Pain and Its Message

7 08 2017

We are in crisis here in the land of the free.  I’ve not seen such an attachment to opioids—read heroin and its cousins—since the Seventies.  People are overdosing at an alarming rate.  It’s so bad a mentor told me her septuagenarian mom, dealing with severe knee pain, would score heroin if she knew how.

How does a great nation get to a place like this?

There are lots of reasons and there are no silver bullet answers to the crisis.  Easy access to narcotics is one.  Flip and careless scriptwriting habits of some health care professionals are another.

But here’s one.  We run from pain.  And to be clear, the pain of injuries, say a slipped disk or severe arthritis, are not to be taken lightly.  We do what we can to eliminate unbearable pain.  I know folks who’ve been dealing with these and similar afflictions for many years.  But often we are running from dealing with the difficult realities of life here on this planet.

A mentor of mine, a licensed family therapist, has told me more than once, “I believe pain is trying to tell us something and numbing the pain keeps us from hearing its message.”

The result: Addictions, overdoses, and premature deaths.  It doesn’t have to be that way.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “The things that hurt, instruct.”

What to do?

I for one tend to suck at the art of resilience.  It’s easy to run from difficulty into the arms of some substance or pursuit in effort to avoid pain.  Pain of boredom, pain of dashed expectations, pain of meaninglessness in the mundane areas of life.

I do not want to make light of addiction.  It’s real and it’s devastating.  I’ve been there.  But are there things we can do to fight the urge to run and hide?  I believe there are.

Thoughts for reflection:

  • Have you stopped long enough, in sobriety and self-evaluation, to ask yourself What is my pain trying to tell me?
  • How are the Baby Boomers through the Millenials dealing differently with the harshness of life than our forbears from the Depression and World War II, the “Greatest Generation?”
  • Have you considered that pain, some or maybe all of it, is actually a chisel to mold you into a stronger person?

This is not going away, at least not in the near future.  How will you answer the questions pain asks of you?

 

Suggested Resources:

The Gift of Pain (Paul Brand and Philip Yancey)

The Problem of Pain (C.S. Lewis)

 

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No Easy Run

17 07 2017

“I run because long after my footprints fade away, maybe I will have inspired a few to reject the easy path, hit the trails, put one foot in front of the other, and come to the same conclusion I did: I run because it always takes me where I want to go.”

(Dean Karnazes)

 

Suggested Resources:

Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner (Dean Karnazes)

Pre: The Story of America’s Greatest Running Legend, Steve Prefontaine (Tom Jordan)

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen (Christopher McDougall)

 

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Mind Body Connection: Depression Hacks

14 07 2017

If you deal with depression, sporadically or regularly, please read.

I’ve dealt with depression in varying degrees for decades.  It’s not pleasant but a reality for many of us.

Recently I’ve been learning new things about the connection between one’s physiology and the thoughts in the mind.  When you experience depression, so much of it manifesting in an array of unpleasant thoughts (“you’re a failure” “things can’t get better” “life sucks” etc.) and brooding dismal feelings, it’s very difficult to make the connection to your body.  Your physiology—the way your body functions—has a lot to do with your encounter with depression.  More than you know.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor so this is not to be taken as professional advice from one trained in medicine.  If you suffer from more than mild depression, please seek help from someone trained in medicine and psychotherapy and psychopharmacology.

I’ve learned a few things that help.  Here they are and the cost is zero or minimal:

  • Get into the sunlight. Exposure to sunlight, without sunglasses, is helpful for increasing your levels of serotonin, which is indispensable for dealing with depression.  Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that gives you the feeling of well-being.  You’ll need to do this for more than a few minutes.  I know two people, one of whom is a child of mine, who moved from the cold, wintry region of northern New York (with very long, cold and dark winters) to Southern California.  When they either returned to northern New York or reflected on their lives there, they remarked at how little sun there is and how a lot of sun affected their sense of happiness and joie de vivre.  No surprise that in areas where there is a lot of precipitation and darkness, the rates of alcohol consumption and other addictions go up.  They’ve even taken steps—via sun lamps—in Scandinavian countries to counteract this.  SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a very real phenomenon
  • Exercise regularly.  Do cardio—whether gym, walking, or workouts in your own home.  I love weight lifting.  Exercise boosts helpful endorphins.  We were made to move, not sit.  The reality of sedentary occupations and lifestyles in our time means we have to be intentional about this.
  • Listen to jazz or rock and roll in the dark and cold months. I learned this on my own.  For example, I love film scores.  But during the dark and cool months, it’s best for me to listen to music that lifts me, energizes me and gives a sense of play and rowdiness.  Heavily emotive music is best for those months with lots of sunshine.  So the score to Schindler’s List is better at other times, as much as I love it.
  • Get with people, especially those who love you. There’s nothing like good friends and family to quash monsters of the mind.  Isolation only makes things bleaker.

