Archives for category: Feelings

My daughter used to run on a track team every spring. She is naturally fast and coordinated. However, she is also quite independent and back then, difficult to coach. She had her own ideas about technique as well as what distance was best for her. Oh yes, she was also highly distractible. Whenever she ran, you didn’t know what would happen because the range of her performance was wide. One of of the meets had an 8th grade co-ed relay, with each student running 400 meters. Her team was small. They didn’t have two 8th grade boys and two 8th grade girls. So the coach put younger kids on the relay team, three younger girls and one 8th grade boy.

My daughter was one of the younger girls. They had not practiced prior to the meet. As I recall, she was second or third in the relay. The hand off to her was seamless; the hand off to the runner after her was seamless. She was ready to start when it was time to go and she absolutely flew down the track, passing all of the other teams by a rather large margin. The rest of the team ran well and held on to the lead she’d created. They tied the record time for the Archdiocese. The whole thing was really quite marvelous to watch.

In a relay race, speed obviously counts. But the most critical parts of the race are the hand offs. One has to hold on to the baton for exactly the right amount of time, not too long or too short. And the other part of it is taking the baton at just the right moment.

Much is written about painful feelings, especially those associated with grief. How long do we keep them. When do we let them go? When do we take them on. The relay race keeps coming into my mind. We can’t stay out of the race, altogether. We can’t deny or suppress painful feelings. To do so is a recipe for unhappiness and often leaves us alone. It is too hard to connect with others when one is coping by disconnecting with oneself.

Then there is the other problem, hanging on to the painful feelings too long. This is also a recipe for unhappiness and suffering, often alone. It is hard to connect with others if holding on to pain leaves no room in our hands to hold onto positives in our lives.

This all strikes me as rather complex. Sometimes I need to hang on longer than others want me to. Sometimes, I need to move on, at least temporarily to be functional in my life, to be good at my job, to be a good mother, to be a good friend, and to be a good wife. Sometimes I move on just to give myself a break.

It can all seem like one big game of trial and error. I know that practice helps and life provides frequent opportunities for holding on or letting go of painful emotions. I’m not keen on trial and error, though. I am a pattern maker, an observer.

I have taken on more work lately. My concentration and stamina are improved. I am happy to be able to participate more fully in my professional life, especially since my business operating costs have increased due to my new office’s significantly higher monthly rent. But this change has also made it harder for me to go walking everyday. I am still walking regularly, about five times per week.

Over the past few weeks, I have noticed a pattern. Overall, I am much more patient and less irritable with my family. But sometimes I get my feelings hurt, feel anxious, and get a little heated. My reaction is not huge but it is out of scale with the situation. This almost always happens on a day I have not gone for a walk.

Hold on.

Let go.

Put on the walking shoes.

I remember reading Virginia Woolf’s, A Room of One’s Own, an assigned reading for a course I was taking at the University of Washington. I know it is a classic feminist text. I know that she was part of the Bloomsbury Group, a collection of intellectuals active in the early 20th century. I know that she wore pants at times. I know that she was played by Nicole Kidman in the excellent film adaptation of the book, The Hours, and that she died by suicide.

But frankly, when I read A Room of One’s Own, I missed a lot. I remember her paragraphs being reaaaaaaally long. I would find that I had decoded the words on two or three pages only to realize that I’d comprehended very little and was lost in this book long essay. I’d flip back through the book, begin reading again, and write notes in the margin, a critical thing for me to do when my mind wanders in reading.

But I did get her main message. She wrote about the importance of having time and space to write, something that most women not only did not have but were discouraged from having. A room of one’s own. A room to think and write and be. I also got that “a room of one’s own” has a figurative as well as literal meaning. We need a separate space and time for individuality. We need an identity apart from our relationships with others. As women, we need a relationship with ourselves that is apart from wife or mother. There may be ‘no “I” in team’ but there is an ‘I’ in “being” and all of us, male or female are beings.

As you know, I recently moved my private practice. One of the differences is that the current space has three offices instead of the previous two. That means all three of us, Jennie, Julie, and myself have an office to ourselves.

