The cyclical effect of pain – stress/pain/tension/pain

Our bodies feel pain in ways other than pain. Pain is the last part. Pain means that the problem has popped the fuse and we are now desperate.

When a baby is hungry he will make signs. He’ll smack his lips or suck his fist. Crying is the last thing he’ll do. If his mother doesn’t notice the signs in time he will get frustrated. His needs aren’t being met.

Pain is the same way. It has subtle signs at first. Our body wants to protect us from pain. Our adrenal system races to the rescue when we hurt so that we don’t feel it. This is backwards, because then we don’t know that there is a problem. We find out later when the adrenal system gives up and we are just like that baby, crying and miserable.

Pain has a cascade effect. It affects everything. It is kind of like dominoes. One thing leads to another. If we are in pain, our stomach will get in knots, our teeth will clench, and then we will get headaches. Our breathing will get shallow. We will become irritable. Then the tension from all of that will only make things worse.

Tension causes pain, and pain causes tension. Anger can cause tension which causes pain. Pain can cause irritability which leads to anger. It isn’t just a domino effect, it is circular.

You can feel pain in other areas than where the actual pain is. Acupuncture teaches us this. If you’ve ever gotten a tattoo you know this. If you get a tattoo on your ankle it can hurt on your lower back. If you get a tattoo on your upper arm it can hurt on your face. So be mindful that just because you feel pain in one area doesn’t mean that is the source of the pain.

You can head things off at the pass. You can learn to recognize the signs of pain before they are off the charts. You can stop the cycle.

Do a body scan every now and then, several times a day. Just pause for a moment and see how you are feeling. This is useful to do at least once an hour. You won’t remember to do it that often to start with – that is normal. Just do what you can.

How is your breathing? Deep or shallow? Fast or slow? You can change a lot by changing your breathing. Intentionally breathe in slowly through your nose, on a count of ten. Exhale slowly through your mouth on a count of ten. Do this for a minute at least. See how you feel. Do it again if necessary.

How do you feel? Do you have tension in your back or shoulders or face? Are you clenching anywhere? Intentionally release it. We tend to hold tension in our bodies. Tension raises our blood pressure.

Check your tongue. Are you pressing it up against the roof of your mouth? This is a sign to your body that you are under pressure. It will raise your blood pressure the same way that breathing shallowly or clenching your muscles will. Do your best to relax your tongue from the roof of your mouth as often as possible.

Remember that whenever you are checking your breathing or tension, you are making a positive change for yourself. Don’t get mad at yourself for having shallow breathing or clenching your muscles. This is totally normal. To get mad at yourself only causes more tension. Instead, focus on the fact that you are doing something good about it. Every little step towards health is something to celebrate.

Find activities that you enjoy to reduce stress. Do something creative. Draw, paint, bead, write, garden, cook – the list is endless. Pick one, and if it doesn’t work for you, try something else. Get regular exercise, and don’t make it “exercise”. Children don’t “exercise”, they play. They are better off for it. If you find some way to move your body that you enjoy, you are more likely to do it.

Look at the things that cause you stress. What can you do about it? Can you make a change? Can you ask for assistance? Can you tell someone that what they are doing is harmful to you? People can’t read minds – you have to ask for what you need. Sometimes just thinking about this can make you feel more stress! Pick a book in my “survival” books list and read it. They are lifesavers.

I wish you well on your journey. We will never be stress-free. Life is all about challenge and growth, and stress gives us opportunities for that. Stress and pain are just signs that we need to slow down and reassess things. In this way, they are blessings. Otherwise, we’d not grow, we’d not ask for help, and we’d forget to be thankful for all the many gifts that we have.

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Dysfunctional as the new normal.

(This was started several months ago, maybe June. I couldn’t post it then – I was still too close to it. I’ve added more today, on the occasion of a second called meeting. I’m sitting this one out.)