We’ll explore this more in future posts.  This is something many of us endure and deal with.  So any helps here will improve our quality of life.

 

Suggested Resources:

 

Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy (David D. Burns)

The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time (Alex Korb & Daniel J. Siegel)

 

Image Credit

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xKJxxq74c-8

 





Drama, Catastrophizing, and the Freak-Out Gene

15 07 2014

Freak out geneTrue Confession: Any sense of drama in response to the stresses of life exhibited in the lives of my daughters they got from me, not their mother.

There, I said it. It feels good to admit the truth.

Psychologists call this tendency towards the dramatic, towards planning for the absolute worst, towards injecting a perfectly good molehill with steroids—to make it a mountain, duh—catastrophizing.

Guilty. And embarrassed.

A friend of mine got sick a few winters ago.  In his 50’s, career Army retired.  1st Sergeant.  Ranger Battalion for 6 years.  A remarkable guy and dear to our family.  I work with one of his sons, who is a chip off the old block and a close friend as well. And doesn’t freak out.

When my friend got sick, I was concerned.  It was serious enough that it put a retired Army Ranger in the hospital for a few days.  I asked the son about the father and he said that, though worried, his dad didn’t show it.  The son, one of our managers, is pretty good under pressure.  Just like his dad.  When asked by one of our colleagues if he was a mess because of his dad being in the hospital, the son said, “I guess [like dad] I didn’t inherit the freak-out gene.”

Man, I’ve had to chew on that one. And have been eating that business for a few years now. Why? Because I’ve not been great under pressure.  Candidly, I’ve been lousy in the clutch.  But the example of my even-keeled Irish buddies has been inspiring and convicting.

As I’ve thought about this, I realized that when stresses mount, one does not have to freak out.  Cave.  Bolt.  Come apart.  But I’m learning that a good deal of my responses to the tensions of life have to do with what I think about and tell myself.  Right thinking and talk are one of the secrets to poise, grace under pressure.

It’s that simple and that powerful.

To be sure, we all face things much larger than we are.  That overwhelm.  That can sink the boat of the ablest mariner.  But there is in our society entirely too much drama and meltdown.  For guys, it’s really an effeminate thing that insults the high call and dignity of manhood.  Great military leaders in combat are as scared as those under them but they mask it and charge ahead. They just don’t let their troops know they’ve filled their shorts.

What to do when stress comes?  Some hints:

  • Hit the gym rather than the bottle—or any other medicine, like shopping, sex, drugs, and other sundry ephemeral escapisms—for relief.
  • Remind yourself that you are equal to the task and think positively.       It certainly hasn’t worked for you to work yourself up to face the worst, has it?
  • Take a walk or a run and reflect.  Often stresses overwhelm simply because we don’t take enough time to think through challenges and find creative solutions to meet them.
  • Pray.  And act.  Do both, not one or the other.
  • Ask yourself, “Will this matter in five days, five months or five years?” Perspective gives proper weight to problems.
  • Lead.  God help you, but whatever you do, stand up like a man and walk on.  You will astound people, because leaders are rare.

I’m learning.  Slowly.  Very slowly.  I hope you are too.

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Passion: A Stallion’s Default Setting

13 07 2014

Passion StallionDo you know what gelding is?  It is a stallion that has been neutered.  Testicles removed.  Castrated.  No stones.

Those who raise horses geld stallions for lots of reasons.  One of them is to make the horse more sedate.  Well-behaved.  Easier to manage.

There is one considerable drawback.  Geldings cannot stud.  They are sterile.  Unable to reproduce.  But they’re nicer, I suppose.

