Best Communication Tool Ever

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If you want to know one of the gold standard phrases for effective communication with another human being, say this outloud.   NOW.

“Do you want me to listen, or do you want me to comment?”

Did you exhale right then as you heard it in your own mind?  Were you hit with a wave of peace at the thought?  Did you think of a list of people you would like to hear this from in your real world?  Family members?  Friends? Spouses?  Co-workers? Parents?  Keep going, the list is long.  The idea that we could decide how people respond to our sharings is powerful.  The idea that we can request listening only as an option is unheard of.   Too often someone gives their own commentary on our sharings when we aren’t looking for that.

Denny McLoughlin coined the phrase “Do you want me to listen or do you want me to comment?” and I’ve eaten it whole.  It also works great with teenagers if you curious.  Teenagers love it.   The teens I’ve taught this to plead with me, “Will you teach that to my parents?”

There have been a number of times, at the camp I worked at, when a teen shared something personal and heartfelt with me.  I responded with “Do you want me to listen or comment?”

The teen would say, “Listen.”

And I would listen. I would usually have things to say, but I would bite my tongue and try to enjoy the fact that the only thing I had to do right then was Listen.  Not come up with something brilliant, I only had to hear them.

Then, after listening, nodding and soaking up what they said, they almost always said, “Ok, you can comment now.”

It is empowering to control who gets to comment on your life.  And when they do comment, it is because we invited them in, rather than finding out they had broken down the door.

This line tends to go hand in hand with another one of Denny’s teachings.

“Any unasked for advice is criticism.”

Sit with that for a second—Any unasked for advice is criticism—and think of the number of times someone has suggested what you should do, or how you should feel, or how you need to  react to some situation.  Did you want to punch them?  Did you find yourself suddenly annoyed?  Was it maybe because their comments felt like they were saying, “You aren’t doing this right.”?

This happens a lot in the health world.  If you have a disease, people have opinions.

And suggestions.

And comments.

And tips.

Some of my personal favorites are “Have you ever thought of seeing a specialist about this?” 

I also remember repeatedly being told, “Have you talked to a naturopath?”

Other times their opinions came in the form of how to handle what was happening, “You know you just need to stay positive.” 

All of these types of comments, these comments that were not requested, are intended to help.  They are intended to show me how much they care and want to be supportive.  But the reality is they often have the opposite effect.

Of course I have thought of seeing a specialist.  I AM seeing a specialist.  I am seeing multiple specialists.  I’ve got a whole team of special people. I’m up to my neck in specialists.  (If you worry a disease will affect your ability to be sarcastic, I am here to reassure you, it will not.)

No, I have not seen a naturopath.  I have nothing against them, but I’m already pretty overwhelmed by all the other stuff this disease entails. 

And lastly,  I’m don’t always feel positive.  Maybe I’m not supposed to always feel positive.  When you suggest that I should be positive, and I don’t feel like it—when I am sick and tired of being sick and tired—you indirectly suggest that I am not handling this the “right” way. 

Unasked for advice is criticism.  Even unintended.  It is why we bristle when we hear it.  It is why our eyebrows knit together, why we take a deep breath, why we bite our tongue.

Instead, here are some comments I find immensely more helpful.  Feel free to steal them.

“Sounds like a lot to manage.  Can I bring you chocolate?”

“Any awesomely weird side-effects from the drugs you want to talk about?” 

“If you ever want to bitch about this, feel free to call.  I’m all ears.” 

 

Now that’s the kind of comment I want to hear.

 

 

 

 

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Funeral Survival Guide…let’s just call it what it is.

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Funerals are minefields.  That’s right, I said it.  One wrong step and—wait for it—BOOM, there goes your favorite arm.  They should be.  Everyone is doing the best they can, trying to limp their way through a haze of grief and say goodbye to someone who has only been gone a few days, but it is a minefield.  Pack up your field armor and take a deep breath—minefield.

The number of things that can stress out even the most socially confident person are baffling at a funeral.  Get together a bunch of people—many of who don’t even know each other—and then try to tackle the soul sucking experience of saying goodbye to a loved one.

I’ve collected a few notes that make funerals especially daunting in the midst of your grief.  These are the things that can trigger the explosion, derail the train, snowball out of control (pick whatever metaphor revs your engine.)

*The Ugly Cry.

If you loved the person, chances are you are concerned about the ugly cry.  This is no sniff sniff, dab dab of the Kleenex, this is the Turn the faucet on waterworks.  It is the This snot won’t stop running down my lip onslaught.  Enter bright red cheeks, puffy eyes.   Most significant about the ugly cry is that it came on without your permission and it won’t stop until it is GOSH DARN READY TO STOP.

