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Thursday, May 21, 2015

The laughter that masks the tears and general coping mechanisms.

I've observed over the year that people have different ways of coping with pain that comes from the loss--whether it be a person, pet, life they used to have, etc.

Lately, I've become more acutely aware of the role of laughter as a coping mechanism and will address it more fully.  However, I will address the coping mechanisms I see.

Sometimes it is a fine line, between healthy and unhealthy.  For example, anger can be a necessary component of processing, but too much can be poisonous or destructive.  Similarly, relationships can give us comfort from pain, but shouldn't be a mechanism to completely avoid it.

  • Negative Emotional coping
    • Sarcasm 
      • Sometimes it can be funny, but sometimes it can be very hostile.
      • Very often a detached way of expressing true feelings.  
      • Can be anger masked by a veneer of 'witty'
    • Anger    
      • Can be healthy, a stage, a part of the process.  e.g., Anger at a loved one for not taking care of his/herself and/or leaving behind a mess when they pass away.  
      • Too large of a dose of it at once and/or too extended of a dose can move from simple venting to self-poisoning.
    • Bitterness
      • Often reflected in sarcastic tones.
      • Can be anger that has hardened.
  • Cathartic/Comforting
    • Sadness
      • A general feeling of blue.  
      • Often characterized by the inability to 'move'.  Emotional molasses.
    • Depression
      • Sadness that has hardened to the point of almost a numbness. 
      • Deep emotional molasses.
    • Crying
      • The pain becomes so acute, that it literally hurts to keep it in.
      • Releases the toxins or poisons from our body
      • Release endorphins.
    • Laughter
      • Can be finding joy where little exists.
      • Can be making the best out of a rough circumstance
      • Can provide a faux happy appearance where there is real pain waiting to be released.
  • Faith/Spiritual/Relational
    • Prayer
      • Reaching out to our Higher Power/God.  Asking Him to take away or give us the tools to better manage our burdens.
    • Meditation
      • Pushing out the negative energy.
      • Focusing on the positive.
    • Counseling/Writing/Sharing
      • Working through to the cause/root of the pain.
      • Determining what is real/valid and what isn't.
      • Discussing/hashing through the steps of healing.
    • Friendships/Relationships
      • Can be like our own personal counseling.
      • Can give us a reprieve from the pain.
      • Can let us know that we have support.
      • If we rely solely on them to cope, we may be excluding effectively taking other steps to work though/deal with our pain.
  • Destructive/Addictive coping
    • Drugs/Alcohol
      • Relying on a chemical to deal with what we should be processing.
      • Destructive to progress, physically unhealthy and can be deadly.
    • Relational
      • Relying on addiction to other people--real or 'imaginary'-- affairs/porn.
      • Reaching so heavily and often for it can suck the productive life out of us.
    • Circumstances/Things
      • Compulsive gambling, compulsive shopping, hoarding are examples.
      • Expensive and drain us of emotional/necessary physical resources
    • OCD behaviors
      • Eating disorders, excessive cleaning are some examples.
      • Time consuming and can in some cases be physically damaging.

I am sure there are many more ways of coping.  But those are the ones I readily see.  As I indicated I've become more acutely aware over time of the role of laughter in coping.  A sarcastic, condescending laughter is the way a narcissist might deal with pain/loss.  A nervous or excessive laughter is often a way of 'laughing vs. crying'.   In each case, there is a feeling of acute or intense pain.  In the one case, you may be avoiding displaying pain by pushing it out into laughter.   It can appear as being cheerful or happy--sometimes wittingly and sometimes unwittingly--but often is really a way of avoiding the vulnerable appearance of crying.

I well known saying is that "Laughter is good for the soul."   But, if it is a way of avoiding the other necessary coping mechanisms, it can be a nice storefront to a rotting soul. 

That being said, by all means I encourage people to laugh until their heart is content, but make sure it isn't completely at the expense of crying, praying, writing, meditating, etc.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Not crazy for you, but crazy at you

Unfortunately, as we know the passing of a major family member can unleash problems with the surviving members.   This is especially true if the family member that passed away was controversial and/or thought to have assets (even if the latter was not so true).  The 'black sheep' member of my family has decided that they are/were entitled to the assets of my dad, which in reality were very limited.  I basically am presiding over just a little bit more than a pile of rubble.

