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Thursday, September 28, 2017

a new kind of training plan

It's been exactly one month since my surgery.  It both seems like it's been that long and feels as though it was just yesterday.  And I can't believe that next week is October.  I have completely missed September this year.  Actually, I feel stripped of September this year.  At least of the one I was supposed to have.  No last trips to the beach.  No taper runs.  No trip to Germany.  No marathon.  No leading trainings at work.  It feels weird to have had a whole month planned and then it just didn't happen.  At least, it feels like it didn't happen.

This week, I finally moved back to my apartment.  I started working from home.  I made myself breakfast, lunch, and dinner...well, most days.  Going out to eat in the middle of the day never gets old!  My medical leave is ending.  And yet, I am still limited in my movements. I'll feel just fine but then move a certain way that I used to in my own house, and I'll feel a twinge and remember.  Monday was my first day working from home as a start to a slow return to full time work.  I worked on the computer for three hours, took an hour break, worked one more hour, and promptly took a nap.  Whew!  I'm still not used to this new baseline where I don't have as much energy as I am used to.

I want to just return to my life and it's slow in coming.  Small pieces are falling into place, but it feels weird to me when only one part returns and not the rest.  I am walking further distances and I am more assured in my steps, but it's not the same as running.  I discovered that everything in my apartment is set just a bit lower than at my parents' house so not bending over takes more thinking that it had been while I was staying with my parents.  I feel ok reaching up on my right side but not reaching down on my right side.  Good changes that point to healing but just when I think I'm "there", I realize I'm not quite.

This past Sunday was the Berlin marathon and I was so sad not to be running.  I know that most people wouldn't feel sad about not running a marathon, but I was.  My parents were so validating as I shared this emotion and reminded me that for me, this experience was a trauma.  Not only for my body, but for me emotionally.  My diagnosis came so quickly and in less than 24 hours, all my athletic, fundraising, and travel plans for August and September were cancelled.  All of my training seemed for nothing.  The thing about long distance racing is that it's not the race that's the hardest thing, it's the training.  The race is fun and celebratory and tough in it's own right.  But the training, that is what takes it out of you.  I participated in all of the difficulties of training and planning but didn't participate in any of the excitement or celebration.  That is sad.

At one of my follow-up appointments, my surgeon reminded me that my body is running it's own marathon right now as it heals.  I'm trying to think of my healing in this way.  I can't just run 26.2 miles the day I sign up.  I have to put in the effort of training for months in order to get there.  So right now, I'm one month in to a new kind of training.  I'm training myself to go easy on my body instead of always pushing.  I'm training myself to call it quits at work and take time to rest.  I'm training myself to listen to my body and rest when I need to.  I'm training myself to be ok with relying on others when I need it (believe it or not, this is very hard for me!).  So instead of building mileage, I'm building a new kind of strength to return back to a level I used to be.

I have been faced with disappointment before and I think that I have a pretty good set of coping skills to deal with it.  But this was a big one.  And moving on has been tough.  But I'll get there.  One training day at a time.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

accepting anger

Yesterday, I finally got angry.  Today, I yelled in therapy.  Tomorrow, I was supposed to be leaving for Germany and I'm angry that I'm not going.  I was looking forward to that trip since January and have been talking about child sponsorships since about that time.  Up until yesterday, I have been fine.  I have been calm.  I have just accepted that I'm not going, I can't run, and I have to find new ways of coping with my feelings until I can exercise again.  And now I'm angry and I'm not sure what to do.  I do know that I'm not sorry for being angry.  And I'm not ignoring it.  So good for me for listening to my therapist self (and my actual therapist for that matter).

The thing about being angry is that many people are afraid of this emotion.  I completely get this.  When I get angry, I yell, I cry, I say things I don't mean...or things I do mean but they come out in a way I wished they didn't.  But if I didn't accept that I was angry, I would never move forward to a better place and feel better.  Or address difficulties in a relationship that need to be addressed in order for the relationship to continue to exist.  I have seen clients and families over and over ignore their anger or say "don't be angry".  I have heard parents request anger management groups for their child but for the wrong reason.  Almost as if the group will then remove their child's anger so they don't have to face it, which is totally incorrect.  Anger management is learning how to express anger and cope with it, not ignore it or stop feeling angry.  No matter how much I encourage families to face their anger, if they continue to ignore and not accept their anger, nothing will get better.  Anger in itself is not a bad thing.  It's what we do, or don't do, with our anger that creates anxiety, conflict, and depression.

