Pain is Pain…diminishing it does not make it disappear

“There’s no hierarchy of pain. Suffering should not be ranked, because pain is not a contest. …by diminishing my problems, I was judging myself and everyone else whose problems I had placed lower down on the hierarchy of pain. You can’t get through your pain by diminishing it.”

Lori Gottlieb “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone”

Great quote and thought-provoking indeed. It elicited the following thoughts and questions. Somebody always has it worse and someone else will always have it better. It is not about somebody or someone else it is about you. It is about how you are affected by your life. Does your life serve you? Despite the past are you moving beyond what “was” to what “is”? Is this really about validation? Is it only “real” if someone else acknowledges how bad, how good, or how unremarkable “it” is?

Your normal is all you know and is your baseline for all definitions. My pain is my pain and better not defined as a comparison of yours. So often we diminish what we are going through because someone else has it worse. However, that we are acknowledging that someone else has it worse is again only defined by our own baseline, and in reality not real.

I have had to explore this concept in my life as I attempted to “fix” my own concept of normal, pain, and pleasure. This is the foundation of self-care. There are so many people that do not care for themselves and do not put the work in because they blow it off through the ideal that somebody else always has it worse or that their experience is less than another’s. Ultimately your experience is the only one that matters and diminishing it, pain or pleasure takes something away from you. It robs you of the full experience. I think about this in terms of both sides; perspective is my drug. Come along with me while I go down in “it” for a moment!

Pleasure…

Let’s start with pleasure as it is less “one-upped” than pain. It is simply not as often that someone will take away your pleasure through their own grander experience as it does not serve them to be a braggart as easily as it does to be the victim.

My experiences are not worldly as I have never traveled outside of this country. While I do not know the pleasure of seeing the Louvre or sailing on the Mediterranean, I do know the absolute elation of sitting in front of the ocean, 40 miles outside my door, smelling the salty air, hearing the crashing waves and feeling that all is right with the world. While I have never known the pleasure of owning a million-dollar mansion I know what it feels like to have owned a modest home in the middle of the woods that I have created and adore and respect for all of the things it gives to me. This is a pleasure as I define it and can never be made less for those things that I only know, as better, because of someone else’s “one-up”.

Pain…

Tough as it is to swallow there is indeed someone that always has it worse than you. For the ultimate “worse” is death; or is it? (That is a topic for another blog.) Pain, physically and mentally, seems to be the ultimate test of one-upmanship. I think it can best be told as recited by my husband’s story during a recent “man-trip” with his friends and one “friend of a friend” that was invited to come along that unbeknownst to them was a “one-upper”. After a long day of driving my husband had remarked that his back was hurting and lamented that it was because of previously breaking his back from earlier-in-life “race-day’ injuries. While my husband was in no way attempting to elicit a response other than to lament on his own pain the “one-upper” immediately spoke up and said, “Well, I died!” …to which my husband laughed as if thinking this guy was trying to be funny. He wasn’t. He proceeded to bring photos out of him near-death with tubes running from him. An intensely dramatic response to someone’s simple lament of a backache. While this example is laughable the reality of physical or mental pain is not humorous at all and only made worse by the denial of treatment because you are diminishing your pain as not being as bad as another. Better said a “suck it up” approach. I attempted this approach for many years of my life and finally realized that sucking it up had gotten me to nearly 300 pounds. It was in finally reaching for both the mental and physical help that I needed that I would resolve this pain and live the life I was meant to live all along. Regardless of how bad someone else I knew had it. In truth, it was the idea that I did not have it “as bad” as others or had faired better that I allowed “it” to go on for so many years.

Diminished

I would be remiss to not include the one area of my life that has been affected by all of the one-ups that life has to offer. I have not struggled with pain or pleasure by my definition or yours; the defining moments of my life have always felt diminished by the “norm”. This is truly where growing older has been my therapy. I spent so much of my 20’s and 30’s feeling less-than all of those around me that had gone “off” to college and would speak of the tales of those college days. My college experience was much less about “tales” and far more about “torment”. I would work full-time, raise a child, and study in between it all to earn my education. I would hold back on reciting my alma mater as it would not be as revered as the Ivy League colleges that many of my colleagues had the benefit of attending. The greatest tale of this blog is that somewhere in my 40’s I realized…”Wait…I am sitting in the same boardroom, with the same or better title than “them”. Could it be that my small college education ended me in the same exact place without the sorority stories, without the tales from the dorms and ultimately without the expense of a fancy education? YES!!! It did! It was in this revelation and many more that I would realize that my life experiences were not “less than” and instead come to acknowledge that they were richer, they were grander and they ultimately were unlike anything you could pay for in therapy, education or experience.

