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!

Favorite Holiday Dishes and Treats

sausage ballsI know you can find favorite holiday dishes listed by state. I’m sure you can find many other favorite lists grouped in many other ways. Today, you get to enjoy a few of my holiday favorites categorized by the order in which they pop into my head.

Peppermint Ice Cream

Many holiday favorites come from family traditions. This one does not. The first time I tasted peppermint ice cream was at a Baskin-Robbins®. I don’t remember the city or the year. I just remember the creaminess of the milk balanced the mintiness of the peppermint in a scrumptiously delicious way. Later I discovered Chik-fil-A® peppermint chocolate chip milkshakes. Those were even richer and more decadent than ice cream.

One year, my son Ben & I bought a half gallon of peppermint ice cream on the way to my hometown for Christmas. We didn’t have a cooler with us. I have no idea what we thought we were going to do with all of that ice cream for three hours in the car, but standing at the counter a single serving each just didn’t seem like enough. We ate all we could stand, then threw away a large amount of melted pink mess.

If you’re like me, you have to review each new holiday offering to make sure it’s compatible with your eating regimen. Be prepared. This reading assignment may startle you. In addition to excessive calorie counts, you’ll find artificial flavors, corn syrup, and gum stabilizers. As long as it’s gluten-free, I don’t mind choosing this kind of treat once a year but it’s not something I want on a regular basis.

Eggnog

I know there are two camps on eggnog. I happen to like it. You don’t even need to spike it with anything as long as there’s nutmeg sprinkled on top. One draw is that we had it at my grandmother’s house on Christmas. The other is similar to that of peppermint ice cream – it’s soooooo rich and sweet.

Biscuits

My family’s traditional Christmas meal was breakfast. My mother served it mid-morning after we opened presents. It was the one time each year she was sure to make a homemade meal. I loved the crispy bacon, scrambled eggs, and even the biscuits although they were an acquired taste. They were consistently so brown and hard my sister called them moonrocks.

Sausage Balls

I never think to make sausage balls until the holidays roll around. That means cooking one recipe is never enough. I always double up. If I have any left I can freeze them. Of course, I never have any left. If we don’t eat them all while the family is together, someone packs up a bunch to go. The few that remain are my breakfast for a day or two. They really are a good grab & eat breakfast.

Party Mix

Much like sausage balls, my family starts eating party mix around Christmas and puts it away just after the Super Bowl. My great aunt Ruth brought party mix to my grandmother’s house every Christmas. I loved the crunch of Brazil nuts and the toasted buttery flavor of the cereal. I would try to eat it slowly so it would last longer. While I was successful at eating small portions, I ate them so often it still didn’t last long.

Harry & David® Pears

My box of Harry & David pears just arrived. A friend gives me one every year as a Christmas/birthday present. I excitedly await the ripening of the first pear. These Royal Riviera Pears are never ordinary. They’re extraordinary!

Hot Chocolate

It seems that Christmas parades these days are during the day. When I was growing up, our parade was at night and it was C-O-L-D. Riding on a float or standing and watching left us chilled and ready for a cup of hot cocoa. We could hardly wait long enough for it to cool before we started gulping.

Chocolate Orange Balls

I like the flavor of orange and chocolate together, but my favorite thing about chocolate orange balls is the instructions – Whack and Unwrap! It’s a pleasure to consume food you don’t have to treat gingerly and anything that helps work out the added frustrations of the holidays is a good thing. Perhaps that’s why Santa always left my dad nuts to crack.

Chocolate Covered Bing Cherries

I love bing cherries! We used to eat them fresh from the tree. I’m not sure it gets any better than that, but since I no longer have access to a tree, I’ll settle for the chocolate covered version.

There were a few more items that crossed my mind, but ultimately didn’t make this list – pumpkin bread, glazed ham, beef & noodles (this makes my all time favorite list, but we had it on multiple occasions throughout the year), and green rice. Fruit cake crossed my mind, but try as I might, I don’t like it.

Your family may have a more traditional holiday dinner that produces favorites like prime rib, green bean casserole, mincemeat pie, latkes, or Christmas pudding. Whatever they are, I wish you the opportunity to enjoy them with those you love this holiday season!

https://www.baskinrobbins.com/content/baskinrobbins/en/products/icecream/flavors/pepperminticecream.html

https://thechickenwire.chick-fil-a.com/Inside-Chick-fil-A/The-Peppermint-Chocolate-Chip-Milkshake-is-Back

https://www.harryanddavid.com/h/fruit-gift/pears

https://www.bettycrocker.com/menus-holidays-parties/mhplibrary/parties-and-get-togethers/vintage-betty/retro-recipe-the-original-original-chex-party-mix

https://www.bissingers.com/product/Chocolate-Covered-Cherries/Bissingers-Chocolate-With-fruit

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/gluten-free-bowl-mix/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/gluten-free-bowl-mix/

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.”

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Wrap it Up!

It’s about time to wrap it up – the last of the holiday gifts, your yearly To-Do list, the final expenditures of the year, all of your accomplishments, wishes and dreams for 2017 – wrap it up! The year will be over in less than two weeks. If there’s anything you MUST finish before next year, now is the time. I think I’ll just nap!
gifts
Nap
My father-in-law used to swear by the power nap. He came home for lunch, took a power nap, then went back to the office. He could see more patients in a day than any other doctor I’ve known, so maybe there was something to it.

