Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Guide to Thriving Beyond the Crises in your Life: 4 Effective Steps

It's not just tea that revives you
As a spouse, parent and caregiver I have been on hyper-alert for 5 years.


It’s because my family is very good at having serious medical conditions with unpronounceable names.

My husband was first diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia in 2008. And if trigeminal neuralgia wasn’t difficult enough to say and remember, in 2009, our oldest son Benjy won the prize. 

He was diagnosed with a heart condition called Wolff Parkinson White with supraventricular tachycardia. (Try saying that a few times, very quickly.) This condition is sometimes connected with sudden death. Benjy's version of this syndrome meant that he needed two heart surgeries, between January and April  2010. 

My husband had invasive brain surgery ( MVD) for his trigeminal neuralgia in 2011. You can see why I might live on high alert!

Living on hyper-alert puts you in survival mode. You are either waiting for a symptom to show itself, in the midst of an attack, or recovering from the fallout:

Perhaps you are the patient living with a serious/chronic illness or its aftermath.

Perhaps you are the parent with a child with a chronic illness  e.g., crohn's, diabetes, asthma or life threatening allergies.

Perhaps you can relate to this because you are in an abusive relationship.

Perhaps you can relate to this because you have an unpredictable work situation, colleague, spouse or parent.

Perhaps you are caring for an elderly relative and you are always waiting for that phone call.

Perhaps you have been tragically bereaved.

Whilst you are immersed in these situations, survival mode is crucial for taking care of yourself and your loved ones. The skills you need then - hyper alertness, quick response times and decision making, day by day or minute by minute planning, worrying about the future and the ability to survive in the crisis are all very important.

Waiting is a big piece of surviving and this waiting may stop you from doing many other things.

It stops you from relaxing
It stops you making plans for a week or even a day ahead.
It stops you from taking risks or trying new things
It stops you from growing your own life.

Psychologist  Dr Anita Sanz, in her article  I'm Tired of Being a Survivor talks about moving on from being a survivor to a life in which you can thrive. She suggests some skills for thriving that include:-

•    Being able to relax
•    Trusting others 
•    Learning and trying new things
•    Learning to let go of the past and not worry about the future
     Or at least…. (and these are my words!)
•    Finding peace and balance in the middle of thriving and surviving

Based on my experience I would take this a step further. I believe that even if you are still in survival mode, and may be so for the foreseeable future, learning and beginning the practice of these thriving skills is equally as crucial as the survival skills themselves.

Anita explains that learning these thriving skills takes a lot of practice, because it is about changing your response to those circumstances and your actions based on those responses. 
But it is possible and vital if your life is to be more than just about surviving. 

So how did I and how do I continue to do this? 

I'll be honest - it's taken me a very long time to get out of being in constant survival mode. I often find myself back in it and very comfortable in that place. I'm drawn to helping others in crisis because I'm not afraid of it. After all, I have ‘lived’ there for the last 5 years.

But it is not healthy for my family or for me.

So here are four small steps I have taken and you can take, to reach a place beyond surviving, where you can grow. I also give examples of how I have tried to apply them in my life. (Believe me, If I can do it you can too!)

1. Start to plan ahead. Over the last few years I did not plan ahead at all. I didn’t know what was going to happen next and I did not feel confident making social plans, even a day in advance, let alone a week ahead of time.  Last Tuesday the day after Prince George was born (a big event in our British household) uncharacteristically I invited people to tea to celebrate the royal birth for the following Saturday. This is the first time I have made advanced plans in years. It felt great.

2. If possible try to take a short respite from your challenging situation. Or recognize that since you are no longer in that crisis that it’s ok to leave your loved ones for a few days. At this moment I am writing from the beach where I am with my youngest son Jacob and dear friends. I have left Jonny, Benjy and Aron to fend for themselves. (I may regret the state of our house later, but I’m having fun in the meantime.)

3. Step out of your comfort zone to enrich your own life. My life has been defined by my family’s health issues for a long time. I have been hyper vigilant in responding to their needs. Now I am being proactive in taking some risks for myself -  Last week I went to a lunch with other bloggers, none of whom I knew. I had to overcome my hesitation, wondering whether I belonged. In joining the lunch I found I did.

4. Reach out and meet new people. When Jonny was very sick, our social world  narrowed as we interacted mostly with our support network. In order to thrive I have chosen to explore new possibilities for connecting with people. Through my on-line presence I have met many new friends who have enriched my life. Dr Sanz is one of these amazing people.

I never would have believed how much these small steps have greatly impacted me. I know that I will continue to need my survival skills and anticipate being able to use my new found skills for thriving, more broadly and frequently as time goes on.

Are you in or have you ever  been in survival mode? What did that look like to you? How do you know that you have moved on? What would you recommend to others currently in survival mode as to how to take care of themselves? 

Dr Sanz has some great suggestions for how to move to thriving mode in her post. I urge you to read it. 

Let me know what you thought of this post and share it with your family and friends.

I hope this is a week in which you are able to focus on self-care.


 Please email me at gilly@bringingbooksofcomfort.org or leave a comment on this post below. I'd love to have your feedback. 

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  1. Hi Gilly,
    Enjoy that summer sun, those long days and the amazing designs and colors of shells. I can relate to the trust issues that come up after a crisis. It is funny how we think about if other people can relate to what we go through; a kind of self-alienation. But the list: loss of parents, illness of loved one, financial worries, world in crisis, parenting teens, tweens or bitty ones are all apart of the same difficult reality of being a human alive. Some look at life more honestly, some laugh through it, drink, garden, gossip or knit. Hopefully we can find someone who deals with life the way we like to.

    I like that you recognize that survival mode isolates new self from old self, nice friends from "real" friends. Dreams are packed away or not allowed. I am happy you are unpacking your dreams and feeling the wind. It's hard to believe it is always there but some times just feels boggy.


    1. So true jessie -the ability to be free in your mind and to dream is always available. But sometimes it's hard to remember that in a crisis ,when it is even more essential!
      I'm having a wonderful time here.

  2. Great post as usual Gilly. It is always good to see life from the carer's side.

    I have your blog listed amongst blogs relating to TN on our TN support group. When I first started blogging, there seemed to be no other bloggers writing about it. Now I know of several.

    1. Liz -thank you for your feedback and listing Brainstorm on your support group. I 'd love to "chat' to other caregivers. How do I find the list?

  3. Gilly, just seen this, I'll message you on FB.

  4. Gilly, you amaze me. Through all the caregiver work you do, you somehow manage to find the time to pay it forward to help people you don't even know. These tips are excellent. Reminding people about self-care is critical for caregivers. I applaud YOU!

    1. Aww thanks for that lovely comment Christa. I find it easier to help others than to take care of myself, even though I know it is critical to stay healthy. Taking care of our own needs is a work in progress, and the one most easily put aside when others' needs present themselves.