Fighting fear

Fear is the great paralyzing force of life. For me that’s certainly been true.

Let me count the ways I fear:

I fear death, illness, or injury to people I love.

I fear catastrophe…the unforeseen and unstoppable forces that assault life.

I fear loss…loss of relationships, loss of security, loss of order.

I fear uncertainty. I fear choosing poorly.

I fear my own inadequacies and failings.

Out of all of these, what do I control?

The reality is: not much.

I can do my best to be prepared, to be the person I want to be in any given circumstance.

But so much is beyond me, beyond my reach.

When I accept that, the next step is to look at what I can control.

Fear is never going to completely go away. But I can divide fear into the category of “what can I do about it?” and “I can’t do anything about it.”

Thinking about fear this way helps. Helps me focus on what I can manage, prepare for, guard against. One thing I’ve learned to do: I ask what’s behind the obvious fear. For example, if I’m afraid of losing my job, what’s that really about? The job, or what the job represents? Is it the specific job I want to hold, or the security for my family that the job provides?

If I can break fear down, know what’s really behind it, I know what’s critical. I can plan for the possible loss I see on the horizon, do what I can to brace myself.

The other kind of fear? Well, that I have to set aside. No worrying or planning can prevent natural disasters, accidents, life-threatening disease. I don’t want to lose the best of life worrying about the worst of life. That would be a tragedy in every way.

Fear can be a good thing, a motivating thing, when I know how to manage it. It can be a cautionary response to something dangerous.

I won’t say fear is a friend. But it doesn’t have to be the enemy either.

Fear is just an emotion that can give me information. ~ Ed McClune

When I think of it this way, it’s manageable. Fear no longer controls me. I won’t say I control fear. But at least I’m no longer paralyzed by it.

And that’s a good beginning.

When I’m not paralyzed, I can move, and when I move, I progress.

It’s never going to be easy to beat back fear. It is doable. But you have to be fierce about it…fight it. Grow strong. Become resolved. That only happens with time, and proving to yourself that it’s actually possible to outlive your fears.

Yes, sometimes the worst happens. This is life, and there’s no escaping the realities that cause fear. But somehow, somehow, survival may be possible. And if you can survive, you can find your way through fear. One baby step at a time.

What information is fear giving you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My word for 2016

A few years ago I started choosing a word…just one word…to frame my intentions and goals for the coming year. I got the idea from a blog post, and it was a challenge to distill my thoughts, to be succinct.

I think it’s been a useful exercise. My past words have been:

  • 2012: Revision
  • 2013: Momentum
  • 2014: Consistent
  • 2015: Hope

This year…well, what one word could encapsulate the coming year?

I look forward to an amazing year of growth, surprise, challenge, joy, making memories, launching projects, writing, travel, being still, family, friends, work.

I look forward to thriving.

Thrive.

Thrive is my word for the coming year.

I feel on the brink, on the cusp. The last four years have ushered in a sea change for me, bringing so many unforeseen experiences, circumstances…some wonderful, some beyond difficult. Some days I felt like I was flying, others have been a struggle I wasn’t sure I could survive.

Tonight, thinking about what my word would be, I see my life bearing fruit in new ways. This year, I will thrive.

Does that mean there won’t be challenges? I’m sure there will be. What life exists without challenge?

But that’s not the point. The point is, I’m ready for the adventure life has given me. I have grown; I am growing into it!

Join me, if you’d like. I love to hear what word you would choose to describe your hopes for the coming year. It can be enlightening to consider what one word speaks to you. And that’s really the point of the whole thing…evaluate, find a word that will resonate, will capture your essence, where and how you find yourself in this very moment.

Let’s begin, shall we? I’ve got my one word, I’m ready!

~ Sheila

 

 

 

Revise your story

I’ve written about finding myself in a hole, here, feeling the darkness, and climbing out, step by step. Some of the progress was circumstantial: my situation changed, and with those changes, my outlook looked up.

But it wasn’t all that tidy. Long before the big changes occurred, I began stepping toward righting myself. Why? Because at the time, I didn’t know how, or if, life would hand me the turnaround I wanted, needed.

And if not? Then what?

I couldn’t stay where I was. I began the trip back to normal without knowing what life would look like. I just knew I couldn’t stay in the hole, in the dark.

