Posts tagged ‘kindness’

September 26, 2017

Food or Feud

In my family, it can be food or feud. The simple solution is for us to eat on time. But what happens when things aren’t simple?food or fuedI am sitting in 3000 square feet of emptiness looking up at the ducts on the ceiling 22′ above me. My head is hurting. I planned to be here until 1pm. Now the heat & air installers say it may be 4pm. I am hungry for more than the cheese and crackers I brought to tide me over until 1. It may be fall, but it is hot!

Hot, hungry, and tired with a headache that won’t quit can be a recipe for a family feud or at least a lot of misunderstanding! When someone in my family starts to become easily annoyed, we immediately look for food. We know that we’re grumpy when we’re hungry. Because of this, we’re pretty good planners and we always have a snack handy, but the unexpected can still sometimes catch us unprepared.

If you’re one of those folks who can go all day without a meal, you’ll have no idea why this is significant. If, on the other hand, you begin to feel shaky, confused, sweaty, and sick if you don’t eat on time, you’ll understand why I’m writing this.It’s hard to count the number of times I’ve told a travel companion that I’m hungry only to have them stall me for 3 or 4 hours. Long before that time is up, I feel like I’m going to throw up my guts. I physically hurt. I cannot think straight enough to tell you what I want to eat.

What I’m describing has happened to me all of my life. It also happens to my son. It probably happened to my grandfather who could not tolerate sugar. He never ate cake, pie, cobbler, or cereal with added sugar. He would occasionally eat chocolate covered cherries. I don’t remember, but I’m guessing he ate those after a meal when they would have less effect.
I say this because that’s my experience with sugar. I can tolerate some after a meal, but feed me pancakes with syrup or a glazed doughnut for breakfast and I will be puking them up in 5 minutes. I will feel a horrible sinking sensation, then wretchedly nauseous.

My grandfather and his sisters who shared this sugar sensitivity were never diagnosed with a condition or disease. I have had blood work done just after two of these episodes. It is always in the normal range. My body may struggle to break down sugars because of celiac disease, but no one has been able to tell me that with any certainty.

That’s the thing sometimes. You know how you’re feeling isn’t normal, but whatever you have isn’t showing up, isn’t being tested for, or falls in the “normal” range. That can feel really frustrating. But life goes on. You learn to recognize when you’re approaching critical and do your best to stay ahead of the problem.

But when a plan suddenly changes, things run late, or there is an unexpected problem, what I most need is for you to believe me when I say I need to eat. I may say it matter-of-factly and without drama, but I need for you to understand that it will soon be more than I can do to remain calm if you ignore repeated requests to stop at the next place we come to.

I know that you may be trying to get to a better restaurant 10 miles down the road, but what I need for you to get is that once I hit a certain point, I do not care whether the food will taste good, I just need it in my tummy. Telling me to hang on because there’s a great restaurant in the next town is like telling me you’re going to break my arm. If I respond as though that’s what you’ve said, it is because that is how it feels to me.

When I am using my energy to stay calm, ask politely, and try not to puke or cry, it is overwhelming to ask me to choose a restaurant, name what I want, or really to communicate at all. Keep in mind that I will have attempted to address the oncoming problem I am sensing before I get to this point. If you did not recognize that those attempts were important, you may not recognize that I want to cooperate, but am feeling as though my situation is dire. Boom! Argument, misunderstanding, or meltdown may be imminent.

While I may get into a situation in which grabbing a handful of crackers from the table is tempting, since becoming gluten-free I have never made that choice. And that adds a second layer of distress when communication becomes difficult.
Today, when I began to feel vague hunger pangs, I ate some cheese and crackers. An hour later, I was getting seriously hungry. About that time, I received the news that my stay would be extended several hours past what I had planned for. I recognized that it was important to either stop the crew and go get food, or find a way to get some brought to me.

I did not wait until I could no longer think straight. I made a short list of people who could help, decided what I would request they do, and proceeded to call the list. Before the next hour was up, I had eaten lunch and no longer had a headache.
plate
Today, things worked out well. Other times, they have not. Most often those have been times that I was accommodating a group or an individual with little insight or empathy. Occasionally it has been at times that I was forced to deal with a person who simply can’t be reasoned with or does not value how I feel.

What’s the best plan in those instances?

Recognize that not everyone you come into contact with has your best interest at heart. If there are people in your life who are routinely difficult and make it hard to take care of yourself, avoid situations that make you dependent on dealing with them. Take a separate car. Choose a different work group. Volunteer for a different committee. Say no if you have to.
Know that you will never be able to make an unreasonable person be reasonable. They must come to a point where they choose to see their contribution to a situation that distresses you before you can reach them. How you feel can be communicated and cooperation can be requested, but it is helpful to know that you cannot force understanding.

