Archive for September, 2008

I am taking a break from Migraine Disease and shifting to “what is really important” A very close friend died yesterday of metastatic breast cancer. She almost made the 5 year remission mark when it came back. It is amazing that she was able to control the tumors for nearly 8 years. She lived to see all of her children (Aaron, Jared, and Patrick) graduate from high school. Aaron and Jared have graduated from college. Kathy lived to see Aaron and Liz get married. This is only short of amazing.

Kathy’s decline started last November with painful surgeries to keep fluid from accumulating in her lungs. I saw Kathy in July after she had had a significant turn for the worse. It was obvious that she was losing her battle. And yet, she remained cheerful. We talked about life and what had happened since we last met. And then came the $64,000 question: “How do you reconcile your condition with a loving God?” Her answer was profound: “Whatever happens, I have to believe that God is good.” It is that simple. She was not afraid to die and she knew that she would go to heaven because she knew Jesus Christ as her Saviour.

Her relationship with God was solid and as a therapist, she touched many lives, including mine. At the end, she taught me what is truly important: first, my relationship with God. When she passed into eternal life, that is all Kathy had. This is what she could take with her: Not a beautiful body, not a “6-pack”, not a beautiful home, not perfect happiness, not success, nor anything else I would think was important. The second is my relationship with others. Kathy left behind a loving husband, Ed, and three children whom she loved. This is what life boils down to: love.

“But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13:13)

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Megan Oltman’s post got me thinking not just about fun, but also humor. How do we find humor in the midst of adversity? Judith Newman wrote a fabulous article in the September issue of Reader’s Digest. The article, entitled When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Crack Wise, is hilarious. Her 6-year-old son has Asperger’s Syndrome and loves to skip. In fact, even though he cannot tie his shoes, zip his pants or barely write his name, his report card states that he is an above average skipper. Judith exclaims, “My son is gifted!” She can joke when, logically, she should be crying. Why? Dark humor is a form of bravery and it buffers us from stress.

Ann Cann, a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, studies the role humor plays in adversity. There are many different types of humor: Polish jokes, jokes about neutral subjects, and self-deprecating humor (Rodney Dangerfield), and self-enhancing humor. The latter is the only form that has a positive effect on how people handle stress. In fact, according to Cann, self-deprecating humor can increase stress.

Self-enhancing humor or dark humor is finding the funny side of a grim situation: a divorce, illness, death, disability, and the list goes on. It can buffer us from the anxiety of being in a tough situation. Here is an example taken from Newman’s article. A man is sitting in a crematoriom shortly after his mother’s death. He saw a sign that stated, “No Smoking” and started laughing. This sign transformed a somber situation into one that was comfortable.

After reading this article, I knew I had to find something funny about Migraine Disease. This is what I came up with. The next time I am in the ER with a monster migraine, I am going to say this to the doctor. “Doc, please tell me I am not dead.” “Ok, you are not dead.” “That’s a relief; I don’t want to feel like this AND be dead.” My husband though it was hilarious.

What are your wisecracks about having Migraine Disease or other chronic illnesses?
image courtesy of Reader’s Digest. Retrieved from http://www.magazine-agent.com-sub.info/readers-digest/covers

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It Is NOT All About Me

Megan Oltman has done it again. Her most recent post is about fun. What? have fun? Who keeps me from having fun? Not my Migraine Disease, not my husband, but, like Megan said, I am my worst enemy. Not only am I my own killjoy, but being one makes my life unfun (if that is a word). I rob myself from life’s little pleasures. It is mostly a heart thing. As long as I focus on how rotten I feel, my life is not one bit fun.

Sweating the small stuff definitely robs my life of fun. Like yesterday. My husband bleached one of my brand new dishcloths that I had made. It was once solid blue, but now it looks like it was tie-dyed. I was mad, heartbroken, and my attitude soured most of my day. I also hurt my husband’s feelings. When I told him I never wanted to see it again, he said “it’s just a dishcloth.” Twenty-four hours later, I know he is right; it’s just a dishcloth.

So, what have I learned? It is a big lesson, but through it all I have to swallow my pride and realize this life is not about me. It is about honoring God by being forgiving, gracious, kind, joyful (this doesn’t mean always happy; there’s a big difference), grateful, patient, loving, and thinking of others as more important than myself. And that is truly living well.

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A Little Empathy, Please

It appears that nearly every time I give an honest answer to the question, “How are you doing?”, I either get advice or sappy optimism from others. These responses baffle me. Maybe because I am a trained therapist, but I would like to think that, in general, people shouldn’t have to be trained therapists to know that, for a person in pain, neither advice nor optimism is helpful. All I want is some empathy. I want to know that someone can see my life from my point of view.

It appears that my experience is not uncommon. In a wonderful article (thanks, Ellen) A Little Empathy, Please, author Amanda Robb learned about empathy the hard way. She was a jerk (without knowing it) and ruptured a relationship with her roommate. According to Frank M. Lachmann, a psychologist, common responses to our pain (advice, changing the subject, optimism) are a rejection and a denial of what we are experiencing.

So my questions are these: How can we effectively address the lack of empathy? Do you smile sweetly when listening to another litany of things you “must” do? Do you avoid being honest? Has any one dared tell a friend that her comment was more hurtful than helpful?

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This post is in response to the topic posed by this month’s Migraine Blog Carnival: Your best tips on improving communication with doctors. My first reaction, mostly because I have had more than my share of neurologists and headache specialists, is that I have no ideas. If I really had an answer, I would not be on neurologist number 4. Wait a minute, given I have seen several different specialists, I must have learned something along the way. For me, the hardest time for me to communicate with a doctor is when I am dissatisfied. This is what I have learned.

  1. Know what you want: this can be harder than it looks. I usually knew what I didn’t want, but not what I wanted. I learned by trial and error, but I suggest that you take the time to become well-informed about Migraine Disease and to ask yourself, “What exactly do I want from this doctor?” What is most important? Expertise? Time? Compassion? Knowing what you want will make it easier to notice when you are not getting it.
  2. Talk first, bail later: Bailing (switching doctors without a word) has been my MO from the beginning. I don’t say anything; I just leave. I may have avoided the pain of expressing dissatisfaction, but I didn’t give the physician the chance to change. I suppose that if I had expressed my concerns first, I may have seen fewer doctors. But, I have to admit I was afraid. Afraid of standing up for myself? Afraid of expressing dissatisfaction? How could I be dissatisfied; he’s a doctor! Yep, strange, but true.
  3. Ask for a second opinion. Bite the bullet, just ask. I agonized for months before I asked. I had every excuse in the book. He is so nice, so caring. He gives me all the time I need. He is so persistent. In the long run, being nice, caring, and persistent were poor substitutes for progress. I had been seeing him for 2 years and not much had changed. Well, I finally asked. Boy, was I relieved when he said sure. He even made the referral.
  4. Leave, if you must, but on good terms. After meeting with the new doctor and asking several pertinent questions about her approach and what her goals were, I decided to make the switch. Before I left his practice, I thanked the doctor for all he had done and that I admired his persistence. He shook my hand and told me he wanted to know what happens. How’s that for a happy ending?

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