Learning Empathy

Suck it up buttercup!  How often have you heard that phrase?  How often have you dished it out?  Or something like it?  If I’m whining about a hill climb, or that I’m tired or just generally whining;  then absolutely, tell me to suck it up!  If I tell you I’m anxious or worried;  don’t, just don’t.  Don’t say, you’re fine, suck it up.

I’ve heard from several friends over the summer the inappropriate responses they have received from others while trying to explain their anxieties.  If you have never experienced anxiety to the degree that many of us have then you probably have a hard time understanding.  I get this.  I think I was one of you before having a traumatic experience that changed my life.

I know that it makes some people uncomfortable.  I know that you often don’t know what to say or how to respond, so your immediate reaction is flippant.   I know you don’t mean to be hurtful or dismissive.  But you are.

So what do you do?  

Listen.  Listen.  Listen.  You don’t have to talk.  Just listen.

Take your friend for a walk, bring a pet over to visit, learn what helps them re-focus and calm.  Most of you know that for me, it’s a bike ride, a hike, an animal or simply being outside.

Ask, how can I help you?  Lots of times we don’t know the answer to this, but it sure helps to be asked.

Send a text message that says, how is today?  Want to go for a walk?  You are loved.  I am here.

Things not to say:

Suck it up buttercup!  Fake it till you make it!  You’re fine!

It was inevitable,  bound to happen.  Only a matter of time.  I told you so.

And yes, I did get this response when Sherry died.  It added to my guilt that I was alive and she wasn’t.  It furthered my belief that I did something wrong, that we were at fault, that I should have been able to stop it.  So, please, just don’t say this to anyone.

It is hard to understand the depth of anxiety that some of us live with.  Anxiety comes in all shapes and sizes.  On Saturday I started having nightmares about my family dying while they are away.  Adam and the boys are heading to West Virginia for a week and I’m terrified.  Irrational?  To some, maybe.  You have to remember, I watched one of my best friends die, so to me it’s not irrational or implausible.  In my mind it’s possible.  It’s possible that a horrendeous thing can happen in an instant.  I will struggle all week while they are gone and will be so relieved when they return.

So the next time you are tempted to say something like, suck it up buttercup, remember, some of us have scars that run deep and are easily re-opened.

“I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.”

Maya Angelou

Hill Memories

I had a hill workout on the books today.. and a tough one!  I thought about the best hills to run and discarded all of the standards for various reasons, too short, too steep, too much traffic, too much noise, no place to warm up… This continued even when I was driving to “some” hill.  Finally I decided on Peenaquim.

I knew in the back of my mind why I was struggling to choose a hill.  I usually ran hill repeats with Sherry, on Friday afternoons.  We’d run Laundry hill for short sprints, Wendy’s for medium intervals and Par three for longer intervals.  It didn’t matter if it was cold, rainy or hot, that was our hill day.  The only time I remember us bailing was one spring when there was a grass fire close by.  The air was so thick with smoke that we bailed almost immediately after getting out of our cars and went for a beer.

More Fridays than I can remember and we always had to be done by 5, because Friday was Jack & Sherry’s night for Luigi’s and groceries.  Always.

So that’s why I chose Peenaquim.  It’s a hill we never ran, it wasn’t paved until recently.  It was a good choice.  It’s a gradual grade with only a few steeper parts, there’s no traffic and it’s surrounded by coulees and quiet.  A meadowlark cheered for me each time I ran past and at one point flew across my path.  And yes, I said, “Hi Sherry”  and smiled, for I’ve always wondered if her spirit is captured by a bird soaring high above us in the sky.  Following us on our bikes and cheering on our runs.

I miss you my friend.

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Calgary 70.3 July 2014

 

 

 

These are My People

I am so lucky.   In the past few days I have felt an overwhelming sense of wellness and calm.  Surprising, because it’s been a really tough week.

My body was pain free Friday for the first time in almost two years.  My back didn’t hurt, my knees didn’t hurt, my foot wasn’t numb.  My mind was calm after an exhausting and emotional day revisiting Sherry’s death and the months following.

