What’s in it For Me?

Go ahead and ask, “What’s in it for me?” You may cringe when you read that. I know a lot of people feel like they’re currently surrounded by selfishness. But I really want to explore the opposite: What’s in it for me when I give my time to help someone else?

My timing may seem off to you. Most of us are struggling just to get through the craziness of 2020. But sometimes the best way to get past a struggle is to help someone else. I’m not suggesting that you leave your home or take more risks of exposure to COVID-19. There are many ways to contribute from where you sit.

When you feel bored, anxious, or worried, changing focus can work wonders. But it can be hard to think of a constructive way to use your time when you’re stuck at home with nothing on the agenda. So, let’s go back to the question at hand, “What’s in it for me?

I’ve fallen into some really great opportunities to volunteer by attending a training, workshop, or lecture. I go for the intellectual stimulation, but I stay because I find a place I feel I can make a difference. This year, I’ve discovered I can actually attend more events because there’s no travel involved and fees have been lowered.

You don’t have to be passionate about any particular cause to make a difference. Perhaps your talent is making connections. You may be able to help a friend or associate find a new job by putting them into contact with people you know. You may be the perfect person to solicit committee members, put together a task force, or provide resources for a newcomer. You could end up introducing someone to a new partner. The right introduction can change a life.

If you’re a good communicator, you may want to write letters to teens residing in behavioral health hospitals. With COVID limiting visitors, children can use extra comforting words. Our nursing home residents and prisoners can also use extra comfort this year. Words are powerful. They can provide distraction and inspiration.

And let’s not forget healthcare workers. I have a handful of doctors I email or text on a regular basis to let them know I appreciate them. In spite of their added burdens, they often respond with encouraging messages for me. These are incredible people! And although it is not my intent for them to feel obligated to respond, there’s a lot of gratitude and reassurance available for me to absorb.

If you’re crafty, you can knit caps for newborns, sew masks for hospital visitors, or create Christmas stockings for teachers and fill them with supplies. This Christmas, I’m planning to fill stockings with holiday treats for my neighbors and leave them on their porches. I did this for Easter and the 4th of July. It’s a tiny thing to do, but brightening their day brightens mine.

And that’s the point. If you feel there’s something missing from your life, try giving that something to someone else. I’m not saying to do this in place of self-care, but as a form of self-care. We often think of giving as a tiring obligation, until we try it. Once you start using your time to create joy or comfort for someone else, you’ll be amazed how it will fill your heart and bring you joy as well.

There you have it. That’s what’s in it for me.

Volunteer Opportunities

Increase Your Chances of a Good Recovery

Increase your chances of a good recovery. Hospital discharge is a vulnerable time for a patient and one that’s rife with miscommunication. How can you increase your chances of a good recovery?

Different frames of reference coupled with broad, ambiguous recommendations mean that health messages are often misunderstood or interpreted in ways that surprise those making the recommendation. Last month, I weighed in on a discussion regarding hospital discharge instructions. Communicating discharge instructions effectively can have a significant impact on a patient’s recovery.

Discharge is known to be a vulnerable point in making a successful transition to a different location and level of care. With limited visitors currently allowed in hospitals due to Covid-19, patients are often alone when receiving oral discharge instructions. The absence of another set of ears leaves patients even more vulnerable to one of the unplanned re-hospitalizations that cost Medicare over $17 billion annually. While cost to the system is a factor, as patients we just want the best chance to recover as quickly and fully as possible.

The goals of patients, physicians, and hospitals often align at the time of discharge and yet according to one study, those goals are not met almost 20% of the time. There are many factors we as patients cannot control, but that does not mean we are helpless.

Here are 10 things you can do to increase your chances of a good recovery:

1)Have an advocate present when receiving discharge instructions. If visitation rules don’t allow you to bring someone with you in person, a video phone call can be a good option.  A voice call will also work and is best done in real time while the instructions are being delivered to the patient.

If you do not have family or a close friend available, request a patient advocate. Your hospital will most likely have at least one on staff.

2)Ask questions. Do not worry about wasting someone’s time or sounding silly and do not assume your question is stupid. We all sometimes misspeak or mishear things. And, many smart, competent, well-intentioned professionals are not skilled communicators. Clarification is good. Repetition may be necessary. Knowing the why may make the what easier to follow.

3)Request resources. If you need help navigating financial options and insurance coverage, ask that resources to assist with those be included in written doctor’s orders.

4)Get wellness support. A change in health conditions may mean a need for additional time for physical activity, mindfulness activities, support groups, or counseling. Other support services like housecleaning, babysitting, school pick-ups, or food preparation may be needed to free up time for wellness support.

5)Get another opinion. If you want to get another opinion about long-term or follow-up treatment, make a temporary plan with your doctor that will be reflected in any written discharge orders.

6)Request time to research. If there is no emergency and you are not sure which treatment option to pursue, ask for a temporary plan then schedule a time for a follow-up visit. Allow yourself time to read about up on all of the options available.