I was thrust into this world diminished on the surface but defined on the inside. I would never be a product of my environment. I would never be diminished by the trailer I grew up in, the status of my parent’s dysfunctional relationship, or my teenage choices. I would, however, be defined by all of them proving to myself and anyone that cared to take notice that I was going to be greater because of it, not despite it. These are not one-up stories you tell to the masses, they are pulled out like the gems they are to lift others up that have “assumed” that you and your current state are “more than” theirs. It is in these moments that I revel in the story of “one-undering” someone by motivating them with the idea that “If I can do it you CAN too!” It is the ultimate opposite of “one-upping”.

I have to respect where I am at any moment in time and that means that I acknowledge my pain and my pleasure equally as I define it, I no longer diminish it. I am empathetic by nature and will always listen to others’ stories of worse or better however I will always keep in check that their journey is not mine and my journey is the one I am here to live and define as worth living. I know pain, I know the pleasure it is not learned or defined by any other standard than my own. Own it…I do.

Life as I define it – L.

Even Concrete Cracks

This was the reality check I was given as I found myself in a puddle of tears. “Even concrete cracks” is the resolve to understanding why even the strongest of the strong humans crack. In this case it was me, cracked wide open. While the release is necessary the reality causes as much reeling as the pressure rising to its boiling point within. We easily forget this when we are at that boiling point which tends to be our weakest moments.

My crack started to form as I was rounding two weeks post-op and still dealing with daily pain. The key to managing pain is to find a baseline that you can tolerate however it is in that tolerance that you wear out. When you are in active pain, it too is exhausting, however with a remedy it is resolved. When you are managing a “pain baseline” the tolerance requires a managed effort. This is effort that requires energy from stores that are depleted. At this point it goes beyond the physical and begins to overwhelm you mentally making everything bigger than it is and the entire environment becomes overwhelming. It is in these moments that you hope you are surrounded by “your village”. I was. I am.

Healing may be the biggest effort I make in my lifetime. This physical healing has unfortunately become familiar to me however regardless of how many times I repeat the process it does not get easier. I am healing faster this time, but I am no less exhausted and emotionally spent. I knew what was coming and how to make the best of it and that preparation may have been my secret weapon. I can only imagine where I would be right now if I had not prepped. My village tells me how much worse it could be…that does not help. My village tells me how well I am doing…that does not help. What helps? Sometimes just crying it out or screaming irrationally; any outlet as for all the input there has to be a release. Where is that written in the textbooks? Where is that in the hospital discharge notes? It needs to be states somewhere, “when it all gets to be too much just scream!” Ha, yes that is a prescription worth noting.

…and that is all I have to say about that.

Life as I live it – L.

The further away the further I go, and other rabbit holes

It has admittedly been weeks since I wrote last. A habit, hobby, outlet that is supposed to be exercised daily. It is not that I did not want to write. It is not that there isn’t anything to write. It is that I could not…trapped like a hostage in the labyrinth that is my mind teasing and tortured at times…I simply could not.

Whatever you call it, anxiety in many form or the litany of excuses you offer it, “it” holds you captive not allowing you to climb out. It is why the title is so poetic. The further away I get from any intention I have the further I go from it, down the proverbial rabbit hole. The climb from the rabbit hole is punishing requiring perseverance to start again. I do this with everything that has meaning in my life. People look from afar and say “you are so good at…..”, “it is so easy for you to…” or any other well-received but ill-deserved compliment but what appears to be on the surface is far more complex within. I am not good at it, it is not easy for me because it is always work. There will always be a reason not to, it is that I do it that it looks easy or good because you can only see the surface you cannot see the fight.

This time it is writing. I committed to this “outlet” when I was no longer able to run. Running had replaced food for three strong years in helping me to clear my mind, process my numerous thoughts and created a transfer addiction for the one (food) that nearly killed me. “But what if I cannot run” was never a thought before it was and then…rabbit holes. I could not run, I could not eat and if not those things then what would serve the “need”. I had been writing (journaling) for years as a therapeutic approach to get it out of my head, it could work again.

