Many Diagnoses Come With Uncertainty

Just like this pandemic year, many diagnoses come with uncertainty. Truthfully, they all do. Getting comfortable with not knowing can help lead to the healthiest path for dealing with the coming months or a disconcerting diagnosis.

The contrasts of this year seem especially sharp as Christmas 2020 approaches. The middle road we often cruise has given way to distinct divisions between comfort and danger. And it feels disconcerting because many of the holiday traditions in which we usually find comfort are not currently safe. The pandemic has brought uncertainty we cannot avoid. Too much has changed too fast.

Under normal conditions, many of us shove uncertainty aside. We believe we know what each day will hold. We focus on that and tune out things we don’t expect or don’t want to deal with. We know that there will be minor mishaps – spills that stain a favorite blouse, flat tires, computer malfunctions, etc. We limit our expectations to those and move forward. That works great until an unavoidable life-altering event presents itself.

Big events often mean big decisions. It’s so much easier to make a decision if the outcome is immediate and known. But that’s not really how it works in most life-altering situations. Every choice is a gamble.

So how can we stay grounded and trust ourselves to make good enough choices?

It’s important to note that good enough choices aren’t always perfect choices. We can move toward health by making informed, if imperfect, choices. When we feel confident in our choices, we lessen the fear and anxiety created by uncertainty.

Fear triggers the urge to fight, flee, freeze, or fawn or hey, if things are really bad, all four! Just recognizing this can lessen the impact of the feelings when they arise. And there are ways to help calm your lower brain so that you can move in and out of fear deliberately and effectively.

Here are a few techniques to try:

Grounding – plant your feet firmly on the floor and press as if you’re getting ready for the starting gun of a race. If you still need to calm down, look around the room (leave your feet planted) and count all of the red you see, then green, then black, etc. You can continue by looking for shapes.

Tapping – Memorize a simple sequence of tapping. When you feel distress coming on, tap the sequence until you feel better.

Feeling your body – gently squeeze your arms noting how the skin feels and how the muscles feel beneath your arms. Continue with your legs or feet. Sometimes resting one hand on your chest just below your throat can feel calming. Feeling your body will help bring you into the present moment instead of getting lost in a panic of “what if”.

Breathing – stand in mountain pose and breathe. What I love about this pose is that you can do it anywhere without inviting the stares that downward dog would bring. If you’re at home, try alternate nostril breathing.

Once you develop successful methods to calm yourself, you will be ready to explore leaning into the feeling of fear. What works best for me is to allow myself to feel scared and to stay in that feeling as long as I can stand it. Having done this many times, I know that there will be a point at which things will shift and I will no longer feel afraid. If I can’t stick with it that long, I let it go for the moment knowing I can move in and out of fear as needed.

I don’t try to figure anything out or make any decisions when I’m leaning into fear. I just feel it and observe how my body responds. I trust that things will seem more clear once I’ve worked through some of the fear. When dealt with directly and immediately (or deliberately over a relatively short period of time), fear doesn’t have a chance to turn into long-term anxiety. It simply dissipates and goes away.

You can’t expect yourself to work through the fear brought by a diagnosis while you’re in the doctor’s office. At that moment, or any time you need to make immediate decisions under duress, I compartmentalize. I understand that many mental health professionals may not support that idea, but it works for me. The key is to create time and space soon after to feel my way through what has happened.

In other words, I compartmentalize temporarily. That gives me the clarity to proceed to another step of feeling confident in my decisions: gathering information. I set my feelings aside to ask the doctor as many questions as I can think of. I also ask the process for submitting questions that may come up once I’ve processed a bit longer.

Once I leave the doctor’s office, I research my options until I reach the point that I feel comfortable working with my doctor to devise a care plan. This sometimes includes getting a second opinion. Having the knowledge of more than one expert makes me feel more confident moving forward. While there is no way to know for sure whether we’ll achieve the outcome I desire, making informed plans builds my confidence and comfort level make uncertainty feel more tolerable.

Uncertainty can still weigh heavy. That’s when I like to get outside. Or on days like today, a trip outdoors offers an opportunity to bank good feelings to pull from when I need them. It’s such a gorgeous day! The work view I’ve chosen is from the porch overlooking my back yard.

Multiple birds chirp as they shuffle in and out of the wisteria on the arbor. Crows caw in the distance. Sugar snap peas extend their small white blossoms above the fence into a net trellis. The sun is full on my face and I’m comfortable in a light sweater. At sunset, we’ll be able to see Jupiter and Saturn align into a bright Christmas star. How could anything be bad?

Of course I’m aware of the perils of delivering gifts to my friends. Any other year, we’d be sharing food, wine, and laughter along with our gift bags. This year, we’re navigating quarantine just to get them to each other’s porches.

But while I sit under a brilliant blue sky, I don’t have to think about that. I can simply soak in the sun, the sounds, and the smell of BBQ when the breeze shifts just so. The smell of smoke from that nearby BBQ pit is a peril in itself. Live here long, and you’ll crave barbecue for breakfast.

As we move through stunted holiday celebrations into more months of pandemic uncertainty, some of us will receive unwanted diagnoses with the potential to increase anxiety. Having tools to reduce discomfort can mean better decision making and more peace of mind.