Make no mistake, I have to work at it.  It’s a continuous cycle that can sometimes be vicious.  I’m not always well, I’m not the same and I may never be.  While running Saturday, I said to my runnning partner, “someday’s it’s so frustrating, I just want to go to bed!  But I have to stretch, meditate, be quiet so my mind will shut down and sleep will arrive.”  I know what I have to do to be well; and it takes time.

So why am I lucky?  I’m lucky because I have people that have taken the time and care to teach me these things.  I’m lucky because I’m surrounded by kind and loving people.  I’m lucky because I have amazing friends who listen and hear me.  Then they help me understand, empathize and release the anger.  They don’t perpetuate the anger, the grief and the negative feelings.  They help me find the light, the good, the alternative.

When we cruised into Streatside for breakfast after our 10 miles on Saturday (okay, maybe it wasn’t cruise… the last mile for me was pretty painful!) I felt an overwhelming sense of belonging.  These are my people.  They are welcoming, they smile, they greet you.  They don’t care if you are fast or slow, fat or thin, young or old.  They are runners and they are together to enjoy being outside and time with others.

I’m thankful today that I have been embraced by so many wonderful people.  You make me well.  Thank you.

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It is Well

Two friends.  One is suffering a huge loss, the other is celebrating a huge accomplishment and recognition.  Change for both.  Change for me.  While my heart aches for one, my soul rejoices for the other.

How do we manage the juxtaposition of what we know with what is to come?  How do we support and facilitate the change for our friends and for ourselves?

Change is a difficult thing.  No matter if we invite it in and welcome it, change means a disruption to our lives.

Yesterday, after sharing her loss, my one friend asked how I was.  I paused for a moment, then replied, “today, I am well.  I feel still and peaceful.  It is a blessing.”  Part of me wondered if I should share this with her as I knew she was suffering, but I think sharing our feelings allows us to help more, and create through honesty, trust and deep relationships.   Yesterday, I was in a position to listen and empathize.

Today, I’m a little out of sorts.  Celebrating and grieving with friends does have a cost for me.   I know when work, family, life starts to add up and I need a break.  Funny things start to happen.  I get forgetful, I’m clumsy, I drop things, I can’t concentrate.

But this is where self care comes in for all of us.  For those that are directly experiencing the change and those of us that are supporting the change, or maybe we are doing both.  Listen to your body, listen to the clues.  For me it means being kind to myself, getting outside or walking the dog.  It also means recognizing the emotions that arise and knowing that it’s okay.  It’s okay to feel sad when you support others, even when it’s a celebration, because it means you care, it means you have a connected relationship.  And those relationships are what matters.

Take time today to recognize the feelings in your mind and body today.   Then reach out and make a connection.

 

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Be Brave

Where did these little boys go?

Last night Eli told me that he was going to Waterton with his friends on Saturday, one of those friends will be driving.  Yikes!

When I was a teenager, I drove to Edmonton weekly by myself to take lessons.  We all drove, we drove in all conditions and we drove in the city.  Yet, when Eli, who is almost 17, said I want to go to Waterton with my friends, I thought, no way!  My mind came up with a million reasons why he shouldn’t go;  it’s winter, your friends are new drivers, 16 year old boys are silly and sometimes don’t think.  But the real reason is I’m afraid.  I’m afraid of what could happen and I’m afraid to let the driving out of my control.  I’m so afraid of other drivers, so afraid of what could happen.

I’m really struggling with this.  Logically, I know the driver is capable, I know that these boys are responsible. So I will let him go and keep my worries to myself.  For awhile I chastised myself for having irrational thoughts.  Unfortunately, they aren’t irrational thoughts.  I know all too well what can happen in an instance, what can happen when a driver looks away from the road.

I came across this picture of Sherry when I was looking for a feature picture:

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She would tell me to let him go and adventure.  I will because it’s the right thing and I know he needs to grow.  But I’m still afraid, so I’ll try to “be of good courage.”