I have also mentioned that the rent for the new office space is nearly three times what the old office space was. Granted, the old office space was really inexpensive. But this is an increase that is easily noticed, especially since I hold the lease and it it the full rent that is automatically drawn from my bank account every month.

There is also the fact that although I work five days per week, I only see patients on three days per week. In the past, I have only had access to my office space for those three days. Now I have access every day of the week, whether I see patients or not.

There is an allure to subletting my office to another psychologist. This would reduce my monthly rent. At this point, however, I am strongly opposed to this. I have been reminded again and again during the last few years about how little control I have over my own life. I made what I thought was a beautiful workspace for my past office and I didn’t mind sharing it. But we lost it due to our lease not being renewed. I have now created another workspace and it, in my eyes, is lively but restful. And I want it to myself. I want to be able to go there any time I want to do report writing, pick up the mail, or just know I could go there anytime. I want to be able to get there in the morning and know that the room is exactly as I left it the night before. This is not because I am a control freak. It is just nice to know that this very thing is possible. It is also nice to know that if my life goes sideways again that I will have the flexibility to schedule patients on different days of the week. I will not be boxed into three days.

Yes, it is expensive but it is worth it at this point of time. I want my own time and my own space.

My money or my mind.

Before: The waiting room. This is how the waiting room looked the month before we started painting.

Before: The waiting room. This is how the waiting room looked the month before we started painting. The woman in the photo is my friend, Jennie.

Before: My office when it was used as a lab. This is the first glimpse I got of the space before we signed the lease.

Before: My office when it was used as a lab. This is the first glimpse I got of the space before we signed the lease.

DSC03198

After: The waiting room.

The hallway to my office. I loved the wall stickers!

The hallway to my office. I loved the wall stickers!

Make yourself comfortable. This is the sitting area for interviewing, psychotherapy, and explaining test results.

Make yourself comfortable. This is the sitting area for interviewing, psychotherapy, and explaining test results.

Testing area.

Testing area. The wooden piece is front of my desk is a folding desk. I unfold it to combine with my larger desk top to make large enough surface for my testing materials.

I made a removable cover for the air conditioner because it was ugly. I bought the owl clock because it was handy and adorable.

I made a removable cover for the air conditioner because it was ugly. I bought the owl clock because it was handy and adorable.

The chicken and tree decals were inspired by the feeling of boredom I felt when I sat in the chairs across from the door of my office.

The purchase of the chicken and tree decals was inspired by the feeling of boredom I felt when I sat in the chairs across from the door of my office.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I grew up in a semi-rural area, which was really the suburbs. But my parents had acreage and our neighbors had horses, goats, cows, and of course there was Louie who had 200 pigeons. Ourselves, we had a lot of animals, too. I remember when we got our first kittens, Tom, George, and Fred. Tom was an orange tabby who grew up to be a true alpha tom cat. He got into fights and was often bruised. Bumping into one of Tom’s sores was the shortest way to getting assaulted by his razor sharp claws. I’m not exaggerating, either. He once drew blood when he scratched my arm while I was wearing a winter coat. George was a cute gray cat and that’s all I remember.

Fred, as I recall was a black and white cat. One of the early discoveries about Fred was that she was female. Kitties, even litter mates, live a soap opera existence. And our cats were not spayed or neutered. To make a long story short, before long our tribe of three cats expanded to a family tree with may inbred branches. My mom may deny this in the comments’ section but at the highest number, we had 21 cats. You might ask how this could happen but these were outdoor cats and we lived in the woods. Cats go back to being feral really fast.

I remember one of our feral females who had litters and litters of kittens. We called her appropriately enough, “Mama Cat”. Mama Cat would have her kittens in the woods or behind the wood pile. If she had them behind the wood pile, we had a chance. A kitten behind the wood pile might be tamed. We used yarn hanging from the end of a stick. We would throw the yarn to the back of the pile and then pull it out gently as the kitten snagged it with his/her claws. Repeat 150 times and we had ourselves a pet! If not tamed while a kitten, the cat would just be a feral creature who could only be lured into close proximity with the sound of a bag of Little Friskies cat food being hauled from the front door to the feeding trough (a metal baking pan) next to our barn. But even so, those cats would eat but would not socialize with us. They were truly wild animals.

