What I learned from Influenza A

Recently I spent a solid week in bed with what my doctor was pretty certain was Influenza A (the strain of the flu not put in this year’s flu shot, incidentally). I felt pretty horrible the first few days and when the crazy pain eventually stopped I still had zero energy and would have to go back to bed after getting up for even the shortest time. It was rough, especially since my husband was away and then very busy with work for the worst part of my sickness. My kids are of an age where they can make meals and keep on top of basic household duties, thankfully.

But a week in bed is never welcome, is it? 

Actually, that’s not true. I often dream of a week in bed when I’m fully healthy and running full-tilt. I would love to have a reason to slow down. But when it is sickness that makes you slow down (and all of the pain and discomfort that goes along with that), that kind of week in bed isn’t welcome.

I spent most of my sick week, when I wasn’t sleeping, watching Netflix. But I noticed that I couldn’t just put on anything from Netflix. It had to be calm, quiet shows. Even comedies were too much for me. So I ended up watching the new Anne (of Green Gables) series, This is Us, and Call the Midwife.

I assumed I couldn’t watch action or comedy movies because of the busyness and noise of them. But I think that the bigger reason was that I needed shows that slowed my heart and mind down.

Just as my body was needing rest, so did my heart and mind.

And what I learned from a week in bed, unable to do much of anything besides take Tylenol and stare at a screen, was that slowness and simplicity espoused in those shows are a huge value of mine — a value that I often miss.

The programs that I watched reminded me again that sticking to the basics of life and relationships is what I need to do.

  • Creating a home that is secure and welcoming.
  • Making mealtime a place that gives real nourishment to our bodies and our hearts.
  • That stopping and  listening to each other in the moments that we have is probably the greatest gift we can give.

I’m not sure what happens in my day-to-day life that makes me miss that or lose my sense of intention with these simple things. 

But this week, I had a revelation that I would like to be like a grandparent to my kids.

Which for me means taking time and listening instead of getting caught up in the panic of, “What am I doing as a parent?!” “This problem is all my fault.” “Why didn’t I notice this sooner?”

No. I remember talking to my grandparents a lot. It seemed like there was always time. (I guess retirement helps with that, doesn’t it?) We would have a fancy plate of cookies and juice, play games, tell stories, and talk. And I was always assured that whatever I was going through was going to be okay… that I was a capable and lovely girl.

How often do we miss chances to offer hope and peace to our loved ones because we don’t take the time for these simple moments?

So, that’s what I learned from my bout with Influenza A this year — that I want to be much more intentional with creating simple, secure moments for my family and the people I meet.

(Also, my husband says I should learn to consistently take vitamins.)

My life continues to be a work in progress. But the work, these days, seems to be to simplify, to slow down, to declutter my mind and heart of its fears and anxieties, and to listen to the stories of those around me.

That is the good life to me.

Suffering is Inevitable (and what I learned from a 7 year old with the stomach flu)

My two youngest children have a very different approach to being sick. When my youngest daughter gets the stomach flu, even when she was 4 or 5 years old, she would go to the washroom, be sick, and go back to her room and no one would really know anything about it until she told us later. My son, on the other hand, who was two years older than her offered us a fairly significant warning system that he was about to be sick. It involved a lot of yelling, calling for us to come, and right before it happened, he would yell panicked, yet matter-of-factly, “I’m gonna do this! This is happening!”

We always thought it was funny because he was older, he was a boy, and all the usual stereotypes about toughness, while our little daughter just quietly went through her uncomfortable moments like they were no big deal.

Today that memory got me thinking about life in a number of ways.

We don’t want to have uncomfortable moments. We don’t want to have pain or suffering, whether it’s in our physical bodies, in our relationships, work, finances, etc. A lot of our time can become preoccupied with trying to stop these bad things from happening. And in lots of ways that can actually be helpful. There are things you can do to maintain positive circumstances in your life.

However, suffering and pain is an inevitable part of life. We can’t escape it. Certainly not all the time.

What I learned from my son and his approach to the stomach flu is: he was acknowledging that something uncomfortable was going to happen and he was psyching himself up to deal with it.

“I’m going to do this because this is happening.”

How often do we approach our problem situations with, “I don’t want this to happen” or “I can’t do this”? And then maybe we ignore the problem for a while or wear ourselves down with negative thoughts about our inability to cope. Neither of these attend to the problem. And so it’s still there.

What does it look like to approach our life problems with “I’m going to do this, this is happening?”

