Monthly Archives: January 2014

Celebrating Our Enoughness

You’ve heard of a ski bum, right? Someone who works hard all summer so they can ski all winter? Well, my Grandpa Mahoney wasn’t a ski bum, but he was a bum skier, and a pretty good one at that. Most of us who have ever gone snow skiing have had some experience with snow bum skiing, sliding all the way down the hill on your fanny, either accidentally or on purpose because the hill was beyond your abilities. But not Grandpa. He was a water bum skier.

One of our trips to Bear Lake included another family and Grandpa and Grandma Mahoney, my mother’s parents. As usual, we would ski in the morning and evening and play on the beach or in the water during the afternoon wind. One morning I was on the boat with “Uncle Phil”—one of those family friends who isn’t really an uncle but you call him that anyway—and several others, including my grandpa. Well, for whatever reason, Grandpa decided he wanted to try his hand at waterskiing. This was rather remarkable considering that he was probably about 60 years old at the time and had never waterskied before.

Uncle Phil, who was driving the boat, stopped, and Grandpa jumped into the water. Someone got into the water with him to get him all situated, then Uncle Phil began to slowly tow him along. Finally, Grandpa yelled “Hit it,” and off we went. Grandpa was a rather small man, so he got on top of the water fairly easily. There was only one problem—instead of standing up straight, he was in a squatting position, his nether end endlessly bouncing along the surface of the water. And thus, “bum skiing” was born.

Every time Grandpa tried to stand up straight, he would start to lose his balance, so he would return to his squatting position. This happened over and over again. It still makes me smile when I think about it. Uncle Phil was laughing so hard I don’t think he could see where he was going. If we had been able to catch this on video, which would have been rather difficult because video cameras hadn’t been invented yet, I’m sure it would have won America’s Funniest Home Video grand prize. Grandpa’s run ended when he finally did stand up straight—and promptly tipped over into the water. But the story doesn’t end there. Several years later my dad overheard Grandpa tell someone, “I used to do some waterskiing. Got pretty good at it, too.”

We’ve laughed about this story for years. But it was always told basically at Grandpa’s expense—we were laughing at him rather than with him. When I first thought about putting this story on my blog, it was still with that attitude. Realizing it would put Grandpa in a less than favorable light, I decided not to use it. But then I got thinking—for a 60-year-old man who had never waterskied before, he really was pretty good at it. At least he had the gumption to try it, and that says something in and of itself. However, the thing that really struck me was that not only was Grandpa not afraid to try something new, he also wasn’t afraid to celebrate himself and his accomplishment.

Celebrating one’s self. What a novel idea.Celebrate

I don’t know about you, but I’m not very good at celebrating myself. In fact, I’m lousy at it. I’m incredibly good at downplaying my efforts and accomplishments, but the other side of the scale is basically empty, an imbalance that is definitely detrimental. The thing is, even if I were a highly acclaimed, award-winning water skier, or author, or artist, or whatever, I’m sure I would still believe I wasn’t enough. And, in the script that I’ve been using for most of my life, you have nothing to celebrate if you’re not “enough.”

It’s a dangerous idea—this perception of being enough or not enough. The biggest challenge is that it is undefinable; how does one measure his or her enoughness? I don’t know. My script tells me that I will somehow magically recognize when I have arrived at that point. But that leads to the question, arrived where? If I’m honest, I have to admit that, according to my script, that destination is determined by comparing the perceived value of my own accomplishments, performances, worthiness, talents, or beingness to the perceived value of those same qualities and efforts in someone else. I once had a very wealthy man tell me that it wasn’t how much money he had that was important, it was how much more he had than somebody else that mattered. I was quite taken aback by that, but I realize now that I’ve been doing that with myself—my enoughness is determined by whether or not I perceive that I am better than someone else.  Except, my endeavors are never enough because there is always someone whom I feel is doing it, whatever “it” is, better. The problem with determining my enoughness by comparing myself to someone else is that the basis for that evaluation is always faulty. I’ve often told others that it’s not fair to compare their dirtiest bathroom with their neighbor’s clean front room, but that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. I guess I should listen to myself; I might learn something.