When our daughter was three, we found a sweet little stray adolescent tabby kitten. We tried but were unable to find the owner. Given that he was a stray in eastern Washington, he was probably abandoned there. Ollie became part of our family. And then when he was three years old, he went kind of nutty and paranoid. For whatever reason, his whole world view changed. He was  like a cat returning from a tour of duty in the middle east who had PTSD. Ollie was aggressive to visitors and responded to the many cats who roamed our neighborhood by marking our house. And he did this for years, despite the behavioral interventions and his medication. (He took fluoxetine, the generic form of Prozac, for the record. I joked at home that I was going to write an autobiography, And Even the Cat Took Prozac.)

Ollie got really nervous at times and he was unpredictable. The only thing we knew is that if anyone outside of the immediate family was visiting, he might have one of his paranoid anxiety attacks with hissing, biting, and scratching. He could be scary. Ollie was also an alpha tom, or would have been, had we let him be an outdoor cat. He was enormous. There were a couple of folks who fancied themselves “cat whisperers” and tried to get in his face, despite our warnings not to do so. They got hissed at and scratched. When Ollie was panicked like this, even we couldn’t touch him.

After he had settled down a little, I could help him calm down more by placing my nose on his. This is a calming behavior for cats as long as they are not freaking out. They can be soothed by this very close contact if they are just a bit on edge. It is important to know the signs of cat anxiety and arousal before going nose to nose with a cat, especially an unfortunately mentally ill one like our Ollie. (And by the way, the veterinarians still talk about him, even the ones who never saw him as a patient. His legend lives on at the Lien Animal Clinic.)

It occurred to me the other day that dealing with negative emotions the ones that roil and churn in our guts and our hearts is a tricky business. Sometimes we can’t go nose to nose with then until we calm the Hell down a little. Focusing on them can become a rumination, a hopeless, helpless funk, or a tirade. At those times, we need a little distance. But if we distance ourselves from our painful emotions for too long, they take on a life of their own. They become feral and seemingly impossible to tame. And they are truly painful, especially at first, to confront after a long absence of distraction and denial.

Cats give signals when they need space. Their tails twitch. They climb onto high surfaces to make themselves bigger. If you miss those cues, they will up the volume by sending a low hiss and standing their fur on end. And they will flatten their ears. Do not go nose to nose with a cat with these signals! Give them some time.

We all have our own signals and as for myself, I have used life experience and more recently, mindfulness to identify times when I am too raw to go nose to nose with my thoughts and feelings and need to do something to get myself back into control like deep breathing, walking, or getting myself into the woods. Then I can start going nose to nose with myself. And I can stand myself and my feelings at these times.

I may never be a cat whisperer but I have gone many years without getting scratched going nose to nose with a kitty. Maybe I can keep learning how to do the same getting up close and personal with myself.

Ollie, sunning himself on the deck. He was pretty sick and weak by this time, but still finding enjoyment.

Ollie, sunning himself on the deck. He was pretty sick and weak by this time, but still finding enjoyment. He died a few weeks after this photo was taken. He was a beautiful boy and we loved him.

As many of you know, breast surgery often results in a lost of sensation. I had a right side mastectomy. I would make sense that in removing all of that tissue that nerves would also be removed. Now my grasp of physiology is better than the average person, but by no means expert. What I can tell you, though is for nearly two years, I have had no sensation at all in the area where my right breast used to be.

This means feeling no pressure, no heat or cold, and although it is delicate to say, no sexual response. Actually, if I want to be really clear, there is no response at all. No affectionate response. No, ”ow, you just accidentally elbowed me in the boob” response. My husband could hold a hot coal to this breast and I would not feel it. No one warned me of this side effect but I had read about it myself. So prior to my second lumpectomy when my husband asked about whether a bilateral mastectomy was indicated, I responded by spelling out the implications for our love life. I had already completed a literature review on my risk of contra-lateral breast cancer, learned about the Gail Index and so forth. I knew that my estimated risk of cancer in my left breast was at a level low enough that I found personally acceptable.