Anyway, this led to a blog idea.  The ways to deal with a destructive, manipulative and likely mentally ill person.  In my case a family member.  Here goes:

Dealing with destructive, manipulative, mentally ill persons:

1) Attempting to rationally discuss their gripes with them. Generally pointless and frustrating as they are experts at irrational thinking.  To them the irrational is quite rational.  No matter how you try to pull them back toward the rational, they will tend not to concede rational, logical points.

2) Getting into the mud with them.  Generally a bad idea as they are experts at attacking in an irrational way.  It can effectively result in 'poked bear' response from them.

3) Attempting to appease them.  That's like trying to feed the crocodiles and hope they are satisfied enough not to attack you.

4) Shutting them out, ignoring them, not giving any oxygen.  Only surfacing long enough to make it clear you will not tolerate their abuse and preferably through a third party.  This will upset them, probably piss them off that you are not making yourself a target for them, but will save you the stress of dealing with them directly and leave them with uncertainty.  In other words, they may think twice when trying to mess with you as they won't be able to read how you'll react.  However, this is a long drawn out process and can be very frustrating waiting for the fruits of it.

5) Attempt to completely destroy them.  This could very well result in very serious consequences for you and could unleash 'fear biting' in them.

6) Use the law to disable them.  It could be a long, annoying, draining and seemingly frustrating process which requires a sacrifice of time, energy and possibly money.

I am leaning toward option 4.  It is a bit frustrating as when you are attacked by such a person.  There is a tendency to want to immediately shut that person up.  But, as we know the law isn't always on the side of the harassed person.  I guess if option 4 fails, I will go with option 6.  I've tried option 1 and 3 already.  I figured option 2 would be both pointless at best and destructive at worst.  I don't want to engage in option 5 as it is not my intention to punish a person for being mentally ill, besides trying to destroy someone typically has serious repercussions or reverberations

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Denial: The lies we tell ourselves to cope.

A friend of mine inspired this one.  Not by her actions, but rather by her suggestion.

Denial, is the cliche goes, it isn't just a river in Egypt.  Denial can be seen as the following:
  1. A form of self-defense.  We are protecting ourselves from the torment of 'facing reality'.
  2. A necessary evil.  Sometimes, facing all things at once is too much.  If  we make a point to deal with a limited amount now and 'pretend' that that we don't need to deal with the other stuff, it can give us the space to deal with what we need to over time.  Such as unwinding an estate.
  3. A way of avoiding dealing with a problem we have.  Our car makes an odd noise, it just doesn't sound right.  Well, if we avoid it, then we don't have to deal with it, so the thought goes.  Likewise, if we have an addiction of some sort or an illness, by denying it we are fooling ourselves into believing it isn't there and/or doesn't have to be dealt with.
  4. An obstacle to tackling problems BEFORE they get too unmanageable.  Again, health, auto or addiction example.
  5. Lying to ourselves and/or keeping secrets from ourselves.  Denial obviously is a mechanism by which we can be untruthful with others, but ultimately, the one(s) we are untruthful with us more than anyone is ourselves and God.
  6. Relying on our own tools rather than on God.
I don't say denial is all bad.  Sometimes, we just can't cope with everything life throws us at once.  For example, I was grieving over the loss of my mom and to a degree of my brother still.  Also, I was dealing with my own surgery as well as other family issues.  In a way, I didn't have the luxury of totally indulging the extent of my dad's failing health.  So, I would do what I would need to on that score with what I had of emotional/spiritual energy.  I let his caregivers step in an do there jobs and one of us would step in from time to time and make sure they were doing there job.   They have seen it often enough to know the process of failing health/dying.  So, they were better equipped to deal.  Denial saved my energy for a time.   However, the time to stop denying crept up on me and with the help of friends, I faced the inevitability of my dad's passing.

The 'lie' that he was going to live indefinitely was useful as a coping mechanism.  But, eventually, it had to give way.   What I found is that surrounded by Godly friends who reminded me of God's role, I didn't have to live in the denial about it.

