Sharing the lessons along the way…

Step by Step

step by step

For the past two weeks, I have been trying out a rather rigid routine for the dogs that has required me to walk a great deal more than I was.

My goal when I got this fancy pedometer was to stay around 8,000 steps a day because it seemed that over that made for a harder time walking.  The two weeks prior to adopting the new routine with the dogs, I only had a couple of days that were actually under the heart-healthy 10,000 steps, so I made an executive decision.

I decided that a better relationship with Ruby and a happier Duke were worth being well over my 10,000 steps by early afternoon.  To do this, I have switched around when I take the tizanidine, which is a systemic muscle relaxant in the same class as baclofen.  On most days, I take a small dose in the mornings now.  I had agreed to take a large dose at night, but was not willing to give up my brain in the day time hours if I didn’t have to.

There was a week where I was able to take it every morning (I had a week between classes) so I am not even sure I have that much of a noticeable brain function issue now.  I also found a decent enough ankle/foot brace that is helping to keep my left ankle more stable, and it even picks up my drop foot a bit too.  Once my quads get tired of lifting my feet high enough off the ground, I tend to trip more, so this brace seems to be helping the foot come up anyway.

It is quite a challenge to keep up a house, two dogs, a yard, etc. without walking over 10,000 steps per day.  Doing less means that not everything gets taken care of that needs to get taken care of, and that includes my dogs, groceries, etc.

I didn’t see any real difference as I have implemented these changes, except for more pain from tighter muscles in my feet and legs, and a bit more clonus later in the day.  At least it didn’t seem that notable until we got a second, but brief, cold snap.  It seemed back to par once it warmed back up.  We have an even colder one to come this week, so I will be interested to see how my body manages to accommodate to the extra walking.

The walker is a huge help in the longer walks with the dogs and there are some days that I probably wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t have the walker to propel me forward.  With the cold (or the culmination of the two weeks of more steps), the steps got stiffer and slower, but the dogs didn’t seems to mind.

Since I get a lot of activity in the mornings, I am generally wiped out by evening time.  I am satisfied with that as a result if I am able to take care of my responsibilities each day.

 

 

 

Another Fallen Soldier

Fallen Soldier

When I said, “I feel like more people have helped me along the way in my life than I could possibly ever help”, he said, “Now, wait a minute.  I doubt very seriously that could be true.”

He always offered encouragement and was quick to point out when others sold themselves short—including me.  I was also allowed to call him out on it because he did it too.

He was one of the sickest men I have ever met from agent orange exposure in Vietnam, but one the most giving.  Since I met him, he has died many times and been brought back.  After more than four years of being dead man walking with aneurysms ready to blow in various parts of his body and minimal heart function, his heart is now at rest.

I heard today that he died last Friday.

When he talked about dying over the course of the last four years, he said, “I have been blessed and have lived a good life.”  He wanted to spend whatever time he had left giving as much as he could and enjoying his life as much as possible in between his dialysis schedule three days a week.

He recently lost his best friend to suicide and I am sure that took a toll on his overall health.

It was because of my Duke that he and I connected years ago.  Duke and he formed an immediate bond and my bond followed.

He didn’t talk highly of himself because of his past, but I couldn’t find a negative word to say about him in the time I had the pleasure of knowing him.  His take on giving was similar to mine.  We choose to give without any expectation of anything in return.  If we have it to share, we will share it with our whole hearts.

I watched him give to others freely and lovingly over the years.  It made him feel good to do it and I would imagine that he has helped out a heap of people himself, although he would share very little about it.  He was humble, courageous, like Rain Man with numbers, and truly knew he was blessed to be alive each and every day I knew him.

I was honored to know him, love him and admired his strength of character.  What he has contributed to this life will live on in all of us who had the privilege of crossing paths.  Rest easy, friend.  You will be missed.

 

 

 

dogs

One of my strengths is that I view the world in terms of what is possible.  One of my weaknesses is that I don’t focus enough on what is.  I simply see what is possible and continue trying to facilitate those possibilities.  Some situations require a bit more focus on what is and require a step back from what is possible.  What is possible can’t be possible without the step back to what is.

Let me give you a recent life example.  In August, I brought a beautiful greyhound into my home.  She has a lot of potential both as a therapy dog with me at work, and as a companion for me and her elderly brother Duke.