One of my best therapeutic breakthroughs was actually a situation where I knew my decision for a client's care would piss them off.  But I had to make that decision for their own well being.  This is a client who always ignored their feelings and no matter what their body language indicated what they might be feeling, would respond by saying, "no" or "I'm fine" or "I'm just crying because I'm tired" (uh, it's not my first rodeo but I'll give it to you).  So in this case, I called them on their anger and told them to just be angry with me.  The session ended by my client storming out and telling me to "Go f*** yourself" to which I responded "I will!" (not my best therapeutic moment, I'll admit, but I'm human too).  Our next session, this client returned and apologized to me for their behavior and I in turn apologized for my response.  We were able to process their feelings of anger, validate them, and still maintain a good therapeutic relationship.  This client learned that not only could they allow themselves to be angry, but that coping with anger had the potential to strengthen relationships instead of destroy them.

As I said, I'm not sure what to do with this anger or who to really be angry at.  But like my client, I'm learning to allow myself to be angry to get to the other side.  I guess I've been angry at God, although that relates more to unanswered prayers than specifically having back surgery.  But it relates.  Running is what I do to cope with the fact that those prayers have not been answered.  And now, I can't do that so I'm just angry.

So I'm accepting that I'm angry.  I'm not ready to move on from it either.  It's not that kind of anger where it's stewing and I'm holding onto it.  And I know that I will get over this and someday I will be running again and will think, "wow, I learned so much about myself during my medical leave!", but that day is not today.  And that's ok.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Renewing my mind

"While you wait with Me, I work on renewing your mind."

This was the first line of my daily devotional today.  And it struck a chord for me.  The past two weeks have been a lot about waiting for me.  Waiting to hear a diagnosis.  Waiting for my name to be called for an appointment.  Waiting for surgery.  Waiting to be released from the hospital.  Waiting for the pain to subside.  Waiting for healing.  Waiting for visitors.  Waiting to find answers for the next few weeks.  Waiting, waiting, waiting.

If you say a word frequently enough, it starts to sound weird.  Not only does the word sound weird to me, but the actual act of waiting is weird to me.  I can't remember the last time I had so much TIME to literally just wait.  Time to slow my life down.  Time to focus.  But also time for anxiety to start to take it's iron grip on my mind.  And waiting can exacerbate this anxiety.  Thoughts that include, "is that pain normal?", "what is that ache about?", "what is that puffiness?", and "what are they doing at work?", "will I be able to jump back in after all this time off?", "what if they replace me?", "what if I lose private practice clients?", or "will I be able to run again?", "will I still be able to go to Germany in two weeks and if I can go, SHOULD I go?".

I recognize that many of these thoughts are irrational or at least, exaggerations of a more rational thought process.  So when I read that first line of my devotion today, I felt that God was reminding me of what this time and waiting was for.  That it is a gift.  This time can be spent with God and I can give God my mind.  So much of my life the past 8 months has been all about work and work alone.  I am realizing that I really don't know how to disconnect myself from my job.  I preach this all the time to my clinicians and yet, I really suck at it!  I have had so many dreams lately that are full of anxiety.  Instead of taking advantage of this much needed and vital rest, my mind has been working overtime when my body has needed to slow down.  For some reason, I can't get them both on the same page.

Further down in my devotion, it read: "The more you focus on Me and My Word, the more you can break free from painful, irrational thoughts.  The usually have their roots in distressing experiences that wounded you, so the distortions are deeply etched in your brain."

How true this is!  Many of these thoughts are based on untruths that I have believed about myself or have allowed others to place upon me from past experiences.  I even caught a thought today that I know was rooted in untruths from a past abusive relationship that ended 7 years ago.  Talk about being deeply etched!  And I'm sure that others are etched more deeply and longer ago than that.  Instead of this time becoming a time of rest, healing, and renewal, my mind has continued to break me down.  

