Tag Archives: Illness

Why Unsolicited Advice Is a Terrible Idea

Yes, I appreciate the irony in writing a blog post about unsolicited advice that could be read as unsolicited advice.

I’ve been playing around with the idea of never giving anyone any advice that they haven’t asked me for, though, and I thought it would make a great topic for a post here while I’m adjusting to the idea of keeping my mouth shut until or unless I’m asked for my opinion.

Perhaps someday I’ll revisit this topic once I have more to say about it? For now, let’s talk about why giving people advice they haven’t asked for is a terrible idea.

 You Don’t Have All of the Facts

Everyone has private parts of their lives that are only shared with very few people or maybe even no one else at all. It could be as simple as a soothing bedtime ritual or as complex as an uncommon hobby that they only discuss with others who have also devoted their free time to perfecting the art of underwater basket weaving.

The parts of someone’s life that others see  almost certainly don’t give a full picture of who they are or how complex their problems – or their perceived problems –  really are.

Sometimes what looks like a banana isn’t actually a banana after all. (Also, I love this picture in and of itself. Isn’t it interesting?)

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

I’ve seen this happen multiple times with various friends of mine who are living with serious, longterm mental or physical health problems.

No sooner do they mention having a particularly bad day or dealing with a troublesome, new symptom than someone else will jump in with a half-dozen suggestions for how they should fix their disease once and for all.

Yes, they’ve tried all of those cures already. No, that random Internet article isn’t going to magically fix deep-seated health problems that have been bothering them for decades and that have been treated by multiple doctors and other healthcare professions over the years.

I’ve only ever had this happen to me briefly once or twice, and even that made me irrationally angry. I can’t imagine what my friends who must deal with possibly well-meaning but ultimately wrong and judgemental assumptions about their bodies over and over again go through.

What works for one person can fail miserably for another even if they’re both dealing with similar circumstances or diseases.

 It Doesn’t Work

Advice is only useful when the person receiving it is open to the idea of changing. It’s not like a vaccine that will protect someone from dangerous diseases regardless of what thoughts flutter through their minds while their immune systems are learning how to recognize and destroy inactivated polio germs.

One has to be ready to accept what the advice-giver is saying in order for it to have any hope at all of working. Changing your personality, habits, and/or current situation is such a difficult task that there’s no other way of going about it. Anyone who isn’t motivated to keep going even if they don’t see any results right away is almost certainly going to give up long before any of the work they might have put into their current personal project has had any chance at all to fix things.

Unwanted advice also doesn’t work well for adult relationships in general. When someone who isn’t in an official place of authority over me tries to control what I do or how I live, I feel annoyed and confused. If they continue to do it over a long period of time despite being asked to stop, I slowly begin to share less about my life with them.

Not only does unsolicited advice not work in the short term, it makes me much less willing to listen six months or a year from now if they have something else to say to me.

Rather than prompting me to change whatever it is they think I’m doing wrong, what this kind of interaction teaches me is that they’re not a safe person to confide in. I will often start spending less time with them and guarding myself when I do see them. Their intentions may have been noble, but the results of their poor boundaries are going to be the exact opposite of what they might have hoped for.

Some Lessons Have to be Learned the Hard Way

Not everyone is willing to take the experiences of others as the ultimate truth.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have the urge to warn other people about certain types of mistakes I’ve made in the past, but you can’t live someone else’s life for them.

Sometimes they have to find out for themselves that something is a terrible idea regardless of whether it takes thirty seconds or thirty years between their decision and reaping the consequence of it.

The only thing the rest of us can do in the meantime is to respect their boundaries and hope that they’ll learn their lesson as quickly and easily as possible.

5 Unexpected Things that Can Make You More Mindful

I’ve been thinking about mindfulness a lot lately. It’s a habit that needs to be built up and reinforced over a long period of time. Mindfulness is not the sort of thing that you can achieve in an hour, a day, or a week.

With that being said, there are certain experiences in life that can give you valuable opportunities to become more mindful.

Waiting in Line

One of the easiest but also most surprising changes that came into my life when I started trying to be more mindful happened the next time I stood in a line.

Rather than impatiently wondering how much longer I’d be waiting or why some shoppers wait to begin to search for their wallet until every single item has been bagged and scanned, I started framing this as an opportunity to observe how people behave when they have nothing to do.

Some folks become so engrossed in their smart phones that they don’t notice anything going on around them. Others try to strike up a conversation with the first person to catch their eye. (The jokester in me wonders if the first group is always desperately trying to avoid the second one!)

You will overhear interesting snatches of conversation as well. People will talk about all sorts of things if they get bored and restless enough. The conversation I found most thought-provoking, believe it or not, had to do with whether or not a child truly needed more socks. One of the adults who was buying clothing for her thought she did. I can’t remember what the other one said, but it was fascinating to listen to them quietly discuss how many socks a child truly requires.