My new Ruby is a loving, smart dog with a tendency toward independent thought, much like Duke.  It is part of why I knew she was the one when I was seeking out a second dog.  Also like Duke, she comes with her quirks.  She has some tummy issues and is prone to anxiety with any change in routine. She seems to like to eat hard plastic items such as flower pots and Frisbees.

At the same time, Duke is experiencing an exacerbation of his quirks because he has to be on prednisone to manage his bad back.  He tends to get into garbage, eat paper products and now just about any food will become his in a matter of milliseconds.  He runs off both here and at work.

It is new to me to have two independent minded dogs living under the same roof to begin with, so her new quirks and Duke’s quirks have created quite a challenge for me to manage.

Over the past week, I became aware of the need to step away from the potential, and instead strategize better for the what is right now.  I paid close attention to what both of them needed me to do the most and then figured out the best way I could achieve it for them.

Ruby needs more consistency and better bonding with me to reduce her anxiety.  That is best done with our walks.  She needs all plastic removed from the environment, so yesterday’s focus was swapping out plastic pots and replanting plants.  Duke needs a closer eye and for me to pay more attention to what I leave him alone in the room with.

We started a new routine last week that pretty much ruins my plan for less walking, but seems to be helping both dogs.  It doesn’t hurt Duke to walk farther on days he doesn’t work because it keeps his muscles strong, so it is his new physical therapy.  He and Ruby are starting to really sync on walks, and all of us are developing a stronger bond as a result.  Then Ruby and I walk more after we drop Duke back off at the house.  Ruby’s anxiety when I leave the house has improved, her tummy seems stable, so we are going to keep this plan for now.  It is where we are right now.

As for it requiring me to walk more, I have gradually increased the steps, and increased one of the medications I take to reduce spasticity, so I will manage it.  It is what is in front of me, and it is the best of several tried strategies so far to make having two quirky, loving and independent minded dogs more manageable under the same roof.

My dogs historically have taught me so many lessons and made me pay more attention at very pivotal times in my life.  While this was about them, it was also about other areas of my life that were in need of a step back from the possibilities to the what is.

Presents in the Presence

Pure Presence

Each week at work, one of the dogs and I help to facilitate a guided meditation/imagery group at work. It seems that each week, I am reminded of some important tidbit that I may have forgotten or that I haven’t been putting into practice.

Last week, for example, I was reminded of mindful communication.  That means actually considering what you will say before you say it, and then saying it, while being mindful of how it could be received.  This involves the “I” statements and making sure that you aren’t being accusatory or placing blame.  It is the hallmark of assertive, healthy communication, but is often forgotten in most hurried communication exchanges.

I think that is why I don’t mind texting and emailing as forms of communication because they afford the option of being mindful before saying anything.  Texting has made me more clear and concise with my words over time too, so I appreciate its usefulness as an intermediary form of communication.

This week, we backtracked to discuss the benefits of meditation practices.  This led us to discuss the reciprocal influences of our environments.  Basically, if we are around calm, mindful people, then we are going to feel calmer and tend to behave more mindfully.  If we are around miserable, negative people, we are likely to have increased heart rates and feel more anxious.

Along with that same thought, we discussed how we each could make a choice to be that calm and mindful person before we walk outside our door to be that positive influence ourselves.  I do try to decide consciously to do this each time I walk outside of my house, and often simply choose not to walk “out there” otherwise.

In my house, I have created a calm environment, but I have that choice because it is my own house.  The folks still living in a group setting don’t always have that choice, so we talked about how to create that space in their mind with a guided imagery exercise to conclude our group.  In our minds, we can create such a space anytime, anywhere.

If you asked one hundred people if they have tried meditation, probably 80 of them would say that they “couldn’t” do it.  I doubt many of them realize just how meditative a fair portion of our day actually could be.  For example, sitting in traffic is an opportunity to be present instead of flipping off that car for pulling out in front of you.

If we are present, we realize that person might be in a hurry or not paying attention.  If we aren’t present (being present is what meditation brings us back to being) then we are angry because they are “idiots” or they are keeping our very important selves from being somewhere very important.

Most people say their minds race too much to meditate.  Of course our minds race, it is what they do when we are awake.  The goal isn’t to stop the racing, but to be present within the racing and choose which thoughts we attend to and which we do not.  I am not sure what the expectation of meditation for them has been in the past or what their idea of what it means is since that seems to vary when you ask around.

Meditation is a tool that can be used to ground ourselves to what is happening right now so that we can be mindful in what we have to tend to right now.  There are hundreds (if not thousands) of different ways to accomplish it.