As usual, God always seems to give me music to go with what I'm going through.  At the end of July, Nichole Nordeman (my favorite!) came out with her first full length new album since 2006.  I am in love of course!  One song that stuck out to me from the beginning is called "Hush, Hush".  When I first heard it, this song really related to things I struggling with at work.  But now, it is so relevant to every thing I'm experiencing with my body, healing, anxiety, and wondering where God is in all of it. I know He's here and God is more clear to me when I read a devotion like today's and it relates to what I'm feeling.  But sometimes, I feel so alone and that's when all those thoughts begin to spiral out of control and all my energy goes toward decreasing anxiety instead of healing my body and finding ways to enjoy the rest.  So I continue to cling to this song as my anthem during this time of healing, for however long it may last.  And I pray that during this time, my mind will be renewed by the One who loves me more than I know.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

learning how to rest

Wow.  I just read my last blog from a little over a year ago.  I was preparing to run my 2nd Hood to Coast race with Team World Vision.  My passion and excitement for the race in 2016 is the same as my passion and excitement for 2017.  The difference is, I didn't run this year.  I was planning on running the race right up until 12 hours before I was supposed to board a plane for Oregon.  Right now, I should be recovering from my 3rd Hood to Coast race and then gearing up to run my 2nd marathon with World Vision.  Instead, I'm recovering from back surgery.  Instead of sore leg muscles, I have sore back muscles that are trying to heal back together after they were cut into and then sewn back together.  Instead of aches in my legs from running over mountains, I have aches in my right leg from where my nerve was affected by the herniated disc in my back.  Instead of an energized heart from experiencing a weekend of time with people who have a similar vision to provide clean water for the people of South Sudan, my heart is trying to make sense of this new journey and is recovering from the change of plans.  This is not the kind of recovery I envisioned for myself this week and I'm still adjusting the sudden change in plans.

The physicians assistant who met with me and my parents following my surgery on Monday described it as "controlled trauma".  As a trauma therapist, this makes sense to me.  Sometimes, in order to have more full healing and recovery, we have to expose ourselves to trauma in a controlled way.  In therapy, I do this by gradual exposure with my client to their past traumatic experience.  My goal is to get as close to the affected area of their heart so they are able to open up about toughest part of their experience.  As their therapist, I can help my client write it down and we can dissect the injured pieces of their heart and soul.  The purpose of dissecting trauma in therapy in this way is so that my client can more clearly see pieces that continue to be harmful in their lives.  It is my job to help them face these harmful pieces and come along on the journey to restore their hearts to become stronger and whole again.  They may always have a scar, but my hope in trauma therapy is always to give my clients a better chance to love wholly, live their lives more fully, and be less immediately affected by their trauma, even though that will always be a piece of them.

The definition of trauma is the occurrence of an event that results in emotional or physical distress and I would venture to add that trauma occurs when when the experience is unexpected or doesn't make sense or our life (or someone else's life) is threatened in some way.  I have seen kids traumatized by all sorts of events.  Trauma is subjective.  And usually, the reason the experience is traumatic, is because we were unprepared for it.

I was unprepared for this.  And like several of my trauma clients, I have similar cognitive distortions that I have heard them experience.  I should have seen it coming.  It's my fault for not saying something earlier.  I could have prevented this.  If only I had done (fill in the blank here with something different than what I ended up doing), things would be different and I could still be living my life as I had planned to for the end of summer 2017.

But the fact remains.  I suddenly and unexpectedly needed surgery.  I suddenly and unexpectedly needed to change my plans for travel, for running, for work, for social events.  While my actual life was never in danger, for the first time in my life, my physical well being was threatened and in that light, the way that I live my life was in danger of being altered forever.  And this all happened so suddenly.  One day, I was making travel plans with my friend and teammate Becca for our journey to Oregon and the next day, I was crying and telling her that not only I couldn't run, but that I couldn't even GO.  I was grounded.  Or as my surgeon said, I was red-shirted.  And I'm unprepared with how to cope with physical limitations.  I have never even broken a small bone or been sick for more than a few days...this is new.