In the last few months, I’ve noticed something. The numbness in my tissues has subsided to some point. I am starting to regain sensation, at least around the edges of my mastectomy site. But what I am feeling is the occasional itch. Sometimes it is deep down and unreachable. Most times it is on the surface of my skin. I am allergic to wheat and when I do eat it I get a flare of eczema within two days and it takes about two months to clear. If I cook all of my own food, this does not happen. But over vacation last August, I ate out, had a salad, and there must have been some wheat in the dressing because I am still waiting for my skin to clear. At one point, I could see that I had an eczema flare over my breasts. We also had family photos taken at the time. It looked like I had acne. Oh well. In any event, I could feel the itch of the eczema. However, when I scratched it, I felt no relief. As my internist told me when I described it to her, “That’s just not fair!” My rash, however, got worse.

In addition to itch, I have also had the return in a sensation that can only be called, “uncomfortable”. It is the mildest of pain, though still noticeable. And it is, again, felt around the edges of my mastectomy, which was performed in August of 2012. It would not be until March of 2013 that the major part of my breast reconstruction would be completed. I am no surgeon but in my own logic, it seems likely that more digging around and transplanting that occurs, the longer tissues take to heal or as my plastic surgeon describes it, “settle”.

I have numb parts. They are starting to awaken. To what extent they will awaken is unknown. But what I do know is that the awakening is uncomfortable and at times, a bit painful. This has called to mind the numbness that can happen to each of us emotionally and cognitively. I consider myself to be above average in self-awareness. However, I have neglected parts of myself, the parts that are numb. And numb parts get that way through damage, through loss of trust, emotional baggage, past trauma. Our mind protects us from many scary and lonely thoughts and feelings. The problem is, however, that it can do too good of a job.

Sometimes the parts of us that are most important, most in need of attention, are the parts that we just don’t think about or feel. The parts that are tired, afraid, and numb.

As you know, I have been digging deep and trying to feel what I need to feel and process it all through. It is a painful but productive process. In keeping with my mindfulness practices, I have tried to keep with my thoughts and feelings throughout. This has guided my decisions. At times, I move forward, full steam ahead. At other times, I take breaks. At these times, I catch my breath, assimilate new learning, and observe a new way of looking at my life.

There are parts of me that are coming alive. At this point, there is discomfort but I believe that in time there will be continued healing and awakening.

Recently I met with some parents to obtain background information as part of my assessment of their son. They are highly educated people, both with advanced degrees. They have three young sons, all of whom they speak of lovingly. The father charmed me with the fact that he calls his sons, “honey”. There words were measured and they described their concerns about their oldest son, his tendency at time to not to own his own actions, his quickness to anger, and his frequent use of exemplary verbal ability to argue with adults.

Despite their calm and professional demeanor, I could see the mounting fear behind their words. Their fear for their son’s happiness and safety in the world. We had had a chance to establish some rapport and I decided to take a chance on expressing an awareness of an issue that had yet been unsaid. “I can only imagine the stress that you feel in raising a Black son who has these difficulties, in our country.”

Both parents nodded vigorously and the father said with palpable relief, “Finally, someone gets it.”

I am not African American. It was chancy for me as an outsider to make the comment that I did. It was also chancy for me to use the term “Black” instead of African American. The former is more likely to be acceptable when used by African Americans, not by an outsider and further a member of a privileged race, such as myself. But I thought “Black” was a better reflection of their own thoughts and feelings about their son. I also know that due to my personality, I tend to be able to say things like this and they are interpreted in the way I intended. But I am still very careful. I will never know what it is like to be African American.