*The Who Will Be There? Factor. 

Not only are you trying to emotionally wrap your head around the fact that you will not see this person again, no more texts, no more banter, no more visits, you have to think of the Who else is going to show up that I might not be emotionally prepped to see factor.  A funeral I went to yesterday involved this.  I went with a friend of mine—let’s call her Cindy—and told her, “Person X may show up. I’m not sure.  We haven’t talked in ages.  Nothing bad, but if person X shows up and I say to you, “Hey Cindy, this is person X,” know that that is a CODE BLUE.  (or red…whatever code means DO NOT LEAVE while I adjust.)

*The What Do I Say? 

If words could cause paralysis, it would happen at a funeral.  Talk about pressure.   A person has just lost a parent, a spouse, a child, a friend and you have to come up with the words—the right words, nay, the perfect words—that both celebrate the person, offer compassion and support and are neither too depressing or too lighthearted.  At the funeral I was at yesterday (parents who had lost their 23 year old daughter to cancer) I heard them saying over and over again, “Thank you so much for coming.”  I bet they didn’t know what to say either.

*What The Departed Would Have Wanted torment.  This is when you hear the dreaded phrases of

“She wouldn’t have wanted us to be sad.”

“She would want us to remember good things about her and not cry.”

Suddenly I’m annoyed.  Now I have what is known in funeral circles as Guilt Mourning.  I have to mourn the way the departed would have wanted.  To be honest, I’m not even sure that the departed would have felt that way.  But some person—trying to show how well they know her by issuing an edict of What she wanted—is  now telling me that, if I feel like a big o’l hot mess, that I am not mourning correctly.  That I have somehow let them down.

Guess what?  I don’t buy it.

My friend—let’s call her Ruth—said yesterday to me, “When I die.  I HOPE somebody is sad.   I don’t want them to fall into a deep depression over me.  I don’t want them to stop living their life.  But YEAH, I want them to be sad I’m gone.”

Guess what Ruth?  I can do that.  No problem.

Because I honestly think I can celebrate the departed’s life while mourning my loss at the same time.  The other night Cindy and I drank Kool-Aid (the departed’s drink of choice) while toasting her with tears in our eyes at the same time.

So what is a person to do when faced with a funeral?

Have a game plan and remember a couple of things.

1) Be prepared.

Have something you want to say to the loved one’s family before you go up to them.  Pee first before the service—you’re likely to be anxious facing this and it will be hard to focus on your loved one with a full bladder.  Have Kleenex and waterproof mascara.

2) Say goodbye how you need to, not how anyone else needs you to.

If that means going to the beach, going to the service, going shopping and getting some retail therapy or bawling on your couch, do it.  Kool-Aid helps.

3) Running into people you haven’t seen in ages is sometimes a good thing. 

I ran into an old friend yesterday and, even though we had grown apart, when we saw each other at the service, nodded and smiled, both of our eyes filled with tears.  Connection is connection.

4) This will not be the only time you say goodbye to this person.

Goodbyes with the ones that are close to us happen a thousand times and they still hang around.  You didn’t get to know the person in an hour and you aren’t going to let them go in an hour either.

5)  Don’t be afraid of the Ugly Cry.

Think of it as validation that you loved this person, that they impacted you and that you will miss them.  The more snot the better.

That’s the way they would want it.

Who do you hate (and love?)

This New York Times’ article caught my attention this evening.  A good question indeed and I read on.  I love a deep question and I was already knee-deep in a pit of pondering about this one.

Who do I hate (and love?)

Then, ½ a second later, I realized it was an article about March Madness—which lost me and my oh-so-attentive interest—but not before I’d read the opening, which asked…

Which teams do you delight in their losses and which team’s wins fill you with happiness?

But I needed my version of that idea.  When I think of the people I love, who do I love and whom do I hate? not love?

Who did I delight in their joys and who failures did I enjoy not mind as much?

This is tough to be honest about.  Imagehttp://www.findyourtattoo.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Love-and-Hate-Tattoo.jpg

I don’t think I have people I hate, not love—and we’re talking about people I actually know here, not just historical people or people in the news.  I mean we can all get behind hating say, Hitler, right?—there are people  who I don’t always love when they have everything go their way.  The group is small, but it is there.

How does one get into such an esteemed club, you may wonder?

a)    take take take and never or rarely return energy given by others

b)   make everything always about them

c)    treat people I love badly

d)   treat people I love—including me—badly.

e)    Any combination of the above choices.