These days I enjoy watching the crowd move so much that I’m actually a little sorry when I reach the front of the queue and can no longer quietly pay attention to people who are standing so close to me.

Not Getting What You Want

Many years ago I interviewed for a job that I desperately wanted. It was with an organization that shared some of my biggest ideals, and so I began dreaming about what it would be like to be paid to pursue them. The hours, location, responsibilities, and salary were also exactly what I was looking for.

I thought I had a good shot at being offered it, so I was crushed when that didn’t happen.

It took me a long time to get over that dream I’d imagined. One of the things that helped the most was focusing on what I could do in that exact moment to feel better.

I couldn’t have the experiences I’d fantasized about, but there were a lot of other things I could do to cheer myself up as well as to prepare for future opportunities that were sure to come my way.

Government Bureaucracy 

Is there anything more annoying than waiting for a government agency to process your paperwork or make a decision?

I’ve had a lot of experience with this one. Becoming a Canadian citizen is a opportunity to live in the moment that literally lasts for years. There are so many steps along the way that you have no control over whatsoever.

Once you file all of the appropriate paperwork, it’s up to government employees that you’ll never meet to decide whether to approve, delay, or reject your application. They are impervious to how long it might take to process your application or how anxious you are to know the results.

If I could go through the process again, I’d be much more relaxed this time around. Waiting for the government make a decision would give anyone the patience of a saint.

There are so many other examples I could give of how dealing with bureaucracy can actually be a good mindfulness tool, but I think I’ll save them for a future blog post.

Injuries, Pain, and Illnesses

Whether you’re waiting for possibly scary test results from your family doctor or figuring out how to go grocery shopping when you’re having trouble walking, injuries and illnesses provide a wonderful opportunity to live in the moment.

There is nothing anyone can do to speed up the amount of time it takes to find out if you have a life-threatening disease or for a broken limb to fully heal. In the meantime, you are left with a body that isn’t behaving the way you’d like it to.

My experiences with this have been mild and transitory so far, but there still have been a few times when I lived in limbo for a while. I’d be lying to you if I said that I was always peaceful during those long waits. It’s frightening not to know what the future holds, and I am definitely not a mindfulness guru.

With that being said, keeping my attention on what was happening in the present moment did help me to worry less about what might or might not happen to me in the future.

Grief

Someone I knew died years ago before they had a chance to tie up all of the loose ends in their life. Our relationship had been  complex and sometimes difficult for many different reasons, so I was surprised by the grief I felt after they were buried.

There had always been a small part of me that held onto a faint hope that our relationship would eventually improve. Having that sliver of hope snatched away for good was sad.

You can’t change the past, though. It is what it is, and remaining mindful as I adjusted to this change in life helped me to accept the finality of this person’s death. Not everyone gets the chance to fix the things they could or should have tried to fix much earlier on in their story.

 

When Exercise Is a Bad Idea

injured-toy-bear

One of the hardest things for me to deal with when it comes to my exercise routine is to step away from it when I’m sick or injured.

Why is that, you ask?

Well, I don’t want to lose the gains in muscle mass or endurance that I’ve worked so hard for. Logically speaking, I know that a few days or even a week or two off isn’t going to make that much of a difference for anyone’s fitness.

It still isn’t fun to be stuck on the sidelines, though.

What Workouts Do

Sitting still all day makes me feel jumpy. I’m not used to all of those hours of sticking to the same few positions. Normally I use stuff like weightlifting or dance videos on Youtube to burn off that extra energy, but there are times when that simply isn’t possible.

All of this quiet gives my thoughts too many chances to get jumbled up as well, and that’s a problem.

My favourite thing about exercise is how effective it is at clearing my head. Not only does it brush away worries, it gives both your mind and your body a chance to set a goal and achieve it in a short amount of time.

Whether the goal was to lift a specific amount of weight or take a brisk walk for half an hour, that sense of accomplishment is delicious. There aren’t many other areas in life where this can happen so quickly.

Rest Is Needed

With that being said, rest is an extremely important part of the healing process. How much rest time is needed depends on what kind of problem you’re having, of course.

When I had a lung infection a few years ago, I slept a full eight hours each night and still needed long naps in the afternoon in order to have enough energy to stay awake in the morning and evening.

(Note to self: don’t get that sick again anytime soon!)

Even the most gentle exercise was out of the question for me then until the antibiotics started working and I stopped coughing so much. Not every injury or illness is like this, of course, which brings me to the meat of this post.

The Walking Solution

Walking is by far my favourite way to stay at least minimally active when I’m healing as long as it’s not anything as draining as that lung infection. What I like most about walking is that it’s low-impact, doesn’t require any special equipment, and can be customized to what your body can actually handle as its healing.

A quiet stroll counts even if it doesn’t make you break a sweat or raise your heart rate much at all. Staying or getting back into the swing of things is a completely acceptable and worthwhile goal. There will be plenty of time later on to actually try something challenging again.