You will never be able to make crazy behavior make sense. It is not necessarily important to understand why someone does something. If they exhibit a pattern of behavior that is detrimental to you, it is enough to know they do it and that it is not acceptable to you.

Once you determine that, you have many choices for what to do next:
Set and enforce better boundaries.
Minimize your exposure.
Leave behind friendships, romantic relationships, jobs, or distant relatives that hurt you.
Become realistic about your contribution to any friction in a relationship and apologize for your part in a misunderstanding.
Refuse to be lured into apologizing for taking care of yourself so long as you have managed to remain calm and kind and have tried your best not to inconvenience anyone else. You cannot control every circumstance.
pork roast
On the flip side, you also have choices about how you view another’s actions:
Extend the benefit of the doubt. Some people mean you no harm, but will inadvertently hurt you anyway.
Be present. We are all less likely to hurt each other when we are fully aware of the effect we’re having in the moment.
Allow yourself to see and feel the discomfort of someone else’s distress. Being attuned to subtle signs will change how you respond. Isn’t this what we want from others?

I wish for a partner who understands my physical limitation to the extent that in a pinch he is willing to voluntarily bring me something to eat that doesn’t take much energy to digest – a banana, a glass of milk, or some Greek yogurt. It sounds so simple. I’m sure any man who has failed to do so would read this and say, “I would do that.”

Of course you would if it seemed important at the time. But what if you got distracted by a work call or the kids throwing a fit or trying to figure out how we’re going to pay for replacing a heat & air system we haven’t budgeted for? What if you felt annoyed when I repeated a request for food when you’re planning to EVENTUALLY honor that request? What if you were in the mood for a really good meal and thought I’d be ruining my appetite by eating before our 9pm reservation? What if your mother believes I am trying to avoid eating the meal that’s taking extra time to prepare because she’s making it gluten-free for me? What if you simply don’t believe how sick I feel because you’ve never experienced it and my test results are normal?

We all like to see ourselves as reflected only by our best moments. In real life, we’re experienced by those around us as a sum of our level of presence, our tolerance for vulnerability, our priority in the moment, our insight, our ability to empathize, our reliability, our helpfulness, kindness, and thoughtfulness, our flexibility, stability, and mindfulness, our willingness to entertain different points of view, our truthfulness, genuineness, respect for others, and our courage to make the difficult choice. Other’s experience of us may not match up with what we believe about ourselves.

So what?

We are surrounded by evidence that many of us have difficulty taking care of ourselves. If we were consistently receiving the message that we matter, we are important, we are valued, others wish us well, and our loved ones are willing to help us, would we have a rapidly increasing number of pervasive, preventable, chronic health problems? Would we ignore simple lifestyle changes that can give us the ability to live longer, more productive, more comfortable, and more joyous lives? I don’t think so. I think part of the struggle to eat in a manner that maximizes our health comes from the messages we receive on a daily basis.

Why does that matter?

Only you know how significant, painful, overwhelming, exhausting, or stressful something is to you. You may communicate that clearly and still find yourself without assistance. That does not mean there is something wrong with you, that you should not take care of yourself, or that you do not deserve help. It could mean you need a better communication strategy, or it could mean that you are surrounded by relationships that need to be reexamined.

For my family, it’s food or feud, so there are repeated opportunities to observe, examine, and improve our interactions. Most of us accept each other’s limitations and work together to take care of each other. We also accept that some family members will choose to make things more difficult and that we have many options for dealing with this. Those options may not be easy choices and may require some self-sacrifice to maintain a relationship. We accept that at some point a relationship could become be too harmful to continue. At that point, we can choose to let it go.

Eating on time may not be a feuding issue for your family. Your point of contention could center around eating gluten-free or vegetarian It could be that a battle breaks out every time you try to convince your sister that your diabetic mother doesn’t need carbs. It could that no one but you lives near Grandma, but the rest of the family condemns you for wanting to put her in long-term care.

The specific issue may vary. The importance of expressions of empathy, kindness, helpfulness, thoughtfulness, care and concern, and acceptance for ourselves and each other cannot be overstated. These expressions are critical to our health, our families, our communities, and our nation. They make a difference. They can make THE difference, especially when things don’t go according to plan.

https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/diet-eating-physical-activity

http://www.webmd.com/diabetes/tc/hypoglycemia-low-blood-sugar-in-people-without-diabetes-topic-overview#1

November 24, 2015

Made with Love. Served with Kindness!