But I can try to understand the best I can and to be aware of the common challenges that African American families face. And my awareness must be more than an internal event. It needs to be linked to effective action. In this example, my action was communicating my awareness of the rational sources of their fears. These parents have three boys. The number one cause of death for African American males between the ages of 15 and 34 is murder. And one might think that the risk does not apply to these boys because they live in an educated and relatively affluent family. I think realistically, it may buffer this risk to a certain extent. However, even looking at my own life, I know there is a particular danger that cannot be eliminated. I have a lot of friends. A great number of them have advanced degrees. Two of my friends, both Ph.D.’s, have had murder in their immediate families, one attempted and the second resulted in the death by shooting of a friend’s brother, who was waiting in line to get into a night club. Both of these friends are African American women from well educated families. One of them even had an uncle who ran for president of another country.

There are many people who live with the cloud of potential catastrophe. We are often unable to fully appreciate it but we can do our best to understand.

I am awaiting the results of the routine MRI I had yesterday. I am learning to deal with the anxiety of these scans but I am anxious. My husband forgot about the MRI even though I’d told him a couple of times as recently as the day prior and had asked him to accompany me. His alarm went off yesterday morning at 6:30, his normal time to get ready for work. However, he was planning to go to work after my scan and it was not until 9:45. He was getting up too early to have remembered the scan so I reminded him and he came back to bed. My husband is more forgetful than I would like. But I understand that he is not doing it on purpose and further, he would have seen the appointment on his calendar. Plus, he doesn’t live in the perpetual state of Potential Cancer so there are some things he doesn’t quite understand about my experience as a cancer patient. Similarly, a close friend apologized to me yesterday for checking in with me about my MRI. He’d had quite a stressful day of his own and again, he doesn’t live in the state of Potential Cancer. Before I lived there, I didn’t really worry so much about my friends’ scans once they’d had no evidence for disease for a couple of years. The panic subsides. I don’t want my husband or my friends to live in the Potential Cancer state with me. I don’t wish that on anyone just as my friends with metastatic disease wish it for others. But the actions that come from understanding our situation are important.

As a world, we need to find a cure for breast cancers. But as individuals, we also need people in our lives who have an awareness of the unique stresses of being a breast cancer patient who are also able to convert their awareness into emotional support. You,  friends and family, may be helpless to prevent recurrence or to cure a loved one’s active disease, but you can provide emotional support. You can make living in the Potential Cancer state or the state of Perpetual Cancer more bearable and less lonely.

Perhaps it would be helpful to explain to you what scans mean to me. A clear scan means that I can live another six months with “no evidence of disease”. A clear scan to a person with metastatic cancer means that they can live with “no evidence of progression”.  If my scan shows evidence of cancer, I will go into the fast paced chaos of not knowing and having many tests, the perpetual “hurry up and wait”. If it turns out that I’ve had a recurrence, I will likely undergo a more aggressive treatment protocol than I did in the past and to undergo previous treatments for which I now appreciate the full impact having gone through them before. By the way, a lot of cancer treatment sucked. My family will suffer. My patients will suffer. I could go on and on.

I keep telling myself that the results of a scan, assuming accuracy, don’t tell me anything about myself that wasn’t true yesterday. I often tell my patients this about the diagnoses I give them. “You are the same person you were yesterday.” On myself, this is a hard sell. I am a clinical psychologist. Nobody comes to me unless they already know something is wrong. Something is not going well. There is a problem. I didn’t know I had cancer. I felt fine. There was no lump. Right now, due to my mental and physical health practices, I feel healthier than I have in years. But cancer can hide for  a long long time without someone even knowing something is wrong.

For me as a cancer survivor, it is surreal at times to realize that I can’t trust my own sense of my body. I can’t gauge my own health. My body can lie to me.  I try to be a very truthful person with myself and with others. Honesty and clarity are extremely important to me. This is hard.

Offer your loved ones your understanding and support. You don’t need to live with us and we don’t even want you to,  but do connect with us. And when the Pink wave  tells you that awareness is action and pink is helpful, put your money and volunteer time somewhere else. Somewhere that helps.

Gray and black clouds
hide the sky.
The light shines through
There is clarity above.

The clouds will burn off
maybe today
maybe tomorrow
some day, certainly.