Even a leisurely walk helps me to clear my mind. Toronto is a such a large city that there’s almost always someone or something interesting to see as you stroll. Figuring out funny or interesting backstories for them is a wonderful distraction along with the gentle exercise.

I’ve also found that symptoms ranging from mild pain to nasal congestion become a little less bothersome after a walk. While I don’t know if this is psychosomatic or if there’s something about getting up and moving around that actually helps people feel better, it’s nice to have the edge taken off of certain symptoms for a while.

I hope that this idea works for you, too, the next time you’re too unwell to finish your normal workout.

The Deconversion Guide: Illness and Death

Part four of the series. Click here for part three.

Today’s topic: chronic illness and death.

As I don’t have a chronic illness I’ve asked a few blogging friends for advice.  A little later on in this post I’ll talk about my experiences as a family member of someone with longterm health problems.

Chronic Illness

I asked Daphne Purpus, Bruce Gerencser and Trey Smith three questions. This is what they had to say:

Would you be willing to share your experiences with this [how Christians respond to your illness]?

Daphne:

I was having cataract surgery (2 different times with 2 eyes since they won’t do both at once) and the place my eye doctor wanted me to go to is first rate, but run by Seventh Day Adventists… As I am sitting in the chair and the surgery is about to proceed, the surgeon asks if I mind if he prays for this surgery.

Ok, now you have me over a barrel. Can I say no? If I do will that affect his abilities, consciously or not? I felt forced into saying it was ok, and in each case they put their hands on my head and went through a fairly lengthy audible prayer.

Bruce:

The last church I attended was a local church in Ney. My family and I attended this church for many months before we stopped in November in 2008.  I considered the pastor a friend and the church was very friendly towards me. (of course I was not a declared atheist at the time) From November 2008 til today I have not spoken to one person from the church besides the pastor and I have not talked to him since March of 2009. No care. No concern. If I wasn’t willing to attend their church there was no need to bother with me. (even though I had and continue to have great physical needs).

Trey:

Surprisingly, I don’t run into the issue very often.  Most members of my family are agnostic or atheist, so we rarely get into religious discussions at all!

What do you say when Christians offer to pray for you or say that their god can heal you?

Daphne:

 One doesn’t need a personal deity to subscribe to the idea that sending positive energies out into the world will have a positive effect…That being said, if someone says something like I know my god will heal you, then I start to baulk. The whole idea of prayer healing is a philosophical quagmire and even in my orthodox Lutheran days, I had problems with that. Why does god heal one person but not another. Is one more deserving?

Bruce:

Generally, if a Christian offers to pray for me I thank them and say nothing. I know they mean well and little is gained by entering into a debate with them about God or the efficacy of prayer. If a Christian asks to pray for me right at the moment were are talking I ask them them not to. It is one thing if they want to pray for me privately but I find people praying for me in my preserve to be offensive.

Trey:

From time to time, evangelists come knocking on my front door.  If it is in one of those periods in which I’m using my cane, I have been asked why and I tell them about my condition.  That’s when I get the “I’ll/We’ll pray from you” gambit.  My typical response is “If it makes YOU feel better, go for it.  It won’t make me any better, but at least you’ll feel better and isn’t that what praying for others is all about anyway?

What do you wish they would say or do instead?

Bruce:

I understand that many Christians feel a need to pray for the sick and I certainly don’t want them to stop doing so. That said, I would prefer that Christians try and help me rather than pray for me. The easiest words to say as a Christian is “I will pray for you.” It is much harder to enter into a person’s life and embrace them as a fellow human being…What I need is help when life is overwhelming or when I face difficult physical obstacles.

Trey:

Maybe, “gosh, that’s too bad” or “Hope you get to feeling a tad bit better in the coming days.”  I mean, there really isn’t too much a person can say.  It is what it is.

Trey, Bruce, Daphne – thank you so much for participating!

My Family’s Story

My sister-in-law has a neurological disorder that has yet to be officially diagnosed along with a few other health problems. Last year she suddenly became extremely ill, was hospitalized for a few weeks and didn’t fully recover for months.

It was terrifying. What is even scarier is not knowing what the future holds – will her health continue to slowly deteriorate? Will her symptoms eventually stabilize? Will she continue to be able to attend school and work? We just don’t know.

These are things I rarely discuss for a few reasons: it feels weird and invasive to talk about someone else’s health problems in such detail, there are so many unknowns in her future, I only recently learned more information about her and it’s hard enough to have a loved one suffer as is. The last thing I need is for this to be used as a witnessing opportunity.

A final link before I end this very long post: Grief Beyond Belief is an online support group for non-theists who have recently lost a loved one. It’s a truly excellent resource! I haven’t lost any friends or family members since deconverting but I’ll often read what Grief Beyond Belief has to say in order to prepare for that inevitable day.