However, comparison to others isn’t the only method I use to determine my enoughness. When I’m not comparing myself to someone else, I’m measuring myself against an unreasonable standard of what I think I should be able to do. (“Should” is another dangerous word, but we’ll leave that for another day.) For some perverse reason, I think I should be able to do things perfectly. I certainly don’t expect that from anyone else, but that’s the impossible-to-meet standard I set for myself. Problem is, because I’m not perfect, and never will be in this life, it is impossible to do things perfectly; there will always be room for improvement. So, according to my unyielding script, I can’t celebrate because, being less than perfect, I’m not enough.

Frankly, I’ve had it with underrating my enoughness, so here’s what I’m going to do. For the next week I’m going to try an experiment. Each night I’m going to list five things I can celebrate about myself. Here’s my list for yesterday:

  1. I watched my daughter’s two youngest children, the toddler and the whirlwind, while she went to an appointment.
  2. I called my mom to check on her.
  3. I got up at 6:30 a.m. to kiss my husband goodbye before he went to work.
  4. I meditated for 15 minutes.
  5. I did yoga for an hour.

I have to admit that at the same time I was making out this list, I was also telling myself that each of these things was nothing big. Well then, I guess I’ll celebrate small things. And that’s enough.

I’ll let you know in a week or so how the experiment is going. I’d love to hear from you if you decide to try this yourself. You either can comment to this post, or, if you’d rather not make it public, you can email me at eileen@thehappycamperblog.net.

Let’s celebrate!

Image credit: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/photo_8161215_3d-man-party-isolated-on-white.html’>digitalgenetics / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

The Rest of the Story

Rest of the storyOne of my grandchildren has recently begun counseling to help with episodes of anxiety. Because of my own experience, I have been very concerned. Unfortunately, my own mood has been somewhat off kilter since the holidays, and, consequently, my response has been, shall we say, an overreaction.

Given our family’s history of anxiety and depression, I have always known that it was possible, if not likely, that one or more of my grandchildren might have to deal with this particular challenge. Often I have prayed that, if it was the Lord’s will, He would allow my posterity to be spared these experiences. However, included in those prayers has been the acknowledgement that I don’t want these trials taken from my grandchildren if they are necessary for them to reach their fullest potential. I just didn’t think it would happen so soon.

As this situation has become more concerning, my own anxiety surrounding it has grown as well, along with an increase in distorted thinking. One of my “favorite” distorted thought habits is fortune telling: I attempt to predict the future—and those predictions are always negative.  Accompanying fortune telling, there is catastrophizing: I see a small difficulty or set back and turn it into a life-ruining event. Then there is my habit of discounting the positive, which I’ve talked about before. It goes like this—no matter how positive an experience is, I always find a way to dismiss it as insignificant and unimportant. (You can find a list of ten cognitive distortions and their explanations on my “Just Stuff” page.)

Anyway, as I thought about this situation with my sweet little grandchild, I immediately recalled the deep, dark abyss that I experienced thirty years ago, and it terrified me that this child might have to endure the same thing. I was an adult when it happened to me, and I couldn’t see how a child could possibly make it through that kind of trauma. When I considered that medication might be needed somewhere down along the line, my first thought was, “What if they can’t find anything that works?” In my mind, it seemed to me that this child’s life was essentially over. When I expanded my thinking to parents and siblings, I had the situation ruining everybody’s life. Even though I knew at the time that these thoughts were cognitive distortions, I couldn’t seem to get beyond them. Now that I see them in writing, I have to wonder how in the world I could have believed such melodramatic and implausible scenarios.

