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!

Pinch Me. I Must Be Dreaming.

Pinch me. I must be dreaming. I’m seeing too many things that make so little sense they don’t seem real. A dream state could explain this and ease the distress I feel from being surrounded by cognitive dissonance.

But I know I’m awake. I know the contradictions that have dominated pandemic news will continue to be paraded before me in my newsfeed, on TV, and on Twitter. If I’m going to stay abreast of current news, I have to tolerate what feels delusional.

I believe thriving and making good health decisions require staying abreast of current research, virus spread, government policies, and community activity. Doing so demands tolerance, fortitude, humor, and the ability to shift as things change. It isn’t easy, but to me, it’s worth it.

If you feel a need to stay informed, but worry that you’re not up to the task here are some tips to keep you feeling balanced:

Adopt a learning perspective.
When someone else’s point-of-view annoys you or sends you down a dark path, get curious. What motivates that person? What do they gain from taking a particular position? Are their values aligned with yours? If not, what values do you see demonstrated in their actions? Are they just taking a different path to reach the same conclusion you reach?

Sometimes things that look opposite on the surface are not. Further investigation can be revealing. Beginning with curiosity rather than assumptions or knee-jerk reactions can enrich your understanding.

Not to be forgotten, knowledge is power. While it may be a cliché, it’s also a good reminder that learning will give you more leverage than simply reacting.

Reject attempts from others to define your priorities.
You can set your own priorities and stick with them. These may go against the grain. That’s okay. In retrospect, conventional wisdom is often wrong. You may just be ahead of your time.

Feel free to hear a message while rejecting shame.
None of us are perfect. We make mistakes that can’t be taken back. Sometimes we see our errors reflected in the mistakes of others. Sometimes we need the opportunity to view our errors so we can correct them.

Once we recognize our mistakes, express remorse, learn and do better, there’s simply no reason to feel ashamed or punish ourselves. Period. It does not matter how other people respond.

If I would grant someone else grace and forgiveness for the same offense. I can forgive myself.

Have confidence in your perceptions.
You don’t have to believe incorrect information. Just because something is often repeated doesn’t make it true. Trusting your perceptions will allow you to keep an open mind and see past deception.

When you live or work in a dysfunctional system, there can be immense pressure to conform to distorted ways of viewing things. You may believe you’re alone in seeing things differently. Even if you are, that doesn’t make you wrong. Reread The Emperor’s New Clothes.

Choose your battles or choose no battles.
You don’t have to fight. Some of my friends and family are now ignoring the news because they feel they have to fight every single piece of misinformation and that looms so large they give up before they get started. You can stay informed without fighting. It’s a choice.

Contribute.
Doing something of value is centering. It doesn’t have to be large to be significant. Sew masks. Send encouraging texts. Mow an elderly neighbor’s lawn. Organize a driving celebration. Call a friend who lives alone. Create an online social experience. Raise money. Design and assemble goody bags for your neighbors.

You can create an experience each day that puts you in the position to be at your best and show it off. The result will boost your spirits and resilience.

Allow yourself to be strong.
If you always avoid the difficult, you’ll never know how strong you are. You may need that strength to get you through an unavoidable illness or natural disaster down the road. Most of us have internal resources we have not tapped. Now is a good time to get familiar with them.

Of course, you can use all of these tips and still feel crazy right now. Rest assured, there are other people who see things like you do. You haven’t lost your mind. Things are swiftly changing and uncertain. It’s unsettling.

I often feel like I’m living in two realities at the same time. I don’t enjoy that, but I know I’m okay and I will be okay. It’s the circumstances in which I find myself that have changed. And boy, have they changed! Pinch me. I must be dreaming!

https://time.com/5851849/coronavirus-science-advice/

March Madness! The Coronavirus is Here.

March Madness is here…and I’m not just talking about basketball. I feel like I’m living in the twilight zone. I suppose lots of us do. The TV shows me arenas filled with college basketball fans celebrating their teams ahead of the NCAA tournament. Then it tells me maybe I should practice social distancing to avoid COVID-19. Forget thriving. It’s hard to figure out how to live reasonably at this moment.

