Managing Disappointment

Managing Disappointment

I believe most of life’s difficulties are caused by our trouble managing disappointment. Challenging feelings like impatience, annoyance, anger, fear, sadness – can all arise out of our failure to manage disappointment.

What we want to happen, doesn’t. Dreams seem ever distant and unreachable. A marriage feels out of sync with your heart. Communications don’t land. Someone dies – you are shattered. Your partner leaves you for someone else or a job or another part of the country.

Or the smaller ones – the soup is cold, the holiday gifts don’t arrive on time, you miss the green light or lose your sunglasses.

Both profound and trivial, the disappointments roll in. We might know on one level that everything changes and there is no set way that life is supposed to go. But we live as if things will go our way and our emotional worlds careen when they don’t. This creates havoc internally and with our partners, friends and family – collisions of strategy and coping.

The larger “disappointments” are enormous losses with uninvited transitions, and we experience deep sadness. For the smaller ones, we misbehave.

It can be helpful to go through a day and notice small disappointments to catch our emotional reactions. This opens room for us to act more skillfully. Knowing the source of our upset creates a new opportunity.

We can take it one step further, noticing non-disappointment, and pay attention to what is working and what that feels like. We get to observe and feel both sides. More clarity. More freedom.

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PETALS OF WISDOM

I wish that every human life might be pure transparent freedom.

— Simone de Beauvoir
 

Resolutions

Resolutions

I always want resolutions to be successful because the New Year inspires new beginnings. On the positive side, resolutions signal that people are in a self-reflection process – identifying what changes might be made and making plans to get there.

Resolutions would be almost like magic – instant change – if they worked. But every year I watch the newcomers to the swimming pool and the gym and I can time them ending their efforts to January 21. I am just as happy to see them go and leave the lanes less crowded for those of us swimming daily year-round, but feel sad for their missed efforts. There is something built in to resolutions that creates failure.

The demand for immediate change when making a resolution doesn’t take into account how personal change actually works. Real change needs to be gradual, with time for backslides and changing our minds, with time for noticing and reflecting on how we feel and what we think. Without noticing our actual experience, the old habits maintain their strength and undermine what we are trying to do. Soon we have reverted back to our old ways.

I have found that imperfect change – bumpy, slow, exhilarating, steady, awkward – can work and can last. Making a decision of will and then pushing through everything to keep a resolution without noticing anything else is a set-up for self-criticism and failure. We can hope for New Year’s patience to change slowly and maybe just change a little.

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PETALS OF WISDOM

I wish that every human life might be pure transparent freedom.

— Simone de Beauvoir
 

Do I Need A Cancer Support Group?

Do I Need A Cancer Support Group?

It can be enormously helpful to have enough support after getting a cancer diagnosis. That said, many people just don’t feel like it. Too freaked out to talk to friends and family. Too scared to reach out to strangers. You might think about how to get yourself to reach out when it’s not really your usual path. Sometimes friends and family are not enough, because they say things that don’t feel quite right, even though they are trying to be helpful.

Many of us have images of communities of support. When we first think of support for cancer, we can find ourselves visualizing groups of women sitting in community or hospital-based support groups talking about their experiences with breast cancer. Or there may be images of family members coming to dinner every Sunday night, or friends coming by and calling.

These may not be images that bring up much that is positive for you. It is more helpful to try to build options for support that you need and can use, rather than try to change to fit into standardized models or ideas of “support”. People vary widely in the kind and amount of support that both feels good and is useful to them. If you listen to your inner voice or think clearly about what you need, you can probably get a clear picture of what would work for you.

    • What kind of support would be most helpful to you
    • What support is already in place or could be put in place without much effort
    • Who could help put support systems in place
    • What capacity do you have to let people help you
    • What are your barriers to receiving support
    • What would need to change so you could effectively utilize support?

The benefits of groups include sharing information, talking about strategies for coping, expressing feelings, learning how to communicate with your friends and family, how to handle work issues, how to communicate with your doctors and connect with others who are facing similar challenges. Groups have guidelines for how people talk with each other and are structured to work well for everyone.

There is freedom in talking with people outside your regular circle, as there are often constraints on really saying what you think and feel to your partner, family members or friends. People say things like “I’m sure you’ll be fine” and you really don’t have a chance to say you are scared. Strangers who have been through what you are going through may feel closer-in than your dearest friends. They get it and it feels accurate, authentic and connected.

Sometimes walking quietly with a friend is just enough.

You know they are there for you and care about you.