I will see the sky
I’ll know if I traveled
during the quiet space
between dreams
to the terrifying place
the familiar chaos,
the Cancer Place.

This morning's sky inspired the poem, my first in nearly 20 years so be kind.

This morning’s sky inspired the poem, my first in nearly 20 years so be kind.

When I was in high school, my humanities teachers, now know to me as Helen and Bob, took a group of us on week long trip to New York City, with a one day stop in Boston.  Bob and Helen worked with us for months ahead of time making sure we would know how to use the subways and get around because we were on our own for significant parts of each day. By day, we visited museums and scoped out architecture. We had a journal for each day with tons of questions corresponding to different paintings, buildings, and exhibits. I remember spending about 10 minutes staring at a series of Frank Stella paintings at the Museum of Modern Art before realizing that I was on the wrong floor of the museum and none of the questions in my book were matching up to the exhibit. I remember my excitement with visiting my first Frank Lloyd Wright building, the Guggenheim Museum. There was a large collection of later Picassos on exhibit. One of my friends was totally disgusted. I was so taken with the colors and the abstract forms that I did not notice that most of paintings were of female genitalia. Come on, like Picasso was the first horny artist. The man was a genius and I got to see his original paintings, some from the Blue Period and some from the Lady Bits Period.

We also went to a lot of Broadway shows. We saw Noises Off (meh), Cats (T.S. Elliot and cats dancing on the balcony; awesome), and the very fun Little Shop of Horrors. We skipped Oh, Calcutta, the all nude musical that was playing at the Edison Hotel, where we were staying. I remember I worked long and hard to charm the cranky and rude man who worked at the front desk. He yelled at us every time we asked him politely to get money out of the safe, to which only he had access. By day three he was smiling every time he saw me and calling me, “Darling.”

Oh yeah. I almost forgot. We saw a very famous play. We saw the Death of a Salesman. Dustin Hoffman played Willie Lowman. He was so amazing. I still remember the uproar caused by his not being nominated for a Tony Award that year. He was invited to present at the awards and received a standing ovation. Although my memory of this event seemed so clear, I was recently reminded that John Malkovich played Willie Lowman’s son, Biff, in that production. He was already famous by that time. His voice was as distinctive as it is now. It was amazing.

The whole trip was an amazing experience and I almost didn’t go. My parents told me that it was too expensive.  A few days after telling my teachers that I would not be able to go on the trip, Bob took me aside and told me that there had been an anonymous donation for my airfare. That allowed me to go. I remember that it was about $300 and that we flew on Continental Airlines.

For many years, I have suspected that Bob and Helen paid for my airfare out of their own pockets. Maybe I’m wrong about that. But even still, the trip would not have been possible without these two dedicated teachers, giving so much of their time not to mention giving up their spring break every year, to teach kids from Renton, WA about the arts and the big world outside of us.

I have kept in touch with Helen over the years. She reads this blog and sometimes sends me a personal email with her thoughts about a particular post. She retired right after my cancer diagnosis. She is extremely beloved by many former students. There’s even a fan club on Facebook for her!

Helen got pretty ill last summer and last I heard, she was getting stronger each day. Maybe she’s even reading this post along with the rest of you who are reading this right now. Helen, I have enormous gratitude for what you did for me in my teens. You are smart and an outlier. A passionate person who enjoyed her career. You were and are a role model to me about living a life of meaning, humor, and service. Thank you for all that you have done for THOUSANDS of students. Not every teacher gets fan page on social media. And not every teacher agrees to meet with former students, still in their teens who miss their teacher and want to talk to her about books.

I have filled my blog with posts of gratitude and appreciation this week, with an eye on paying-it-forward.  I have had the privilege of an exemplary education and you were among the very best of my teachers during my 25 years of schooling. Your dedication to the welfare and education of youth, helped inspire mine.

Thank you and I wish you the very best in your health and healing.

I have an MRI next week. I have them once a year as a routine follow up. In six months, I’ll have my annual diagnostic mammogram. Welcome to Breast Cancer Land. When they aren’t loading you into a noisy, rattling tube, they are smashing your boobs while having you hold the rest of your body in positions reserved for the less commonly read sections of the Kama Sutra.

