On being ok…

When I was 16 I was in a car accident.

The driver of the car took a corner too fast, and the 1990-something Ford Escort we were in hit some gravel and flipped end-to-end several times. Both the driver and I walked away from the crash, but I’ve had neck issues for the last 14 years.

Around 18 or so I started getting treatment for my neck. Thousands of dollars, too many doctors, and tons of test later I reached the end of medical treatment. The neurologist’s recommendations were: wear tighter clothing, keep mobile, and have an MRI every year.

When I say neck issues, I mean I am in constant pain nearly every single day of my life (about a 4 out of 10).  I have disc degeneration, bone spurs, and a syrinx. I can do most things, but I’ll never ride a roller coaster again. Here’s a picture of what a syrinx looks like. This one isn’t mine, but it’ll work. It’s that little white sliver.

At the start of this year, I hadn’t had that MRI for 10 years. My pain was also closer to a five or six most days.

I hadn’t gotten an MRI or seen a neurologist because I was terrified of what the results would be. I was scared of what the doctor would say. “You’re syrinx has gotten worse, you’re slowly dying.”

I think I was also terrified of how my now ex-husband would respond to the results. Would he leave me, be mad about the expense, or act out against me with retribution

This year my husband I made New Year’s resolutions for each other. One of Del’s resolutions for me was to get treatment for my neck.

I started seeing a chiropractor. I’ve started getting massages. And finally – I got that MRI.

Two days ago I saw the neurologist to go over my MRI results.

Driving to the neurologist with Del I was terrified.

Sitting in the waiting room I was preparing myself for whatever the doctor might say.

Eventually, the doctor came in. He looked at my MRI, did a few office tests, and then told me his opinion. He said, “Well, I can see why you’re in pain. You have issues X, Y and Z. But you can walk and you seem mobile. I’ve seen a lot worse, so I don’t think you keep seeing me regularly.”

To manage my pain he recommended I get physical therapy. To make sure I don’t get worse, he recommended I get an MRI once a year and check up with him.

After Del and I left, we got to the car and cried.

Out of fear I waited 10 years to hear that I was fine.  I am okay. Everything is ok.

This experience has got me thinking about a three things over the last few days: scale, fear and readiness.

Compared to most 30-year olds, my neck is in rough shape. Compared to many folks that have been in a car accident, I’m doing ok. Compared to most people the neurologist I met with sees, I’m doing great. How many times do we forget the scale, and how it shifts based on our perspective?

Out of fear, I waited ten years to get my neck checked out. After waiting so long I was terrified of how much worse my neck had gotten, and if I’d waited too long to get it checked out. I sat in fear for a decade because I was terrified of the outcome. What else have I wanted so long on, just to find out that everything would be ok? What else am I not fixing or working on today that I could be?

Have you ever listened to someone complain about something and thought to yourself, “I know your problem, and here’s what you can do to fix it”? Have you ever told someone exactly what their problem was and how they could fix it, only to have the person shut down or do the exact opposite of what they should do? Everyone has had that experience. But no one can fix something until they’re ready to face their problem. There is no amount of pushing, coercion, or complaining that can get someone to change something they don’t want to change.

The thing is – we have all been that person to someone. To someone, I am that lady that always does this thing, and it’d be great if I just fixed it.

I could have seen a doctor a long time ago, and maybe I’d be better now today. But if I’m honest with myself, I know I would not have been ready. I was not at a place in my life where I felt safe to face the issue in front of me.

This experience has taught me about life.

Life is this miraculous thing. And life is facing one problem after the other. One day, everything is fine – and the next day everything feels like its falling apart.

When those moments come, where everything feels like its falling apart – that is where we find Jesus.

Sometimes he comes in food or water. Sometimes he comes in friends and family. But sometimes he comes from a doctor reading test results. No matter how he comes, he always says the same thing… “I can see why you’re in pain. This terrible thing has happened. But you know what? You’re going to be ok.”

On why empathy is important…

A few months ago I went through a rough patch in life.

The church campus where my husband was a part-time pastor closed, and I spent a long time dealing with that loss (I wrote about that here).

Being active in our church, we have an amazing group of friends who are incredibly supportive. During the church closing, I reached out to our friends and mentioned that the closing was really hitting me hard.

I was surprised when our close friends did not seem to be responding in a way that I though reflected the empathy I needed. I was confused that our friends seemed to be falling short. It was especially strange because we have, quite possibly, the best group of friends for which you could ever ask. When you’re sick, they’ll bring food. When you need prayer, they’re a message or call away. I wanted someone to say, “That situation sounds so difficult. Thanks for telling me. I’m here for you.” (I’ve since talked to my friends about this… I mentioned they’re amazing? Part of the issue was me not properly asking for help. I’ll write more about that later).

That experience forced me to reflect on an important question I think we should all ask ourselves: am I good at being empathetic?

The last time I took a personality assessment, one thing that stood out was that I value accurate information over feelings. If someone says something I know to be incorrect, it is more important to me to correct that person than it is for me to value that person’s feelings. In high school, one of my friends was telling me about a difficult situation they felt they were having with their parent. Rather than consider how my friend was feeling, I remember correcting that person when they told me details about a story I knew were incorrect. I can be such a dick sometimes.

I can also think of dozens of times where people have told me about something difficult they’ve gone through, and I can remember not responding as well as I could have. I can think of times where I could have listened rather than talked, where I should have been kind but was impatient, and where I tried to one-up instead of empathize.

Am I good at being empathetic? I’m not terrible, but I need to be better because I am falling short.

My experience after the church closing also led me to ask what I believe is one of the most important questions in the world: why are some people better at giving empathy?

Sympathy isn’t empathy.

Empathy fuels connection – while sympathy drives disconnection. Click here for a video on the topic that I love.

And here’s a nice summary of what is empathy. Empathy occurs in communication when there is:

1)      perspective taking

2)      staying out of judgement

3)      recognizing emotion and then

4)      communicating that emotion back to other people

But what makes someone have the ability to be empathetic? (I wrote about this before too).

It turns out that the most empathetic people, are those that have been through the most difficult situations. David DeSteno, a professor at Northeastern University who specializes in social psychology, noted the following in his article from the New York Times:

“those who had faced increasingly severe adversities in life — loss of a loved one at an early age, threats of violence or the consequences of a natural disaster — were more likely to empathize with others in distress, and, as a result, feel more compassion for them.”

However, in his article, DeSteno goes on to note that studies have also found that:

“Living through hardship doesn’t either warm hearts or harden them; it does both. Having known suffering in life usually heightens the compassion we feel for others, except when the suffering involves specific painful events that we know all too well.”

Simply put… if Mr. X has been through a lot of tough shit, he’ll likely be more empathetic – unless you’re telling Mr. X about a situation he’s already been through.

When I first read about this twist on empathy, I just sat on in – pondering over its merits. Then, a few weeks ago I noticed it playing out in my own mind. One of my co-workers was telling me about how she had too much work to do. An empathetic response would’ve been, “Thanks for telling me. It does sounds like you have a lot going on. Can I help you?” However, I had a ton of work to do as well so I said, “Tell me about it- I’m so busy.”

The moment the words left my mouth I realized what I’d done. Gah, I can be such a dick sometimes.

Empathy is important because people are the most important things in the world. God created more than one human because we were meant to live in connection with each other. If we were never meant to connect, we would live on islands. When we fail to give empathy, we fail at connecting. We miss an opportunity to share ourselves with another human being.

My plan for the next year is get better at being empathetic. When someone needs to connect with me – and I am able – I’m going to try. I hope you’ll consider trying too.