I guess one take away I have from this all, a little bit of 'denial' for a time can be a coping mechanism, but if we let it out of control and live in it indefinitely, we are avoiding the healing and adjusting.  In terms of spiritual warfare, to let the enemy win all we have to do is do nothing.  To triumph, we face our pains/hurts/demons/secrets with God's help.

In the 12 step programs, it is often said, we are only as sick as our secrets.  It may be cliche, but it is true.  I don't think that that means we have to answer 'do I look big in this dress', but it does mean being true to God, ourselves and others.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The dying years

The past few years have been hard.  There has been a reset of my relationship with my dad.   After many years in his shadow, I'd finally utterly developed the ability to talk to him and say thing that bothered me.  Losing everything helped this process along.  I'd always been the closest to him, but he's never been the warmest fuzziest father.  Perhaps he didn't know how and I didn't know how to take him as I am very different.  He's a bit distant, I'm very connected, very emotive.

I heard the song "The Living Years" by Mike and the Mechanics and on some level I understood it.  My dad's health was failing, but on some level, he was a tough old bird and there was a part of me that in some way just kept expecting him to live through it. He was gradually getting less able, but yet he was unwilling to accept it.  But, then again maybe he was accepting it but I didn't really see it.  I saw him "wanting to go home", even past the point of absurdity.

A little over two years ago, after 10 times or more of him falling down at home, sometimes breaking ribs, sometimes just bruising them, and sometimes sustaining cuts, I realized taking him back home like he wanted would be a death sentence sooner than it should be.  Even if I had moved in with him, I'd be leaving him at home for 12 hours or more at a time and my daughter would be subjected to these stresses when I had her.  His limitations were getting worse all the time.  He was going through spells of confusion--sundowners.  He was falling prey to sales pitches from fast talking "but wait, there is more" types, etc.  He was having issues taking his meds regularly.  In short, he need 24/7 coverage, preferably with someone or someones who was trained to take care of the elderly.   I had taken him home a few times from the ER and watched him for a while and then had to leave eventually.  Gradually, the guilt of having to leave him by himself at all, was eating me.  I felt like I was doing him a disservice.  The last time he fell and got injured before permanently moving to a nursing home, he tried to pressure me into taking him home, but I refused and said to the social worker at Christian Northeast, I can't do this anymore.  In short, I left the hospital and let the system handle the issue for once.  Eventually, he agreed to go in a nursing home.   They had told me at the hospital that he couldn't be left alone for an extended length of time.

I felt guilty about it, but I had to temporarily walk away for my own sanity as well as my dad's safety.  He kept on 'wanting to go home' and we did humor outing back to the house, to steak and shake, etc. to get him at least a break from the nursing home.  His last outing was around his birthday last November.  We took him over a friend's house and celebrated his birthday.   Later, around Christmas while I was recovering from my own surgery, he aspirated and got pneumonia.  He recovered from that, but it left him to a GI tube as he was a swallow risk.   For a time he was able to go back to regular food, but ultimately, he could not.  After a 3-4 week stay in the hospital which weakened him dramatically.  He made it out back to the nursing home and then I put him on hospice.  Making life and death type decisions for a parent isn't easy.

I watched him last Friday take some of his last few breaths and he passed away shortly after I left, almost as if he was waiting for me to leave.


In the song, The Living Years, the singer regrets the bitterness and frustration of not seeing eye to eye with his dad, the estrangement, the separation and just not coming to terms with his dad before he died.

I had issues with my dad.  I had disappointments with him.  I had frustrations.  I was sad that he never truly seemed to get me and that he wouldn't truly open up about himself.  I wanted a go for beers relationship with the old man, but settled for well I guess we are family so I guess we need to act like it.  He was very hard to talk to.  He'd shut down conversation, he left few real avenues of discussion.  It was almost like he had difficulties in engaging too much more than surface conversation.   Though I tried.  He often seemed more of a judge than my advocate.  But, you know I came to realize you can't wish a relationship is what it isn't  I had other frustrations about the matter, but will not go into it.  I guess at times, I felt like I had a person who called himself my dad, but had trouble being a father.  I think he meant well at times, but didn't necessarily get me.

