Stories and Compassion

“Everything is held together with stories.

That is all that is holding us together,

stories and compassion.” 

― Barry Lopez

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I told you my stories, and you reached out with compassion. It helped. It continues to help. Thank you.

I have had a good few days, and I know it’s because of you. This is no small thing–being there for each other. Yet we underestimate its importance.

At first glance, there seems to be nothing new about valuing compassion. It’s an idea that has been around for thousands of years in both the religious and secular worlds. But perhaps it is the universality of compassion that has lulled us into underestimating its importance.

Compassion is a treasure hidden in plain sight,

which we often don’t notice. -Larry Dorsey, M.D.

A big trend in psychotherapy is  “evidenced based treatment protocols.” Even as a write that, it sounds so cold. Of course, there are techniques and methods that are effective for a wide variety of problems.

But research over a long period of time continues to find that the core ingredient of someone’s progress in therapy is the relationship between the therapist and the client. It’s what humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers called “unconditional positive regard.” Psychologist David Myers writes:

Unconditional positive regard is an attitude of grace,

an attitude that values us even knowing our failings.

noname-30Writing on a blog is not the same as psychotherapy, but similar healing happens. You tell your stories. You find others have similar stories. You learn you’re not alone. You are seen.

You find out people accept you even if

you’re a bit tattered around the edges.

Again, this is no small thing.

Again, thank you, friends.

Around Here Lately

I thought I’d share some random pictures and a few thoughts about life around here.

photo-53The coolest thing: I met with some graduate students from Taiwan. One of them contacted me because she had read both of my books on social anxiety disorder and was going to be at the University of Missouri for a cultural exchange program. She wanted to interview me for a class project. I hope to write a whole post on this–it was so, so neat. She had brought her Chinese edition of Painfully Shy, all highlighted, and wanted me to sign it. She said it was a miracle that we met, and asked for a hug when we said good-bye.

An interesting tidbit: They all said that being quiet in Taiwan was revered. It was the shy, quiet students who were popular and who were selected by teachers to be class presidents. It sure was confirmation of this research study.

Real Life: Greg sitting in the recliner, holding Larry up like a baby, shoes on the floor, stuff all over the counter-tops, and me being sneaky taking pictures.photo-56

 Lots of Walks: When I feel sad about all the things I can’t do with my chronic pain, I remember that there are lots of things I can do, like take walks around the neighborhood. The sunsets have been gorgeous.photo-57

Life Make-Over Fail: Greg says I sound like a walking women’s magazine. I’ve been talking to him for at least a month that after baseball season was over (our St. Louis Cardinals were in the World Series) we were going to have a “Life Make-Over.” We were going to watch less TV, eat better, exercise more, spend less time on the computer… It was all supposed to start on November 1. Well, we did horribly over the weekend.  Greg watched LOTS of football (but to be fair, he didn’t feel well). I even told myself I wasn’t going to eat my nightly ice cream, but I did. We didn’t exercise.  This is why you should never try to start things on the first of the month or on a Monday. It feels too much like a diet and instant rebellion kicks in.photo-60

Funny: Larry looks a bit like Einstein. They both have the static hair thing going on.my_collage_by_Fuzel-2

Still Pondering Existential Issues (some things never change):photo-59

More August Break Pictures

These are not in order, and I’m skipping some days. Yea for flexibility!

Mid-day…my favorite Kelly Rae clock.

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White…bluebird eggs from earlier in the summer
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Not white, but still with the nest theme…an empty nest gift basket I made for a friend.

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Something Old…a church pew, now in our entryway, from St. Peter’s Cathedral where Greg’s father went to church and school

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A strange juxtaposition, but another Something Old picture, the old Missouri State Penitentiary…Greg used to play baseball “inside the walls” when he was a kid. Now he is in charge of all the mental health services for Missouri’s Department of Corrections.

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The Long Winter

“There is no winter harsh enough to withhold the promise of spring.” – Karen Kaiser Clarke

I put my spring wreath on the door. I put my winter clothes away. I thought winter was over. But I was wrong. We have had 6 or more inches of snow today.

I thought I’d post a few of Greg’s pictures from this winter. (I use this blog kind of like a scrapbook. I had all my 2012 entries made into a book for only about $30).

I spent the day drinking hot chocolate with the dogs on my lap. I also wrote a blog post for Psychology Today. It’s called A Simple Way to Put the Spark Back in Your Relationship. I don’t know why, Psychology Today is sometimes so slow to load, but if you’re patient, you can read it 🙂

Hopefully next time I’ll be posting Spring pictures!

