Scatter my ashes here...

Scatter my ashes here...
scatter my ashes in the desert...

Friday, June 17, 2016

Seeing Things

First, some running news I am so excited to share. Yesterday I got 15 miles on my feet, I walked 5 miles after my 10 mile run. Then today I went out in the heat again and did 20 miles, and ran most of it, at least 16 of the miles. I was out for 4 hours and ran over 3 hours of it. I felt good, much better than I ever thought I would. Not a struggle at all.

That is encouraging because I want to be able to go for 12 hours in the September Fatass and it sure would be nice to at least do what I did last time, which was 50 miles. It would be a real boost for me if I felt like I could get some ultra miles in.

Yesterday I left off in a partial rant about healthcare, and I wanted to say more things.

The other night I was in the class I teach twice a month for cancer survivors. I bring in guest speakers frequently who discuss different topics of interest. Mostly about therapeutic exercise and movement, but occasionally I'll find someone who has a different area of expertise, such as biofeedback practitioners, psychotherapists, and so on. This week we had a guest speaker on healthy communication. She did talk about that, but her talk went far beyond and touched a very deep chord with me.

She was talking about mental health, she lost her son to suicide more than 10 years ago. He'd struggled with his mental health most of his life, and was a creative, sensitive person, and it sounded like he struggled with fitting in. He finally got to the point where it was too painful for him to cope with life, and probably wasn't getting the level of treatment he needed.

Whatever the events that led to his death, she was talking about the note he left and the poems he wrote prior to his death. She said even when he was a young child, he drew pictures, and he always drew them from the inside out. She knew he saw the world differently than most people.

The whole time she was talking about him, I was having a hard time turning off the faucet. Tears were streaming down my face and I could not stop them. The next day when I wrote to her to thank her, I had to tell her how much her story affected me, and why.

Square Pegs
This world does not make it easy on people who are the square pegs, who see things differently, who exist outside the box. There are only certain molds that are acceptable to fit into, and if you don't fit into one of them, it's a difficult existence. Add to that a tendency toward depression, anxiety, or other mental health struggles, and our lack of mental health care, and you have a recipe for a lot of bad things to happen.

The problem with the square pegs is that since they don't fit in, they are not accepted, and therefore, not "seen". People only see what they are looking for, and what they want to see. Similar to hearing...

At times it can feel like you're screaming at the top of your lungs, and no one can hear you. Like you're trapped, maybe with locked-in syndrome.

The reason it affected me so much to listen to the story of her son was because I have struggled myself. Some of the things her son said in his poems were things I have thought, for myself, almost in the exact same words. Like when he said he looked forward to the relief that death would bring. I've been there. I've thought that. Yes, I have. More than once, more than a few times.

No, it's not something I obsess about or ruminate on, but I know that place. I am fortunate, I've managed to find plenty of ways to head off depression from overtaking me and pulling me down. But I've had enough difficulty in fitting in, being the square peg, in so many ways and situations in my life, that I can relate.

I have questioned why I am on this planet more times than I can tell you. Somehow, between Dennis, running, my dogs, and the beautiful outdoors of Colorado where I live, a little pharmaceutical help and occasional therapy over the years like cognitive behavioral therapy and EMDR, I've been able to find the will to keep going, to keep from jumping off a bridge or drowning in a bathtub.

Talking About Mental Health is Healthy
I know I'm not alone. I know there are more people who have had these sorts of thoughts cross their minds than will ever admit it, out of fear of the stigma of being labeled as mentally ill, or somehow not up to par. I think what we mislabel as mental illness is really a combination of a normal human reaction to the insanity of our environment and the way we are expected to live our lives, with the incredible burden of stress, coupled with each individual's genetic and functional makeup of their brain.

We need to quit making this world so hard to live in. That's a tall order- economically, politically, educationally, being humane and supportive and accepting each others' human-ness, instead of forcing everyone to be wireless production robots who are constantly connected, with no OFF switch.

Be Real
When people see that other people struggle, it validates them. It makes them stronger. They know they are not alone and they don't feel the need to hide those feelings, or at least, they can admit it to themselves more easily. I might have a tendency toward depression, but I am not mentally ill because of it, I am not abnormal because of it, I am not insane or incompetent because of it.

I really truly believe that the way I see the world is okay. It's not easy to live in it as a result, but I think I'm pretty damn sane! I know what I value, I know what's important to me, and I won't compromise on those things because someone insists I fit into their round hole and stay there.

You know what happens when they put you in the round hole? They expect you to stay there. And there you are, in the confines of the walls of the hole and you can't grow or breathe or do anything different. Stuck. Stagnant. Until they let you out. But you know what? They're not going to let you out, because it serves their purpose well. They want you to stay right there so they can control everything, without tripping over you.

That's the problem with us square pegs- we get in the way. Instead of everything being smooth and easy, people trip over us, because they don't see us.

Someone Else's Gift Does Not Diminish You
I have a lot of talents, "gifted" is a label I've been slapped with. I can write, I can paint, I'm a decent athlete, I'm smart about most things, I think creatively and deeply about things. The one thing I've never been talented at is making money or sticking to a "job" for very long, because I start to feel like I'm trapped. I get claustrophobic when I get roped into a big organization that demands Stepford-ness. I cannot make myself stay in a situation where I feel like my thoughts, ideas, freedom, and existence are being usurped and oppressed.