StuffingYou hear that the food always tastes better when it’s made with love! It seems to be true, but why mention it now? A lot of us are tying ourselves in knots preparing for this week’s Thanksgiving meal. In our heads, we hold an image of a large harmonious family gathered over a delicious meal composed of perfect replications of our great grandmother’s traditional recipes. We work ourselves into a frenzy to create a real world experience that matches this image. We focus on our expectations and feelings of obligation, then learn too late that along the way we have lost any feeling of connection and joy.

I’m thinking about this because I have a friend who just abandoned his car 2000 miles from home in a city where he was temporarily working, bummed some frequent flyer points and flew across the country to see family who had begged him to come home for the holiday. They picked him up at the airport and within five minutes began blasting him for not doing well because he doesn’t have as much money as he used to have before he lost his job of 15 years, his wife, and his large house. Soon after this berating, he called me.

For the first 8 minutes of the conversation, he mentioned none of this. He did not disclose that he was 2000 miles from where I thought he was, or that he was changing the plans we had made for this week. He accidentally let the story slip when I asked why he was breathing so loudly. As it turns out, he was walking 4 miles to get a ride from a friend. I was taken by surprise. He began explaining that he had made a last minute trip because his mom wasn’t doing well. I felt alarmed, assuming she must be in the hospital. Then he told me about the scolding she’d given him at the airport and how the guys at the gym were giving him trouble. Soooo, obviously, mom was well enough to go to the airport and he had been home long enough to work out. I felt confused. I started asking questions to try to make sense of the story. He still did not address our plans. As the details slowly revealed themselves, I was not pleased with him for failing to notify me of his change in plans and I may, or may not, have said, “There’s no excuse for that!” If I said it, I meant it. I believe I was right and I feel just fine about feeling angry with him.

At the same time, I recognize that it doesn’t matter how right I am, how disappointed, angry, annoyed, unimportant, or betrayed I feel. The bigger truth is that he is afraid and struggling, and, in spite of that, trying to accomplish the impossible task of pleasing all of the people he cares about. This often leads him to over promise and under deliver. While that could be called creating his own problem, my “no excuse” response did not make him feel loved, accepted, or supported. Reviewing the conversation, it seems clear that I have created a space in which I happily confirm for him that he’s not living up to expectations causing him to feel even more worthless and afraid to tell me the truth. That is a bigger problem than anything specific he has done. So while I may be technically right about the situation, I am woefully wrong at the same time.

This is a spot in which we often find ourselves. We are both right and wrong at the same time.
A coworker refuses to take on a task at work that belongs to a slacking worker and the company loses a customer because this task was left undone. What she did may have been technically right, but her choice was detrimental to the team overall.
A friend plans a move to Nashville to become a songwriter, but a mutual friend discourages him because for fear he may eventually have to move back home. Whether he stays home or moves back home isn’t really all that different, is it?
With her kids playing in the room, a neighbor screams to her best friend that her lousy husband cheated and she’d like to kill him. She may be right to feel the betrayal this strongly and to seek support from her friend, but expressing it this way in this situation, creates an environment of insecurity for her children. Can that be right?
A husband gets his kids every other Thanksgiving and it’s his year. He refuses to negotiate when the kids mom asks if he can switch out holidays this year so the kids can visit with her extended family that’s rarely together. Of course he’s within his rights to refuse, but is it the wrong thing to do?
Every time Uncle Paul sees his nephew, he reminds him, and the rest of the family, about the time he slept through Thanksgiving ’cause he was drunk. No matter that it was 10 years ago, then 12 years ago, then 15 years ago and he’s been sober 14 of those. Is Uncle Paul right about the facts, yes! Does it accomplish anything positive to bring it up now?
A woman in your Sunday School class doesn’t like her son’s girlfriend so she treats her politely while making sure to inform family and friends with a big eye roll that the girlfriend was once homeless, hasn’t finished college, uses bad grammar, and has been to, gasp, jail – all correct facts. She fails to remember to mention that the girlfriend has also had the same job for 5 years, is still in school, can sing like an angel, is an incredible artist, supports herself and the nephew she took in, and has never been charged with a crime. Does the portrait she has painted give the right impression?
A man misses his daughter’s evening wedding because his current wife’s daughter loses her house in a fire. Everyone lives in the same town, there were no injuries, and there is a 12 hour window in between events. Is it wrong to celebrate a joyous event in the face of a tragic one?
Aunt Betty never misses an opportunity to tell your sister she’s fat whenever there’s a family meal. She pointedly passes artificial sweetener when she asks for sugar and brings her an apple when she’s passing out pie to everyone else. Aunt Betty says she’s worried about your sister’s health. Your sister cringes every time Aunt Betty enters the room.