I’m No Superman…

Superman

After several months of trying to be like a superhero, it took dressing my dog up as Superman and a few other timely events, to make me aware of my behavior.

Guess what I remembered?

I am not a superhero.  I do not have super powers.  I cannot leap tall buildings in a single bound.  I do not have an invisible jet, nor do I have a super twin.

I am not responsible for the well-being, happiness, health or anything else for anyone else.  I am responsible for my stuff.  Superheroes get to tend to the welfare of others.

In my work with my veterans and my students, the best I can do is to help others to help themselves.  I can encourage others to find their path to their greatest potential.  Why would I expect to be able to do more than that in my personal affairs?

Beats me.

Fortunately, I remembered that I really can’t.  Not that I don’t revisit this often in my life, but it is always good to find my way back from it without doing too much damage to my health and well-being.

When I think I have superpowers, I can be vulnerable.  If I buy into feeling responsible for someone else’s well-being, apparently I will take that on as my own.  It has been a very long time since anyone has been selling me their issues in my personal space.

When I have superpowers, I generally overdo it physically.  When I overdo it physically, I am pretty vulnerable to everything.  I am vulnerable to germs for sure, so why not also be vulnerable much more to include taking on what is not mine to take on?

Duke and I did a test run on Monday of last week for his Superman costume, which is the day I realized just how far I had taken my own pretend superpowers.  As issues continued to be for sale through the week, I decided not to dress myself or Duke as a superhero by midweek.

Even though Duke is my superhero, we decided to hang up the cape.

Open Hearts Open Doors

Open Hearts=Open Doors

Not everyone is going to agree with you, and that is perfect.  The only way to learn anything in this life is to hear someone’s point of view out, without reacting, without interruption, without judgment, and with an open heart.

The veterans my dog and I work with primarily live in a situation where getting along with roommates and housemates becomes a focal point.  Duke, Ruby, Koko and I spend a great deal of time and energy attempting to model and teach conflict resolution.  It certainly isn’t an issue isolated to group living because it happens in the workplace, in homes, on the highways, etc.

There is little conflict when roommates are in a state of gratitude, so I call this the honeymoon period.  The honeymoon period includes feeling grateful for housing and help toward helping themselves, and a level of humility in knowing they need to focus on their own problems rather than being sucked into the dramas unfolding with others.

Once the honeymoon period starts to wane, which is usually the time that they likely have started to really work on their issues and set goals with staff, conflicts start.  Old stuff is oozing out all over the place in lesser form, such as overreactions to a dish left in a sink by a housemate.  Shortly afterwards, they begin to blame staff, the boss, the spouse, and others in general for their unrest and upset.

Some may find their way back to feeling humble and grateful for a bit longer, some may not.  The ones that cannot at least find this intermittent gratitude and humility usually find their way back into their addiction or other unhealthy coping patterns.

What I see central to avoiding conflict is first seeking to understand the one with whom you are butting heads.  Instead, what I see most often is someone telling another what the “right” way is to do whatever, which is just about the opposite of seeking to understand where the other person is coming from.  Sometimes the other person doesn’t have the skills to tell you honestly where they are coming from, but often when asked, they can at least stop their negative reaction long enough to wonder.

Sometimes a person isn’t at all interested in sharing anything at all to help you gain a better understanding and that is ok.  Your part of it is over.  It is time to walk away.  Since almost all of us, as human beings, just want someone to understand where we are coming from, it is rare that I cannot get a positive response from the question to avoid conflict or drama.  The question has to come from an open heart and genuine desire to understand, however.

Here are some examples of what you might say:

  • That seemed to upset you. What did that mean to you?
  • That really seemed to get to you. How did you experience that?
  • I see you are upset. What just happened there?
  • That seemed to get to you quickly. What do you think is behind that?
  • I notice you do things this way. What is your process for doing it that way?

 

What I find is that I stand to learn a lot from validating what I see, then asking the question.  I learn that the way they saw it or the way they were doing it might actually make more sense than what I thought was the righteous and only way to do it.  I learn more about how the other person views the world and sometimes even what from their past baggage they might have reacted to with their behavior.

There are many versions of seeking to understand in the business management, psychology and self-help world, but they all boil down to the same basic idea.  If we put aside our own agenda just for a minute and seek to hear someone else first, there is far more to gain for everyone involved.

 

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