Sometimes in life you have to get a little lost before you are truly able to find your way.

Posts tagged ‘coping mechanism’

Oscar-winning Performance.

oscar11Otherwise known as…your life. When you live with chronic pain, life truly is your stage. You smile; you make small talk; you get through as much of what must be done each day as you can. You show up to work, perhaps. Many of us can’t anymore. We’ve lost that theater.

It’s hard at first. Particularly in the early weeks and months when you haven’t yet stopped waiting. Waiting for the pain to stop, or lessen. It’s the moment when you realize – or perhaps accept, more accurately, that this could be – most likely is – permanent. The pain isn’t going away. The condition – it’s a part of you. It has been your primary focus. The focus of your doctors, your friends, family, coworkers, schoolmates – everyone you know or see. But in that moment of acceptance, something changes and you begin weaving it into the background in ways you never thought possible. Doing things you previously imagined you might never do again. You take off your sun glasses for the sake of respect in conversation. You drive, despite the piercing pain of the headlights. You attend a party you know will take a devastating toll. You go to the grocery store. You take your kids to the park. You do the things that most people take for granted each and every day. And you do it in pain with a smile on your face because it’s how we have learned to survive.

fire redYears go by. You realize that there are more people in your life who have never known you without this pain than those who ever knew you pain free. Some still don’t know. It’s incredible. The reactions when people find out? Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m more astounded by how they could have missed it than by how I could have hidden it so well. I think back to all the times in conversation when I thought I would pass out from the pain – but apparently my performance never faltered. I have former clients from my consulting company who demanded me on all their projects. They never knew. Coworkers who were clueless until the day I left on disability. People in all manner of interaction who react in such amusing ways when they learn the truth that has literally be right in front of them. At least that’s how I’ve learned to look at it. Some with awe – both at my ability to hide the pain, and that to withstand it. Some with shock or sadness or my very least favorite (read: I HATE this….) – pity. “Oh you poor thing!” I get it. I can’t blame them. I think it’s meant more as an attempt at compassion, but pity is pity and I work too damn hard at this to be pitied. So do you.

oscar_fallen_hLet me ask you something though…if any Hollywood actor was told he/she would be on set for the rest of their lives, never allowed to break character…what do you think the reaction would be? Disbelief? Outrage? Laughter? That is the role we often feel we are cast in. Keep up appearances. Hide the pain. Wear the mask. But let’s be real. None of us can do it. We can’t hide it all the way all the time. And we need a safe place to remove the mask. The let down our guard. To be vulnerable. To be in pain openly. Cry if we need to, even though it makes it hurt more. Somehow, every now and then it helps too. Sometimes just being able to say that it hurts. Or that we’re tired of it hurting. Without judgement or pity or guilt or frustration. That’s a lot to ask. Of anyone. It’s hard for those who care for us most NOT to feel those things. Not to show those things. And they will come out too from time to time, so to be fair – I guess we can’t expect to never get that side of it.

different kind of maskBut do you have that safe place? Do you have those people in your life that you can be nakedly in pain in front of without judgement or pity? Do you have a way to step off the stage and just be – you – pain and all? If the answer is no – then something has got to change. Finding that safe place – that safe person or people – is worth a thousand “remedies.” The mental and emotional and physical fatigue that accompanies these daily performances is SO underestimated.

Give yourself the credit you are due. Take the breaks you need to take. Find the safe place. The comfort, support and tenderness you deserve. Take off the mask and cry. Curse your pain and all the effort it takes to hide it. You’ll be amazed at how renewed you will find yourself. How much more comfortable that mask is to put back on when you get out of bed, or take a shower or walk out the door or if you’re lucky enough – when you go to work. It sounds like such a small thing, to stop acting for a short time. But it has a power that those who don’t go through life wearing this mask will never comprehend. How lucky they are.

Here’s to the performances, the intermissions, and most of all – those who make taking off the mask possible!

This post goes out with a special thanks to my amazing family and friends – thank you and I love you all so much! I could not fight this battle without you!

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Death of a Great Matriarch

Evelyn Marion Colvin

Death, dying, passing away, losing loved ones…these are all words we use to talk about the unimaginably painful event of saying goodbye to someone we love. And for many of us…when someone we love has died, we treat it like a 4-letter word; we just don’t say it. We don’t talk about it. We don’t face it. We just plain do not deal with it.

But as we all know, death is, unavoidably, and sadly, a part of life for all of us, and one way or another, facing it is a necessary evil.  I’ve lost more people in my time than I care to mention. And while perhaps some might say that each of those deaths should be treated with equal emotional response, the fact is that my personal connection to each of those people was in direct proportion to my response to their passing. We all know there are good, or healthy, ways to deal with death, and those that are not so healthy.