As I realized that he was dying, my anger/frustration turned to empathy.  I looked in his eyes and I did not see this hard man, but I saw my own flesh and blood, suffering, sometimes frightened, just pathetic.  How the hell can anyone with a conscience turn their back on that?   I may not have had much to give as I've dealt with a lot in the past few years, but I had to at least try.  I mouthed to him the last time I saw him conscience, "I love you".  He mouthed back, "I love you too".  I really was looking into the heart of a hurting soul.  I tried to do my best at the end to make sure he had an opportunity to make peace with his maker.  I protected him from those whom I considered a threat to him (including a family member and a nurse).   It didn't matter who in his life had turned their back on him.  I saw him as 'my person'.  I couldn't face myself knowing that I didn't do all that I could.  Nor could I face God having refused to honor my father.  I spent his last few hours with him as his soul was encased in the shell that we call a body.  It wasn't easy, but I know I had to be there for him, if not for me.

I do miss him.   I am disappointed that having a closer relationship, a more full one, a more hallmark card one wasn't in the cards.  I do know that no matter what, he was my dad and even with his flaws he ultimately was there.  Even though his sense of honor wasn't exactly mine, I did respect it when he showed it.   I think he tried, but was hampered by less than a less than perfect environment growing up.  Besides, having an imperfect relationship with a father is better than none at all.   I got to see one way of fatherly parenting and where I disagreed, I had a basis to go in the opposite direction.  Had I not had a father, I probably would have been more aimless.

I did know that I forgave him and loved him in "The Dying Years".

Monday, April 27, 2015

Fighting Human Nature with Divine Wisdom

I was talking with a friend the other day about something that was bothering me and he said, "well it's human nature".   Then I thought back to the series of events leading up to and including WWI (that I'd seen on AHC) and realize how we stumble into disaster. 

In our everyday lives, we make selfish choices.  Very often, the selfish choices are necessary such as finding time away from our kids so as to mentally and spiritually rejuvenate ourselves--allowing us to be better people and parents.  Sometimes our choices are selfish out of obliviousness.  For example, we make an unscheduled stop at the store to pick up a few items and are so focused on our own needs we forget to ask our spouse if he/she could use anything.  Sometimes we make selfish choices out of greed or jealousy such as grabbing more than our share or taking something that isn't ours. Then there are times we make selfish choices out of fear such as pushing others out of our way to escape a burning building.

Whatever the case, we often justify our self-focused, inconsiderate or boorish behavior by saying, "It's human nature.", as if that makes it okay.  In the WWI series, it was a series of selfish choices by leaders that led to a disastrous war.  In our everyday lives, that behavior leads to unhealthy relationships and unhappy lives.

So, what do we do?  We take time and listen to our Higher Power (God).  We take time and listen to our conscience.  We take time and listen to our others.  LISTEN, not just hear or just do, but truly listen to them.  We need to listen for whom our behavior or actions benefit or hurt.  We listen to whom our actions aren't considering.

God's wisdom, knowledge and discernment are there, but we just have to be open to it.  God gave us a free will.  But sometimes our free will takes us to dark and/or selfish places.  We justify it by saying it is human nature.  Shouldn't we strive for more than human nature?  Shouldn't we strive to understand and mimic God's perfect wisdom?

Proverbs 4:5
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.
    Though it cost all you have, get understanding.

(This post was originally published on April 27, 2015)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Taking care of yourself: why it's not selfish to love yourself first

The past month has been a difficult one for me.  Some of which I will share here, some of which I won't.  (originally posted in April 2015)

The part I will share: My dad has Parkinson's and he is at a late stage.  He has lost the ability to eat by mouth, he has lost so much weight, he has lost almost all ability to take care of himself.  I've had to make DNR type decisions for him and put him on hospice.  To a lesser extent I've had to deal with family drama which is typical when multiple siblings are are involved.  As his POA, I've had to do what I think is best.  As he did not leave a living will, I've had to try to figure out what he would want and/or what is best for him.  Anyway, very depressing and definitely no fun.  After losing my mom last July, I'm starting to feel parent-less.  I've had a few other lesser things weighing on my mind too.  Some of which had got me down.

Anyway, I wasn't feeling my lovable self.   My girlfriend had noticed that too.  I've heard you have to love yourself first before you can love another.  There were days in which I felt like I wasn't throwing out as much warmth as she was.  I felt kind of bad about this and my instinct was what's wrong?