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Small Blue Thing

Greg and I had planned to go to Kansas City tonight to see Suzanne Vega in concert. She has always been special to us, as we listened to her a lot in the early years of our relationship. We love the images in her lyrics and her simple singing style. When we bought the tickets a few months ago, it seemed so doable. But riding in a car really aggravates my pain, and Kansas City is a three-hour drive. As the time has approached, I realized that it would take a lot out of me–not just the drive, but then sitting for several hours for the concert, sleeping in a strange bed at a hotel, and then another three hours home the next day. To a lot of people, it wouldn’t seem like much. But when you have chronic pain, certain things take their toll and you have to weigh whether it will be worth it or not. A weekend like that would probably take me a month to get back to my normal level of manageable pain. I asked Greg to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how much he wanted to go. If he had said anywhere from an 7/8 to a 10, I would have gone. But he said a 6. I don’t know if he was being honest, or if he realized it would be hard for me. Anyway, we’re not going, and it’s okay. Really okay. That is the wonderful thing about being married to your best friend. Plans change and it’s okay. We’ll listen to her records instead. Greg is into buying vinyl records now…I think of all the ones we’ve sold at garage sales over the years, and now he’s buying them again 🙂

Here is a video of her performing our favorite song of hers, Small Blue Thing and the lyrics are below (they are not formatting right, and I’m getting frustrated trying to make it work–UGH).

Lyrics:
Today I am
A small blue thing
Like a marble
Or an eye
With my knees against my mouth
I am perfectly round
I am watching you
I am cold against your skin
You are perfectly reflected
I am lost inside your pocket
I am lost against
Your fingers
I am falling down the stairs
I am skipping on the sidewalk
I am thrown against the sky

I am raining down in pieces
I am scattering like light
Scattering like light
Scattering like light

Today I am
A small blue thing
Made of china
Made of glass

I am cool and smooth and curious
I never blink
I am turning in your hand
Turning in your hand
Small blue thing

Some Favorite Blog Pictures from 2012

A big part of the fun of this blog has been working with Greg on the images. He’s such a great photographer. I keep thinking I’ll learn to take my own pictures, but then I wonder why?  I can be the director and tell him what I want and voila, I get it! So here are some of my favorite photos he’s taken for my blog this year.

Larry loves to dream, big or small, it doesn't matter

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Hearts Set Free

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Love and Baseball

Photo by Mike Tigas via Flickr CC

(This is a guest post by Greg, my baseball-loving and very sweet husband.)

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I have always been a baseball fan, and I grew up wanting to play for the St. Louis Cardinals. I remember pitcher Bob Gibson who was such an intense competitor that he continued pitching after suffering a broken leg. I never made it to the major leagues, but I did pitch in college.

When Barb and I were dating about 25 years ago, we went to a Cardinals game together. It was miserably hot as it often is in St. Louis, and I was very focused on the game. She said I ignored her and she swore afterward that she would never go to another game (one of our first fights). Over the years, she grew to tolerate baseball and even have some fleeting interest.

Of course, her interest was most intense when our son was playing little league and I was coaching. She loved the games and wanted to document every moment. Once she was taking pictures of our son warming up to pitch when one of his throws got away. The ball hit Barb squarely in the shin. Over the next few days, we watched as her leg took on a variety of technicolor hues. Barb may be very gentle, but she is also very tough.

This brings me to today.

Chris Carpenter is pitching for the Cardinals. Carpenter has been the ace pitcher for the Cardinals for several years, and he was a key to their championship in 2011. Carpenter has been out all season due to chronic pain, numbness, and weakness as a result of thoracic outlet syndrome. Just two months ago, he had a rib and part of his scalene muscle surgically removed. His return today is a testament to his determination. In baseball parlance, he is a gamer.

So, why am I writing about a baseball player on a self-compassion blog?

Those of you who follow this blog regularly know that Barb has been struggling with chronic pain. Like Chris Carpenter, she has thoracic outlet syndrome. She was diagnosed by the same doctor that first identified Carpenter’s condition. Barb and I feel a kinship with this major league pitcher that we’ve never met.

Barb works at a job that requires a tremendous amount of typing. Typing (or any repetitive motion, such as pitching) exacerbates the pain of thoracic outlet syndrome. But, just like Bob Gibson pitching with a broken leg, Barb continues on with pain. She doesn’t like to complain–she just wants to do her job.

Today, though, Barb went against her basic nature. With my encouragement, she talked to her boss and explained her condition. Barb had been dreading this because she does not like to call attention to herself, but I thought she should let her supervisor know in case she needed anything down the line. Perhaps in an effort to channel Chris Carpenter’s determined spirit, she wore a Cardinals shirt to work (it was a “dress-down Friday). Her boss responded very reassuringly, telling her that she is one of the agency’s “rock stars,” and that they would do anything possible to support her.

Cardinals fans revere Chris Carpenter. He competes intensely, and by his example, he brings out the best in his teammates. His efforts are seen on televisions across the country.

I love the lessons and mythology that come from sports. But, as I talk with Barb tonight, I realize not all warriors wear uniforms. Not all heroes are famous. Let’s acknowledge all those who struggle with dignity, and let’s love and support them.