You look from afar and say “it is so easy for you (her)” but what you don’t know is that every single day it is a choice and sometimes it is a fight. I do not jump out of bed and happily go for a run. I actually hate running or doing anything in the morning. I do it because I have to, because I need to and because it serves me well. The same can be said about writing. The pressure is on since I chose to start sharing my writings, to now continue to write and to publish. It is never for a lack of thoughts to share but the pressure now is in producing something for the audience. While this can be a motivation it can also be a detractor or an intimidation to perform. The reality is that writing and running have never been about performance. They were never about stats, likes, accolades or medals. They were about health, mental and physical and that “back to basics” reality needs to be reminded. The minute the reason shifts from health to performance the intention is lost.

My running is best when I run at night because I am able to run off the day but the timing can be tough based on needing to “fit it in” versus waking up an hour early to “make the time”. My writing is best when it is “hot”. When I am thinking through a topic, when it is fresh, when the dialogue in my brain is like a conversation is when I am at my writers best! The times when I have stopped and seized the moment to write have been some of the best writings to date. The point here is that the choice in doing both is knowing that doing them is paramount and choosing when is simply idealistic.

in the end, this is what “Always Starting…The Art of Never Giving Up” is all about. It is about redefining the “reason” I started this blog and showing examples of how often I restart, rethink and redefine my intentions. Every restart is not as exciting as a New Year’s Resolution, sometimes they are as painful as a shot in the arm but I take on both with a sense of urgency knowing that getting started is the hard part; staying the course is easy until…it’s not. 🙂

Life as I see it – L.

Resilience…

As defined by Google…

Resilience means knowing how to cope in spite of setbacks, or barriers, or limited resources. Resilience is a measure of how much you want something and how much you are willing, and able, to overcome obstacles to get it. It has to do with your emotional strength.

As defined by me…

I have heard many times in the last year that I am resilient as defined by friends, family and co-workers that have walked this journey with me. They say this because in short I have proven that I can “take a licking and keep on ticking” but I am not sure that resilience is the right word. The two other words that come to mind are:

  • Stubbornness as I am a Taurus and those that know me best know that I can be very bull-headed! (I am a Miami Gangster, let us not forget!) As defined this suggests that I am headstrong and willful but so many of the situations I have been faced with were not in my control therefore regardless of how headstrong, I could not have avoided these outcomes and in many cases could not have willed these comebacks.
  • Relentlessness because as defined I can be unstoppable or unceasing but then again I was stopped; my life as I knew it ceased in a moment twice in the last year.

Therefore I resolve that resilience is likely the “right” word. The experiences in my life have given me great emotional and mental strength. I get knocked down and I always get back up; I don’t know any other way. Quitting is simply not an option…EVER. My father taught me that lesson in sixth grade. I came home earlier than expected one day and he asked “don’t you have Patrols today?” and my response was “not anymore, I quit”. His disappointment was palpable, he told me “we don’t quit“. No truer words would ever be said again, from that day on I would never quit.

Life as I learned is all about stops and starts and learning, always learning. Every situation offers a lesson and when you live your life with that point of view you simply can’t “stay down”. If I fall, I learn what created the fall and with that new found knowledge I get back up. I have no choice, none of us do. Life is going to happen, it’s how you react and how you bounce back that will make all the difference.

Setbacks…I have had many…so what…

  • Five procedures and thirteen incisions in the last six months…yep…that is real and every single one of these procedures was unexpected, the ultimate definition of a setback. Resilience they say…but what was the choice? I had to get back up, I had to fight on.
  • Losing my mom…yep…that sucked! Resilient, well not easily. This was a heck of a setback but I carry-on because that is what she would expect and I would like to believe I have never let her down.
  • 30 years of failing at weight-loss…yep…but I never quit! I failed at hundreds of diets but learned something with every one. Ultimately it was the experience of failing and learning (falling down and getting back up) that finally led me to the solution.

I could go on with many more examples as everyone’s life, including mine, has been a series of setbacks but as Tim Storey says, “I believe that while you are feeling the sting of your setback God is preparing your comeback”. Resilience is the ultimate comeback story, it’s the before and the after, it’s the up to the down, it’s the hero’s journey. It is truly about triumph over adversity.

The opposite of resilience is fragility, vulnerability and weakness. These are equally powerful words and have their place and time in our lives. I have experienced each of these in the rawest forms both emotionally and physically. It is when you are in these states that resilience will pull you out. It is the WANT to be better, feel better and do better that makes sure that fragility, vulnerability and weakness are not our end-story.