These are the next things I did, after recognizing I had to begin the climb on my own. If you find yourself in a similar hole, maybe some of these steps will help. Nothing here is magic, or ground-breaking. But when I’m struggling, it helps to have a path laid in front of me. That’s all I’m offering here…just outlining steps so you don’t have to do it yourself. No right, no wrong, just suggestions.

  • Make a plan, whether big or small. To come out of the darkest time, I had to have a plan. I couldn’t be sure what I would do eventually, but I had to start working toward next. And that’s what I would suggest for anyone trying to see daylight. Whether you’re between jobs, relationships, coming out of depression, trying to adjust to a new place or time in life…make a plan.

But be easy on yourself. Recognize that when you’re in flux, a lot of what you’re working with may change. Will change.

When I find myself in disarray, I need to rebuild structure and order in my life. I like to set goals for myself, targets that are reachable, but nothing that demands action tomorrow. Time pressure isn’t helpful in a vulnerable state.

There are reasons for this. Setting goals that are a few weeks, or even months, in the distance, gives me something to work toward and plan for. But if you’re in a fragile place, you don’t need the pressure of immediacy. I’ve found this type of medium-range goal planning is comforting.

By putting my goals a few weeks out…or even a little longer, if that’s feasible…I give myself something positive to work toward, without stressing myself in the moment.

This type of planning allows time for other events/forces to unfold.

The last time I found myself in limbo, I did exactly this. I put some targets on a calendar and made a tentative plan, based on what I would do if…

If certain things worked out this way, then….

If things worked out that way, then….

By thinking through options and possibilities, I worked through scenarios that helped me plan.

  • Share your plans with a person or two you trust. Ask for feedback. Having someone think with you is helpful…helps you see possibilities you may be missing, and can be a reality check. This is especially important if you’re in unfamiliar life territory.
  • Write your goals. Make lists, keep a journal. Writing is good therapy, and putting plans down on paper or on screen will help you focus. It’s also useful to be able to look back, to see progress, or to remind yourself of thoughts or plans you lose sight of.
  • Mark any significant dates for the next year on your calendar, and use those as sign posts for progress, for interaction, for incentive. When you see a date on your calendar a couple of months out for meeting family, for attending a special event, for something you can be excited about, the calendar gives you hope. Don’t discount this as reason to get through the day, week, or month. Let your calendar be a daily reminder that life is happening all around you, and you have a part to play.
  • Decide what you want to change, and what you can change. Is it location? Job? Habits? Name the goals, then put realistic dates on your calendar…when will you achieve your goals? Or what stages will you mark as advancements? Or achievements?
  • Learn a new skill. Nothing boosts the ego and wakes up the mind like a challenge. This is a great way, and a focused way, to work toward life goals. Learning a new skill can help you step toward your goals. Join a class if possible. Leaning with a group is a good way to connect with kindred spirits, and can give you new sources of support.
  • I am sold on the power of doing something for someone less fortunate, or for a good cause. Nothing makes you feel better than contributing. Again, this will work only if you’re healthy enough in mind and body to get out and connect with others. Take this slow. Don’t overcommit your time, money, or self. If you have healing/growing/recovering to do, you need to protect yourself.
  • Find outlets for creativity, and for physical activity. You need to nurture your body and your spirit. Don’t neglect your need to be active, and to exercise your creativity. Whether you’re inspired to create, or driven to release your energy, you’ll benefit from movement and stimulus. Nothing is more deadly than sitting still and drowning in despair.
  • Find someone to be accountable to. You could make this a mutual thing, or just ask someone to provide this for you. Knowing that you’ve committed to sharing your progress will give you another incentive to make progress. Decide how often you’ll connect, and any other parameters you want to set. Be serious about accountability; it can be a wonderful aid to get you through difficult tasks.
  • If you can afford it, work with a life coach. Life coaches are not therapists. The function of a life coach is to help you find your voice and motivation, and to hold you accountable to the goals you set. In my opinion, you want someone who will hold a mirror to your life, and be a voice of encouragement. I would stay away from the drill sergeant type. You want someone who will be honest and firm with you, but you don’t need someone who will use guilt or other negative styles of communication.

I didn’t suffer with clinical depression, and I can’t address that condition. Clearly, individuals with mental health issues need more than a list of helpful suggestions to right themselves. 

But you don’t have to be clinically depressed to struggle, to feel lost, to feel stuck, and sad, and down. That’s the mindset I’m addressing.