Here, a week later, I'm still reeling.  The surgery is over and it went well.  God was with me the entire day during my surgery and I felt Him in so many ways throughout the day.  I am so blessed with a community of supports who are able to step in and look out for me when life turns unexpectedly.  But now, in the rest, it's starting to hit me.  Will I completely recover from this surgery?  Will I run again?  What do I do with all this time where my only job is to REST?  I have never rested well.  I am always on the move and I thrive under pressure.  But here I am, suddenly and unexpectedly in a place where the only thing I need to do is rest.  Rest from work.  Rest from running.  Rest from fundraising and raising awareness.  Rest from making social plans.  Rest from traveling.  Rest from taking care of others.  Rest from pretty much ALL physical activity (except walking which I am encouraged to do so that's a relief!).  And it feels so strange.  I don't know how to allow myself to just heal and rest.

In this season, I will be learning how to rest.  My body needs it to recover from the controlled trauma of surgery.  I need it as my emotions go back and forth while I realize the limits of my physical body.  I am so quick to give other people in my life permission to rest but I am so tough on myself.  I am learning how to go easy on myself.  I am learning how to call it quits and stop pushing myself.  I am learning how to rely on my God in a different way than I ever had before.  I am learning how to rely on the people in my life and not be apologetic in asking for help.  This is humbling and in all honesty, I have felt defeated.

A year from now, I hope to be able to write that I have completed fundraising for clean water for the 4th year in a row and that I have completed RUNNING my 3rd Hood to Coast race with World Vision.  I hope this next year of physical healing will bring me to a new level of strength.  I pray that this physical trauma teaches me to go easy on myself and balance my life more fully than I have been.  But for now, I just want to learn how to really and truly rest.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Why I run...

Today is August 20th, 2016.  One week from today, I will be waking up in a 15 passenger van with 5 other people and one van driver in the middle of the woods Oregon.  I will not have slept very well (if at all), I will probably not have eaten very well (unless you count goldfish and granola bars as a well balanced meal), and I will be prepping for a 5 mile run after having already run 14 miles in the last 24 hours.  Sounds like a perfect vacation, right?  I'm excited!  But this is what I do to provide clean water for children and their families in South Sudan.

South Sudan is one of the youngest countries in the world, only officially becoming it's own country in 2011.  Since then, South Sudan continues to be a country ravaged by civil wars, poverty, and disease.  Many refugees that have been in the news recently are from South Sudan, in an attempt to start a life over somewhere without war, child soldiers, and lack of resources.  If you google South Sudan and read current news updates, it's easy to see that this is a struggling country in need with topics like regime changes, political unrest, child soldiers, and other heartbreaking headlines.

While these headlines can be overwhelming, there is one way that I know I can help.  I can commit to a goal of raising $10,000 to help improve the lives of a people in need.  I can ask others to support this cause.  And I can run.

World Vision is an organization that has committed to helping South Sudan (and other nations with similar needs) find sustainable clean water.  While this may not seem like an immediate solution to the above mentioned problems, clean water does so much for impoverished communities!  Decreases disease.  Provides work.  Allows children to attend school instead of spending their day walking miles to find water...any kind of water.  Improves agriculture.  Decreases starvation with better crops.  Improves health and strength.  Builds community.  And the list goes on.

I have never been a person who has felt called by God to be a missionary who lives in another country. But God has created in me a heart that breaks for others in need.  It's why I feel God called me to the mission of being a child and family therapist.  I have care and concern for the people God places in my path.  When I hear about how a simple resource like water, a resource I have continual access to, can help a community halfway across the world, my heart cries out to do something.  And God says, "Run!"  And there is nothing better for me than to know that I have stepped out in faith on God's calling on my heart.

I have had times of doubt during this adventure, both this year and last year.  A wise friend said to me during one of those times, "All you have to do is be faithful. God will do the rest."  So I am being faithful.  I am running.  I am getting the word out.  I am asking co-workers to join this cause.  I am stretching my introverted personality to speak to people about donating money.  God is using me where I didn't think it was possible.  And God is doing the rest.

At the time I am writing this, I have only $992 left to fundraise before the race ends next Saturday, August 27th.  Whether I meet this goal by next week or not, I know that God has been faithful in providing $9,000 to help the people of South Sudan have lifelong and sustainable clean water.  That is improving the lives of 180 people!  And that is amazing!