Within the past week, the cloud started lifting, part of which is my dad seems to have stabilized.  Also, I've come to better terms with his imminent passing.  The upbeat nature and warmth came out of hiding.   She noticed that.  I had noticed my capacity for warmth had diminished temporarily. but now that the clouds are lifting, I am back to my usual warm. My realization: if you don't take care of your own needs, up to and including feeling good about yourself,  you will not be in the position to love another the way you should.   She had been through her own losses fairly recently too, so God blessed me with someone who understands all this.


A side note, I previously had dated someone who had had her life collapse about her.  Instead of facing the demons, she sought a distraction in relationships.  I came to realize she didn't love me so much as she loved the distraction.   She was using the relationship as a means to find love for herself rather than processing and looking inward and seeing herself as having inherent God-given value.  Whenever my life needs would pull me away from seeing her, she'd take it personally.  She'd let me know that "she wasn't a priority".   I realized that to her I was part of a 2D vs. 3D relationship,


I guess my takeaways are this:

  • Be kind to yourself and take care of your own self-needs and you will be in the best position to give to another.
  • A supportive significant other will not try to 'fix' your problems/concerns, but will be there for you.  He/she will be there for you through the good and rough patches.
  • In healthy relationships, each partner understands the ebbs and flows in the other's life and doesn't personalize them. 


Friday, April 3, 2015

Wanting to be somewhere else in our lives and the role of faith.