Make sure to use reputable sources like the National Institutes of Health, The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, The New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet, and The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) for your research. Social media sites are not reliable sources of information.

7)Ask for a referral. If your research leads you to a physician/facility that specializes in treatment of your diagnosis that is not offered by your current doctor or hospital, request a referral to a new doctor and/or facility and sign a form allowing the release of your records to the new facility.

8)Make sure treatment plans match your values and goals. If you and your doctor are not on the same page regarding desired outcome and the best way to achieve it, you will not be successful. Insist that you play a part in developing a plan.

9)Follow the plan. Once you and your doctor agree on a treatment plan, follow it. Period. No plan will be successful if you don’t follow it. (If you develop reservations about the plan, continue treatment until your follow-up visit or call your doctor and work out a revised plan.)

10)Give feedback. When you receive a survey about your experience, provide specific answers. This may not speed your current recovery, but it will help you and other patients in the long run. Your experience is valuable.

Sometimes getting sick is unavoidable, but a few simple steps is all it takes to increase your chances of a good recovery.  

Stomach Hurt? Hit Your Finger With a Hammer

Five Ground Rules for Using Distractions Effectively

Stomach hurt? Hit your finger with a hammer. Your stomach may still hurt, but you won’t notice it anymore! (You know I’m right if you’ve ever stubbed your little toe on the couch!) Should you discover afterward the cure is worse than the disease, well, you learned something.

I’ve seen this pain management technique used in movies, but I don’t know anyone brave enough to purposely hit their hand hard with a hammer. On the other hand, I know plenty of people who use other forms of distraction that are dangerous: drinking & driving, drinking & shooting, having unprotected sex with strangers, driving aggressively, and gambling.

While the risk is always there, only occasionally does such distraction lead to tragedy. That means such behavior goes mostly unchecked until someone gets a DUI or ends up in bankruptcy and people begin to take notice.

Right now, with the pandemic, unjust law enforcement, and economic hardship, there’s plenty of pain and loss to go around. Everyone is trying to figure out ways to cope. This makes me wonder…

Is it always bad to use distraction to relieve physical or psychic pain?

Obviously, nothing is all good or all bad per se and there’s not an absolute answer to this question. For example, drinking, gambling, and drug use bring significantly more risk for those struggling with addiction than for those who are not. Drinking and driving on the other hand is a risky combination for everyone. Drinking and shooting are never the best mix, but one beer and a round of sporting clays won’t raise any special alarms for me. And there are distractions like enjoyable work and creative hobbies that don’t pose danger.

While I’m musing about this, I’d say my ultimate intention is to heal physical and/or psychic pain as fully as possible and thereby eliminate the need for pain-relieving distractions. With that said, I realize healing is a process that is sometimes lengthy. Distractions may be a useful technique for functioning in the interim.

Here are five ground rules for using distractions effectively:

Acknowledge the source of underlying pain. If you do not start here, distractions will hinder healing.

Make a deliberate choice to include distraction as a way to manage underlying pain.

Choose distractions that add meaning and value to your life or the lives of others. Volunteer work, political activism, gardening, flower arranging, performing music, reading, writing, painting, sculpting, building, and cooking are all examples of valuable distractions.

Choose distractions that require you to be your best self. Putting your best qualities on display and receiving positive feedback will feed your spirit.

Seek balance. There are times that it is more important to focus on a problem than to be distracted from it. Finding a balance between focus and distraction will put you in the best position to pivot when needed.

Some pain is unavoidable. It will come in waves from nature, from others, and from ourselves. Without balance, pain can become all-consuming.

Carefully chosen distractions are helpful for mitigating pain and shifting focus. I use them on a regular basis. I do so judiciously, recognizing that distractions can become all-consuming as well.

That doesn’t mean I only choose highbrow distractions. Sometimes I binge watch. Sometimes I read the TMZ website. I check @ass_Deans tweets. I build something with the grandkid’s blocks. I take off my shoes and focus on how my feet feel walking through the grass.

Using distractions well means I can shift easily. Being able to shift gives me freedom to make choices rather than be stuck and frozen. Playful distractions are my favorite, but mostly I try to stay away from extremes like hitting my finger with a hammer to make my stomach stop hurting.


Getting to Zero

What is the process for getting to zero? What does getting to zero even mean? Let’s call zero the point of self-determination. Reaching the point of self-determination may not sound important to you now, especially if you’re young, but as more and more of my friends reach their late 50s I see them shift.


I’d describe the shift as a change in focus that comes with a desire to make a contribution to the community and an impatience for the senseless. It’s a time to repeat the question, what am I going to do with my life, but from a very different point of view than that of a teenager.

At a later age, the answer to this question must align with our inner truth or it causes distress, anxiety, and activity I can best describe as flailing about. This struggle is often identified as a midlife crisis. Getting to zero early can result in a more satisfying life and prevent a state of crisis in midlife.