Thank you for all the ways you have supported me in this adventure for the second year in a row.  I can't wait to share this with my Hood to Coast teammates, my co-worker Becca who I was able to convince to join me on this adventure, and with you!

To help with a donation, click here!


Saturday, July 9, 2016

Taking a side

If I'm being truly honest, I don't want to take sides.

I've always been this way.  I want to see everyone have a fair chance.  It's more important to me that two people in an argument feel heard rather than one "win" the argument.  I feel badly for the team that lost against my team (unless they're playing the Cubs...the Cubs deserve a good season). 

I like seeing others get along and I believe that God created this world to be diverse and beautiful in it's diversity.  I was created to be optimistic, idealistic, and to see the good in others.  It breaks my heart to see evil and I hate division.  I would have thrived in the 60s/70s and would have worn that flower headdress proudly...but no drugs please.

The division people are taking on social media is heartbreaking.  I am tearing up now as I write.  The fact that race is still a systemic issue in our country angers me.  I am getting hotheaded as I write.   The fact that police men and women who have sworn to protect lives are both taking lives and having their lives be taken is devastating.  I feel defeated as I write.

I don't want to take sides.

But to sit in my own world and not say something and to not stand up for something feels wrong to me too.  Just the fact that I have that option speaks loudly to the systemic issue of race and my own white privilege.  I am so grateful to the loving and patient friends I have from other race and ethnic backgrounds and for how they have shown me and highlighted what it means to have white privilege.  I want to use this privilege for good.  I want to help.  I want to be there and say, "I grieve for you too.  This hurts."  I hate the thought that I'm privileged just because I was born as a white female.  Or that I'm privileged because I'm straight.  I am so grateful for my friends of other sexual orientations and gender experiences who have answered my questions to help me understand.  I won't ever fully understand what it feels like to be in any of those positions, but I want you to know that I want to help.  I want to support.  I want to be the flower-child that I am and also to stand up for what is right.  I want to walk the middle path.

I don't want to take sides.

I am literally crying as I write this post.  I feel so overwhelmed by the amount of division and arguments I have seen on social media.  I support the Black Lives Matter movement and I am glad that issues of diversity have not stopped moving in my heart since I left Chicago.  I don't want to be apathetic.  I want to help make change.  I want to be in support of making systemic racial change in our society.  I want to inform those in my community what white privilege is and how their statements of "all lives matter" is insulting and insensitive.  But this does not mean that I'm against cops or that I think they are all misinformed and lack good judgement.  So why does it feel this way?

I don't want to take sides.

A while ago, I read an article by a black basketball player who struggled with anxiety.  He wrote an article on how the perpetual trauma that both race communities and authority communities experience and how this triggers unnecessary violence.  This helped me take a side.  Our system is broken.  As a mental health professional, I understand trauma.  I understand how when you've been trained from a systemic perspective to mistrust a people group based on history of events, it is easy to have a quick trigger.  If both groups are traumatized and have been trained in systemic trauma, it would be impossible to react calmly and with a clear mind.  I see this in my trauma clients all the time.  The reaction is one out of defense.  But the reaction results in violence and incites hate and anger and mistrust, thus continuing the problem and widening the gap of understanding between communities.

I am on a side.

I am on the side of working to fix this problem.  I am on the side of speaking up in my small community about white privilege and how to use it for good.  I am on the side of Black Lives Matter and becoming more educated about the movement by listening to my black brothers and sisters.  I am on the side of getting the right mental health support for our communities.  I am on the side of working to fix the stigma of getting mental health support in the police community.  I am on the side of decreasing fear and reducing trauma reactions. 

I understand the fact that I have the privilege to choose to ignore race division in our society is white privilege.  I choose not to ignore it. 

This is my side.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

finding hope in the realness of christmas

People who know me well, know that I love Christmas.  Maybe people who don't know me that well know that I love Christmas too.  I get excited about twinkling lights, a child's belief in Santa Claus, Christmas music, and the birth of my spiritual hope in the love of my Savior.  Christmastime always makes me just a little bit happier and I always look forward to it.