Even if you seek help from a coach or counselor, you have to begin with yourself. Recognizing you have to do something different, then taking the first small steps to begin…that’s the hardest part. Finding your resolve, getting off the sofa or out of the bed, beginning

You can do it. Only you can do it.

I’m not a counselor, but I’ve been there, in the hole. I know what it’s like to sleep poorly, waking up with thoughts racing every hour or two, to dread going to work or getting out of the house because you feel like you have to put on “the face” of normalcy. I know finding the desire to do anything can seem like a mountain.

It is a mountain. But you can climb it. If you can’t find the heart to do it for yourself, find someone else who inspires you, or choose someone you want to inspire. Do it for your spouse, your kids, your legacy, if you can’t do it for yourself.

Sooner or later, you will be doing it for yourself. You will be inspired, and inspiring. You’ll have a story to share, a success to celebrate, and a renewed life.

No one can predict your outcome. No one else can write your story. Find your brave, even if it scares you. Especially if it scares you. Open up to those you trust. Give others opportunity to help, to support and encourage you.

Hear my voice, if you can. That’s one of my goals…I want my voice to be an encouragement. Not because I have it all figured out, but because I know how hard this is. Eventually, you’ll know you can do it, because others have done it. You can be strong, you’ll find your way. And in turn, you will be a voice of encouragement.

Each of us has a place, each story has value. If your story has derailed, dig deep. Begin your revision. This is my time, and this is your time. ~ Sheila

Other people are going to find healing in your wounds. Your greatest life messages and your most effective ministry will come out of your deepest hurts. ~ Rick Warren

 

 

 

 

Cautionary Tale

Driving through the mountain west, sun shining on sparkling snow, white contrasting with the grays and reds of mountain rock, I’m captivated.

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I’m enchanted by beauty and nature, the privilege of seeing this land that’s so scarcely populated. The footprint of humanity is small here.

This is bliss, this cold December day a time of joy and sweetness.

A year ago I could not have imagined this day, full of light and companionship, easy silences punctuating quiet talk during the drive.

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I thought today: if I could have known, a year ago, this day was coming, would it have made a difference? It would have made it easier to work though a hard time of life.

But maybe working through the hard time, with no certainty of good to come, made today possible?

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I don’t know, can’t know, exactly what forces sculpted the days and weeks between last year and this. I know a little of the changes that occurred, that made a difference. But I don’t know all.

This is what I do know.

The hard times in life have purpose. Whatever the hardship is, working through it, surviving it, learning from it, gives rich color and depth to time that follows.

I haven’t experienced every sorrow life has to offer, thank God. But I’ve been through some of the fires. The fires taught me no life is immune or safe. Something touches each of us, either directly, or through someone we love.

The hard times taught me patience and perseverance. I learned to let time do some of the work for me.

I learned to face hard truths with honesty.

I learned to forgive myself and others for mistakes.

I learned to value the pain of others because of my pain. When you really understand the hurts and losses of life, your ability to empathize grows exponentially.

Last year was a year of loss, change, upheaval, conflict, depression, uncertainty.

It wasn’t the first time I’ve passed through such a season. Life has handed me other losses, taken my joy for a time.

And that is life. No one is immune.

I’m reminded, afresh, that we all weather seasons, and change.

Each time I’ve experienced a time of darkness, I’ve learned from it. It’s slow at first…whatever knocks you flat, takes you out, leaves you reeling…those forces don’t retreat easily.

Loss, death, illness, tragedy, conflict, displacement…there’s a continuum of pain, and ability to recover.

I couldn’t change the fact of my father’s death. I had to reach acceptance.

I was able to reclaim my marriage. I had to allow time for growth, and perspective, for healing.

This is my path, steps to return to joy.

