Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Ring: How Not to Say the Wrong Thing (link)


How not to say the wrong thing

It works in all kinds of crises -- medical, legal, even existential. It's the 'Ring Theory' of kvetching. The first rule is comfort in, dump out.

April 07, 2013|Susan Silk and Barry Goldman

(Illustration by Wes Bausmith…)
When Susan had breast cancer, we heard a lot of lame remarks, but our favorite came from one of Susan's colleagues. She wanted, she needed, to visit Susan after the surgery, but Susan didn't feel like having visitors, and she said so. Her colleague's response? "This isn't just about you."
"It's not?" Susan wondered. "My breast cancer is not about me? It's about you?"
The same theme came up again when our friend Katie had a brain aneurysm. She was in intensive care for a long time and finally got out and into a step-down unit. She was no longer covered with tubes and lines and monitors, but she was still in rough shape. A friend came and saw her and then stepped into the hall with Katie's husband, Pat. "I wasn't prepared for this," she told him. "I don't know if I can handle it."
This woman loves Katie, and she said what she did because the sight of Katie in this condition moved her so deeply. But it was the wrong thing to say. And it was wrong in the same way Susan's colleague's remark was wrong.
Susan has since developed a simple technique to help people avoid this mistake. It works for all kinds of crises: medical, legal, financial, romantic, even existential. She calls it the Ring Theory.
Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma. For Katie's aneurysm, that's Katie. Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma. In the case of Katie's aneurysm, that was Katie's husband, Pat. Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones. When you are done you have a Kvetching Order. One of Susan's patients found it useful to tape it to her refrigerator.
Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, "Life is unfair" and "Why me?" That's the one payoff for being in the center ring.
Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.
When you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the center of the crisis, the goal is to help. Listening is often more helpful than talking. But if you're going to open your mouth, ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support. If it isn't, don't say it. Don't, for example, give advice. People who are suffering from trauma don't need advice. They need comfort and support. So say, "I'm sorry" or "This must really be hard for you" or "Can I bring you a pot roast?" Don't say, "You should hear what happened to me" or "Here's what I would do if I were you." And don't say, "This is really bringing me down."
If you want to scream or cry or complain, if you want to tell someone how shocked you are or how icky you feel, or whine about how it reminds you of all the terrible things that have happened to you lately, that's fine. It's a perfectly normal response. Just do it to someone in a bigger ring.
Comfort IN, dump OUT.
There was nothing wrong with Katie's friend saying she was not prepared for how horrible Katie looked, or even that she didn't think she could handle it. The mistake was that she said those things to Pat. She dumped IN.
Complaining to someone in a smaller ring than yours doesn't do either of you any good. On the other hand, being supportive to her principal caregiver may be the best thing you can do for the patient.
Most of us know this. Almost nobody would complain to the patient about how rotten she looks. Almost no one would say that looking at her makes them think of the fragility of life and their own closeness to death. In other words, we know enough not to dump into the center ring. Ring Theory merely expands that intuition and makes it more concrete: Don't just avoid dumping into the center ring, avoid dumping into any ring smaller than your own.
Remember, you can say whatever you want if you just wait until you're talking to someone in a larger ring than yours.
And don't worry. You'll get your turn in the center ring. You can count on that.
Susan Silk is a clinical psychologist. Barry Goldman is an arbitrator and mediator and the author of "The Science of Settlement: Ideas for Negotiators."

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Be the Bamboo

I had a vision today down by the creek, at the culmination of my first week of mourning.

I saw reeds planted deep in the strong current, and remembered the saying, "bend like the reed." Yet I knew I did not want to be like those reeds, drowning and battered by the raging waters. 

I also saw small trees growing up through the concrete, amazing in their ability to survive. Yet I knew I did not want to be so gnarled and twisted, bent and struggling. 

Then, above the reeds and trees, I saw a stand of bamboo. Also growing out of concrete against all odds, I saw the bamboo vibrant, green, straight, and tall, all standing together as one. I saw that the bamboo would survive and THRIVE despite all odds -- hollow and open on the inside, communal and resilient on the outside. 

I knew then: Be the Bamboo. 

Song courtesy of Ananda Seva Eugene (Baba = The Beloved)

Monday, February 24, 2014

May My Sweet Boy Rest in Peace -- A Parent Surviving Suicide

As you may know, my son, Ben, recently committed suicide. On February 22, 2014, Ben parked his bicycle at the Glenwood Bridge, climbed a ten-foot fence, and jumped to his death. I am experiencing a shifting kaleidoscope of numerous thoughts, memories, and feelings. Essentially, I am strong; I will survive.

