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To sleep is but to dream…

July 25, 2012

I met with my counselor yesterday for the first time since I have been “living with cancer”. I had a previous relationship with her because there was a time a few years ago that I needed someone objective to tell me that yes, I was thinking clearly, no, I was not being irrational or over-reacting and to help me figure out next steps that were also reasonable and rational. It was a short-lived relationship where I went to see her a few times, we talked about what was going on, and she validated me and gave me some useful advice.

Because of the emotional roller coaster I have been riding and because I could tell that it was really impacting my close relationships—read Chris has been telling me I was grumpy and offering to send me away for the weekend to “catch up”, I decided to re-engage in that relationship. What an excellent idea.

Without telling you every detail that we discussed (privileged information, you know), I will tell you that I spent an hour giving her the update on where we were in life, what I was experiencing and feeling and what I thought about what I was feeling and experiencing—depression, guilt, exhaustion, fear. She then asked me three pointed questions that had not occurred to me and we are on the path to better living—both through chemistry and through some active choices. You know I love a good set of choices!

Number One: You say you are feeling exhausted. That seems reasonable. How are you sleeping? Better, I say. Quantify better. When was the last time you slept for eight hours? Last night. Uninterrupted? Well, (long, exaggerated pause while I consider) I can’t remember. How about six hours uninterrupted? Shake my head negative. Can’t remember. Four hours? Okay. Yeah, four hours several nights a week uninterrupted. Maybe in the last month. Does that seem like enough sleep to you? (If you have never been to therapy, they really do frame almost everything into a question.) No, I know that isn’t enough sleep but it hadn’t really occurred to me that it was that lacking until just now when I said it out loud. You need something to help you sleep. Short term, for a while. You can’t talk about what is exhaustion from physical problems and what is exhaustion from mental stressors until you are getting enough sleep to think clearly.

See, I needed that objective voice to notice something that I had not taken the time or had the insight to realize was broken and may be a very fixable problem.

Number two and three I will save for later (has anyone noticed that I sometimes “save for later” and never get back to it?)

So here is my lesson from yesterday—it is a lesson that I learned when I went to see her before that I had not taken seriously in this situation. Talk to someone who is outside your circumstances, who can be objective about your situation. Not just someone who will agree with you or pat you on the hand and sympathize with you but someone who will listen, consider, ask meaningful questions and offer sound advice. Solid, measurable, affirmative suggestions. And then make a choice to either follow through or put it on a shelf.

My mother was like that. Sometimes she would say “Do you just want me to hug you or do you want to hear some things?”

Now, if you read me very frequently, you know often end with a question If you think that I am going to ask you if you have an objective person to talk about your problem, WRONG! Here is the thought for the day: How good a listener are you? When someone is telling you their problem and asking for help do you listen with a half brain and just pat them on the head or do you really listen and try to offer objective solutions? I think that is one difference in pity and empathy. Are your giving your friends and family pity and patting their hand when what they really want is empathy and some objective advice?

We all need someone to listen and validate us, we never really want unsolicited advice, but, are you being a good enough listener to know when to pat or know when to preach?

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