It’s not doing what you want, it’s wanting what you do (as in the Sheryl Crow song “Soak up the Sun”: It’s not having what you want, It’s wanting what you’ve got.)
It’s so easy to get caught up in all the things you can’t do any more. And the more you think about what you can’t do, the more depressed you get. I’d rather focus on the new things that I can do as I recover from the stroke and enjoying doing whatever I’m doing now without comparing it to what others are doing or what I did in the past.
I remember my friend Tony Gough’s older brother telling us once after we finished a very challenging bike ride from Mill Valley over the Golden Gate bridge to San Francisco and back that it didn’t matter to him how many others may have accomplished something before him; it was his accomplishment that mattered to him. That struck me as a very profound insight for a young teenager and I’ve always tried to remember his attitude whenever I’m tempted into comparing myself to others. It’s been very useful since the stroke to keep me focused on what I am doing and not wasting time wishing that my life was different.
The stroke took away my ability to drive (at least for now) and that means that I have to find other means of getting around. I take bus and BART if they’re going my way. I take the paratransit if that’s an option or I figure out how to get a ride. So getting out and about is more difficult than it used to be; but I still can do many enjoyable things. And I can still have adventures. It doesn’t matter that they aren’t the same kind I used to have; I am still extending myself and discovering new horizons.
One of the most distressing things for me after returning home from the hospital after my stroke was that my youngest daughter was afraid to be home alone with me as the only adult. Eventually I got over the emotional shock and was able to see it from her point of view – Not that she was afraid of me or her own safety but she was afraid that if something happened to me, she wouldn’t know what to do. She didn’t want to get into a situation where I needed urgent help and she couldn’t do what I needed.
What was needed was to give Julia the confidence that she could successfully get through an emergency without further scaring her about my health or just the likelihood of something bad happening to her. So I approached the conversation as an educational opportunity teaching her how to deal with unexpected emergencies in general and including health events such as my stroke as just another type of unexpected event that she might experience and that she is capable of dealing with it successfully.
Even if you feel that you know enough about emergency preparedness and the emotional strength of your child to be able to wing it, it is a good idea to write an outline beforehand of the points you want to be sure to cover and how you want to express them. Having such a cheat-sheet in hand lets you focus on the conversation and how your child is reacting instead of the details themselves.
Having this kind of conversation with my daughter was/is an excellent way to help her survive any disaster intact and emotionally healthy. I’m kicking myself now that I never thought of having such a conversation with Julia (or my other children) before. My experience with Julia has been a slap upside the head that as a parent that I should have been teaching and preparing my kids to be able to handle emergencies and other unexpected events. You can learn from my example and give your children the knowledge and confidence to survive and deal with unexpected events such as natural disasters and medical emergencies that could happen to anyone (even you.)
When I was younger, I used to scuff at people who waxed on about how psychotherapy and their shrink have turned their life around. But now that I’m trying to put myself back together after a stroke, I have come to appreciate how a shrink can help us fix very painful stuff both inside our heads and outside ourselves, with people in our lives and stuff that happens.
I’ve noticed before that I often drag myself home from my sessions with my shrink Ninette, so drained that I don’t have even the energy to rise from my recliner. But during today’s session I actually noticed when I ran into difficulty and how it made me feel. (Not good.) After more than 3 years of rehab, I shouldn’t be surprised at how much energy our brain uses when it has to work hard, whether it’s cognitive rehab or emotional rehab.
Today’s topic was a recurrent theme, communication difficulties with my wife. While I was focusing on how my wife had misguided me about she had agreed to, Ninette was noticing what Kathy had been trying to accomplish, why she went about it that way and what I could try doing so that Kathy would be more likely to communicate forthrightly. When I kicked back into the present, Ninette identified reasons why I might have acted emotionally during the conversation with Kathy. And that pushed me into the minefield that’s my emotional self right now.
So, you can scuff at me now, but I have to say that Ninette has been instrumental in helping put myself back together even better than before. And while we’ve been working on me, we’ve also worked quite a bit on my relationships, especially with those close to me. Maybe with Ninette’s help, I’ll be able to heal the damaged relationships with my wife and middle daughter.