We are going to a called meeting. I’m writing this in the car on the way to a meeting that my parents in law have requested. My husband’s mother is dying slowly of pancreatic cancer. She is in her 70’s. She’s already lived longer with this disease than the doctors expected. She has already lived longer than my Mom, who died at 53.

I feel like we are going to a discussion about putting down the family pet.

It has been months since the last family meeting. There hasn’t been a lot of communication since Christmas, when we found out. That Christmas was more strained and fake than normal. We all pretended like everything was fine. It reminded me a lot of how my birth family acted at every holiday.

Pancreatic cancer takes a toll on you. It is debilitating. It has an over 90% death rate, mostly because it isn’t caught until it is very advanced. We don’t know. Perhaps there was a healing. Or perhaps they have finally woken up to the reality of the situation and realized they need to go into assisted living.

At Easter, my mother in law did all the cooking. My father in law sat. He directed traffic. This is a role reversal from when I met them ten years ago. She had to take on more of the chores since he got Parkinson’s. He seems to see getting Parkinson’s as an excuse to sit all the time. Sure, Parkinson’s is a degenerative nerve disease. But if you don’t exercise, Parkinson’s or no, you’ll deteriorate.

None of us have the time or patience or time off at work to go over there all the time and cook and clean and bathe them. Nor do we want to.

I sure wish I knew about all the mental and physical abuse that happened in this family before I suggested they move up here. I wouldn’t have suggested that they move closer. It seemed logical at the time. They were getting older. They kept taking turns needing help, what with cancer twice for him and a hip replacement for her. She freaked out when the water heater broke when her husband was out of town. One son had to drive 5 hours one way to deal with it. This is not the hallmark of adult behavior on her part.

They need help, certainly, but we aren’t the ones to give it. We don’t have the resources – mental, physical, emotional.

I didn’t know them before. Perhaps they have gotten more feeble with age. Perhaps they have always been dependent. Perhaps they have always been needy. Perhaps they have always been weak.

I want this to go well. I don’t know what to do. I want to be helpful. I want to be compassionate.

But I also want to say “I told you so.” I want to say “if only you had listened to me and gotten an apartment instead of a house, rented rather than bought, this would be easier.” I’m angry that they want our help but they don’t want to listen to what we are willing and able to provide. They want our help but they want it their way.

I want to say if you’d been nicer to your children, they wouldn’t be reluctant to help you. You reap what you sow.

This isn’t Christ-like at all. I don’t pretend it is. It is very human. Is it compassionate to enable someone in their stupidity?

This could go well. It could go terribly. Bracing for it usually makes it go worse. I’m trying to plan ahead and be realistic. I’m trying to be honest with myself.

Nothing digs up old family wounds like new family trauma. It is so easy to forget there is a problem until it comes back up again. Yep. That bone is still broken. Time to get it looked at by a professional, or amputate that limb. Time to get professional counseling or decide to walk away from it all.

Just because I married the son doesn’t mean I have to take care of his parents. There is nothing in the wedding vows about them. I’m not legally bound to them.

I’m angry at them because of all the damage they did to him. Sure, they were probably abused themselves. Dysfunctional is the new normal after all. Does this get them off the hook? Does this mean I have to take time off from work to take care of them? I spend enough time as it is picking up the pieces of their son’s shattered self esteem.

I’m angry that my father in law still thinks it is OK to talk badly about his son. He has never apologized for abusing his family. He has never changed, really. He’s just sneakier about his abuse.

I’m angry that my mother in law is dying and the only thing she wants to do is decorate her house. Scraping wallpaper, painting, and remodeling is the order of the day. From what I understand this is how she has always done things. Knowing she is terminally ill has not changed her, has not focused her. She has not done anything for her community or the world. I cannot imagine wasting life so wantonly. I’m frustrated that she has had more life than my Mom and still hasn’t done anything with it.

I’m angry that both of them have lived this long and they are still not grown up.