I actually don’t mind the actual procedures so much. It’s the worrying and waiting for results. I don’t want to do this! I have all kinds of fun things planned for October! So I find myself thinking, “Maybe I should just reschedule my MRI for AFTER I do my fun things. Then if I have a recurrence, it won’t spoil my fun.”

This is a ridiculous kind of thought. I mean I could reschedule for November but then it would be, “What if I have a recurrence? It will spoil Thanksgiving.” Then Christmas may be spoiled, etc.

The fact of the matter is that there is no good time to have cancer. Right before scans, I find myself scheduling patients with the thought, “Hmm, I wonder if I will be able to finish that report if I find out I have a recurrence?”

When I was diagnosed with cancer, I can’t say that my life came to a screeching halt, because it didn’t. But major changes and upheaval occurred in order for me to get the assessments and treatments I needed. On the day I was diagnosed, it was a work at home day and I ended up cancelling two phone consultations with other healthcare providers. I worked on my reports the next day. It was a three day weekend and we were expecting my father-in-law to come stay with us. It was actually nice to have him there. He gave us a lot of support.

My life will stop when I die. A cancer diagnosis didn’t make it stop. I can’t juggle my schedule around the possibility that I will be worried and stressed. I am a planner but this is not one of the things to plan for, at least in the short term. I mean, I do think about the long-term. That’s why I exercise regularly, try to eat well, meditate, and go to psychotherapy. I am taking care of myself for the long term. I am preparing for the possibility of  a long life. And those things I do for the long term, make me feel better right now.

This is my gratitude week. I had an idea in mind when I planned this but I have not quite followed it. Instead, I have gone according to what I wanted or needed each day. Today, I feel like I want to do something different with my anxiety.

I trust myself to do what I need to do if my cancer has returned.
I appreciate and feel deep gratitude to my friends and family for holding my health in their warm wishes and prayers.
I appreciate my access to excellent cancer treatment.
I am grateful that although my breast cancer surgeon has retired, that there are a number of excellent remaining surgeons at my cancer center.
I appreciate my healthcare insurance.
I am grateful to my husband because I know he will drop everything and come to my MRI appointment next week if I ask him to do so.
I appreciate my daughter’s resilience in the face of my health problems and her tenacity in life.

I love living.
I am alive until I am not.
I will do my best to live accordingly.

When I was an advanced graduate student, I helped teach new graduate students how to do standardized testing and write assessment reports. One type of test that clinical psychologists often give is an intelligence test. Now there’s no end all, be all measure of intelligence but they are useful. Often the students would chat excitedly about a child they’d just tested and describe the child as “really bright!”. This was prior to scoring the test and on several occasions, the child ended up with the numbers not matching the student’s assessment. Typically, what they really meant was that the child was sweet, hardworking, and happy. We have a habit of making intelligence equivalent to being “good”. This is a particular issue for  bright and highly educated people.

Also in graduate school, I remember having a heated argument with one of my classmates and her husband. The argument was prompted by my remarking about how damaging and insidious I thought the stereotype that Southerners in the U.S. are less intelligent. To my surprise they responded, “But Southerners ARE stupid!”

People, I’ve met a lot of highly intelligent people in my life. She was one of the smartest people I’ve ever encountered. Her husband was smart, too. I couldn’t believe the words that were coming out of their mouths!

It would still be awful but perhaps slightly more understandable if they’d never met a southerner in their lives. However, we were all going to school in the South. Not to mention the fact that our southern clinical psychology Ph.D. program was and still is one of the very best in the country.

They had explanations. “It’s because southern schools are terrible.” That argument made me crazy because even assuming that it is true, intelligence and education are not the same thing and anyone in a clinical psychology program should know that because it is a basic distinction that is covered in any introductory assessment course.