That’s my wish for all of us through the holidays…peace of mind and spirit!

Beer Goggles vs Fear Goggles

Beer goggles vs fear goggles – which are worse? Fear fascinates me. I see its effects in my choices. I feel it intensely at the most unexpected moments. I feel its power over my interactions with those who are afraid. I’ve seen fear prevent compassionate parenting, business success, relationship longevity, personal satisfaction, creative achievement, and informed healthcare choices, not to mention joy, peace, and happiness.

fear
Fear Goggles

I don’t think much about beer, but I have spent many an afternoon at happy hour trying to alleviate the deep feeling of restlessness I carried with me for the much of my life. My friends and I spent a lot of money on expensive wine. We formed bonds with our favorite bartenders. We talked too loud, cussed too much, and went home too late. A lot of it was fun and sometimes it momentarily colored how I saw things.
beer
Beer Goggles

So, which leaves you worse for the wear – beer or fear?
-Both can affect how you perceive the situation around you.
-Both can keep you from exercising good judgement.
-Both can hold you back at work.
-Both can create strife within your family.
-Both can cause you embarrassment.
-Both make some people aggressive and obnoxious.
-Both make some people withdrawn and sullen.
-Both can make you physically ill.
-Both can leave you feeling exhausted.
-Both can cause you to drive erratically.
-Both can wreak havoc on your finances.
-Both can result in ill-advised liaisons.
-Both can cause you to feel shame.
-Both can create a monster boss, husband, wife, or teen.
-Both can lead to a betrayal of trust.
-Both can cause you to neglect your responsibilities.
-Both can be toxic.
-Both come with interesting labels.
-A little of either can have a positive effect.
-Enough of either can paralyze you.
-Either can bring you to destroy your life.

The biggest difference I can see is that beer is an option and fear is unavoidable.

In fact, it is precisely this difference that makes it critical for us to be aware of, and have a strategy for handling, our fear. If we do not, it can easily spiral out of control or leave us feeling numb. Left unattended, fear can sap our strength, our power, our resolve, and our joy as fast as any addiction leading us to make unhealthy choices or preventing us from making healthy ones.

Embraced, fear offers us a mechanism for both protection and improvement. It signals to let us know where our boundaries are. We then have a choice to honor that boundary or risk changing it. Of course this happens very quickly and often at a subconscious level. Allowing ourselves to fully experience fear with the confidence that it will dissipate rather than overwhelm can turn our lives in a whole new direction.

If you have ever been forced to live with, or in, fear, please know that you deserve to feel safe, secure, loved, valued, important, and supported. You are not damaged beyond repair. You have simply suffered wounds that will take time and care to heal. You are worth the effort!

Here are some of my favorite resources to assist you along the way:

http://www.traumahealing.org/

http://rhondabritten.com/

http://www.havetherelationshipyouwant.com/confidence/

http://brenebrown.com/books/

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Dessert First! Day Five.

In the morning before I’ve had a conversation, it’s easy to remain focused on my intent to linger over the sweet moments of my day. It is now Day Five of Dessert First and my bathroom is still under construction so I must drive to my office to shower. During the drive this morning there was a moment in which smoky, thick, tall, blue columns of clouds surrounded the orange-red sun creating dramatic depth in the forefront of the sky. I lingered at a stoplight to gaze and the scene quickly changed as the sun broke free to shine its blinding bright white.

As I stared, I was struck by the contrast between the methodic, dependable, and regular movement of the sun and the constantly changing sky pictures it creates at sunrise. The swiftness and drama of the scene change didn’t feel alarming because I know I can rely on the pattern of the sun’s movement.

Perhaps the greatest reward of week’s shift in focus is that it has led me to new insight every day.  After reveling in the beauty of the sunrise and recognizing that change is part of what made it so awe inspiring but not frightening, I began to think about our resistance to change and the fear it seems to trigger. Why fear? We accept that things must change. If there were no change, when it rains it would never stop.  If there were no change, when we cut our finger it would never heal.

And yet, when we get a new boss at work our first response may be to tense up and assume we’ll be under scrutiny instead of feeling like we are faced with a new learning opportunity and the possibility for greater success than ever before. Or when our elderly parent marries a new spouse, we immediately examine his motives rather than embracing him with our eyes open to all the possibilities both positive and negative.

Are we feeling fear of the unknown? We don’t know how the sky is going to change at sunrise or sunset, but this does not instill fear. We are open to its shifts. What is it about the concept of change that causes us to feel a need to protect ourselves?

This is a big question requiring a big answer. I’m not going to attempt to answer it today. I realize that it is an essential concept that must be addressed in order to thrive. Even more specifically, fear of change must be addressed because it is often the greatest roadblock to the adoption of a gluten-free lifestyle. We fear change more than we fear the pain, illness, and detrimental health effects of ingesting gluten. That is a powerful emotion.

We will come back to this here on the blog, address it in the full website that will launch in January, and incorporate techniques to alleviate such fear in our Essential Utensils Social and Emotional Support Tools.

If you are struggling and want feedback now, please email support@cooking2thrive.com.