  • Remember to breathe. It’s ok to grieve and to shut down for a time. But you must breathe, you must do a minimum to maintain your physical self, with rest, with food, with action.
  • As soon as you can, feed yourself hope. Since the beginning of people, hearts have broken, loss has devoured. You will likely recover, overcome whatever is hurting you. There are lives all around that testify to the power of the human spirit to survive, conquer, thrive. If others can do it, you can too. Tell yourself that. Say it even when you don’t believe it. Say it until you can believe it.
  • On days that you can’t do anything positive for yourself, at least do no harm. Don’t make big decisions, don’t rush into anything, don’t burn bridges today that you may need to cross next week.
  • Look for the unexpected. Each time I’ve experienced a trough of life, there’ve been good things come to me, unexpected lights to give me a path back to life. The unexpected may be a circumstance, an insight, a new friend…anything. But you have to be open enough to receive. Don’t block help or hope.
  • Forgive: yourself, others, mistakes, misunderstandings…get the negatives out. Holding it inside only hurts you. You don’t have to share with anyone else unless you choose. But even talking out loud, ranting in private, will give you release, and let you find the words you need to say. It gets easier with practice. If you can’t say the words, write them. Just get them out one way or another.
  • Be kind to yourself. Whatever you can do to soften and soothe and heal, do that. But, don’t take a positive and turn it to a negative…don’t comfort yourself with so much “comfort” food that you gain weight, or run up debt trying to buy your way to happiness. Keep your kindnesses positive.
  • Give yourself and the situation time. Lots of time, if you can. Time can’t heal everything. It can’t replace every loss, and it isn’t the cure for all illness. But it can do a lot, if you let it. Practice patience, with yourself, the circumstances, with others.
  • Make a promise to yourself. Promise you’ll learn from this, that you’ll be stronger and better for having this experience. Make sure you keep it.
  • Use your story. Your story will be a powerful way to connect with others going through a similar experience. And believe me, whatever you’re facing, someone else is facing too. You don’t have to share everything to share something. You’ll find solace and give it too, by opening up, when the time is right. Promise yourself that you’ll do what you can to add light, not dark, because you went through hardship.
  • Find something to be grateful for. Even the smallest thing you can name counts. Keep adding to your list. Find a beautiful image, a book, a song, a view, a friend, a pet, to focus on.
  • Don’t grow bitter. Bitterness poisons life, and nothing is worth that. If you’re mourning the loss of a loved one, honor them by returning to life. If you’re mourning something else in your life, honor yourself by refusing to give up. Know that one way or other, soon or later, you’ll sing again, be joyful again.
  • Seek professional help if you can’t find your way. It’s out there, and it will be worth it. Sometimes the best thing we do for ourselves is admit we can’t do it alone. That can be an act of bravery, and your first step away from the dark.

I had professional help this year, and it changed everything. You don’t have to commit to long term counseling or therapy to reap great reward. Sometimes you just need a jump start. Or if you need ongoing help, the sooner you begin, the better.

I’m thankful for the lessons learned and road traveled. And I look for ways to share, to give back. I’ve promised myself that good will come of my journey, and I mean to see that promise come true. It wasn’t my goal in life to be a cautionary tale, but it seems to be my fate.

Well, so be it. We give as we can, and from what we have. If I can help anyone by encouraging with my words, I’m content.

Stories I tell myself

Funny how pride can trip you up. Funny how it can blind you to reality, especially when part of what you’re proud of is that you always live in reality.

Well, does anyone? I like to think I do, and sometimes that’s true, at least as clearly as I perceive reality.

But not always.

Lately I’ve been looking at the ways I interpret my life, and choices, and I’ve realized: I haven’t always lived in reality. Oh, it looked that way. But it wasn’t true.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

From another life, years and years ago, when I was a 20-something and doing all I could to keep my head above water, holding life together with two little ones and weathering the challenges of life with a medical student husband, and then a resident husband, living 1200 miles from family, I told myself how strong I was, how mature I was. I was doing my part. I was brave.

No.

The reality was, I was foolish.

Why did I think I had to do what I did, largely without help, and trying to make it look easy? Who told me that was a mature choice?

No one told me. I just assumed that’s what adults did.

It would have been more brave to have admitted I needed help, I was in over my head. But I was so busy being strong, being mature, I didn’t let my guard down long enough to admit those needs to myself, much less to anyone else. I was so busy being mommy, being adult, I let go of being Sheila, and I certainly let go of being wife.

The reality is, I made it through those years. We made it. We survived. We even appeared to thrive.

But there was a toll, some of which I feel to this day. The coping skills I learned during that time of life weren’t always healthy. I learned to do a lot on my own, to shut out a lot. It’s not behavior that encourages partnership, and our partnership has suffered through the years because of habits formed when we were very young.

Oh, we moved on. We moved beyond. We didn’t stay totally stuck in that time. But we brought along some of the damage, some of the baggage, without really recognizing it.

So now, I see. I reflect, I think back to those babies, those 20-somethings raising babies, and keeping up with the challenges, because we didn’t know it was ok to show weakness, to ask for help. We thought it was brave to do it on our own.