A number of our classmates were southerners. I said, “Well, what about x, y, and z.” Somehow they didn’t count because they didn’t have southern accents. Well one of our classmates did, Penny, and she was and is a brilliant person. “What about Penny?” The reply was, “She doesn’t count. She’s not a southerner. She’s from Appalachia.”

People, that is a terrible argument. She was also the daughter of a coal miner and the only one from her community to graduate from college. She was from one of the poorest areas in the country.

I could go on and on about the logical inconsistencies but I won’t. They were really smart people who considered themselves to be kind people who were going out of their way to make irrational ridiculous arguments to defend their hateful views. And you know what? In general, they were decent people. Decent people with a major blind spot.

Intelligence is not the same as goodness. It is also not okay to put other people down using one’s intellect. It’s no better than using less educated sounding language to do so. Being clever does not make being unkind, okay. Dorothy Parker was clever. You know what else? She wasn’t very nice.

This has been bothering me a lot lately.  So I am looking inward because that is usually a fruitful thing for me to do. From my professional knowledge, I know that the fact that I am more intelligent than average is not a personal accomplishment. Brains are not the same, starting at birth. I consider myself to be very lucky. Further, not everyone has educational opportunities. I consider my education to have been a wonderful privilege that most do not get a chance to have. In my job, I see many hardworking children who are struggling with school. They are often treated like they are lazy and unintelligent. And by the way,  even if a person is unintelligent, why is it okay to put them down as if it were their own doing?

Okay, I am complaining and this is supposed to be gratitude week. I am grateful for my intelligence and my education. I am grateful for my opportunities and experiences. I am humbled by the chance to help children be as happy and successful as they can be.

Karen Sutherland is a dear woman whom I’ve not yet met in person. She is a cancer survivor in active treatment, a hospice nurse, a grandmother, a mother, and a recent widow. She recently spoke of a Pay it Forward day in honor of her husband, Hugh’s life on Marie Ennis O’Connor’s blog. Friday is to be “Pay it Forward Day” with the goal of encouraging others to partake in acts of kindness.

I pledged to Karen that I would honor the Pay it Forward Day. I have been thinking about what I might do. Today, it came to me. It came to me in the best way. It can to me in the way I have been bowled over by the positive consequences of small acts of kindness that I’ve directed toward others recently.

I am dedicating this week to conveying my appreciation to people in my life. I would like to start on my blog with an appreciation of Karen. Karen writes beautifully. Her words provide such comfort. It is as if her loving heart spills into each word. Karen comments on so many blogs and provides so much. Her presence in the world is a gift. Thank you, Karen! Please know that we are here for you, as well.

Peace and stay tuned,

Elizabeth

As I’ve mentioned before, I am a fan of the show, RuPaul’s Drag Race. It is a comedy reality competition show. The contestants are drag performers. RuPaul Charles, who is a famous drag performer who also sings, created the show and hosts it.

RuPaul is a gay man in his early 50s. He dresses in women’s clothing when he performs. You know that he’s been called all kinds of names, been gossiped about, and beat up, many times in his life. One of the expressions he uses in his books (yes, I’ve read more than one of his autobiographies) and on the show is, “What other people think of me is none of my business.”

For those of us who are plagued with self-doubt, who feel lack of validation, who perceive and/or receive rejection from others, this is a very powerful statement.

At first, it sounds like a joke or some overly glib line.

How other people treat you is your business. These are actions.

But how many times have we read each others’ minds when we really don’t know? I know that I have done this a lot in my life, less so in recent years. But I still do it. We can’t know what another person is thinking. And if we did, pandemonium would ensue!

When I consider what people would hear if they could read my thoughts, I know that I would lose all of my friends and family. We all have careless half thoughts, mean thoughts, selfish thoughts, critical thoughts. But we have other thoughts, too. And sometimes, we may have a very nasty thought about someone, in the heat of the moment, only to soften later. I don’t want you to read my thoughts because they are private. It is my right to share them or not share them. In other words, they are my business.

And you know what else is my business? How I feel about me. Yes, I may sound like a children’s show, but think about it. What would your life be like if you worked toward accepting this in your heart?

“What someone else thinks of me is none of my business.”

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George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).

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