Sleep organizations tout the health benefits of zapping stress and boosting your mood while making you more alert. My motivation is more that it seems a little bit naughty to nap during the workday and I’ve been way too nice this year. Plus, I read in a Men’s Health magazine article that napping after learning something can make my memory of what I learned five times better so a nap just makes sense.

Rest
If you’re not napping, and you don’t sleep enough at night, you’re in good company. According to the CDC, more than a third of us don’t get enough sleep. Sleeping less than 7 hours per day is associated with an increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and obesity.

Perhaps a contributing factor is that few of us have learned to rest. We fill every moment with work, sports, shopping, kids activities, partying, hobbies, travel, or bombarding thoughts of work, sports, shopping, kids activities, partying, hobbies, and travel. When our minds don’t know how to rest, our bodies have difficulty sleeping.

Regroup
Taking time to reflect on the state of our lives throughout the past year can lead to the insight that it’s time to regroup. A little courage and determination can lead to a happier, less hurried, and more productive 2018. Just think of it as organizing the closet of your mind.

Once I have things reordered in a way that supports the things I value, I’m able to create the life I want. It doesn’t always happen in a moment, but at least I know that I will be supported during the process. That can make all the difference in whether I get from point A to point B.

Rejuvenate
Napping, resting, and regrouping contribute to feeling revived, energized, and de-stressed. They may even make you look younger. I like to think so.

Move forward
Next year, my focus is on finding a path to joy. I know the feelings of fun, laughter, inspiration, awe, and reverence. I’m lacking in what it means to feel carefree, blissful, unhinged exuberance. Once I find the way to joy, I know I’ll want to wrap it up!

https://sleep.org/articles/napping-health-benefits/

https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/napping

https://www.menshealth.com/health/21-health-benefits-of-napping

https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0215-enough-sleep.html

Share and Share Alike

Empty jars

The holidays are a great time to share and share alike. When my boys were about 4 and 6 I took them Christmas shopping for my sister and a cousin about their age. We walked up and down the aisles of a local store. At first, the boys excitedly pointed toward things they liked or wanted and asked, “Can I have this?” I answered, “We’re not shopping for us, please pick out something for Aunt Carol.”  James grabbed a toy for himself but nothing for Carol. Ben just stopped where he was and refused to walk any more or pick out any gifts.

I tried again with a bit of forced enthusiasm, “Com’on, let’s pick out something really cute for Aunt Carol.” Now annoyed, James said, “No, I want a He-Man for me!” Ben kept it simple with, “I don’t want to.”

I then tried switching recipients to the one closer to their age. “Okay boys, how ’bout we get a toy for Michael Paul? What do you think he’d like?” At this point, James really dug in his heels and Ben got down in the floor and loudly whined for a Transformer.

Finally, a thought flew through my head. I wonder what would happen if I let each of them choose one present for themselves before choosing presents for everyone else? I gave it a try. The second a He-Man and a Transformer hit the bottom of the shopping cart, both boys became cooperative and eager to choose gifts for both Carol and Michael Paul. They were engaged, involved, and happy to give.

In the store, tired, frustrated, and ready to go home, I felt so relieved by the immediate shift to cooperation that I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about what had led me to let go of the idea that allowing them to get something for themselves was teaching them to be selfish, but I have contemplated it many times since. Was it really selfish for the boys to want something for themselves first before they were ready to give?

Looking back, I don’t think so. If they had only wanted to shop for themselves and not anyone else, that would have been selfish. Because my initial denial of their request left us stuck in a spot in which it appeared they were only interested in themselves, I didn’t realize I was only seeing part of the picture.

Both Ben and James were excited about giving when they felt they had been cared for. It was my assumption that they were behaving selfishly that created the situation in which they appeared selfish. All the boys were trying to do was let me know that they needed to feel like my priority, loved, and cared for. It just sounded different to me because of the context and their age appropriate inability to verbalize their feelings.

Was allowing them to choose a material gift the only way to fill the void they were feeling? Of course not. In fact, in many situations a material gift could have increased their feeling of emotional distance. The important thing was that I was finally able to hear them with something more than my ears and my head. I heard them with my heart which signaled my head, and I just “knew” what to try.

The holidays bring so many chances to listen with our hearts and give appropriately. Why is it then that we often feel a sense of dread, confusion, inadequacy, loneliness, longing, or disconnection? Is it that we need to shift our focus? Is it that we listen to old family patterns instead of our hearts? Is it that we try to buy our way out of feeling inadequate? Is it that we yield to peer pressure or marketing messages? Is it that we don’t understand that the best gift we can give is to keep our hearts open and share best selves?

If you had 6 empty jars to fill with the gift of connection, how would you choose to fill them – with a coupon for a Saturday of baking cookies with your granddaughter, a list of the qualities you admire in your son, your favorite family recipe, a calendar of dates you’re available for a lengthy conversation with your mom, your favorite holiday memory, symbols of a special shared memory with your spouse?

This time of year reminds us to share and share alike. The way we choose to share can make all the difference.