Christmastime also exacerbates the pain of unanswered prayer and the waiting to know when that prayer will be answered.  I've been reflecting on this quite a bit this Christmas season.  I have also been more acutely aware of the pain of others during this season as they have experienced their own waiting.  Waiting to feel less pain about the loss of a loved one.  Waiting to feel "over" the pain of a relationship that ended.  Waiting to feel happiness again.  Waiting to be less busy and to have a moment to breathe.  Waiting for change...any change.  Waiting, waiting, waiting...while around us the world puts on a show of shiny ribbons and smiling faces.  Aren't we supposed to be happy at Christmastime?  Isn't the hope of the birth of our Savior supposed to bring us inexplicable joy?  Well, yes, but the more I think about it, the more I understand how the story of the birth of Christ relates to our experience of pain just as much as it relates to joy.

The birth of Jesus was long awaited and was promised hundreds of years before his actual birth.  How long had the Israelites been waiting for their Savior?  A few weeks ago, the sermon at church was about waiting in expectation for God's answer to His promises.  In my own life, this sermon directly spoke to me as I have been praying the same prayer for over 10 years and still, I have not received an answer.  How many Israelites could relate to this?  Or how about Elizabeth & Zechariah as they had been praying for a baby for so long?  Or Simeon and Anna who had been promised to see the Savior and had to wait until they were late in years for this promise to come true?  As I experience my own wait and often struggle at times to keep faith when it seems God has forgotten me, these reminders have been helpful in the pain of my wait.

Or what about Joseph?  How many of us have had the rug pulled out from under us in a relationship we were in?  We felt stable, secure, and all of a sudden, the other person drops a bomb and it's over.  Or the sudden (or even not sudden) death of a loved one.  Grief is suffering loss in our lives and learning how to survive the shock of unexpected change.  I often wonder how Joseph must have felt when his young fiancee told him that she was pregnant and it wasn't his child.  What kind of grief did he suffer at the loss of a dream?  Did his heart break?  Did he cry out in anger and confusion?  We are told in the book of Matthew that he planned to divorce her quietly, but we don't know what it was like for him leading up to that decision.  God was faithful to Joseph and sent an angel to comfort him and give him guidance.  While God may not respond to our own pain in this way, I am reminded that God takes care of His people in Joseph's story during moments of emotional and relational pain as well as in grief and loss.

Or maybe your pain is like that of the Magi.  You see a sign, you follow it, it takes forever to reach your destination, and just when you find a place to rest,  confusion sets in.  How many of us have had someone be like Herod to us and present with good intentions but we find out later they were actually selfish and manipulative in purpose?  Again, God sent an angel to steer the Magi in the right direction and while they may have had to travel longer to get home, God provided and returned them home safely.  I am reminded that sometimes when we are confused, manipulated, or feel as though it takes forever to return home, God will still see to it that the journey is completed safely when we respond with faith.

And then of course there is Mary.  Faithful, beautiful, Mary.  I love reading the Magnificat in the first chapter of Luke.  It reminds me of God's omnipotent, everlasting, steadfast, powerful love for us in this world.  But what about after the Magnificat?  Nine months of pregnancy prior to her marriage with Joseph.  Even if they were married shortly after she became pregnant, anyone who has ever lived in a small community knows that people talk.  Even when you tell people the truth, they will do what they want with it.  And what do you say in that situation?  "Oh, no, don't worry.  It's the Holy Spirit's baby.  We're good."  What strength and maturity Mary must have had to withstand what might have been said about her and to know that God would take care of her.  I don't think I would have been able to survive that kind of pain.  As a child, whenever I was teased, I would do whatever they wanted me to do and say whatever they wanted me to say just stop the teasing and the pain of being ostracized by my peers.  Mary's story reminds me to have faith in God's greater plan and to look beyond what is right in front of me and the limited view of others, even when it's painful.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is called "Real" by Nichole Nordeman.  In this song, she sings from the perspective of Mary and Joseph, saying:

I am real
Don't turn me into memory or myth
Let me be real
And I'll show you what it means to love like this
To be real

This Christmas, I am praying that if you have pain amidst the holiday bustle & rustle, shimmer & shine, laughter & song, remember that Jesus is real.  The people surrounding the story of his birth are real.  The miracle is real.  Our pain is real.  And the miracle is that Jesus really came to show you that he understands that pain on a deeper level than you may ever know.  Trust him with it and let him be real to you this Christmas.  I will be trying to do the same.