Right now, things are normal in my city. I realize that if/when that changes, it could change rapidly. With a medically fragile granddaughter, my family must carefully consider how we will measure the risks of exposure to this new virus.

Within my social circle, there is a self-isolator who returned from Asia a few weeks ago and a current traveler to Florida. One of my sons is flying from LAX to Hawaii next week. And I spend several hours each month in meetings at the local teaching hospital. Does any of this put us at extra risk?

The way things are going, the government may step in to tell us to stay home before we have a chance to decide for ourselves. I have the distinct impression that’s where we’re headed. I think we’re past the point of preventing the spread of coronavirus. The next step in controlling a pandemic is mitigation or nonpharmaceutical interventions to slow the spread. This is important to achieve so that the healthcare system is not overwhelmed.

Yes, even the US healthcare system has limits. During this time of rapid spread with no treatment available, it’s important to remember that our behavior affects other people. Some personal inconvenience may be necessary to protect our elderly, medically fragile, and other vulnerable populations.

Social distancing is a mitigation measure. Voluntary home isolation is another mitigation measure. Long-standing recommendations from the CDC include the following personal nonpharmaceutical interventions:

NPIs that can be implemented by individual persons include the following personal protective measures for everyday use:

Voluntary home isolation or self-isolation
This means staying home while you’re ill or when you have been exposed. With the familiar flu, the CDC recommends staying home for at least 24 hours after a fever or signs of a fever (chills, sweating, and feeling warm or flushed) are gone except to obtain medical care. To ensure that the fever is gone, patients’ temperature should be measured in the absence of medication that lowers fever (e.g., acetaminophen or ibuprofen).

With this new virus, self-isolation may mean staying home longer – until all symptoms are gone or for two weeks after suspected exposure.

Respiratory etiquette
Cover coughs and sneezes, preferably with a tissue, and then dispose of tissues and disinfect hands immediately after a cough or sneeze, or (if a tissue is not available) cough or sneeze into a shirt sleeve. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth to help slow the spread of germs.

Hand hygiene
Regularly and thoroughly wash hands with soap and water (or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% ethanol or isopropanol when soap and water are not available).

Hand hygiene is a good practice all of the time, not just during flu season or during an emergent pandemic.

While I haven’t curtailed any of my normal activities, I am carefully considering travel and I’ve added more staples to my pantry. If I’m suddenly faced with the necessity of staying home for a couple of weeks, I want to be able to do so with no last minute scrambling for supplies.

I have an ample supply of my favorite gluten-free baking supplies: sweet white sorghum, tapioca, arrowroot, potato, oat, almond, sweet potato, and brown rice flours; honey and maple syrup; cocoa; butter; eggs; vanilla; baking powder and baking soda; and herbs and spices.

I’ve added extra rice, beans, tuna, gluten-free pasta, Pomi tomatoes, chicken stock, raisins, mandarin oranges, avocado and hummus minis, peanut butter, cereal, crackers, yogurt, frozen vegetables and meat to my regular stock of food. I also purchased some self-safe milk and formula for the grandkids. In addition, I’ve stocked up on toilet paper and laundry sanitizer.

I didn’t go crazy. I don’t have a lot of extra storage. I didn’t spend a fortune, but I also didn’t worry about a larger weekly grocery bill because I’ll use the supplies at some point.

It does feel like March Madness. The next few weeks, perhaps months, will bring a puzzle of decision making. I’ll stay armed with ample supplies and as much solid medical information as I can gather. I’ll look at any personal inconvenience as an opportunity for something different. And eventually I’ll learn to thrive within whatever restrictions may be required.

https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/66/rr/rr6601a1.htm

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/symptoms.html

https://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/covercough.htm

https://horizon.com/about-us/what-is-shelf-stable/

https://www.lysol.com/products/laundry/lysol-laundry-sanitizer/

https://sabra.com/on-the-go/hummus/classic-hummus-singles.html

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.”