The bad thing is happening: the trouble with our finances, the uncomfortable situation with a family member, or something we are struggling with personally… Those things are happening and now how are we going to do to walk through it all?

The truth is, we walk through our struggles one way or another. Denying our problems or pushing them away might seem easier in the moment, but the problems always find ways of leaking out until we start paying attention.

Sometimes we feel ill-equipped to handle our problems ourselves. Thankfully we live in a time in history where it is much more acceptable to talk about hard things of all sorts. If you feel like you can’t manage on your own, there are so many resources available to you if you take that first step of asking.

So, next time you have something overwhelming in life, think of my son with his loud, dramatic voice, and make the choice to boldly say, “I’m going to do this because this happening.”

In the end, is it really a choice? Yes and no.

You don’t always choose your circumstances, but you do get to choose how you face them.

 

Other Selves: On Problems, Struggles & Addictive Tendencies

I have realized over the past year that I enjoy shopping. Correction. I have always known I enjoy shopping. What I’ve realized in the past year is that this “enjoyment” was starting to lead to some problems, some addictive tendencies, and some secrets.

When I really don’t want to say something, I’ve learned to see that as the sign that I really should say it.

And so I did. I explained to my husband what I thought was going on. He recognized it in me too. And we made a plan. It was not an easy plan, nor did I follow it perfectly all the time. But over these many months I have seen positive changes in myself and a shift in the way I approach shopping and the acquiring of things in general.

There is a large outlet complex called on the outskirts of a city near where we live. It is the first place we drive past when we get to the city. It is also the place where my daughter and I spent the better part of a day shopping for school things for her this winter. That evening when we got home from the shopping, I was able to see clearly how I’ve changed and how far I’ve come this past year.

I could see how I’d changed because the manner in which I approached and lived out that day was different than it would have been a year before.

This is the picture that came to my mind:

As you enter the outlet centre, there is a major turn off from the main road. I imagined standing at the side of the road by that turn-off an “other self” of mine: the “shopaholic Dixie”. When I let myself reflect on what this “other self” looked like, it was not a well put-together, stylish woman standing casually at the side of the road with a number of shopping bags in both hands. Rather, it was a tall man, empty-handed, in a long, dirty trench-coat, who was very sneakily (but also desperately) looking to jump into my vehicle unsuspected as I drive by.

Do you see the difference? One is neat and in control. The other is sneaky and desperate.

This was the difference that I saw in myself when I had my first full day of shopping since a year of working on my shopping and purchasing habits. I was no longer secretive. I was no longer desperate. I could let things go. I was in control.

This “other self” isn’t just about shopping, of course. We display different versions or aspects of ourselves in lots of different areas of our life. You likely don’t talk like an accountant when you get home to your toddler. You probably don’t talk like a kindergarten teacher when you meet your friends for drinks.

We are not talking about multiple personalities. We are talking about how different parts of who we are become more evident in certain situations. And, I think it bears special value to look– really look– at those parts (who we become, how we think/act/behave) of ourselves that come out in areas of our life where we struggle. The struggle could be an addiction, a difficult relationship, or it may be a lack of authenticity. We all struggle.

Exercise:

The following is meant to help you to become mindful of what’s going on right in the middle of your struggles. It will allow you to create a picture in your mind of what you become and what you desire in the moments when it is all too easy to give into the struggle and whatever temptation it offers. Slowing down that process, becoming curious about yourself in that moment, and listening and reflecting on what you experience is in itself a new posture to the struggle!

See what you can learn about yourself in the following questions:

Think of something that you struggle with.

Is there a particular place or time when the struggle is more apparent, more difficult, more overpowering?

If you were to imagine a picture of who you are at the moment you give into that struggle, what would that image look like? What does this “other self” look like? What is its mood? What is it saying to you? What is it doing?

Now, imagine that when you give into the struggle it is like you are listening to that “other self” and allowing it to get into your vehicle and accompany you in that moment, maybe even sit in the driver’s seat! What does this other self do for you in that moment of struggle? Where does it take you? How does it change you?

Now, imagine being in that moment where the struggle is real, but driving passed that other self. Not letting it join you. (It’s hard. I know that those other selves can be very sneaky, they can grab onto your bumper without you even suspecting!)

Imagine being in that moment and remembering this path of struggle is not the one you want to take. Can you drive passed without letting the “other self” in? What might that look like for you? What will you have to do or say or think? What will you have to not do or not say or not think?

How would that make your experience different?

Bonus: Is there a way that you can look at that “other self” with compassion? What does he or she really want standing there?