Is it brave to stand without help? Maybe. Sometimes. It depends on how healthy you are, and what it takes out of you to do it. Some of the damage we created then we couldn’t see at the time. We were too busy being strong to recognize how weak we really were.

Some of these patterns I’ve seen, so many years later, and I look back and wish I could do over. I don’t exactly know how I would do it differently. But some things would change.

We ran a marathon that almost killed a marriage, left us shells of people who only knew how to keep going, keep being brave and strong and adult.

I realize, I told myself a story about what life would look like, about what adulthood meant, about what marriage meant. I didn’t know I was making it up, out of a lot of assumptions and vague beliefs. I thought I was living in reality.

One of the ironies of life is that in a time I thought I saw so clearly, I was blind. In a time I thought I had a lot on the ball, I was just juggling balls, not seeing how close I was to dropping many things.

In hindsight, and with clarity, I see so much that was hidden from me then.

I wonder what I’m missing now?

Life is a process, and each choice brings us to the next choice. I’m more thoughtful now about the stories I tell myself, the certainty I feel when I assess. I’ve learned that just because I can handle a situation on my own, that isn’t always the best decision. Sometimes the best choice is to invite others to join, to help, to help me see clearly. To help me live in reality.

Stories are fun, sometimes funny. They should teach us too, help us know the traps to avoid and the joys to embrace.

I don’t know what my story will do for others. Will it be a cautionary tale? Or a story of life reinvented, mistakes recovered, joy restored?

I hope it will be all those things. Let me caution you, don’t be like me. Don’t tell yourself you’re brave, when you’re only short-sighted. Don’t do without help when you really need it.

I’ve been given a great gift. I can’t turn back the clock, but the lessons of those days, and others, are living with me now, helping me see and right things that need to be righted.

I’m telling myself a new story these days. It is one of partnership, one of strength. But not strength from doing everything myself. It is strength from shared vision, shared goals, shared life.

Aaahhh…I think I’m finally living in reality.

Standards

“Get caught doing something right.”

I started working in the field of health care in 2006. I had a side-door entry, coming in through an administrative role. My experience of health care is from largely from the business perspective. Still, though I have no clinical skill myself, there’s a lot of overlap with the clinical world, specifically with staff.

I spend a lot of time working to recruit providers and nurses, to coordinate meetings, trainings, and arrange for temporary provider coverage. I write newsletters and policies and the occasional grant.

I swim in corporate email.

Sometimes it’s overwhelming…all the technology, regulation, terminology, bureaucracy, acronyms, staff changes, opinions, personalities…and that’s before patients are added to the mix…the world of the modern family practice clinic.

There are so many patient needs that this community addresses every day, with a shared commitment to ethical care and a standard of best practices.

In the midst of this busyness, there are lessons to be learned, lessons worth observing and passing on. In the whirlwind that envelopes the day-to-day of the clinic, these are the practices I believe in.

This list isn’t a standard for the delivery of health care; it’s a standard, period. You don’t have to be a health care worker to treat someone with dignity, and you can be a leader with great vision and skill even if you were first trained as a provider. These attributes are not incompatible. I’ve known people who exemplify the wonderful blend of compassionate care giver with a head for business and leadership.

These worlds, the often competing worlds of business and health care, overlap so much: they intermingle, and there is no separating them. Sometimes it is to the detriment of each. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can all learn, and perhaps remove some of the cynicism in the process.

I have to believe it’s possible to bring out the best in each other. And with all the meaningless and trivial, there is actual good accomplished.

Here’s how you do it, pure and simple. Turns out, good business and good medicine have a lot in common.