In conclusion, I am on a journey and most of mine has not been on well worn paths; my journey is truly as my favorite poet writes, “

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

This is life as I am living it RESILIENTLY – L. (Dedicated to my Aunt Judith)

Tie a Knot Not a Noose –

How do you know you are pushing yourself to your full potential? How much are you leaving on the table?  How do you know how much you can take?

I ask you these questions because in life there are times you are encouraged to show your potential and then there are those times that you have no choice but to push as hard and as far as you can go and find that potential, that capacity and the resilience to push on or start over. What I know is that knowing this in the optimistic or devastating circumstances is vital to success and saving your own life! Let’s explore this theory.

Here are the proper definitions that can help us in answering those first three questions:

  • Potential is defined as “having or showing the capacity to become or develop into something in the future”. We frequently use this to talk positively about how much someone can grow; optimism.
  • Resilience is defined as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness”. Interesting that this definition includes “capacity” in its definition as well.
  • As defined by Collins Dictionary, “your capacity for something is your ability to do it, or the amount of it that you are able to do”.

Okay, one more moment of “geeking out” on words and then I will get to the point…it will be worth it…I promise!

Thomas Van notes in a 2013 article “Human beings can never reach their full potential but they can die trying. Potential can be defined as capable of being but not yet in existence or having possibility, capability, or power. Also, the inherent ability or capacity for growth, development, or coming into being. Simply put, you can always do more than you currently are”.

Now to the point…yes I am getting there…one word at a time…ha!

We all have potential beyond what we will ever truly know however some of us push harder to find the capacity within us to explore that potential. In that journey you will fail, you will start over and in the “art of never giving up” you will show resilience! It is through this journey that you explore your capacity to take on any number of things in this life. I will share my most recent examples…(finally…stay with me!)

Running a Half Marathon –

I set out to run a half marathon years before it ever happened. My first “attempt” (aka paid for it and never ran it) was back in 2000 and my first actual Half was in 2012. TWELVE years! In that 12 years there were 100 starts and stops; training plans, months without running and days of running back-to-back. I knew I had the potential but was not fully sure of my capacity to run three miles let alone 13.1!! While I finally accomplished the task I still was not able to “own it” as I never truly came to know my full potential to be a runner, or capacity to run long distances until i pushed harder than I knew I could and started running one Half Marathon a month from September to April every year. It was through those runs and that training that I was able to test the theory of whether I had left anything on the table. My mind would tell me to stop and walk and I would literally take myself through an inventory while I continued to run. I would start by checking;

  • Are my feet hurting? No, keep running
  • Do my legs hurt? No, keep running
  • Are my hips hurting? No, keep running
  • Is my breathing labored? No, keep running

This is what it would take for me to understand my capacity versus my brain telling me to stop, walk, stop, walk…NO, KEEP RUNNING!

Medical Complications –

My opposing story is one that I am hoping I am on the tail end of as I am sure I have hit my capacity to be resilient in this situation. The Cliff Notes version goes like this:

  • Stomach flu, go to hospital, abdominal tumor found
  • It’s just fluid, we will do a needle biopsy and drain it…it’s not fluid
  • Surgery scheduled to remove tumor…wake-up with tumor still inside…too complicated
  • Surgery scheduled to remove tumor AGAIN…wake up without tumor, appendix, gallbladder, 4 ft of small intestine and reconstructed stomach pouch…go home and heal…nope
  • Complication; fluid accumulation found…go home and heal…nope
  • Hernia has formed at top of incision, another procedure…go home and heal…nope
  • Complication; you are full of shit…no seriously I was full of shit…go home and heal…ummm…so far so good…

Let me tell you that even the strongest the most mentally tough would be challenged in this situation. It is the true tale of get kicked down, get back up, get kicked down, get back up…so many times. My resilience was not perfect, my capacity was tested but I know a thing or two about potential. I have the ability to take on more than the average bear…why…because I have tested this capacity, this potential, this resilience so many times before that when I needed to call on it, I had it in me to call on. I knew how hard I could push before i would crack and then would mend the crack and keep pushing.

So I ask you the same questions I started this blog with; How do you know you are pushing yourself to your full potential? How much are you leaving on the table?  How do you know how much you can take?

Next time you think you want to quit, DON’T, push harder, push longer…and when you think you are at the end of your rope…tie a KNOT not a NOOSE! You got this and so do I. This is life as I am living it. L.