After losing several family members in the course of just a few years, it began to seem as though “family time” was always being spent in black clothing gathered in funeral homes or cemeteries. And then the unthinkable happened. My paternal grandmother, the great matriarch of our wonderful family who has been healthier than me my entire life, the life of every party, the center of every gathering and the source of endless joy for the Colvin Clan, was taken to the hospital on Thanksgiving, 2004. I had never known my grandmother to be sick so the call to go to the hospital came as a complete shock. She was 95 years old and I was sure she’d live forever. I had grown up in the same house with her, spent summers with our extended family vacationing on the same beach on Cape Cod that she had been visiting for 92 years. I had brought her to say goodbye to her younger sister, Helen, just two months earlier, two days before she passed away after a long illness. But Gram was different. She was stubborn and set in her ways and healthy (despite the never-ending string of cigarettes that clung to her lips like permanent extensions). She told wonderful stories of her younger days, stalwartly bulldozed through the grief that came with the passing of family members and most all of her friends. She looked at me with utter confusion when I tried to explain my migraines, having never experienced a headache herself. She was “too mean for the bugs to bite” her. Her Scottish ancestry made her “hardy.” She always claimed that as a child her parents had set her crib on the porch…all year ’round because “the fresh air’s good for ya.” And year round, till the day she died, she slept with the windows open, no matter how cold the New England weather got.

When she was hospitalized she was angry at all of us. It was “absurd” and she wanted to go home because there was “nuthin wrong with me!” I was terrified. I wanted to believe her. But the look on my mother and our family doctor, Dr. Asher’s faces told me the real story was very different. As it turned out Gram had suffered a mild heart attack and was dealing with congestive heart failure. While Gram was tearing off monitors and climbing out of bed to head home, my world was shattering around me. There was no time for that though. At that moment I had to help convince Gram to let the doctors do what they needed to do and to stop fighting them so much. There would be time for the pain and shattering to happen later.

That night Gram was admitted to the ICU (after QUITE a battle) and from that moment on she was not alone again for even the briefest time. Somewhere in me, in the parts of my heart and soul where Gram’s legacy thrived most fervently, I stubbornly refused to believe anything really bad could happen. I was still sure that in no time, we’d be bringing her home. One particularly wonderful nurse came in during the first few days and asked if he could call her Evelyn rather than Mrs. Colvin. She told him “you can call me a son of a bitch if you can get me the hell out of here!” That was Gram. Family members took shifts staying in her room with her. The ICU staff was wonderful about accommodating us and ignoring the usual visiting hours. My sister and I, in particular took on a great number of shifts. Not because we felt like we had to, but because we just couldn’t be anywhere else. Growing up with Gram had been such a blessing. We got to live with her, be surrounded by her amazing spirit and benefit from her stories and lessons everyday, unlike my cousins who only got to see her on holidays or when they visited our hometown or during the summers when we all went to the Cape. But that blessing came with a price. Not one I would ever trade, but a heavy one just the same. Two weeks after Gram was admitted, after a few hopeful improvements in her condition, she passed away with so many of us packed in her small hospital room. Windows open. I was holding her hand and hugging her from my seat by her bedside. Slowly, as tears fell, everyone began to move away, but I couldn’t. The thought of letting go of the very last hug I would ever have with my beloved grandmother was too much. I remember someone, my mother, I think, trying to pull me away and I pushed her arm away as if it were assaulting me. I just wasn’t ready. My sister was right beside me. One of my cousins said something to the effect of, “those poor girls, they’ve lived with her all their lives, this must be just killing them.”

My fiancé at the time, Mark, was there too, giving a respectful distance so we could all be as close to her as possible, but ready to catch me when it was time to fall into his arms. Some time later, I did release my stronghold on Gram. I knew that I too, had to let her go. We stayed at the hospital for a while; I couldn’t even guess how long. Time had seemingly stopped for me that day. As Mark drove me back to our home in Keene, NH, I told him we needed to stop at the grocery store. I needed to get hot dogs and yogurt.  Everyday for as long as I can remember, and for many years before that, Gram had eaten an Oscar Meyer all beef hot dog and Dannon fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt 362 days of the year (excluding Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving). In her words she was “a creature of habit…only the best!” (The best referred to her chosen brands.) I’m not sure how many days I ate that meal for, but for a while, I once again had lunch with Gram each day. Perhaps it was just food. Perhaps it was a silly coping mechanism. But looking back, I realize now that the important part was that I coped. I felt the pain. I endured the loss. I allowed myself to cry and laugh and sit with all the many emotions that Gram’s passing evoked. Her death was the last healthy grieving I did. Afterwards, I put up walls, made denial an art form, and tried (and failed) to protect myself from the pain that comes with living. And I paid dearly. In the last year I’ve done some difficult work. I’ve undone some of the damage from denying the losses I’ve endured since Gram’s death, and tried very hard to live as best I can. It is a constant challenge for each of us, but one that we all, ultimately, must take on, even if it means eating hot dogs and yogurt everyday for lunch!

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