  • People rise to their potential when they have clearly defined structure and expectations, and work in an environment of trust, integrity, and transparency.
  • Right makes might! Doing the right thing commands respect and gives moral authority. Leaders are most effective when they are respected. Respect is a product of living with character and integrity. (If you’re unsure about a decision you’re making, visualize yourself explaining your choice to someone you respect. If you can’t feel good about sharing your decision, you should probably reconsider.)
  • The greatest deficit in most organizations is at the leadership level. Leaders need to set the tone, remove barriers to success, then get out of the way.
  • Principles are timeless, process is not.
  • Promote an environment of creativity and thinking outside the box. When an idea has merit, it deserves recognition and promotion. But don’t get caught in the trap of thinking that because a decision or method has been accepted, it is set in stone. Leaders understand innovation is the balancing tool of structure. Great organizations regularly evaluate and adjust process.
  • Do one thing at a time. Focus! Concentrating on one thing at a time is actually more productive than multi-tasking.
  • Define the problem. When something is not working, take the time to get to the bottom of the issue. Sometimes the most obvious difficulty is only a symptom of a greater problem.
  • When you’re problem solving, listen and then ask questions. Survey everyone involved. The perspective of an entry-level employee may be just as valid as the opinion of a department head. People with different roles in an organization have very different insights into how things work, and every point of view is important.
  • Separate noise from the real issues. Sometimes people are just focused on the drama, rather than the root cause. If you correct root causes, the noise will usually go away.
  • Change is inevitable. No individual, position, or process will last forever. Change can be unsettling, but it can also be refreshing.
  • Acknowledge mistakes. Apologize when necessary. Be gracious when someone apologizes to you. Set the example.
  • Express ideas as simply as you can. Be direct. Don’t use “corporate speak.” Simple is best, and people know when they’re being patronized with a lot of flowery words.
  • Promote an atmosphere of calm. Chaos is unsettling and leads to loss of productivity. People do not thrive in an atmosphere of uncertainty.
  • Promote a positive environment. Discourage gossip. Catch people doing something right. Reward that. Honor that.
  • Give honest value and treat people fairly, and both you and your organization will reap the rewards. Perhaps not every time, but in time. Plus, doing the right thing has an impact on the doer. As Abraham Lincoln said, “When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad.”
  • What you reward, you repeat. What you permit, you promote. Set the tone, and most people will rise to the expectation.

I’ve sometimes been accused of being idealistic. Well, I’ll take that. I would rather have high hopes and expectations than weary cynicism.

Find your brave.

Go forth and slay dragons. Get caught doing the right thing.

An authentic life

I like scars.

I don’t mean that I seek them, or want them. But I value them.

They’re not beautiful, but they’re meaningful.

Tonight I read one of the blogs I follow, Bedlam Farm, and I love the way the author wrote about recognizing change in his life, and accepting that he would always be picking up pieces of himself.

I feel that way too.

I haven’t had physical trauma, and in many respects, I’ve escaped a lot of other difficult life experience. But I’ve brushed up against some of life’s fires enough to be singed, to have some scars.

Over time, the scars remind me less of the wound, and more of the overcoming. They become medals in the game of life, testimony to surviving and thriving.

And in time, they fade. They become so faint…or maybe just so familiar?….that I don’t really notice them anymore. They become part of the tapestry of self that makes up each life.

I think that’s why images of elderly people smiling, all wrinkly and worn, are so charming. Those images speak of people who’ve weathered, literally, but also figuratively.

No one gets out without accumulating a few scars along the way.

Like the author of the Bedlam Farm post says, some pieces of self have to continue the process of change, healing and mending.

Somehow that’s reassuring to me.

The thing about the transformation from wound to scar is: it takes time.

Culturally, we get the message in so many ways to “get ‘er done.” “Just do it!” “No excuses!” “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

In certain contexts, I love all these statements, and I’ve used them. But they don’t work in every situation. Sometimes the best I can do is have patience, for my own failings, or for others’.

It’s a fine line, isn’t it, whether to excuse a flaw or give it grace? Whether to accept that some issues resolve and the wound heals over, the scar fades; or to acknowledge that some lessons take a lifetime to learn?

Life teaches the value of scars in unexpected ways.

Once, Riley wrote on a table I loved, carving deep grooves into the soft pine wood…not in any artistic fashion, but with the random and unlovely markings of a toddler.

At first, all I could see was the marring of the table. It wasn’t a thing of beauty any longer.

But after a while, I couldn’t look at those marks without smiling. I knew the scars were innocently put there. Riley had no concept of damaging the table by writing on it.

The longer I lived with her marks on my table, the dearer the piece became.

I think that’s the same process at work with a lot of my life’s scars…they’ve been overlaid with a patina of knowledge, and understanding, and grace. And in a shorter time than would have seemed possible, scars can take on new meaning.

The wounds and wrinkles of life, as much as the triumphs, are marks of authentic living. As we struggle to be, we stretch, we get banged up. Or sometimes someone bangs into us. Sometimes we’re gashed up. If we’re fortunate, in time we heal.