One time when I was talking with my daughter, it occurred to me that we spend a lot time throughout our life, wishing we were at a different point of our life.  In other words, the grass will be or was greener at a different point. Now, descriptions of each stage and the longings at each stage, doesn't apply to everyone and experiences differ, but I believe on onto something.  So, without further ado, i bring you the stages in our lives and how we could wish for them to be different.
  • When we are real little kids we look up the elementary school kids and wish we were one of the 'bigger kids'.  We want to be able to ride on this ride or do this activity, be stronger or faster, etc.  
  • When we are young kids, we look to the teenagers and see that they can drive, they can go to more grown up movies, they can stay at home by themselves, they can date, etc.  We see the freedoms they have and wish we could be a big kid.  We won't necessarily see the responsibility that goes with being an older kid.
  • When we are teens we wish an adult so we can live on our own, be able to work full-time or go away to school, etc.  In other words, we are striving for the adult level perks.  We like the perks, but may not be thrilled with the responsibility that comes with them.
  • When we are a young adult under 21, many look forward to 21 as a right of initiation.  We look to be able to go just about to any club or any place we want.  In some cases, we look at those in high school as 'kids' and we are glad we are grown up.  We yearn to be taken seriously as grown-ups, but are not always at this point, especially if we still have parental dependence. 
  • There is a period starting in our  early to middle 20s, especially if we have our first job out of college or have been working for a while when we really start to feel our oats.  For many, it is being able to do just about whatever we want and not having to answer to many people, except maybe an occasional parent or peer group concern.  But, relatively speaking, we have our freedom and a paycheck and can do what we want.  While some have already worked on finding that 'lifelong' relationship, for others it is the time in which we have started to move away from fun dating and have started really started to want to find that lasting grown-up relationship.  From what I see, this period has the potential to be the happiest. However, for some they have lifelong career ambitions that can usually only be achieved with time.  For them, there is impatience to be a little older.
  • Then we hit our 30s.  For some this is a good thing as we are able to really start hitting some of our career ambitions.  For others, it is an 'oh crap' moment in which we realize that we aren't so 'youngish' anymore.  By this time, many are married and have started families.   Now we have to be responsible.  The carefree days of childhood and still free days of young adulthood have yielded to the realities of having to be a responsible spouse/parent.  In some ways, while thirtysomethings may be happy in their marriage/family, there is sometimes a wish for the freedom/carefree nature of our younger years.  In other words, there is some yearning to be a little younger.
  • For me at 36 I realized that I was on the wrong side of the 30s.  In my early to mid 30s, I felt I was close enough to my 20s that I could consider myself close to a 20 something.   To a high schooler, I would start to seriously look like Dad this point and less like the cool older brother.  By 36, the delusion was over.   I wasn't anywhere near old, but I wasn't exactly close enough to my young adulthood to be part of the 'cool crowd'.  To a teen, I'd be starting to look old though.  To myself, I'd realized that I am closer to 40s than to 20s.
  • For me hitting the 40s was like oh well.  I mean what's the difference between 39 and 40.  From what I see, not much.  I was the age that I thought was old when I was a teen.  I still could hold onto the delusion that I wasn't starting to get old.  That delusion's end comes later.  For some in the 20s and 30s, our body starts saying, "Hello, I have issues".  But, in the 40s our bodies tend to kick this to a higher gear.  Recovery time is longer, we just don't have the flexibility that our kids have.  While they are playing and running, while we are looking for the bench to sit on and watch.  Still, relatively speaking we are not old. Many are established in their career, but we still wish we had the stamina and spunk of younger years.
  • Later 40s.  The 40s have been said to be the new 30s with advancements in healthcare.  But, we are realizing now that the delusion of being the new 30s will end soon anyway.  We are seriously edging closer and closer to being able to receive AARP benefits.  In other words, society has in way started to let us know that soon we will be welcomed to the old person's club.  We start to really reflect on how far away we are from high school/college.  Our parent's health often seriously starts to deteriorate then and in some cases, they have died by this point--leaving us to feel like oh wow, we are the family elder(s).   We start really missing the younger years.
  • In our 50s, we are telling ourselves, well at least I'm not a senior citizen.  But, to the youth culture, we are looking  like or being seen as "grandma/grandpa".   In many cases, we start really recalling the 'old days'. To younger people, before your time, is unfortunately a saying we are uttering more and more.  We in some cases, wish we had the wisdom of now with the body of a younger person.  For some, we are 'old', for others we don't want to give up the delusion.  Our kids, whom in some cases have already started leaving before this, are growing up in droves by now.  Our parents start leaving us behind in droves, leaving us to realize we are the family leader generation coming of age.  Once again, we miss more and more younger years.
  • Our 60s - literally now we are senior citizens and by this time most people, if they are to be grandparents are that by now.  We like the grandkids, but we enjoy that we don't have to watch them at the end of the day in most cases.  As our kids have become well established in their own life, we really really sometimes long for the younger years.  Friend of ours, who in some cases have died before this, are dying more often now.   Some still have parent alive, but most or many of our parents have passed on, leaving us as the older generation.   In any case, we start to really strongly consider our own mortality, assuming we aren't in denial.   We see our younger years as a distant memory by now.
  • 70s and beyond - We start to look at 50s and even some in 60s as 'young'.  If we are 'lucky' to have made it here, we have lost a lot of people.  We realize that in many cases, we are nearing the end and reflections/regrets that might have really evidencing themselves in our mid to late 50s and 60s just become more and more common now, presuming we still are mentally with it.  Clearly a younger version of ourselves with the knowledge we've gained would be desirable at this point.
Anyway, the conclusion, I have come up with after assessing the different points in our lives is that for much our life, unless we have faith and the hope that goes with it, seems to be a struggle.  We long to be a different age then we are much or most of the time.  There are struggles/frets at each stage.  There may only really a short window at best in which we are 'truly happy' with our age.  FAITH is a tool by which can hold on through the rough periods and realize happiness in every period and have hope for the future.  

If we look through a glass half full perspective, there is always something we have to do or are not allowed to do at the various stages of our lives.  It is easy to overlook the responsibilities we are exempt from due to age--working for a living, paying bills, etc. It is also easy to overlook the things we can do at our age, that we can't necessarily do at other ages. Things such as riding kids ride, easily climbing and jumping and running as kid.

For me, my Christian faith has helped me to accept the stages and roles of my life, though not perfectly.  For example, I'm in my late 40s and instead of seeing managing the affairs and expenses of the passing of my parents as a burden, I can see it as an honor that they trusted me.  In my younger years, it helped me see that I have the freedom to do things without the burden of responsibility that comes with adulthood such as how will I pay for my needs.

It is inevitable that from time to time and at different points in our lives that we wish we were at a different stages.  It is also inevitable that at times, we look forward to stages in our lives idealistically or back on stages in our lives selectively.  However, what is not inevitable that we stay in the past or impatiently wish for the future.  With faith and hope, we can learn to appreciate the moment and stay in it most of the time as needed.

Just some thoughts....