UnFu*k Yourself – My thoughts…

Unfu*k Yourself; Get out of your head and into your life from Gary John Bishop. I got this book on Audible and started listening when I was in Dallas a few weeks ago and about 20 minutes in I turned it off. I was DEFINITELY not in the right mindset and wasn’t sure the book was for me. I restarted the book (yes, always starting) on Monday in time for my 3rd first day back at work…ha! I finished the book today and have thoroughly enjoyed his points. Here are the one’s that appeal to me and why:

  • “All I know is that I know nothing” – Socrates
    • We all have to learn this, some more than others. I was taught a valuable lesson from my boss a few years ago and that was to be the one in the room that only speaks when you have something to add and not for the sake of speaking. She told me a story of a man that she highly regarded and when he spoke the entire room would stop and listen…because he only spoke when he could offer value. My mantra to remember this important lesson is W.A.I.T. – Why Am I Talking…
  • ”True relentlessness comes when the only thing you have left is relentlessness. When it seems all is lost and all hope and evidence for success has long since vanished, relentlessness is the fuel that drives you through.” – Bishop
    • Words to live by indeed! Many think I have gotten through the last ten months as a testament to resilience but the reality is that it is relentlessness and again the inability to GIVE UP even when I wanted to, I just could not.
  • “We are waiting until that point when in our minds everything is perfect…while you are waiting for your life to get better your life is not getting any better!” – Bishop
    • I have done this so many times in my life! “When I lose 50 lbs I will be happy”, “When I have a house I will be happy”, “When I ______ (fill in the blank) I will be happy.” It’s BS! Your life will be the life you have whether you are fat, homeless or in any condition! Live your life NOW!
  • “Your internal condition means nothing. It’s just another excuse you give yourself to stay out of the risky zones of life. The problem is those risky zones are life.” – Bishop
  • “Stop blaming your past!”, “We all have pasts, some of them are f’n horrific, SO WHAT…why is it that you show more passion for your past than you do for your future!” #WORD!!!!!!
    • Somewhere in the world my Aunt Susie is screaming PREACH!
    • Let me tell you about a past that has passed…girl grows up in a trailer park in Miami, her parents remarry and divorce multiple times throughout her life, she drops out of high school five months before graduation, has a child at the age of 18, marries a drug addict and then wakes up one day and says NO, this is not going to be my life…that girl is now a Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer of a company.
    • Talk about turning your mess into your message…that girl not only SAID it was going to change she DID it, she became the change she wanted in her life. She moved out that morning, packed everything in her car that she could fit (including her 2yr old), started a new job that day, finished her diploma, enrolled in college and obtained three college degrees and busted her ass climbing ladder after ladder (with many chutes along the way) there has never been a rear view mirror on her journey; there was simply NO looking back. There was no choice. Relentlessness in action.
  • “We can forget our past by creating our future”, “When what is in front of you is so bright, and so satisfying you won’t have time to look behind you, your eyes will be focused straight ahead” – Bishop
  • “You may not like everything that has happened in your past but it has shaped every part of you.” – Bishop
  • “Look at the habits that have put you in the situation you are in.”, “Stop doing it”, “Stop letting your internal condition dominate the quality of your life.” – Bishop
  • “You are not a special case”, “NO more excuses” – Bishop

I have to conclude this blog on the very chapter that drew me to this book to begin with; “I am not my thoughts, I am what I do”. I have been studying the “Power of Now” from Eckhart Tolle and the theory of dis-identifying with the mind. What comes first the thought or the emotion? The thought elicits the emotion therefore how we identify with our thoughts is key to controlling the emotion. Going further down this rabbit hole it’s important to remember that YOU are not your thoughts. It takes practice indeed. You will have a thought and rather than reacting to it, you stop and decide if you will acknowledge it and the act or not fnrom there.

“You don’t have to feel like today is your day, you just have to act like it is…if we sit around waiting to be in the perfect mood you will never get started.” Bishop. This is where relentlessness lives, there is why I continue to get up every time I get knocked down, why I get up at 5a to get on the treadmill, why I push harder at work than anyone could push me, because I have to create the life I want every day, even when I don’t want to. We all KNOW what to do, why then do we not do it?

“You change your life by doing, not by thinking about doing ” Bishop.

Gary’s final quote “I get knocked down but I get back up again” – Chumbawamba!