I’m not a counselor. I’m not a therapist. I’m not a minister. I know I can’t fix other people’s problems. I can only work on myself. I know that looking away from problems doesn’t make them go away. I know also that it is the better part of valor to know when you can’t do anything. Sometimes you have to admit defeat. I’ve tried to help them and they are still stuck, so I’m not what they need. They think I am, but the evidence proves otherwise.

I have chosen to walk away from this insanity. I can’t let someone else’s madness pull me into the water where I’ll drown. Codependency is deadly.

I’ve walked away for the same reason I no longer read the news. I’ve walked away from same reason I no longer watch television or eat junk food or drink sodas. I can’t allow this poison into me. I know what it does.

Now, a mark of a Christian is that they are supposed to be able to be bitten by a snake and not get sick. To me, it makes more sense to not even pick up that snake to start off with.

Jesus fish.

I have a new doctor who is Christian. I’d love to recommend him to my boss, but she is aggressively anti-Christian. She thinks Christians are kind of like zombies – brainless. She has mentioned that she will walk out of a place if she sees any Christian signs, like a cross or a Jesus fish. He would be able to help her a lot, but I know that she would feel uncomfortable getting help from him.

I know of two people who wanted to join a gym, but they wouldn’t join the YMCA. They felt like they would be proselytized to. One was Jewish and one was Jehovah’s Witness. I’m a member of the Y and while people feel comfortable talking about God and Jesus while they are there, they don’t push it on others. Even at the Y people are careful to make sure people are on the same wavelength. Sure, there are quotes from the Bible on the walls. Sure, the shirts mention Jesus. But it is no more than you’d see at the mall, and they don’t preach to you or try to convert you. They try to serve you as Jesus would, and Jesus wasn’t pushy. If you wanted to come to him, he was there for you. He never forced himself on people.

But then there are places that use Christian signs to get business, but they aren’t nice people. I once got a roofing estimate from a place called “Genesis roofing” that had a Bible quote on their truck. The salesman was indifferent. He talked down to me. He went up on the roof and then left without saying anything. It was strange. It certainly wasn’t what I expected of a place that advertised itself as Christian. I wrote them, saying as much, and they never responded.

I think it is closed-minded to refuse to do business with a company or person just because they say they are Christian. I also think it is closed-minded to only do business with Christian companies or people. There has to be some level of balance and trust and openness.

We can’t let fear of “the other” stop us from living our lives.

I choose…

I choose to release my old way of thinking.

I choose to trust that God is leading me on the right path.

I choose to allow God to work in my life.

I choose to no longer define things as good or bad.

I choose to be patient with the process.

I choose to not put parameters on my path.

I choose to believe that God can use me as I am, right where I am – and to embrace that God might transform my life into something totally unexpected.

I choose to not resist God’s will.

I can see a book deal and traveling in my future.
I can see having time to volunteer more.
I can see me healing people with words that I share.

I am grateful that God has planted this seed within me.

I choose to nurture this seed.

I choose to be patient, no longer defining situations as good or bad, and no longer needed to see the outcome to trust the path.

I choose to believe that God is leading me, and that I have the ability to follow God on this path.

“The Prodigal Son”

There is nothing like a will to bring out the true side of people. My brother was left out of our Dad’s will because he tried to kill Dad when he was 17. They never reconciled. There was nothing but mistrust and animosity after that.

It wasn’t great before that. They’d never had a good relationship. Ian blamed Dad for the fact that he didn’t have money to go to college. Dad’s story was that Ian begged him for the money so he could buy a car. Because of Ian’s lifelong habit of lying to benefit himself, I believe Dad’s side of the story.

Ian felt slighted most of his life. He probably feels this way now, but I no longer talk to him. He felt that everything bad happened to him, that everyone, (especially me) conspired against him. He felt that I was the wanted child and he was the accident. He didn’t realize that we both had a pretty unhealthy childhood, so neither one of us got the silver spoon. We both got the shaft instead.