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PETALS OF WISDOM

I wish that every human life might be pure transparent freedom.

— Simone de Beauvoir
 

The Many Losses of Cancer

The Many Losses of Cancer

Loss pervades the cancer experience.

The first loss is that life is never the same again. In the many ways that people live their lives, there is usually a past story, a present of immediate to indeterminate duration, and a future. We may be attempting to remain more in our present experience, and there may be a physical and spiritual truth that there is only the present moment, but people are generally organized around living toward a future, and have a story about where they come from and where they are heading.

Cancer immediately changes this story. The past leads up to this point, and then all future dreams, intermediate and distant come into question. The fact of impermanence, of changeability, of death, becomes stark, real and unavoidable. So there is a loss of perceived certainty of continuity, and there is a loss about unending time to accomplish life goals and realize your dreams.

There is the loss of the expectation of uninterrupted developmental milestones and transitions. It may be that life does not actually have these milestones, but we live as if this were true. The sense of identity based on a predictable future may be lost. So if you planned to marry and have children, or get a promotion, or reach a new level of athleticism, or retire and travel the world — all of this planning may come into question.

The loss of a sense of endless time is profound for many people – however this can also create hopeful and positive life results.

There are often immediate losses in relationships after a diagnosis of cancer. Relationship connections and communication can falter. If you are normally surrounded by close-in friends and acquaintances, you may notice the changing landscape of these friends. Some people in your world will not know how to respond, some will avoid, and some will have empathy that is slightly off. You may not want anyone to get close to you at this moment.

Friends and acquaintances will tell stories about friends they know who have survived and make insensitive comments accidentally about friends they know who have died. They may not know what else to say, and their awkwardness results in unskillful conversation. You may feel so vulnerable, and believe that it would require too much energy to try to communicate your needs directly, so friends get dropped partly intentionally, partly because to maintain them would require too much effort.

Everyone with cancer has at least some of these very painful relationship loss experiences, hopefully balanced by relationships and connections that are supportive and nurturing.

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PETALS OF WISDOM

I wish that every human life might be pure transparent freedom.

— Simone de Beauvoir

 

Cancer Changes Everything

Cancer Changes Everything

Cancer changes everything. At the moment of cancer diagnosis, there is a marker in life, which bookmarks personal time as either Before Cancer or After Cancer.

But before that, there is the in-between time, when you don’t quite know what is happening. You may have experienced troubling symptoms for some time, followed by lab work or medical exams. Or, it may have all started with a routine trip to the doctor – you were told that something seems suspicious or wrong. “How long has this lump been there?” After that, you may have gone through more visits and more tests, several weeks apart.

So at the time of receiving the definitive news of cancer, you have already been feeling fear, dread, confusion – many unpleasant feelings. While waiting for test results, you might have been counting on relief or expecting the worst. While waiting, we usually cope in the way that is most familiar, using our habits and patterns of thinking and feeling. If you are upbeat, you probably stayed that way. If you are more like Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh, you probably have been feeling dark and dismal.

If you went through all of the tests, and the “all clear” was sounded, then the emotion of this experience will recede and ongoing life is not interrupted too much. However, even this near-diagnosis experience frequently has a powerful emotional result – “The time I almost had cancer, I really imagined what that was like.” And life changes a little, sometimes actually for the better. Life seems more precious, with a hopeful and fresh future.

But if you received bad news, you will be experiencing shock, trauma, loss, grief, fear or confusion. Although there’s a lot to do down the line to feel better, to be hopeful, optimistic, informed … at the beginning, it’s just a nightmare. You are most likely numb, confused, worried or hyper-focused on only one aspect of the information. You could even be wondering what all the uproar is about, and sure that everything will be fine.

Some people experience the sense of the wind knocked out of them, dizziness or enormous sadness. There’s a loss that life will never be the same again. Life After Cancer. No planning for life lasting forever, which it doesn’t anyway, but we pretend. At the beginning of this journey, no one has any accurate idea if life will be shortened from cancer, but it is almost always a first fear. Cancer changes everything.

There are so many unknowns. At a time when you desperately want information about illness and treatment, and outcomes, there are frequently delays in getting that useful information. It takes time to get in to the doctor for medical appointments and time to get in for specialized tests. Waiting for more results is very challenging. You will be waiting with very little information for days or weeks at a time when you need some concrete information and direction. Even if you are very skilled at getting appointments, even if you have a friend who can help, it’s hard to navigate the system and wait it out.

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PETALS OF WISDOM

I wish that every human life might be pure transparent freedom.

— Simone de Beauvoir