In his book The Journey of Desire, John Eldredge recounts an unsuccessful counseling experience he had with a guy named Gary.  Gary was nice.  Well-behaved.  Easy to manage.  His wife was worried because he had no passion for anything.  He was a “nice Christian boy.”  Did all the right things.  But not out of any deep sense of conviction.

A gelding.

Eldredge was unable to help a man who’d lost all drive for anything in life.  A good deal of this hemorrhage of basic testosterone was no doubt rooted in a distorted idea of what the ideal Christian male is.  “Gentle Jesus–meek and mild.”  You get the picture.  Not the type of person who drives thieves from the sanctuary with a whip and uses strong, impolite language with religious bullies.

Passivity, especially in males, is the bane of our age.  It sours marriages.  It produces mediocre job performance.  Is often sedentary and unambitious.  It leaves those who count on us without a leader.

Geldings don’t change the world.  Sorry, but it’s true.

When I read about heroes in history, I find they were possessed with passion for whatever their mission was in life.  Teddy Roosevelt.  King David.  Richard Branson.  Judas Maccabeus.  Steve Jobs.  And Jesus Christ.  True, they made mistakes (Jesus excepted).  And when they screwed up, it was a disaster.  But when they triumphed, it made history.

Your wife wants you to be passionate.  So do your kids.  Your friends and colleagues too.

In fact, the whole world wants it.

This is your time to be all there.  Find something—anything—worth doing and do it with all your might.

Suggestions:

  • Get out of your chair at night and get moving.  Exercise, do extra work, take on a new project demanding effort and adrenaline.  You don’t want to end up like so many poor souls whom you see at the discount stores, grossly overweight, listless and unhappy.  Too many cheap carbs and time in front of a television or computer screen.  It doesn’t have to be you.
  • Start a blog.  I did and so have countless others.  This one is sticking and having the net effect of making me get off my duff and practice what I preach to my readers.
  • Repeat after me: “I matter.  I can do this.  I am not a nobody.  And the world is counting on me being fully there in whatever I am doing.”  Again, if it isn’t worth doing with all your might, it probably isn’t worth doing.  You be the judge.

You’re called to be a stallion.  Don’t sell yourself short.  Go and produce life!

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Personality, Uniqueness and Boundaries

12 07 2014

boundaries“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” (William Shakespeare)

Some time ago, I found myself thinking about what motivates the decisions we make in life.  There are numerous perceived and imperceptible influences that guide us in our decisions.  Some are healthy.  Others are not.

For example, you may have made decisions about where to make your home and your living out of a desire to please others, even those close to you.  You may have taken on burdens simply because you were afraid that if you declined—a boundary mechanism—you would lose favor with somebody.  And then you live with regret and varied degrees of toxic self-disdain and recrimination.

Seven years ago, a pastoral colleague of mine shared something with me over lunch.  He told me that the most important book he’d ever read, outside of the Bible, was Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.  In fact, he refused to marry any couple who came to him for premarital counseling and would not read the book, a requirement for him to solemnize the nuptials.  Yes, it’s that important.

Long and short of the message of Boundaries is this: The most important boundary marker you have at your disposal is the word no.  You simply have to use it.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and a little ornery; maybe because I’ve hit the half century mark, complete with health concerns; but I now realize that the person I have to live with until I die—every waking and unconscious moment—is me.  Christian Fahey.  And when, to paraphrase Shakespeare, I’m not true to myself…I don’t walk in integrity…I’m not true to my calling, my wiring, my passions for life and vocation, I have to live with me.  My conscience.  My memories.  My misgivings.

All of a sudden, pleasing other people at the expense of doing what I know is right and valid seems hollow indeed.  Life’s too short to be somebody else.

So here’s to moving forward, living in such a way that minimizes regrets and self-doubt.  Here’s to being true to the God-given vision for yours and my life.  Here’s to being true to oneself.

And it will surely follow that we’ll all be more true to others.

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Rocky, Telling It Like It Is

19 02 2014

rocky-balboa-trailerMy wife and I are huge fans of the “Rocky” movies.  In this moving scene from “Rocky Balboa,” Rocky gives his grown son powerful advice about taking personal responsibility for one’s life, career, dreams and choices.

Enjoy!

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