He blamed me for his fourth wife leaving him. He blamed me for him getting a quarter of a million dollars in debt. He was always a victim, a bystander, a passive observer. Perhaps that is the reason for all of his failures – he never took the blame for anything.

We were still talking when our parents died. He’d been very abusive to me during that time, but I still wanted to have some sort of relationship with him. I suspect a lot of it has to do with Christian guilt, saying that I was supposed to love my brother. I didn’t understand yet that there has to be a measure of reciprocity. Love has to go both ways. It can’t all be take-take-take.

During that time he managed to guilt-trip me out of a Rembrandt etching we had of “The Prodigal Son” saying that it symbolized the relationship that he and Dad had. The irony did not escape me. They didn’t have a relationship.

Our grandmother had given the etching to the family. It sat over the mantle. The story was that Rembrandt created the etching, printed a limited number of prints, and then destroyed the plate with acid. So it was worth a lot of money. It wasn’t listed in the will, specifically, so I could do with it whatever I wanted. I was the executrix of the estate because I was the only person named in the will who was still alive. I was 25, handling a will on my own, getting pressured by my brother. He wanted me to sell the house (my home at that point) and give him half the money. He wanted me to give him half the insurance money too. He’d done nothing to earn it. He hadn’t visited and he hadn’t helped Mom and I while we were struggling with bills when she was sick. He hadn’t done anything at all except harass me to tell me that I wasn’t doing enough. Meanwhile he was doing nothing. So how did he think he was entitled to any of the estate, especially an etching of “The Prodigal Son”?

I gave the etching to him anyway, out of spite. I figured that eventually he’d wake up to the fact that the son has to return for the story to work, and he never returned. It was easier to give him that picture once I realized that. If I’d kept it I would be constantly reminded of him. If he had it, he would be constantly reminded of himself. That specific etching just bolsters his lies. It is right up there with the certificates he has framed of the classes he took when he was in the Air Force. He was only in for one year, then he got kicked out. But he still proudly displays those certificates. There is something deeply wrong going on with him, where his reality doesn’t mesh up with actual reality.

I wanted my brother to become a real human being. I still want him to. I finally realized that I couldn’t be part of that process though. It was like he wanted me to be an accessory to his insanity. I couldn’t participate in it. Talking to him was making me crazy because he was crazy. Getting into conversations with him was like getting in the car with a drunk behind the wheel. Everywhere we went in our conversations was wrong. I knew I had to get out for my own safety.

There aren’t any easy instructions on how to deal with an abusive family. All the Hallmark movies make us think that families are loving and brothers look out for their little sisters. All the mythology of family in American society tells us that everything is wonderful and everybody is happy. This is great when it is true, and it is harmful when it isn’t. All too often our reality doesn’t mesh up with what we are told we should be experiencing, and we feel pain. We feel like we are wrong, and not that the prepackaged image of “happy family” is wrong.

Under pressure

I knew a guy who had a girlfriend who lived many hours away. They met at camp, and dated long distance for many years. He pressured her to have sex with him, and she did, reluctantly.

Problem was that they were Pentecostal, and they weren’t married. This is a huge sin in the eyes of that church. It is considered a sin to many Christian denominations, but some just turn a blind eye. There is no wiggle room on this issue in this church.

He then expected to have sex with her every time he came to visit. She thought he would drop her as a girlfriend if she didn’t. So she had sex with him every time he came to visit.

Until she got pregnant.

They prayed for forgiveness. They prayed for a way out of it. They prayed, crying and wailing. She didn’t have the money for an abortion, and that would have only complicated matters. Sex before marriage is considered a sin, but so is abortion. There was no good way out.

God granted them mercy. She had a miscarriage. Fortunately she already had problems with her periods so it just looked like an extra difficult time of the month to her parents. They dodged the bullet that time. I remember him crying about how grateful he was for that act of mercy from God.

Then he went for another visit and expected to have sex again. Somebody had to be the adult, and he wasn’t it. Deep down, she knew there wouldn’t be another free break.