Now to be clear, it isn’t that I want anything bad to happen—most of the time—but sometimes, it is nice to watch them struggle a little or a lot.  Usually I don’t mind this because it feels like a karma is coming back to bite them in the butt a little.  A little karmic retribution.  Buddhists sometimes refer to this as paying your karmic debt.

For example, I often hope that they will have someone do to them what they did to me—whatever that is—so that they can find out how much it sucks.  So they can have that moment—the moment of enlightenment when they think, “MY GOSH I CAN’T BELIEVE I WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR CAUSING THIS AMOUNT OF PAIN.”

Then there might be groveling on their part.  Humble, gracious benevolence on my part.  Aren’t you lucky I’m nice enough to allow you to be forgiven on my part?

Weirdly it never really works out like this.

Usually, the person who has to deal, is me.  The person who needs to move on is me.  No karmic thunder bolts.  No Ah-ha! moments.   No retribution.  In fact, often my vice-like grip on the reality of being hurt or wronged is the cause of even more suffering on my part.

This is suffering that comes from wanting something to be something other than what it actually is.

Which is why I’m so grateful for the other part of this article?  Who do you love?

That group is bigger.  Robust.  Entertaining.  Compassionate.  Intelligent.  Talented.  Thoughtful.  Intuitive.  Insightful.  Warm.  This group is the “A  game” of the people I love group.  If they were in March Madness, these people would be “top seeds”—whatever that means—it would mean they knew what they were doing.  It would mean if you fill in brackets to win the pool at work, your money should be on these people.

So who exactly do I love?

Here’s a basic checklist.  You might find it helpful.

  • People who show up—really show up—when things are ugly or hard.
  • People who, when they tease me, I feel loved and known.
  • People who will share their dinner and—dare I say it?—dessert with me.
  • People with passion.  I don’t even know if I care what your passion is anymore.  But have some passion.  Star Trek, geology, photography, writing, working with people, music, whatever.  Please geek out about something.
  • People who answer questions I ask because they know that—no matter how scary it is—it is better to have people know who you really are.
  • People who like Coke Slurpees.

This list isn’t exhaustive, but it—like a good house—has good bones.  It is a good place to start.  It makes me grateful that my who do you love list is pages and pages longer than the hate list.  That gives me hope.

What is on your checklist?

The Words We Say

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Words are my scrapbook.  I collect them.  Not the big and fancy ones–although at times they enhance my writing–but the ones that connect to my memory.  In the way that the smell of Purell–real Purell, green specifically–transports me back to the hospital, or the way the song “Two of Us Riding Nowhere” from the I am Sam soundtrack puts me in my red 2-door (2 cars ago) and back on the road to Maple Valley, words are my best memory.  They are the closest thing to traveling back in time and reliving moments.  

I remember words people say. 

I write them down. 

I save them like pressed flowers written on journals. 

Another friend–Debby–as she was in the last months of her life and we were talking on the phone (me-frantically writing down everything she was saying) would say–during awkward pauses when I’d stop mid-conversation, “You’re writing this down, huh?”

She knew I was saving the words.  She graciously allowed for pauses.  

Sometimes I retrieve words.  Usually these are in moments of needed comfort when everyday strategies fail me.  These are the kinds of moments when reliving the event, the conversation, the memory is imperative.  When nothing else seems to do the job. Moments of I want to remember. 

I want to remember how the generosity of words fills my soul. Kind, generous and compassionate words are a balm for rough days.  They are a light and firework for great days.  But more than that, the generosity of words from people that I know is something I savor and tuck away like precious bits of comfort that remind me who I am and who I am to others

Tonight I went word hunting.  Scouring my phone, racking my brain, “Where did I put those words?” I am looking for my friend’s words.  I know they are in my writing notebooks, tucked in the back so I didn’t confuse them with my writing-writing.  They are written quick and tight.  I just wanted to get them down, to make them permanent and to keep up with the conversation.  They are also in my phone and I search for the words–notes I’ve saved from conversations–hoping that they will be sufficient to sustain me. 

Here are some of them….gathered memories.

* I teased her that her cancer–Signet Cell Ring–sounded like something Voldemort would put a Horcrux in.

*We joked that “Friendship bracelets are nice, but friendship diamonds are WAY better.”

*When I shared my Girl Scout Cookies with her–in an act of clear self-sacrifice–and said, “Bet you love me now, huh?” 

and she said, “Yeah.  But I loved you already.”

*When she shared with me that she was cancer free–however brief that was–and added, “Thank you for talking and listening when I needed it.”

Words are the script to some of my very best days.  They remind me of some of the people I miss most.  This friend in particular.  I miss her already.  Being present with another is the essence of compassion, the foundation of these words.  

It is a reminder to me to be more generous with my own words, to see words as service and to see the withholding of warm and compassionate words as a lost opportunity for connection.

