"I Don’t Like To Complain"

Photo credit: nzks

I read a lot about positivity, and training your mind to see the brighter aspect of any situation. But when I get down, I do not have a lot of experience with realistic evaluation of experiences. I tend to see any experience as either good or bad, as my fault if it is negative, and in spite of me if it is positive. I absorbed a futilistic mind set from childhood, without my family’s or my realization it was happening. So when I do finally give up and embrace the depressing side of a problem, I go overboard. I throw out any good things as I focus on the bad–no one called me today, I lost income, I made a mistake, something bad is happening to someone I love and I can’t help it, there are good things I want to do, but x, y, or z stands in the way. It’s all hopeless, and I should just eat worms and die.

When I keep my pain locked away in myself, a stray negative thought can blossom into a full depression hurricane, where I denigrate my accomplishments, ignore happy things around me, and sacrifice my energy and health in bouts of crying, anger, and blaming those around me for perceived slights. Why don’t I reach out to someone else in these bad times? “I don’t like to complain.” “I don’t want to be negative.” “If other people knew I had this problem, I would be lessened in their eyes.”

Recently I tried to encourage a friend who was down. In a feat of tremendous hyprocrisy, I urged him to confide his problems in others, to “get the pain out.” And he used my line. “I don’t like to complain.” As often happens, being of the receiving end of my words opened my eyes to a new viewpoint.

Why is it helpful to share our burdens with each other? If I am sad, and I tell you I am sad and why, won’t I just make you sad, too? Sometimes, yes. I have heard conversations where two people get together and focus on all the bad in themselves and in the world. The conversation often becomes cruel, cyncial, and cutting. I get depressed hearing it second-hand, and the people involved do not seem uplifted at all while they are together. But I don’t usually have such conversations. When I share a problem with a friend, my friends react differently. I have been blessed with proactive friends who help me turn problems around.

How do these wonderful people help me? They are first caring, then try to help me see the problem realistically, and then we try to solve it together.

  • Caring. Letting someone know your dark places or failures is scary stuff. In a society built on projecting a positive, successful, happy persona, admitting that you ate a box of cookies and spent the day hiding from people because conversation was too taxing is an exercise in vulnerability–and is not something you find recommended in a Tony Robbins seminar. But everyone has down times. Grief and sadness are natural stages in life. They can come on from events big or small, from events such as death or illness bringing loss into our lives, or when our current situation is not where we want to be, or we hit one too many red lights on the way to work on a rainy day. The brooding nature of sadness can, when expressed and used correctly, give us time to look at problems, see what we want or need to change, and move toward a happier future. But most of us need someone to accept us at our saddest in order to properly process our emotions and reach that proactive stage. Being a friend who can say “I am so sorry you are dealing with this problem! Tell me about it,” gives the troubled person room to feel their emotions and begin the job of working through to a better state.

  • See the Problem Realistically. For me, this is the stage I need a trusted friend to accomplish. When I face a problem, it is all I can see. Only the bad sides of the equation. I don’t see opportunities, I don’t see my skills I bring to solving it, I don’t see any of my past successes or the support networks I have all around me. I see a problem–big and scary and proof, in my eyes, of my utter incompetence and lack of worth. My husband and my friends are lifesavers in these moments. I trust them to honestly assess a problem with me, and help me put it in perspective in the larger mosaic of my life. They are the ones to remind me of past successes, of the power of faith, of the good things that can come from the current challenge, and that even if I do fail to solve this problem, I am still loved and worthwhile. This help is the hardest to be without, and the step I close off the most severely when I refuse to share my burden with someone I can trust.

  • Solving the Problem. This step, which seems so crucial when I am bewailing my predicament, is actually the least important. Most problems get solved. Mostly by doing things I already know how to do. For the rare times I need help–either in the form of practical help or simply expert advice, my support group of friends, family, and experts I trust will usually get me on track quickly. I am still surprised at how simple solutions can be, especially after I’ve spent weeks obsessing over a situation. Often one conversation, or mentioning one need that is overwhelming to me, will result in just the right advice, or someone having a spare whatsit that they want to be rid of that is exactly what I need. Problem solving, while crucial to life, is much less difficult than letting someone care and help you put your problem into perspective.

So why do we constantly hoard our problems when sharing them helps us and allows our friends to see into our lives in ways that strengthen our relationships? Why must pride and a desire to appear invincible rather than vulnerable make us suffer alone? Think about how good it feels to help someone else, and especially how good it feels to be trusted with someone’s tender, scary places. Why not give that gift to the friend you value the most? Chances are good he or she will help you solve your problem, you’ll feel better, and your friend will feel valued and useful. Share a problem today!


Three Tips to Living with Low Energy or Chronic Pain


Photo Credit: Stock.xchng photo

I have a secret. I am not an energetic person. Never have been–even as a kid, I got tired before everyone else. I was the one who was relieved when parents came to break up sleepover shenanigans so I could get some much-needed sleep. I was in a car accident years ago, and the residual pain taps my energy further while adding its own problems.

