Belonging

“Home is a notion that only nations of the homeless fully appreciate and only the uprooted comprehend.” ― Wallace StegnerAngle of Repose

“I rest in ease, knowing there are others out there, whispering themselves to sleep, just like me.” ― Charlotte Eriksson

I am the son of Holocaust survivors.   My mother was a German Jew, a refugee in Netherlands spending her teen years in hiding, then a refugee in the United States. Her family had means and connections.  My father’s father was a survivor of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and a refugee in Switzerland, then the United States. He had means and connections.  They were both welcomed into this country. Continue reading “Belonging”

Belonging – a matter of perception

During the inevitable ups and downs of life, I feel better when I belong. The pointy end of illness, loss, unintended change, stress, can be softened by belonging. Belonging to a family, team, community. What is this feeling of belonging? Being with family, comrades, teammates, cronies, neighbors. My wife and I are visiting old friends.  Old friends know the good, the bad,and the ugly and still like you and want to be with you. They have been with you through it all. Hence, old friends. Our neighbors look out for us, they have our back, literally. We belong. Belonging fuels a positive narrative that empowers me. I can take risks, I can survive mistakes, I can recover, I can feel better, I can find some peace when I belong.
Belonging feeds itself. To belong, I need to be a family member, a teammate, a neighbor. It’s an investment with some risk and some return. Belonging has an open heart. Paradoxically, an open heart is risky with the possibility of huge return and huge hurt. Yet a better risk than Powerball.  Turning a negative narrative into a positive narrative increases belonging – it’s a superpower. It’s a matter of perception. It’s a magic lever of best health.

Finite disappointment, infinite hope

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”― Martin Luther King, Jr.

Mutual disappointment can  bring out our best selves or worst selves – disappointment in a lover, friend, colleague, hero, business associate, health team member. Underwhelmed by expected results -> disappointment.  No disappointment without high hopes. Disappointment drains my immune system and fills my gut like sucking air out of a large balloon. I want to keep the best imprint in my mind of my disappointment partner. I need my best self to have that kind of vision. More than one friend has called me a pathological optimist. My funky immune system can still fire that optimism. Not without cost. My family and friends provide more fuel. Thank you lord. May you all find your best selves when tripping over disappointment. Stay strong. Love yourselves. It’s a magic lever for best health.

Pausing – A Magic Lever of Best Health

Yesterday, my wife took me to Boston Improv for my birthday. My daughter-in-law took me out for lunch. This week I found myself spacing out several times at my desk.  I listened to the rhythms of conversation in meetings at work.  Today, I played some blues on my bari sax. What do these scenarios have in common? The pause: A moment’s break to listen, to reflect, to balance.
During improvisation, comedy or music, players need a second or two to listen and feel the groove while contributing. Otherwise it’s cacophony. The pause, not blowing the horn, not talking, is integral to the rhythm. You could say that the rhythm is the space between the sounds. When work piles up with e-mails, reports, and to-dos, we need desk time with a few minutes to reflect on the purpose and quality of our work. Otherwise it’s disconnected and exhausting. The pause, however brief, settles the mind, allowing it to breathe. During conversation we need a few seconds to digest the message we hear before jumping back in. Active listening requires time for the person to complete their thought.  Often I jump right in, rushing to contribute as soon as the sound from the speaker’s lips stops. Getting my sound in before someone else jumps in. Lord, that’s a tough one. During the chat with my daughter-in-law, we spoke about a different kind of pause: pace of life and balance – allowing the space for music, exercise, family, health appointments.  It’s a challenge for working parents and someone with a chronic illness, or both, or neither for that matter.
Honor the pause. It’s integral to best health.

Hope – Magic Lever of Best Health

Hope – a magic lever for best health. Hope = optimism, expecting good results next. Hope feeds resilience. Spiritual strength contains hope. A key differentiator among those with chronic illness is less the degree of disability or pain, but the presence or lack of hope. For myself, when hope is absent, I feel much worse – a direct correlation. Sometimes it’s hope that my situation can change. Sometimes it’s faith that I can adapt to a growing challenge. Mostly, I feel that I’m blessed with a reservoir of hope. It’s in my DNA. I had nothing to do with it. The opposite of hope is despair. Many, many people with chronic illness despair, have little or no hope. For me the people around me have the biggest influence in my maintaining or rediscovering hope. When I lack hope, lack optimism, I do a mental check of who I spend my time with – personal and business – and increase the time with those who feed my hope. I give thanks to those people. Couldn’t do it without them.