While this is horrifying, shocking, and saddening news, I am not surprised. I have been concerned about this possibility for several years. Ben had autism, and developed mental illness in late adolescence, which made his daily existence a struggle. One of my many feelings is relief that my son is finally at peace.

After Ben finished high school, he developed an eating disorder, severe depression, worsening anxiety, and increasingly frequent suicidal thoughts. Ben spent months in and out of the Johnson Unit, a local psychiatric facility. After struggling to keep Ben safe while his self-destructive behaviors, including cutting and bingeing, increased, I made the difficult decision to let him be cared for by a 24-hour supervised foster home, selected by Lane County Department of Disabled Services, where he would be closely monitored. Ben moved out of my home in December 2011.

The strength that is carrying me through the death of my beloved boy was developed over two decades of taking care of such a challenging child, mostly single-handed. The letting go that is now essential, began over two years ago. The worst-case scenario of suicide that just happened, was already worried over hundreds of times in my mind over many years. Somehow, my past struggles with Ben have eased my healing upon his fatal choice.

Ben was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and began taking psychiatric medications in November 2011. Before my son's 19th birthday, I had already begun letting go of all the hopes and dreams I'd had for my intelligent, caring, dynamic son's future. It all fell away as his inner turmoil intensified. There were many ups and downs during the two years leading up to his death. I continued to love and care for my child through a suicide attempt in the Summer of 2012. While I was deeply frightened for Ben, I was also letting him go, knowing I was already doing all I could. Yes, Ben received psychological counseling, medication management, eating disorder treatment, tons of staff support at his foster home, crisis intervention as needed, extended family support, and my enduring love. Ben's death is therefore terrible, but not surprising.

Ben was loved not only by myself, but also by his sister, Sequoia, his former step-dad, Rob, his grandparents, Max and Marcia, Glenn, Jim, Al, Aimee, his extended family, his support team, his friends, my friends, his former teachers and classmates, and, clearly, the entire community.

Ben will be remembered for his sweetness, his loving kindness, his intelligent mind, his sense of humor, his childlike innocence, and his generous heart. Ben loved riding his bicycle, Yu-Gi-Oh cards, video games, card games, skiing, hanging out with his friends, and wheeling and dealing on Ebay and Craigslist. Speaking as the one person who spent just about every single day with him over 19 years of his too-short life, I remember everything: his birth, his childhood, the feel of his hair, his smile. He was loved. Many others remember Ben with love as well. He will never be forgotten.

Thank you!!! to everyone for the tremendous outpouring of support. I have been reading your messages and comments from my healing cocoon at home. I love you all. Please understand that I cannot talk to you right now. I will emerge from my shell in due time. Meanwhile, many kind people have asked what they can do to help. Here are some ways:

1. Please respect my introverted need to withdraw, in order to process my grief and heal. I need privacy. I will emerge in time. Thank you.

2. If you see me, just hug me. Loving touch heals.

3. Please do not ask me "why" this happened. I have told you all I know.

4. There is a hole in the pit of my stomach. While it is not hunger, I do need to eat. I can barely feed myself on a good day. Anandam Al Perkins at Dharmalaya is coordinating meals at MealBaby Meals . Food is the gift of nourishment and appreciated.

5. Please hold back your expressions of sympathy. If you cry, I will cry harder. If you pity me, I will pity myself. If you lose it, I will really lose it! I am working VERY hard to hold it together and survive this. Of course I know that losing one's child is the worst thing that can happen, especially to suicide. I need fresh air and a smile, and time. Please affirm Life with me. Please remind me that life goes on, and that my son is now at peace. Please embrace me with your prayers and positive thoughts, and if we meet in person, with your embrace.

6. If you feel so called, please donate to the charity of your choice. Perhaps Direction Service or an autism advocacy group. Perhaps Center for Appropriate Transport, Ben's last employer.

7. I am sorry but I cannot bring myself to arrange a funeral at this time. Ben's body will be cremated. Perhaps there will be a memorial service in the future. I will let you know.

8. Finally, this is a marathon, not a sprint. I will need support over the coming months, since healing of this magnitude does not happen overnight. Your kindness is appreciated now; it will be even more appreciated in the coming weeks and months.

Blessings and Namaste for you all. Your beautiful kindness is deeply appreciated. Luna