My practice focuses on the chronically ill, so I see a lot of people like me. Many of them have trouble mentally dealing with their health issues.  They feel like they’re missing out on life, or that all they can do is get the daily requirements done, then drag off for as much sleep as possible before doing it all again. They are constantly tired, and usually depressed.

I get frustrated at my energy levels, but all-in-all I handle them pretty well. I look at my life, and it is full–I go out with friends, I have a career that uses my talents, and a husband and cat who love me. I get a fair amount done most days, and stay better rested than I have been at any earlier point in my life. How do I do it? I’m glad you ask!

  • I accepted there were limitations. This idea is anathema to many. They want to fight with everything they have to get one more thing done, add one more activity, one more commitment, one more accomplishment. For those whose personality fits this lifestyle, it is great–the constant challenge energizes them, so fighting their limitations is a great coping strategy. Most of the people I see day-to-day don’t have this personality–they just wish they did. I stopped wishing for it a long time ago, and made a few policies: I rarely commit to extra responsibilities because I know I can’t be reliable at them.  If I get so little sleep that I cry when it’s time to get up, I cancel my day. I avoid places, other than my office, where sick people are likely to congregate–no trips to the drugstore during flu season, and no unnecessary gatherings with a gaggle of small children. Being sick takes a lot out of me, and since setting up this policy I have a lot less illness than I used to.
  • I eat well. As much as I used to like soft drinks and french fries, I almost never eat them now. I don’t digest either of them well, and the “hangover” of eating any kind of junk food gets in the way of the things I want to do. My husband and I invest a lot of our income on healthy food that tastes great. We both enjoy food, and both know how important it is to give our bodies good things. It was a lesson we have only really committed to in the past five years or so, but now that we have we get reap great dividends–a clear mind, better moods, and a gradual improvement in health all-around. My pain levels are usually very low, and my energy improves the better I eat.
  • I try to have only positive things in my life. Lest you think I live my life focused on what I can’t do and cannot eat, let me tell you my philosophy: I am a valuable commodity, I have a lot to give, and like any precious thing or entity, I must receive excellent care to be at my best. So I put as many good things into my life as I can. The lesson of positivity is relatively new for me–I used to feel that saying my life was going well was a form of bragging. Now I see it as a way to improve the world around me by not adding to the complaints that burden society. I try to look at my life with a positive perspective (“change your story, change your life“). I seek out positive people to read and emulate, like Michael Hyatt, Marc and Angel Chernoff, Chris Guillebeau, and others. Putting upbeat, can-do, honest words into my mind each day helps fight discouragement and gives me the raw materials to create my own positive creations. Taking care of my mind also gives me a safe place to deal with hard things. When I’m tired, cultivating a positive outlook means I don’t bow to discouragement as often, and dark days when I see only the negative are easier to turn around.

These are just three tips for dealing with fatigue and stress. They are simple, but not always easy. Do you have any tips you use for dealing with the issues in your life?

    How Socks Made My Day–Simple Self Care

    Photo Credit: Teresa Y Green

    I bought these knee socks last week. They are kind of a big deal. I bought them to go with my new boots–the boots come up to my knees, and I didn’t have any socks long enough to protect my legs from getting chafed.

    Usually, I am a frugal shopper when it comes to clothes. I buy very nice stuff, but I buy it from thrift stores, where Liz Claiborne jeans cost $5. When I got the boots and realized I needed socks that no one would be able to see, I planned to buy some plain socks in a pack from a department store. Then I went to Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, one of my favorite places. Their gift shop is full of beautiful garden-oriented things, from jewelry to plant markers. Wandering through the shop is like a small museum tour for me, oohing and ahhing over the the butterfly, flower, bird, or bee-themed cards, lamps, mugs, nightlights, and other items. So I stopped to admire the scarves, and saw a display of knee-high socks. Full of color, with patterns from paisley to butterflies to flowers. And saw these. I fell in love.

    While they were reasonably priced, one pair cost more than I had planned to pay for my three-pack of plain socks. They were totally impractical–no one but my husband would ever see them under my boots. I walked past them, then circled back. Then took them to the cash register and on to their new “forever home.”

    New socks are not a big deal. But I emphasize self care in my practice. Sometimes I find I need my own advice. These socks represent my plan to do little things to take care of myself, so I have plenty of resources to give to others.

    Sometimes patients resist the idea of self-care, because they feel others in the family have a bigger need, or they equate self-care with selfishness. Since I’ve been in that place–and go back and visit occasionally–I try to help. Self-care does not mean ignoring others’ needs to have whatever you want in life. It is taking care of yourself, so you can joyfully give to others. When I look at my socks, I feel happy. I smile. The touch of beauty in my day changes my mood. When I take my new, improved mood to the office, or to my husband, or anywhere populated by my fellow human beings, I am able to be a more positive version of myself. Solutions to problems come easier and can encourage people and be believable, because I am happy myself.  Interactions with cashiers, sales people, and my fellow drivers are friendlier–moments that may be fleeting for me, but can make the day of someone who needs a smile and basic respect.