Amazing Grace

Did you hear the full video of Obama’s eulogy at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church? I contemplation grace often, but I’ve never heard such an eloquent reflection. Grace is acceptance, forgiveness, bravery, humanity, dignity. Much to aspire to, often falling short.  I contemplate grace while traveling on my health journey, gravitating towards team members with grace, visualizing grace while managing myself. I meditate on grace at work, trying to maintain my own dignity when feeling battered by stress, change, and misunderstanding. Yesterday, on my 40th wedding anniversary I celebrated the grace of my wife who inspires me to be the best man I can be.
I can’t let this post go by without honoring the Supreme Court gay marriage ruling, (Colbert: ‘Hard To Believe Gays Achieved Personhood Just 5 Years After Corporations Did’). A lot to be grateful for. Amazing Grace.

Fear on the Health Journey

Fear – an unwelcome, yet familiar, occasional companion on the health journey. A sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. Your mind racing, reliving dreaded possibilities. Anxious panting with dreams of careening out of control. What helps? A certain companion, prayer, a drug, meditation, comedy, music, time. When I’m afraid, my family’s reassurance, a loving, lingering embrace, belly laughs, imagining my son, Mike, his arm around me, sitting with our feet dangling on the bridge to our WV home, listening to the creek rush below. The human condition contains fear – it’s inevitable. Knowing what works and what doesn’t when scared is more likely needed than your blood type or diagnoses. Why doesn’t the health team routinely keep track of this? It should be on a card in your wallet.

Driving your own health journey

How is it that people develop and learn to drive their own life, their own health care journey? Our 5-year old grandson usually gets picked up from school on Thursdays by my wife – a highlight of his week. We were on vacation. The email notification from his dad to the school of the change in schedule was never received.  My grandson noted the expected change, rearranged his after school routine with his teachers.  Presence, confidence, comfort, acceptance. Environment, self-confidence nurtured. Driving his own life. Some don’t have my grandson’s fortune.  They have tenacious, dogged, self-preservation – I’m driving my own life, dammit! Some have one of these characteristics, but are unfamiliar with American culture and language or American health care culture or language. They may find themselves in dire straits.  They benefit from guides with a road map and interpretation. But can the desire to drive your own journey be created with classes and tools?  Probably not. Plenty of need and opportunity for guides, classes, and tools for those whose fires are banked and need stoking.

That Sinking Feeling of Stress

You know that sinking feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when something is seriously wrong?  Often accompanied by inability to focus on the here and now (your music, your kids, your grandkids, your partner), trouble sleeping, mind racing? Happens when you get bad news, when someone treats you like crap, when you think you’ve made a serious mistake, grief. It’s the fight or flight stress reaction.  Today I got that sensation when I was playing my sax, trying to memorize a piece. I so struggle with memorization-always have-from the days of anatomy and trying to remember bones.  Anyway, I thought,why the heck am I feeling this stress reaction playing music?  I’ve felt it more often lately-stress at work mostly. It affects my sleep, I struggle to focus. It’s an energy sucker. I only have so much gas in my tank-I hate wasting it on this stress reaction. What can a person do? I’m not one that’s had success with meditation. There are some interesting tricks:  I do love the one of pressing on the space above my upper lip below my nose.  I think it’s so comical it helps for a second, but doesn’t last past the press. Focused breathing deeply always works, but again doesn’t last. Talking to someone, getting whatever off my chest occasionally works -and it lasts.  There’s compartmentalization, denial – I’m not too good at those either. My PCP gave me Ativan to take before I go to bed, but I haven’t tried it. Actually, just having it in the cabinet has almost eliminated my need for it. Powerful stuff, eh – proximity without ingestion. Stress is a part of life. Unavoidable, part of the human condition. The challenge is to keep the cycle short, less frequent.  How do people manage who have this sensation all day for days, weeks, months, years on end?  Must be crazy making. Managing stress is a magic lever of best health.

Focusing on the Basics

I just want to focus on the basics! 

In life I reach for the sky. I’m wired that way. I’m frustrated by less. In my health journey or anyone’s health journey where I’m along for the ride I want the best possible health given the circumstances. However, its complex, it’s hard, it’s a long journey to the sky. So I think, OK, let’s focus on the basics.  The journey is built on the basics. But what are the basics? No brainer, logical, common sense stuff – the magic levers – good diet, sufficient exercise and rest, family/individual/work balance, stress reduction, an aligned team? Unfortunately, the basics shift, vary from person to person and from team to team. Basics can be the hardest to attain. When under new or added stress – the basics suffer. Good habits suffer. I learned from a fabulous grief counselor, to attend to the basics first, then I would be better able to handle the unmanageable, unpredictable stresses of death, dying, and grief. Eureka, it was true. Attention to sleep, diet, exercise increased my capacity and resilience. I need help with the basics – reminders, tracking, companionship. Lord, help me with my defensiveness and resistance to help.  I can’t make it without. So hard to accept. The health journey is paved with the basics.