Why do so few of us confidently follow a path of self-determination throughout adulthood? There are many ways to get distracted by everyday necessities. We spend time doing what’s needed by our parents, children, bosses, colleagues, teammates, and friends to the degree that if feels as if there’s no time to get to zero.

Sometimes this is by subconscious design. If we reach the point of self-determination, we must then make choices. Many of us have learned to fear making choices.

Choices come with inherent accountability. If we become accountable for our own destiny, we cannot blame others for our failed plans, foibles, miscalculations, distractions, delays, or regrets. We must embrace our uncertainty, roll the dice, and do the best we can with the information we have at the time.

Sometimes we’ll choose well. Sometimes we’ll wish we had known more before we made a choice. If we have courage, we’ll be willing to learn from each experience and do better in the future.

This is the process of showing up and living with intent. It puts us at risk of living with our own decisions and any resulting guilt or shame. To do this takes resolve, courage, and strength. It also makes us feel vulnerable.

I don’t know if it’s due to our diminishing sense of community, shrinking churches, the rise of social media bullying, or aggrandization of the shallow, but we seem to have lost the connection to our core strength, our moral substance, our character. I say this collectively because it feels like a cultural shift.

I know there are individuals of great courage and character in every community. They just seem harder to find. They’re not the media sensations the badly behaved have become.

The relevant point is that you may feel alone when you begin down a vulnerable path. That doesn’t mean you won’t find support or mentoring along the way. It just means that if you wait for support to show up before you begin to live intentionally, you may never get started.

You can live a whole life of going along to get along. This will limit the positive impact you can have on your health, in your relationships, in your friends’ lives, in your neighborhood, and on the community. You simply can’t be an agent for growth, improvement, innovation, advancement, reform, or progress by going along.

Build Internal Strength
A step toward getting to zero is to build internal strength and faith in that strength. How you build strength will be an individual journey.

Begin by finding an avenue that builds your sense of having something to offer the world. Some will rely on religious faith. Some will find grit and resilience by drawing on stories of their ancestors. Some will connect to themselves through collective experiences they find in books. Some will find a community that recognizes, acknowledges, and reinforces their value.

Evaluate How You Spend Your Time
Part of living with self-determination is deciding how you will spend your time. That decision can’t be made until you know how you’re currently spending your time.

One way to get a handle on this is to keep a timesheet. I know you probably think you can just wing this, but keep track in writing for a couple of weeks and you may be surprised.

Once you see where your time is going, you can determine whether that time allotment reflects who you want to be and how you want to live your life and/or what you want for your family. Anything that is not in alignment with your values can go.

No, really…it can go. That’s such a scary idea! We find comfort and security in the routines we create. And we know our friends and family may grumble with any changes. Kindness, consideration, understanding, compassion, and sometimes concessions are important during big shifts. Nonetheless, grumbling itself should not throw you off course.

A balanced mix of work, family, self, and community leads to a feeling of meaning and contribution. If any area gets out of balance, it prevents us from being our best selves or making our greatest potential contribution.

Even self-care can be allotted too much time. I’m not saying self-care is bad. It is essential, but if most of your energy is directed toward yourself, your impact on the world will be limited.

Appropriate Time for Stillness
Once you’ve set aside activities that do not align with your values and intentions, fill some of the holes in your schedule with stillness. Breathing techniques, meditation, or somatic experiencing may help you find an avenue to stillness or they may not be available to you until you have already mastered it.

How you get there and how quickly you get there are not important, getting there is. Without stillness, it is impossible to know yourself.

Know What You Know
Once you’re internally strong and have made time for and embraced stillness, you must be willing to know what you know. This is the most difficult emotional task I’ve ever tackled. It is an unraveling of the stories we tell ourselves in order to deal with the world we have experienced.

We are all remarkably adaptable. When we are forced to endure difficult, stressful, or traumatic events early in life without adequate emotional support, we create stories that allow us to survive but do not necessarily reflect the truth of our experience.

A small child cannot bear the idea that her mother watches her boyfriend beat her because the mother values the boyfriend more than the child. Even reading that, you may excuse the mother’s behavior to some degree by reasoning that she’s probably afraid of the boyfriend. Unfortunately, she may not be afraid at all.

The mother is not afraid and she does not intervene. Ouch! That is a truth that feels unbearable, mind boggling, unreasonable, and wrong. And yet, it is the truth that her child knows on a very deep level and, simultaneously, actively avoids knowing in order to feel loved.

Being willing to know what you know means both seeing and accepting cruelty as cruelty, humiliation as humiliation, neglect as neglect, verbal abuse as verbal abuse, manipulation as manipulation, and violence as violence. Knowing what you know can change your life because it changes your story.

Knowing what you know frees you from the fiction that prevents you from making the specific choices that will serve you best, but it is not easy. Our story defines how we view ourselves. Changing that story can feel like losing our identity. But a story isn’t who you are and it can be rewritten. In this rewriting lies freedom, meaning, and redemption.

You have the power to write your own story. You just have to get to zero.