“Compassion doesn’t always call for grand or heroic efforts.  It asks you to find in your heart the simple but profound willingness to be present, with a commitment to end sorrow and contribute to the well-being and ease of all beings.  A word of kindness, a loving touch, a patient presence, a willingness to step beyond your fears and reactions are all gestures of compassion that can transform a moment of fear or pain.”

-Christina Feldman Compassion:  Listening to the Cries of the World

 

 

 

 

6 Things Every Extrovert Secretly Has To Deal With

Great blog post about the emotional energy involved in being an extrovert. I would also add that people ask, “What’s wrong?” if you are quiet and that people assume that extroverts have an endless supply of energy for any situation (support, humor etc.) This is a great piece with a lot of truth. Most of the time I love being an extrovert, being able to draw people out, reach out to others in lots of situations, to make them laugh and to encourage conversation, but every time I do it, it takes emotional energy and bravery to step up to the plate so to speak.

As an extrovert, just because I can reach out, doesn’t mean it is effortless.
It takes courage to reach out beyond ourselves.

Thought Catalog

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Over the past few years I’ve noticed a growing number of articles exclaiming, “How To Take Care of An Introvert” or “10 Things Everyone Should Understand About Introverts” and while I have no real problem with introverts and introversion, my issue is with the fact that people of the internet seem to have romanticized introversion in a way that turns any possible social impediments a person might have into desirable quirky traits. Not only this, but extroverts are suddenly the bad guys for not understanding introverts or mistreating introverts, etc, etc.

As a self-proclaimed extrovert, I’m pretty sick and tired of people assuming that introverts are the only people who have got it hard. Really, seriously? Are we really going to play this game? Now you look here, mister. Extroverts may not seem as delicate or may not seem as complex and diverse, but extroverts have…

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The Ten Essentials…a survival guide

The Essentials

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As a former backpack trip leader, I’d go over the packing list with my teen participants before we headed out into the Olympic National Park.  One of the things we would go over was The Ten Essentials.  These are things that are generally recognized as the must haves of the camping/hiking world such as a knife, compass, first aid kit and extra food.

It is how you survive if the going gets rough.

When I think about The Ten Essentials of my regular life—my life that has integrated with my healthcare—I can think of a different list of must haves. 

1. Warm Blanket– These are available in the hospital during treatments.  The warm blanket wraps up anything that is freaking you out, stressing you out, pissing you off in a comforting sheet of warmth.  It is without a doubt the most nurturing object in a hospital.

2.  Nurses- Whether it is their attentive care or the smart ass remark they make, nurses are the human version of the warm blanket.

3.  A sense of humor-some of the things that will happen with your doctors will be hilarious.  Don’t miss that because you are so busy “being sick” that you can’t laugh at the insanity that you life has become.

4.  Friends who remember– These are the little things.  My best friend tries very hard to remember when my doctor appointments or infusions are.  She doesn’t come to these with me, but she tries to text and check-in.  Friends who remember are essential while you are trying to act like visiting the hospital this often is “normal.”  Which it is not.

5.  Perspective– Remember that other people often have it worse than you do.

6.  Permission-Remember that even though #5 is true, that doesn’t make your suffering less valid.  Pain is pain.  Struggle is struggle.  You are allowed to have a crappy day, even if someone else had a crappier one.

7.  Music-Have something to listen to that makes you want to a) sing along and/or b)dance.  I like musicals, but whatever revs your engine.

8.  “I’d still like you” people–  You should have people who like you even if you are venting, ranting, swearing and storming.  These are the people who will not judge you when you pitch a fit.  They will be glad you called them.  They will not make you feel like you need to say, “Sorry I went off about that.”

9.  Something good to drink-Coke Slurpee, coffee, tea, wine, whatever.  Have something you enjoy.  This drink should be the warm blanket of the beverage world.

10. A flashlight-cause that’s always a good idea.

I’m Right Where I Left Me

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Coming Back

Being back on the rugged Washington Coast at the ocean after 6 years, disease, an oxygen tank and a life overhaul was like wrapping up in a comfortable warm blanket.  Walking the beach, a grin glued to my face, I looked up at the trees on the ocean. These trees are badass.  They lean recklessly into the wind.  Their branches sparse and thick.  Not a place for spindly branches with the protection of the forest. Trees on the ocean need to be able to stomach the wind and the salt water and be the first line of whatever came off the Pacific.  These were Don’t screw with me trees.  These trees were tested.  They weren’t as full or even as the ones further back in the rainforest.  But they had seen worse.

Me and those trees.  Worn and beaten. A little worse for wear.  Still standing.