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A Fine Line

Two drivers were sentenced this week in Lethbridge courts.  One, a rancher who injured 3 people, was charged with driving with undue care and attention, fined $2300 and had his license suspended for two months.  He originally was charged with dangerous driving causing bodily harm.

The second driver, a women who killed a motorcylist, was charged with careless driving, fined $2000 and had her license suspended for three months.

The driver that killed Sherry was also charged with careless driving, fined $2000 and had her license suspended for three months.

Huh.

If I understand correctly, the dangerous driving charge stems from intent, where as the careless driving charge is unintentional.  A mistake if you will.  A mistake, regardless of how big it is, or the consequences.  So if you are negligent and you kill someone, but you didn’t mean to, it’s careless driving.   Seems like a fine line doesn’t it?

When the crown prosecutor asked us if we wanted to appeal, I said no.  I said no because our criminal code does not support anything but careless driving.  With the incidence of distracted driving causing death increasing at a phenomenal rate, isn’t it time to reassess these codes and laws?

Where is the responsibility to the family, friends and community?  How does the driver repay their “debt to society”?  Not by being fined or having their license suspended.  Some say it’s through a civil suit where reparations are made.  Yes, in some ways.  But in reality, it’s not the driver’s money, it’s the insurance companies money.

When I was in school, I remember drivers that had caused accidents and deaths had to recount their stories to show us what “could happen”.  Why don’t we still do this?  Why are these drivers counselled not to speak in court and not apologize, to take responsibility for their actions?  To stand up in front of family and friends and say, I did this, I’m sorry.  I still feel like I need that driver to look me in the eye and tell me she’s sorry.  Would it make a difference?  I don’t really know, but I feel like it would.

It’s time to update our criminal code and revise our laws to reflect the consequences of distracted and negligent driving.  Somehow these drivers need to show responsiblity for their actions and have true consequences to taking a life.

 

Reach Out, Someone is There

I came across a video on facebook today titled Living with High Functioning Anxiety.   If you haven’t watched it, take a minute to do so.  It gives you a little snapshot into the thoughts someone with anxiety might have.  I’ve had those irrational thoughts. ” You’re not good enough” for me was “you did something wrong” or “you weren’t a good enough friend” or “you didn’t save her”.

It’s like you have no control over your thoughts, regardless of how irrational they may be.  For me, the anxiety was accompanied by physical symptoms;  my chest tightening, rapid breathing, a sinking feeling and fear.  If not alleviated, those thoughts and physical symptoms became a full blown panic attack.

Thankfully, I have had the guidance, patience and support of so many to work through the anxiety.  It still rears it’s ugly head every now and then.  Driving from Lafayette to Houston on the I-10 caused me extreme stress, I was sure we would be in an accident.  I had to take an ativan and close my eyes for most of the drive.  I still startle easily, I’m still afraid, although less so.  If I sit too long in a structured time and space (like a meeting) I become restless and my mind starts to wander and the anxiety creeps in.  Movement alleviates the thoughts and helps me focus.  I get up and pace, stretch, wiggle.  Don’t ever be afraid to get up and move when you need to.  No one knows, no one has to know the real reason.  It should just be standard practice in long meetings.  If you’re uncomfortable getting up, make up an excuse, like you have arthritis and have to move!

I’m thankful for my support systems.  I meet friends at the Uni to do strength training twice a week.  We bike together, we hike together.  I just completed my first marathon club run of the season with three other friends.  It felt so good to be out there running with those ladies.  Switching places to chat with one another, sometimes talking, mostly just listening.  I know that I am safe and cared for, that they will listen and understand.  It was a relief to be with them again.

I get to spend this weekend with a group of dear friends that love life and have guided and helped me through many rough patches.  I am so lucky to have these people in my life to watch over me.

Next week is Bell Let’s talk day.  Talking is the first step.  Be sure to reach out for help when you need it.  Someone will be there.