My 89 year-old dad had two open heart surgeries this summer. It was tough talking to him on the phone the night before surgery, not knowing if it would be the last conversation we'd ever have. And then to do it again a month later. I wanted to be there in person. He persuaded me not to...I think he preferred to not have two crying women in his hospital room.
My mom too had more than her share of health problems these past few months. In the hospital repeatedly for afib, she eventually decided on pacemaker surgery, which she had after dad successfully got through his. But in-between hospital stays, while I was with the family, she also broke out with shingles. Seriously, Universe? It was her 80th birthday. She couldn't have had a break?
The week before I flew in for my mom's birthday, I myself ended up in the emergency room after a fall. I'm still having to do physical therapy to get function back to my right hand, wrist, and arm. It will be a joy when I can finally brush my teeth without having to struggle doing it left-handed.
Between my husband's three visits to urgent care/E.R., my visit, and the several times I had to take my mom, I ended up going a total of about 9 times in six weeks. It's not a great sign when the E.R. staff know you too well.
More recently, my dear friend from grade school called to say she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. A couple of weeks ago another friend flew in from Europe, staying with me awhile in-between international military base assignments. She's having to deal with her 19 year-old granddaughter addicted to heroin and, we think, other hard drugs, stripping and/or prostitution. And that is just the tip of that iceberg. This past week the floods have torn up much of our state and metro area...
So how do we cope?
I sobbed after the "might-be-my-last" phone calls with dad. But I worked really hard to keep it together for his sake while we were talking. I took time to grieve and recover. But I also cussed and fussed when overcome. I'm sure I tried to take control when I could, and likely spoke tersely when I couldn't.
The women in my life have always needed lots of support. To retain some capacity to be there for them, after being there for my private practice clients as well, I've had to set some boundaries. As a rule, I plan my weeks so that I'm NOT chronically overwhelmed. It would be easy to be so. There is always more to do. But, being human, I can't do it all. On a stress/anxiety scale from 0 to 10, with 10 being "overwhelmed", I plan so that I remain at a 5 or less. I adjust my work days so that I am NOT coming in early AND staying late too many days in a row. I set a limit to how many clients I see in one day. And, I try to spread out my workload so that the most difficult tasks are buffered by easier ones. Soulful walks are budgeted into my days, as are movies, acupuncture, time with my husband, and other self-nurturing activities. I let my friends and family know what I CAN do. And let them use their other supports for what I can't. It was essential that I learned to differentiate between helping and rescuing. Believe me, a helper will always find those who need help. These days and years, I let others do what they can for themselves and typically wait until people ask for my help. Then I let them know how I can help and for how long. In my younger years, I would stay on the phone as long as I was needed. I would be the one to help everyone else with their moves, only to have to do my own alone because others weren't available for whatever reason. I would be the place of refuge when girlfriends broke up with their mates. I was the one who stayed to work late because the others had to take their kids to soccer or band practice. Especially when I was single, I neglected my own wants, as long as others had needs. I had to learn to self-love, and to understand that self-love is not the same as selfishness. When I self-love, I allow myself the conditions in which I thrive. In thriving, I have more capacity to love and serve others as I am called to serve. Today, I cope physically by getting in my power walks, practicing my physical therapies, eating nutritious foods, drinking plenty of water, resting and relaxing to balance out my activities. Emotionally, I take time for myself to balance out the time I give to others. I've had to set energetic boundaries, and practice letting go of energy vampires, those who sucked me dry without offering much in the way of true friendship in return. And I take responsibility for choosing which emotions I feel. Some people long for peace. Others contentment or happiness. For me, I choose love. I fill myself with love by living authentically. I fill myself with love as I radiate love toward others. Mentally or intellectually, I cope by being present to what I am doing in the moment, whether being a good friend or a caring therapist, whether hiking or cycling, or whether I'm enjoying time with my sweet husband or writing for this blog. Yes, I take time to plan ahead, but I don't stay in the future or dwell on the past. For only in this moment do I surely live. I also cope by speaking respectfully and assertively, asking for help when I need it, and communicating my truth. Spiritually, I cope by praying, by being open to the communion I feel with Presence, by trusting what I am given through my intuition, and sharing what I am given with others. I allow myself time in nature, where I am lifted higher and wider in consciousness, and where I realign and get back in tune. From that space, I am reborn and rejuvenated. Other days, I may cope differently, with music or qigong, by taking classes to learn or for fun, by being silly and playful, or serious and take-charge. The key to coping is to set up your life so that you are in balance most days. That way, when the unexpected hits, you have the capacity to be resilient and to rebound. Then, know yourself.....what makes you feel relaxed and re-energized.....go do that, like rest, or yoga, or a night with good friends. Know what helps you discharge tension in healthy ways, like exercising or respectfully saying what you need to say or volunteering to help a situation that needs some attention.....go do that. Refrain from using alcohol, drugs, energy drinks or sweets to cope, because you will come to believe that you NEED such substances to cope. Try not to numb because you will miss the very symptoms you need to be aware of in order to make life changes. Avoid fighting or fleeing, since that usually causes more problems than it solves.
Many of those whose homes, businesses and life possessions were swept away by the floods of this past week have amazed me with their strength and faith. Twenty-one plus inches fell across Boulder/Lyons area, over fifteen inches where I live. In Colorado, we received more water in this one week than we usually do all year long. Saturday I witnessed almost two inches pour within the space of 30 minutes. It looked like a hurricane and hail storm outside. Roads crumbled away. Bridges fell. Communities and neighborhoods were cut off. And yet, what I saw and heard over and over were news stories of courage and love, of helping one another, and of remembering what is truly important.
That kind of coping is what we are all capable of, once we know how.