Nonetheless, I felt helpless and hopeless. I wanted to “fix” the situation, to just make it go away, and I didn’t know how. So I went to the Lord. How, I asked, can I watch someone I love so dearly go through this kind of trial, especially at such a young age? Why can’t they just have a happy, care-free childhood? How in the world will they be able to survive such an assault on their emotional well-being? I am confident the Lord tried to answer me, but I’m sure He got a busy signal because I was too preoccupied with my own thoughts to hear His voice.

I also went to my therapist with the same question: How can I get through the trial of watching this sweet child suffer, especially knowing intimately how deep that suffering can be? He reminded me that human beings are resilient creatures who find a way to get through hard things. He also mentioned that, because of my experience, I am in a unique position to understand and help. Additionally, he pointed out that intervention in the form of counseling had already begun. Finally, he suggested that I really didn’t know how things would turn out, and perhaps the future I envisioned wouldn’t be the one that actually comes to pass. This was all good counsel, but I wasn’t ready to hear it. I was still at the point where the only person I was willing to listen to was myself.

Looking back, I realize what I really wanted to know was how I could avoid the future pain I perceived was inevitable, not just with this experience, but with all the difficult circumstances that occur in our lives. More than anything, I was wishing for a way, other than suicide, to escape all the potential anguish and heartache that is inherent to mortality.

When I was finally ready to listen, the Lord provided an answer, one that satisfies my soul. But, as is usually the case, it was quiet in its coming. As I pondered the situation, this thought came into my mind: What if you did leave now and things don’t turn out the way you think they will? What if there are some really positive things coming in the future? Don’t you want to be there to experience the rest of the story?

It was like a light went on in my mind. Not like flipping a switch and the room is instantly lighted, but more like the predawn when, imperceptibly, the darkness begins to give way to light. In all my years of fortune telling and catastrophizing, I have never thought about things in the way the Lord suggested. Because I am always so convinced that my telling of the rest of the story is accurate, I have been unwilling to consider a different, positive ending. The more I have thought about this, though, the more hopeful I have become, not only about this situation, but about life in general. In the situation with my grandchild, I have started to look at all the things we have in our favor—we are intervening early before distorted thought patterns become intractable, the mother of this child is particularly suited for dealing with this challenge, and, above all, the Lord is in control and He will provide the means and resources we need, as He always does. Although there certainly will be difficult circumstances in the future, I am beginning to accept the inevitability of good and wonderful things to celebrate, things of which I want to be a part. And as I have allowed the light of God into my mind, I have had the sweet assurance that everything will be fine. I don’t know what the rest of the story will look like, but I know it is something I don’t want to miss.

Image credit: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/photo_21648606_planet-earth-with-appearing-sunbeam-light-elements-of-this-image-are-furnished-by-nasa.html’>nexusplexus / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

It’s Hard, But That’s Okay

My dad spent about six weeks in the hospital after he fell and suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Once he was released from the hospital, he went to a care center for continued rehabilitation. Fortunately, there was a facility that was about a block from my parents’ house, which was where we took Dad. It was very convenient for Mom; she would walk over several times a day to see him or help with his meals or whatever. Because it was close, she could stay for short periods of time rather than spending her whole day at the care center. However, over the years Mom and Dad had helped with Sunday worship services at this very care center, and Dad had told her emphatically to never put him in a place like that. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a choice because we could neither provide the rehabilitation he required nor take care of his physical needs at home.

The day we transferred Dad from the hospital to the care center was incredibly traumatic. He had no idea where he was going or what was happening. The van driver from the care center, a stranger to Dad,  came and loaded him into the van and tied down his wheelchair. Dad was so scared and confused. At that point we had to say goodbye to him because we couldn’t travel with him in the van. Mom promised him that she would be there when he got to the care center, but I’m sure he neither comprehended nor remembered what she was telling him. Somehow, however, once Dad got to the care center, he knew where he was—at least he knew the kind of place he was in. And for him, his worst nightmare had suddenly become reality.