So every time he came to visit, she was “having her period.” He found periods disgusting, so they didn’t have sex. He kept asking, and she kept saying she was having her period. She was lying every time. She was lying so that they wouldn’t have sex. She was lying so she wouldn’t get pregnant again.

I’m stunned that they eventually married. His behavior was reprehensible.

I’m glad that she stood her ground and didn’t have sex with him again until they got married. I’m upset that he thought it was ok to ask after that bit of mercy. Maybe he’d forgotten. We all tend to forget our midnight promises to God when the dawn comes and everything looks better. But to ask her again after that is a sign of a lack of respect for her, and a sign that he thinks he can get away with anything. This does not bode well.

Perhaps she married him anyway because she actually loved him. Perhaps she felt she was “damaged goods” anyway, so it was better to stay with him. Not being a virgin is a big deal. It is safer to stick with the person who made you that way than have to fess up to someone new.

It isn’t fair to be a woman. We are expected to please, to put ourselves second, to humble ourselves. We are expected to let the man be in charge. Yet if we have sex and become pregnant, we have no guarantee that he will “do the honorable thing.” He can leave. We can’t. We have the most to lose.

When I was in college guys would expect to have sex with me just because we went on a date. Let us see – movie, $10. Dinner, $30. That would make me a $40 whore. There is no other way to say it. If they thought I was expected to have sex with them just because he paid for the date, then that is prostitution. They didn’t think of it that way, of course. They thought they were just going on a date, and they might “get lucky”. I’m sure they thought it couldn’t hurt to ask. They were wrong.

I figured out early on that I’d rather be seen as a prude than become a single mother. I couldn’t afford it. I’d have to quit school. My entire life would change and get a lot harder. Sex wasn’t worth that. The risk factor was way too high. It wasn’t fair that I had to stand my ground. It wasn’t fair that they kept insisting. I’d break up with one and the next one would be the same.

It is time for parents to raise their sons to respect women. I don’t even mean that they need to understand that “no means no.” I mean that it is time for them to stop even asking the question.

“Do no harm” – on grocery stores and the American diet.

There is a grocery store near my house that has a health food section. All the healthy options are put together in one little area. This section is to the far left of the entrance, tucked behind the pharmacy. The ceiling is low, the walls are dark, and the lighting is bad. It would be easy to never even notice there was a healthy-option section. When you do notice it, it isn’t inviting.

In one way it is good to have a separate section. All the different healthy options that you might want are put together. You don’t have to go all over the store to find them. In another way it is bad. Regular shoppers won’t know of these options when they are shopping. They won’t be able to discover a different brand of toothpaste or compare prices or ingredients on juice or breakfast cereals.

Why are healthy options marginalized? When they are mixed in with everything else they are often on the bottom shelf where they will not be noticed. All the popular options are at eye or at least chest height. They have bright colors and clever marketing. The healthy options sit quietly, gathering dust.

Grocery stores should stop getting bigger and start getting better. They should stop selling fourteen different brands of cheesy poofs for starters. In fact, stop selling cheesy poofs altogether. It doesn’t matter that people want them. Perhaps grocery stores should adopt the “do no harm” oath that doctors have to take. But then again, we see how well that has done us. Treat the symptom, not the disease.

One of my coworkers was told by her nutritionist that she needed to skip everything that was in the center of the store. Skip everything that is prepackaged and filled with preservatives, and buy fresh real food. Let’s add to that. Skip everything that has labels on it with ingredients you can’t understand and can’t pronounce. Skip everything with an ingredient list that is longer than the “food” item itself.

Convenience foods are killing us.

Fast food equals a slow death.

I understand. We live busy lives. Who has time to bake their own bread? Who has time to grow their own food? Cooking takes time, time we think we don’t have. Yet we have time to check Facebook and Twitter and time to watch reality TV and talk shows.

The old adage is true. We are what we eat. And we are eating junk.