    Too often, I find myself seeing life as something I can only manage by a combination of running full-tilt and hanging on for dear life, scraping by and fighting through fatigue and frustration. One of my goals for the next year is to have fewer moments in that mentality, and more moments enjoying the life I’ve been given, and sharing what I have and know with others. My pretty socks are a small item that enriched my life. The feeling of luxury they gave me made me feel expansive, and more capable of giving to the people in my life.

    Are there any small ways you take care of yourself? Please share them in the comments!

    The Emergency Attitude Adjustment

    I have been tearful. A few projects have not been going as planned, and so today, frustrated one time too many by an annoying bump in the road, I cried–runny nose, crinkled up face, whiny voice, smeared makeup–the whole package of female-dom that has had it.

    There was a time when I spent much of my life in this state. The feeling that life had shortchanged me in some way dominated my thoughts. A pretty day or happy surprise might buoy me up for a day, or a week, but my overriding thought was that I needed to have, do, or be more than I was.

    Years of life, of therapy, of reading, of praying, and of emulating those who seemed to have more keys to happiness  has helped me see there is no virtue in constant criticism–of myself or others. I try to consciously fill my mind with uplifting thoughts, words, and images to minimize the influence of old thought patterns bent on tearing me down.

    Yet sometimes, I’m snot-nosed in the bathroom, crying that it just isn’t fair.

    So I have developed The Emergency Attitude Adjustment. As soon as I realize I have let hopelessness, discouragement, or doubt overtake me, I turn to these steps to return to the road to positivity. Since we all have moments like these, I offer these points to pull yourself out of a well of unhappiness or self-pity:

    1. Cultivate thankfulness. It is hard to complain when you are thankful. Today, when I came to myself, I expressed gratitude for everything. “Thank you for the blue sky. Thank you for the warm weather. Thank you for letting me see that adorable little boy and his perfect little shoes. Thank you for birds, and their songs. Thank you for my husband. Thank you that our problems are hassles, not emergencies.” If you have a faith, as I do as a Christian, thank God; if not, just be grateful for what you have. Just a few minutes of looking for things to appreciate and my problems seemed smaller and less overwhelming. The changes that gratitude causes in brain chemistry alone is a great benefit as well.
    2. Go over what is working. Today I was focused only on the problems in our life. When my husband tried to (gently) point out the good things we had, I tore them apart, too–because they weren’t as good as I wanted them to be. A little later, I re-evaluated my downer thoughts, and realized we have made a fair bit of progress in our life. My health has improved because I have made firm changes in my eating habits and exercise; my business has improved to the point that I now must organize myself better to get in all of my responsibilities in a day; and I have plans to get several irritating blocks to my productivity solved. I haven’t solved them yet: I have more chaos in my life than I would like, and I haven’t seen all the fruits of my improved health choices. But rather than letting that continue to discourage me, I chose to see the progress implied in the new patterns of mess. And I felt better.
    3. Choose happiness. Several years ago, I made the radical decision to be happy. For some reason, I had grown up thinking that happiness was wrong. That if you weren’t worried about something or dissatisfied with  yourself in some way, you were being smug, or lazy, or prideful–something bad, at any rate. Studying the benefits of relaxation while learning more about Chinese medicine led me to a powerful conclusion: happiness is a choice. I can control what I think. If a problem shows up, I can worry about it, complain about it, or look for the opportunity in it. Developing this skill has been a long process, but now I usually only slip for a day or two, and then climb back on my Happiness Wagon.
    4. Reach out to others. When I let darkness and gloom surround me, I only want to be around people so I can complain to them. Surprisingly, this approach limits the number of people who want to be in my circle of friends. Now, I try to share something positive with others, especially when I feel down myself. If I feel discouraged, it helps if I think of someone else who may be discouraged and send them a card, or call them. If I am worried, I look to reassure someone else. At first, I may seem a little awkward trying to reach out, because it is a new action. If I am ham-fisted, I apologize and try again. Most people appreciate anyone who tries to help them, especially when they can tell the helpful person is out of their own comfort zone.
    5. Be honest with yourself. All this positivity is not meant to be a Pollyanna, pie-in-the-sky approach to life. Denying that you feel angry, hurt, confused, or discouraged and stuffing those emotions down while you force a smile is neither healthy or helpful. This lesson has been a hard one for me, since I could not see how to give thanks through my tears. I have noticed in the past couple of years that when I start my ascent from despair with an honest statement–“I am discouraged now; I am angry; I wish this had gone better”– that I get to an honest feeling of peace much more quickly. 

    I hope you find these steps as helpful as I have found them. Try them the next time you find yourself discouraged!