry.  As in letting what’s going on around you decide what you are going to do with your time.  Too often, we let what we had planned to do prevail.  The result can be efficient but pretty mundane as a lifestyle.

The fall of the year provides some wonderful reminders of this.  This week, the fall color at Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park (which, for lucky me, is an easy drive and one of my favorite playgrounds) has reached a level of indescribable intensity.  The area also experienced its first snow of the coming winter season.  Two hiking friends and I were blessed to be on the trail when the two phenomena were playing out together.  You cannot plan that kind of high.

The hike took about twice as long as it may have on a summer day, but not because of the trail conditions.  We just kept stopping to take pictures.  And more pictures.  Of course none of them did the beauty justice (which is just as well for this post.  I promise I will figure out how to get photos into these one of these days).

But the point here is not about how lucky I was to get to see such beauty.  The point is that if I wanted to see it, it had to be on Mother Nature’s terms.  We weren’t sure what we were going to see until we got there.  We weren’t even sure we wouldn’t get rained out.  But we let go of our commitment to being “right” and being “dry” and just gave it a go.  The “go” involved driving a one lane mountain road on ice, too.  but something told us it was going to be worth all the “concessions.”  Oh, boy, was it!

You can put some punch in your days if you go with what the day offers sometimes, especially  in autumn.  It may be a trip to a pumpkin farm.  It may be a drive to your local fall color mecca.  It may be taking the time to stay home on Halloween to answer the door and give out treats to the little goblins in your neighborhood.  It may be taking your grandkids to jump in the leaves at a local park.  None of these things will wait until you finish the quilt you are working on or the shelves you are putting up in the garage. The leaves are not going to hang on the trees forever and Halloween is one night a year.

Once you retire, it’s tempting to insist that everything be done when you want to do it.  You can make your own schedule, that’s for sure.  But you lose a lot of the richness in life if you don’t allow room for spontaneity.

This is particularly true if you live in a climate that’s got some “iffy” months.  I live in the Pacific Northwest.  We definitely have “iffy” months.  From the middle of October to about the middle of July, our sunshine most often comes as  “sunbreaks” that don’t last all day–and sometimes don’t last more than fifteen minutes.  Those of us who are smart about it, see the sun and get outside to do whatever we were hoping to do in the fresh air right then.  Those of us who want control expect that “sunbreak” to still be there when we finish reading the paper or washing the windows.  Ha!

It’s the same deal if you’re in Omaha in January.  If the weather gets nice, get out there!

As a kid, my family made a point of going on picnics all year long.  I grew up in Wisconsin.  Yes, some of them were in the snow and some of them were in the mud.  But they were all adventures that incorporated what was happening at the moment.  We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, but my childhood was rich indeed.  I’m thinking I would be better off if I put more of that “now-sensitive” activity into what I am doing at this stage of the game.

Once we no longer work, we’re the best  resource as an example for everyone.  Notice what’s going on and take advantage of what you can savor right now.  Let Ma Nature have her way.  (Or let a grandchild have hers and let her play at the park for as long as she wants.)  You only get to live this moment.  The times you let go of what you thought you were going to do to take advantage of what’s unfolding that’s better are going to be what you remember and cherish.

Life is much richer if you don’t follow the script. Autumn reminds us of that.