I’ll admit it’s sometimes difficult to determine when to challenge an affront and when to let it go because sometimes things that look the same on the surface are exactly opposite underneath, but let’s face it, most of the time it’s just easier for our egos to cling to being right, feeling angry, and lashing out than it is to admit we have been wrong or shortsighted. It takes insight, courage, and commitment to keep your heart open when loved ones let you down or make sure to let you know you’ve let them down. It may help to remember that we can all be right and still be wrong.

You’ll know you have a Thanksgiving made with love and served with kindness when:

• You feel no need to join the chorus when your mom and sister find fault with your brother’s wife who insisted on bringing cherry pie even though your mom told her not to. She also brought her big smile and warm hugs. The pie was just, you guessed it, the cherry on top.

• You notice that your grandmother always finds another place at the table for an unexpected guest without ever missing a beat.

• You discover that you want to forego a large menu and choose a few family favorites that you rarely have time to cook. If your husband loves slow-cooked ribs, you fix ribs! If your daughter has been raving about her friend’s mom’s chocolate lava cake, you forget the pecan pie and make chocolate lava cake. If your son likes pizza better than anything on the planet, you serve mini pizzas as an appetizer. And you make sure to include your favorite roasted cauliflower as well. You make these choices to deliberately show your family that you know and value their preferences. You feel at peace with your decision even when you happen to overhear a snide comment regarding the menu from a traditionalist cousin.

• You enjoy seeing your cousins so much that you hardly notice that your mom, who is angry with you, hasn’t put a single gluten-free item on the table other than turkey.

• You find yourself taking time to absorb the gratitude your family expresses for your efforts. You feel free to sit down and let your kids serve coffee and dessert or wash the dishes.

• You feel comfortable saying no to an 8 hour drive home for Thanksgiving during a time when you have been over obligated and feel that you need quiet renewal time. Will Aunt Helen say a few ugly things to your mother when you don’t show up? Possibly, but you know you are able to choose to let the bad behavior stop with her. You view your decision to stay home as a loving gift to yourself and your housemates.

• You feel more excited than disappointed when your mom encourages the family to volunteer at a shelter that feeds the community instead of maxing out a credit card to meet the expectation of a fancy meal.

• You find that you are beginning to show up for holiday events with your courage and boundaries intact and your defenses down.

• You feel free to gracefully let your reluctant relatives refuse your invitation to dinner and easily shift your focus to providing a fun experience for some close friends.

• You find that you are able to feel grateful for the gifts given you by your most difficult moments.

I am grateful for the insight I gained from the recognition of my shortsightedness. We wish you a holiday full of love, kindness, joy, gratitude, and delicious food!

Happy Thanksgiving!

June 9, 2012

Only one thing changed. Why do I feel like EVERYTHING changed?

It’s Saturday afternoon and this weekend I have no water at my house.  My pipes developed a leak that was running even with the faucets off.  Already, I know I’ll have to replace the entire ceiling of my downstairs bathroom and part of the office ceiling. There may be more. Rather than pay a plumber’s emergency rate, I decided to dry out the environment with a dehumidifier over the weekend and have the plumber come next week. The earliest appointment I could get is late Tuesday afternoon.

 On Thursday, I had all sorts of goals for this weekend punctuated by a wedding shower I’m attending on Sunday afternoon. My running list included proofreading some recipes, working on the website, designing some new packaging for an upcoming product, and testing some recipes. I was focused on what I felt I needed to accomplish. 

 I also felt an edge of foreboding and dread knowing that I wasn’t exactly feeling up to tackling such an extensive list right then so I’d have to drag myself kicking and screaming (internally so as not to scare the neighbors) toward those goals. Bummer, but I’m in this spot more than I’d like to admit and I know I can push myself and accomplish any goal I set.  So, I jerked my bootstraps a bit tighter and set forth.

 But there was a problem. Really, problemS. Trickle, gush, slosh – everything changed! My list no longer mattered because there were immediate practical needs that superceded my well-laid plans. 

Ceiling

Before the leak, this was a periwinkle blue ceiling.

 My first thoughts in the moment were to mobilize and start a new plan.  My mind began to churn: I’ve had some recent unexpected expenses. How can I avoid going to a hotel?  I can shower at the office, except I have no clean towels. I have a key to my neighbor’s house while she’s gone, so I can borrow some water for tooth brushing and toilet flushing.  Of course, as soon as I have that thought, I get a text telling me to give the key to the dog sitter. 