Many of my small battles don’t leave scars. The scratches and bruises of life…the small irritations of my days…they fade, and I don’t remember them.

The deeper wounds that left the scars…well, now I can appreciate them. But I no longer feel the wound. I celebrate the healing.

Top 10 ways to soothe when you need relief

I know a bit about needing relief. I’ve felt that many days, from different sources of stress: relationships, health, financial pressures, uncertainty over a looming decision, all difficult in different ways. Depending on the weight of the issue, sometimes it feels like I can barely function, other times the worry is like an overlay…or maybe an underlay… on top of everything else going on.

When I’m struggling with something heavy on my heart, I need to cocoon and hide myself. In the hardest moments, I want to sleep. I know that’s a sign of depression, and though I’ve never been clinically depressed, I know sleep is a coping mechanism for dealing with difficult emotional issues.

I also find it hard to stay focused and be productive. I’ve learned that action is a good antidote to feeling sad, but it can be hard to jump-start myself.

My automatic response to distress is to mask what’s bothering me…not sure if somehow I think that will make the situation go away, or if it’s a retreat from confronting what’s painful…if I ignore it, I won’t have to deal with it.

My way of describing this is “putting on the face.” You know, when you act like life is normal, you greet co-workers, go through the motions, even manage to smile and do whatever is on your agenda.

But all the time, inside you’re dying. You’re dying to hear from someone, or about something, or afraid of an approaching deadline.

You’re afraid.

Fear and I are old friends. I can tell the extent of my stress by the persistence of the “engine” of fear I feel running in my stomach. You know when you hear references to the feeling in the pit of your stomach? Yes, that’s the one I mean…fear that is so real you can feel it.

It wakes me up at night, this fear. It rouses me from sound sleep to course through me, my mind moving back to familiar grooves as I think about whatever the issue is, once again.

So what’s the answer? Unfortunately, sometimes there’s not one.

Some fears do come true, and there’s no changing that. Tests come back with scary results. People die. Bad things happen.

Some situations are not about circumstances that are beyond our control, but about people who are beyond control. Wouldn’t life be easy if everyone did what I want them to do? Well, that’s not happening either. Or at least, not in a predictable way.

So, how can you find relief, some measure of peace, some way to cope that’s healthy and sustainable?

Because let’s face it, there are all sorts of answers that are not healthy, not sustainable, not realistic.

I can’t sleep my troubles away, don’t want to medicate to handle life, and living in denial doesn’t help either.

So this is what I do…my top ten ways to comfort and soothe when I’m in the valley:

  1. It sounds counter-intuitive, but I imagine the worst. I just go ahead and get it over with. What if my worst fears come true? What will happen then? Of course I can’t foresee exactly what variables could come into play. But by going to my imagined worst-case scenario, I create a vision of what I would do, what I could do. By facing the worst, I can have at least a minimum plan of response. Maybe I’d need to travel, or consider how a situation would impact financially. I try to think through options in advance. Instead of seeing this as dwelling on the negative, I view this as confronting and planning ahead so I’m prepared, as well as I can be.

  2. Once I’ve imagined the worst and think of how I would address it, I imagine the best. What if the best possible outcome happens? What then? I imagine how that result would impact me…even good outcomes can create change, and I want to be aware so I can be prepared for the good as well as the bad. At least this step is positive and more hopeful than the first, so it’s an easier exercise.

  3. I think about things that I can do to soothe in the moment. Sometimes that means doing something physical, like a work out, or just getting out and going for a drive. Other ideas: clean something, paint something, cook something. Do anything that is a positive physical act that gets me moving and helps me feel productive. Stay on top of day-to-day chores. Nothing is more paralyzing than letting go of your physical environment when you’re mentally stressed…if you’re already fragile, living in chaos will only make it worse. Put your mind on auto-pilot and force yourself to keep a routine going. On the other hand, if you can’t do something active, try being still. Meditate and just breathe.

  4. I have a number of “go to” authors that I read when I need encouragement or comfort, or even a challenge to hold on and breathe and be strong. Knowing whose voices will speak to my heart and mind is a good tool to have in my arsenal to ward off sadness and depression.

  5. I think about who among family and friends I can reach to, not necessarily to talk about what’s troubling me, but just for the connection. When I can have a “normal” conversation about the day-to-day, it reminds me that there are a lot of wonderful people and good things in life beyond the concern of the moment, and it helps to distract me for a while, at least on a surface level.