Because he was at risk for falling, the care center staff decided he would be safer if he were to sleep on a mattress on the floor rather than letting him sleep in a bed. I don’t know if you can imagine our feelings as we sat Dad down on his new “bed” and tried to explain to him that he would be staying here while they helped him get better. But, the only thing Dad understood was that he was in a place that terrified him, and he didn’t know why he was there. In fact, he seemed to think that he had done something wrong, and this was his punishment.

That day was perhaps, for me, the most gut-wrenching part of our experiences with Dad’s TBI and subsequent dementia. There he was, my big, strong, brilliant father, who had been so vibrant and alive just mere weeks before, sitting on a mattress on the floor in a lifeless institutional room, curled up in a fetal position, rocking back and forth and repeating “I’ve done something wrong, I’ve done something wrong,” over and over again like a mantra. I think this is when I truly learned the meaning of heartbreaking.

As Dad sat rocking back and forth, I went over to him, put my arms around him in an attempt to comfort him, and said very simply, “This is really hard, isn’t it.” Then something happened that was genuinely miraculous. Dad stopped rocking, looked up at me with clarity in his eyes and replied, “It’s hard, but that’s okay.” Immediately after this profound, and indisputably lucid, statement, he went back to his rocking and repeating “I’ve done something wrong.”

Most belief systems regarding the nature of being recognize that we are dual or triadic   beings. These different aspects of being human go by many names—the spiritual man and the natural man; the higher self and the lower self; mind, body, and spirit; subconscious, conscious, and super conscious. My favorite description comes out of the Ayurvedic tradition—the absolute self and the relative self.  Whatever you want to call it, I believe that at that instant my father’s spirit, his absolute self, was able to speak to me from beyond his broken brain and let me know that, on a higher level, not only did he understand what he was going through, but also that he was content with the experience.

As you can imagine, this encounter has given me much to ponder and consider. I know of no one who enjoys trials and adversity, including me. But because of Dad’s statement, “It’s hard, but that’s okay,” I’m learning to consider pain through a different lens. Through this experience I’ve learned that my eternal spirit, my super conscious self, sees affliction from an entirely different perspective than does my mortal, conscious self. From my earthly perspective, sorrow and anguish are always negative states of being to be avoided at all costs. However, to my spirit, trials are invaluable opportunities to learn. I can’t say that I am unreservedly grateful for my adversities, but I know this to be true: there are things we can learn from trials, if we are willing, that cannot be learned any other way.

I think that experiencing pain, suffering, and adversity are not unlike taking a difficult academic course, although, admittedly, on a much grander scale. I believe God has created an individualized learning plan for each of His children designed to teach us that which He would have us understand. Whatever that plan is for an individual, he or she can choose whether or not to learn from his or her experiences. In my case, I see my on-going struggles with mental illness as the experiences I need in order to learn compassion and empathy for others. I Hard but ok 2will readily admit that it hasn’t been easy in any way. There are times when I wonder if I am truly capable of completing the “course of study” He has outlined for me.

What this “course of study” perspective does for me is to give meaning to my trials and even to my very existence. In all honesty, I can’t usually see things from this perspective when I’m in the middle of a “fiery trial which is to try you” (1 Peter 4:12). When I’m surrounded by flames and it seems that my whole life is burning down around me, my primary focus is on escape, or if that is not possible, then at least dousing the blaze. However, fleeing the firestorm is often not the expedient thing in God’s learning plan for me. Under those circumstances, I have two choices: I can allow myself to be consumed by my misfortune and become bitter and resentful towards God, or I can walk barefoot across the burning coals to get through and beyond the inferno to increased strength and understanding. Mercifully, God has always helped me traverse these trying times of my life, though I usually have some scars from the experience. Once beyond the adversity, if I am smart, I look, not backward at the seeming devastation, but inward at the new growth that always arises from the ashes.

Yes, Dad, you were right—life is hard, but that’s okay.

Image by Hannu (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d1/Boreal_pine_forest_after_fire.JPG