Conundrum Continued

...and as long as we're on the topic... here's ANOTHER thing...

Care and the Ring Theory

I stumbled on this a couple of years ago.  It struck me as essentially empathy 101 - a white boarding exercise.  And in that context, it can be very helpful and instructive.  Here's the original article from the LA Times that I read:

It's a simple concept.  Envision a series of concentric circles.  In the center circle is the person with the illness (or really any crisis).  That person has the privilege (it may be the ONLY advantage that their condition grants them) to express any emotions they may be experiencing to anyone else.  They can be angry.  They can be sad.  They can curse you and god for what's happening to them.

In the next circle, are those closest to the one in the center - partners and spouses.  And the rings spread out from there for the family and community.  Now here's the rule:  you can say anything you want to people in the larger rings.  When you're talking to someone in a smaller ring, your job is to listen and provide support.  That's it!

Comfort and support in.  Dumping and venting out.

Some of you may find this intuitively obvious.  If not, this concept can definitely help you avoid making some rather bone-headed comments.

No, Really... This Is About You

We have this delusion that what's happening is all about the person who is sick.  It's not.  That person may be at the epicenter, but you my dear friend/family/loved one are also experiencing the shock waves and the aftershocks.  And the more awareness you have around that, the better you can manage your own emotions and support those who need it.

Tough love moment:  We ALL have a terminal illness.  The only difference between you and Martina is that she sees the bullet traveling towards her.  You're in roughly the same boat with the luxury of maintaining a degree of willful ignorance.  And that's probably the only way most of us manage to live our daily lives.

Having someone in your field experiencing a life-threatening illness pierces that illusion.  Suddenly, you're reminded that this is not an unlimited open bar and that, yes, last call is coming... sooner for some of us than others.  And that can make people react in some truly fucked-up ways.

Second of the Four Agreements:  Don't take anything personally.

I've received some of the warmest most supportive reactions to the news about Martina.  And I've also noted reactions that are just flat-out... odd - from silence to messages Martina has received that essentially said, "I'm glad for the time that we've had together... so long.".  I mean... WTF!?!?

Engage 2nd Agreement.  This is about them and their triggers and fears and experiences with mortality.  And, if I can pause and stay in that space, it may allow for compassion to arise.

So a humble suggestion:  before you reach out (or don't) and offer support, stop and check in with what's happening inside.  What are you feeling?  What are you afraid of?  What baggage would you like to push aside before being in the presence of someone's else's suffering?

How Are You?

Yes, here's another question that can be a bit of a minefield.

In "normal" times, that questions is innocuous, it's a throwaway, a simple opening to a conversation.  The person inquiring may or may not even care about the answer.

But now that's changed.  People ask as an a expression of real concern... and they actually expect an answer.  Which... can put me in somewhat of a quandary.  Do you really want to know?  Are you just looking for some assurance that I'm not completely falling apart?  Are you asking me to give a strong optimistic answer so that you can feel less afraid?

For those of you who commune with a professional during the 50-minute hour:  the next time your therapist greets you before a session begins, note whether or not they ever ask you that question.  I'm betting the answer is "no".  Because they know better.  Because they actually want the find out the answer and it will not be summed up in a sentence or two.

If you and I are in a public/social situation and we're not extremely close (eg: I've not completely opened up about my experience) then, believe me, you do NOT want me to check in with myself at that moment... ripping the lid off whatever I've managed to place in containers... allowing all my feelings to be available... and answer from a place of truth.  Just trust me... you really don't want that.  And I don't want it either because I've made myself ready to be in this situation and not totally lose it and engage with you in a way that does not make either of us uncomfortable.

So how am I?  Maybe I should get little cards printed up and just hand them out when anyone asks that question:

At times, I'm doing really good.  Despite what is unfolding, I am learning so much about myself and others and the nature of our existence.  I experience gratitude.  Other times,  I'm in the Ninth Circle of Hell drowning in a frozen ocean of despair, in absolute darkness, and bereft of hope.  I've experienced suffering on top of suffering that has left me close to being incapacitated.  Simultaneously, I am aware that others have experienced much deeper levels of suffering... much greater crises... and have come through that experience.  Not long ago, I was terrified that I would not be able to function... that the house of cards that was my life was close to collapsing.  And then, slowly, I felt strength returning.  I gained clarity.  I shouldered the pack and pushed on.  Even with strength returning, I can tell that I'm being cracked open still more.  And that is a blessing.  I have no illusions that this journey is at an end, but I have a deep sense of knowing that I have the capacity to finish it.

So that's how I am.  Thank you for asking.


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