  6. I talk out loud to myself, usually while I pace, or drive. This one may seem strange, and I don’t do it when I’m with anyone else, but it really helps me to work through my plans, fears, hopes, etc., to hear the words out loud. It’s almost like I can move outside myself and get a little perspective.

  7. I try to get out and meet a friend, have dinner with someone, do something to break my day or evening, change the conversation going on in my mind. That can’t happen every day, but having something on my calendar helps me to look forward to a change of pace, and something that is uplifting. This also includes things like doing something helpful for someone else…anything that gets me out and connecting with other people is a mood lifter, and a distraction, and that’s healthy. I try to do this even if I’m not in the mood to do it at the beginning. Acting my way to feeling better is a positive way to improve my mindset.

  8. I write. I’m a writer, so that’s therapeutic for me. If I can put what bothers me into words, I can get a better grip on the whole thing. I can vent, rant, be sad, talk it all out on paper, and oddly, writing through an issue gives me a different perspective than talking it through out loud or with someone else. It also gives me a record to review down the road. It’s a good check to see if I’ve sorted myself out and resolved what’s troubling me. I don’t try to keep a daily journal when I’m stressed, I write as I feel the need. But I do keep what I write, sometimes just until I have an answer, and sometimes longer if the issue is deeper, and something I may need to visit again.

  9. I talk it out with a trusted soul. Depending on the issue, everyone in my life may know what’s going on, or only a select few. I don’t like to air my issues casually, but being able to open up to the right person or group can do a world of good.

  10. I pray, if possible, out loud, or I sometimes write my prayers. If you’re not a praying person, this one won’t help. For me, there’s relief in taking my heart to God, and believing that he hears and cares about what hurts in my life.

So that’s it. I hope, next time you feel your fear, some of these ideas will help. And if you have a great strategy for dragon-slaying, please share…I can always use another weapon in my arsenal!  ~ Sheila

Sunday Inspiration

Found this beautiful song a few weeks ago…I love the words, and the ending is a reminder of a song I grew up with, “It Is Well With My Soul.” Brave encouragement!

I’m on the ferry

I’m on the ferry, traveling from Ketchikan to Bellingham, WA. I’m bringing my car out; my car, which I bought new when we moved to Ketchikan in 2009.

My Subaru Tribeca has just over 14,000 miles on it.

Ah, the beauty of living on a small island! Well, the miles will add up quickly enough now.

As of Wednesday, I don’t live in Alaska. I’ll still be working there on a regular basis, part of each month. But I don’t live there any longer.

It’s a beautiful state, and I’ve learned so much during my years there. I’ve gained and I’ve lost. I’ve known joy and sorrow.

A lot of my reasons for moving my hub back to the lower 48 are about family. I want to be closer, and I want travel to be easier and less expensive.

I’m appreciative for the good that came out of my Alaska time, and regretful for the things that weren’t good. But to be fair, good and bad happens throughout life, regardless of location, and I don’t want to irrationally blame an entire state for the ups and downs I experienced there.

Still, I think my frontier adventures are more behind me than before me. The work that I’ll continue to do is very structured, and will likely be time limited.

Today I’m watching the water and mountains of the Inside Passage go by from the upper deck of a state ferry, and I’m thinking about so many things…people and amazing experiences that were part of life in Alaska.

Was it a good thing to move there in 2006? Or would I have been wiser to continue life in Colorado?

Impossible to know for sure…but I’ve learned that good things come and pass, and bad things come and pass…it is my task to keep my balance, to respond to events with love, grace, and calm, and to recognize that sometimes we are only seeing the middle of the story when it looks like we are seeing the end.

The choice is not to be passive; it is to be intentional and deliberate, to be responsive rather than reactive. There is a difference in the two.

One of the things I was challenged to do at the November meditation retreat is to be patient, just observe, and then do the right thing. That’s it. That’s all I can do, and even that I can only do as I have ability. I don’t always get the waiting right…and I don’t always make the right choice.

But that is the intention, and that’s where I find myself today. I don’t know how the next chapter will unfold. There is no definite decision as to next home or hub. For right now it is Seattle, partly by default and convenience. But that could change.

As I sit each day, practicing the art of meditation, I remind myself that this is part of the work of life…sitting with patience, giving events opportunity to develop, and then choosing a path.

Sitting on the ferry, watching the water flow past, I’m in the right place.