Caring for yourself.

Lately I’ve been realizing there are quite a few ways you can kill yourself without slitting your wrists or turning the gas on in the garage.  People smoke themselves to death, drink themselves to death, or don’t take care of their health.  Some people overeat, or eat a lot of the wrong things, (like foods high in the bad kinds of fat), don’t exercise or conversely become anorexic or bulimic, and/or addicted to exercise.  You can live a high stress lifestyle, but not find adequate ways to cope with it, so it builds and builds and your blood pressure starts rising higher and higher until you have a stroke.  These are just some of the less obvious ways you can take your own life.

I mention Tara Brach in my blog fairly often.  She is full of wisdom, and wit.  In one of her podcasts she talks about “the not beautiful”, the habits we fell into during our childhood or later in our lives to cope with stress that didn’t look beautiful to the rest of the world.  As a psychotherapist and a Buddhist teacher, she tries to help people untangle the complex webbing that led them to cope in whatever ways they do that is not serving them well anymore.  In a sense she is saving people’s lives. That doesn’t mean it’s easy though, and it definitely doesn’t happen overnight.

“False refuge” is another term she uses to describe ways of coping that end up harming us.  Rather than helping us reach a place of peace and acceptance, they numb us to feelings we don’t want to or can’t cope with at the time. (either because we’re too young, or there might be severe repercussions for allowing our feelings to show)  One of the reasons I like listening to her so much as a teacher is that she doesn’t present any “magic” or “easy” cures.  She is incredibly compassionate and urges us, along with meditations to help us get there, to be compassionate to ourselves.  She challenges us to look deeply, under what may be layers of feelings we haven’t wanted to face.  She asks us to care for ourselves enough to explore our “not beautiful” ways of coping and forgive both the people who may have led to their creation, and ourselves.  Tara is not asking us to be self-centered, but to spend time meditating, leading us toward self-compassion, self-love, and self-understanding which are the foundation for having compassion, love and understanding for others.

I think about all the soldiers coming back from our wars who’ve been devastated both by what they’ve seen, and what they’ve had to do.  On top of that they may be coping with traumatic brain injuries, or amputations, bodies that may not seem like their own anymore. Nightmares, feeling separate from others because who can understand what you’re feeling unless they’ve gone through it themselves?  All the while you were told of the nobility of your service to your country, and it was noble.  The memories of the bodies of friends, women, men and children, blown apart – I cannot imagine the images you have to carry in your minds.  I do know I am thankful you were there for your fellow countrymen and women when you were called and went far above and beyond what should have been expected of anyone.  When it feels like the countrymen you went through this hell to protect aren’t really paying attention anymore, that they’ve “changed channels” in a sense, it must make you wonder if it was all worth it.  I admire you for your service, am so sorry for your losses, and pray with all my being that you will heal as time goes on.

My path is very different, but heart wrenching on another level.  I am watching my son declining regardless of all efforts to try and keep his illness at bay.  He’s never without a cough, but as another young man with A-T is being trached in an ICU in Texas, Dan’s cough is getting more congested and full.  I’m concerned that he may be aspirating more, both of which are going to require a visit to his pulmonologist and a discussion about quality of life.  If he has another swallow test and is aspirating more, do we take away the small pleasure he gets from eating?  Each pneumonia he gets causes more fibrosis in his lungs, and as his beard is sprouting and his mustache filling in, his telangiectasia’s spread just like the spider veins they’re named for.  He has a red, bumpy rash all over his arms, chest and the tops of his thighs called Keratosis pillaris, and nothing is helping it go away.  The crappy power chair we received has a horrible cushion that makes him sweat, and he has frequent yeast infections in his groin, and mouth (because of the nebulized steroids he’s on for his lungs).  All the things I have to do to even try to make these things better he hates but there is no one else to provide his care but me.  Transferring him is getting harder and harder as he grows taller and puts on weight, which are both good things.  I’ve gone through so many deaths in our A-T family, and each child who dies causes unbearable grief to ripple through our lives.  Yet going without communication to these families is inconceivable to me.  Even if all I can do is pray, I want to be doing that.  I want to share in the joys too, like one of our kids being named Little Miss Wheelchair for the State of Texas. (http://www.facebook.com/LittleMissWheelchairTexas2012) You have to take the sadness along with the elation.

This post started out on a rather gloomy note, although I stand by what I said.  We who are traumatized, have PTSD, anxiety, depression – we have to find ways to care for ourselves as we care for our loved ones.  It isn’t easy, and it’s hard to find time, but some how we have to give ourselves compassion so there is something left for us to give the people who need us.  It’s hard to find comfort from hugging an empty shell.  Ideas are always welcomed, especially inexpensive ones.

May your life be filled with peace and blessings.  Namaste’.

My SuperDan
Dan the SuperMan

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