 Finally, I stop pushing forward. I shift my focus. Breathe. Take a moment. Think about what’s really important.  Oddly, I notice that the moment I shift, I feel more grateful than annoyed.  Thank goodness I know how bad the leak is before I head off to work out of town for the day.  I even begin to smile as I recognize how quickly the importance of my weekend goals pale in comparison to figuring out how to manage the basic tasks of life (Where will I shower?  How can I brush my teeth?  How much water will I have to pour down the toilet for it to flush?  Do I have a clean dress for the wedding shower?). I notice I feel relieved by the chance to ditch my original list and start over.  

 Thank goodness for the occasional curve ball life throws us! When a sudden change gets our attention, and we stop planning the next moment and lean into this one, we may realize that our brains are headed down a totally different path than our hearts. 

 Okay, trickle, gush, slosh, I’m paying attention.  How can I best take care of myself through a weekend without water and still not break the bank?  What are my intentions and priorities? How will I feel if I don’t accomplish a single item on my original list?  Will I be able to sit still knowing a renovation is imminent? Can I avoid revving back up and pushing myself?

 Through the generosity of friends, I have the key to an apartment across town where I can shower and do laundry.  I hauled some water for today, so I’ve been able to make coffee, wash my hands, brush my teeth, and water the plants.  I’ve even gotten the toilet flushing figured out, although it took more water pouring than I remembered to make it work.

 The funny thing is, I keep feeling like everything is broken and I can’t do anything – watch TV, use the microwave, cook on the stove, dry clothes in the dryer, sweep the floor, wash the dishes.  That’s silly.  The gas and electricity work.  There’s no reason at all to stay at Heather’s to dry the clothes.  I can bring them home wet and use my dryer.  I can heat leftovers in the microwave, and if I heat some water on the stove, I can wash the dishes by hand.  Admittedly, it makes more sense to use paper plates, but I’m fascinated by the fact that I feel limited in other areas when only one thing has changed. 

 Yes, it’s one thing that affects many everyday tasks, but it’s only one thing. I feel like it’s EVERYTHING. I can’t seem to find a comfortable rhythm for the day. What felt like plenty of water yesterday seems like way too little today, although in reality I still have an adequate supply. Somewhere down there, I think I feel scared.  Of what? I don’t know. Just uneasy like if one thing shifted something else could too.

 I tell you this because I recognize that this may be how some of you feel when you find out you will be healthier without gluten.  One thing has changed, but it feels like EVERYTHING.  And that feels scary.

 As I explore how to best take care of myself on this off-kilter, scary day, perhaps you’ll find some inspiration for moving through your fear.  

 First, I’ll take inventory. Am I missing anything I need to eat, sleep, bathe, dress, work, or socialize comfortably? At this moment, I have enough water to drink and make coffee tomorrow plus some for tooth brushing, etc.  If I should need more, I have retrieved the keys to my neighbor’s house or I can go to the office.  There’s no real chance of running out.  I have precooked food on hand. I have paper plates. I have washed the dress I want to wear to the wedding shower.  I have purchased the cards and the gifts for the shower.  I have books, TV, and internet for entertainment, or I can go for a walk.  If I want to shower later, it’s a short drive to the apartment.  I have everything I need.

 Next, I will take the time to notice that I feel grateful for how little effort it has taken to procure what I need.  I will sit with that gratitude for a moment.  I may even get out a piece of paper and make a very specific and detailed list of things for which I feel grateful.

 If I feel too restless to be still, or like I’m speeding up into a frenzy, I will plant my feet firmly on the ground and look around.  I may grab a pillow and hold it while I do this. I will look at the colors or objects around me focusing on the tiniest details. Once I can be still, I will explore where in my body I feel the fear that is causing me to feel restless. When I feel the fear localize, I will allow myself to feel it for as long as I can at this moment.  I know that I can trust my body to support me and I know that the longer I can sit with this fear, the less likely it is to be triggered by a similar event in the future. I will exercise the courage to face my fear, but I will choose patience and kindness toward myself.  I will stop when I have reached my limit.  Then, if I need personal contact, I will call a friend.  If I need distraction, I will watch a comedy.  I will acknowledge how proud I am of myself for leaning into fear rather than running from it. If this process lasts for hours or for days, I will be patient with myself and know that eventually it will end. There is no reason to panic.

 If I pay attention, I will be presented with an opportunity to shift my point of view and move toward feeling good.  At that moment, if I choose to let go of fear, anticipation and excitement will replace it and I will be prepared to embrace joy.  Momentary happiness requires no preparation, but joy requires us to embrace our fear and let it go. I know this because sometimes I manage to do just that. I intend to practice this more often. This weekend is the perfect opportunity for me.

I am grateful for my increasing courage.  Are you prepared to join me?

Cheri