For many people, they are able to forget the bullshit they are wading in, and not worry about it, move forward, go through the motions, put up and shut up, and collect a paycheck, on and on, year after year. I cannot do that. I have tried, but only could deal with it for a brief time. Eventually it's like I need to crawl out of my skin. It makes me sick, physically, and mentally. I've suffered my worst depression at those times.

My mom, with whom I don't have a relationship, told me I used to drive her crazy, that's why she put me in preschool at 2 1/2 and kindergarten at age 4. According to her, she made the school give me an IQ test to prove to them that I really was some kind of gifted kid so they would let me in. I must have passed. The problem is when you stick those square pegs in with the round ones. They stick out, and are noticed as different, and not in a good way.

Why not nurture a gift and appreciate it? Kids know when someone is different. It's only when they learn from adults that it's okay to treat them differently. In adults, it's even worse. Adults backstab, gossip, undermine, and act out on envy of the gifted person's talents. Bullying, hostility, mean girls, ice queens, you know the rest...especially if you're a nurse, I might add...

When I wrote to thank the woman who was the guest speaker talking about her son, I told her why her story affected me so much. And she said in her reply to me, keep being not normal. Many normal people are driving the rest of us crazy. We need you for balance.

I know that. I've had to hang on to that, knowing that I might just be one of the few sane ones in an insane world. Sometimes that's all I have to hang onto, if I'm going to believe in myself and keep going forward.

So what does this all have to do with healthcare?
Well...for one thing, the medical model that trains physicians and that the rest of the healthcare providers and staff have to live with, does not train physicians to see outside of their very narrow focus and scope. And the way healthcare works, the big healthcare organizations limit the amount of time physicians have to explore ideas outside the box.

The insurance companies have a lot of clout in determining what can be done, because they only cover things based on agreements between healthcare systems and their mutual bean counters. And what does this mean for the patient? They are limited in what services they can use and/or afford.

We can't just allow everyone to use every possible service and have it covered by insurance- that would be crazier than what we have now. And people without medical training don't know why certain things are necessary or not necessary.

But the problem is that there are a lot of services that would be beneficial for patients but physicians don't know about them, or don't acknowledge them. They don't SEE them, because they don't fit within the narrow model in which they were trained.

Physicians Are Human, Mortal,and No Different From Anyone Else
So when physicians (and not all physicians, mind you...some are much more worldly, humane, and empathetic than others) see their patients, in a cancer setting, for example, the physician tends to look at success as having saved a life, not whether that life is of good quality. Being alive becomes more important than living life well. So when the patient complains of lasting effects from cancer treatment, the physician might say, "Well, at least you're alive."

Which is a shitty thing to say to someone when they come to you complaining about something that obviously is affecting their quality of life, or they wouldn't have said anything about it in the first place. "Validate my pain" is the first request the patient is making. At least, acknowledge that this is real, doc, it's not in my head. Just because you don't know the answer doesn't mean answers don't exist. They might just be someplace you haven't looked. "Help me find the answers", is what the patient is saying.

The struggle I am having as I introduce my business idea, is when physicians don't know what to do with it. They see that it's exactly what they want their patients to have after treatment, but it's not being done by a physician. A nurse?

It makes total sense, but it's just hard for them to wrap their heads around the fact that someone other than a physician could actually provide a service that promotes health and quality of life, because quality of life isn't even in their field of vision- that's not what they learn in medical school- and nurses?

Well, aren't they the ones who take vitals and call us when the patient is deteriorating, or when they need an order for medication? The fact that nurses could provide a valuable service that might help a person in their everyday life, between doctor appointments...not even on the radar.

New ideas are hard for people to accept because they don't see them. They haven't even thought about it.

Being patient is not one of my virtues. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I am dealing with people who are slow to process things. Yes, physicians are people. They are no smarter than the rest of us, I can assure you. They just had the stomach to put up with a lot of abuse through medical school. And then they continue to suffer those abuses in their professional lives.

And that my thoughts and ideas might come from a different universe with which they have never been familiar, they've never traveled there. It can take a while, if at all.

They might never have been challenged to open their eyes, and see. They've been taking multiple choice exams for so long, sometimes I wonder if all they know how to do is fill in the little circles, like the round holes that square pegs don't fit into. All you do when you try to shove square pegs into round holes is strip the corners. But they'll never fit right, no matter what you do. It's like the algorithms they are expected to follow with certain situations in the hospital. Often, one size fits none.

Physicians, I am not trying to disparage you. But it sure is frustrating when you can't sit down human to human and have a conversation with anyone who doesn't have the same set of letters behind their name as you do. But you are, at least in part, responsible for it being this way. I feel for you, I know the abuse you suffer. You have a high suicide rate in your profession. You can change it, too. Step out of the box, if you dare. Collaborate with others. Find ways to make it work. Start seeing the square pegs, maybe they can lead you in a different, and better direction.

So whatever I am able to accomplish in my lifetime, I hope it is just making people see things that they might otherwise have missed. And the rest of my time, I'm gonna enjoy my dogs: the next generation of puppies coming soon, the mountains, running, writing, painting when I can finally get around to that again, and drinking margaritas or great Colorado beer with Dennis and my other friends.

No comments: