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The Oaks and The Willows

 “The oak fought the wind and was broken, the willow bent when it must and survived.”

Robert Jordan, The Fires of Heaven

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post titled I Have To Stop Giving A Sh*t talking about no longer worrying about what the actual stresses in my life were caused by and instead worrying about how the stress made me feel in that moment.  I basically knew what Mindful Thinking was and the approach that I ended up with matches the RAIN acronym described in the link above.

  1. R” is to recognize when a strong emotion is present.
  2. A” is to allow or acknowledge that it is indeed there.
  3. I” is to investigate and bring self-inquiry to the body, feelings, and mind.
  4. N” is to non-identify with what’s there.

There are two particular situations in my life that are major stressors for me.  As I’ve discussed here before, being a live-in caretaker for my mom is somewhere that I have been trying to “stand as an oak” against the challenges presented by that situation.  The other situation, which I will not discuss here, has been one where I felt that “bending as a willow” was the proper technique to protect those I love.

I was wrong.

Let me tell you what I figured out.

I’ve always really disliked the phrase “Think outside the box” because it is simply not possible if you are unable to realize/admit you are in that box in the first place. The true trick is not to put yourself in that frickin’ box at all. Usually, we get in those “boxes” based upon our preconceptions about a given situation. Those preconceptions will guide our approaches to solving a problem and may also block us from looking at the situation in a more detached, rational way.

I think I was literally at the point of some type of breakdown when I realized my box was sitting on the bottom of the ocean and I was downing. I was drowning because I didn’t recognize that was the one keeping myself underwater. Not the situation. Me. I simply had to climb out of the box and let myself float to the surface.

The box was my preconception that the stressors causing my stress were unchangeable and, most importantly, they were all that mattered. Not the effect they were having, but the power I had given them to effect me in a harmful way.

But, for me at least, recognizing that the effects of the stress was the true issue allowed me to understand why they stressed me and then to “non-identify”, to detach myself from them.

As I started to do this, subconsciously at first, I found myself feeling very detached, yet quite focused on the actual stressor. That may sound contradictory to what I just said so I will try to explain (or at least sum up). By taking the effect of the stressor, the stress itself, out of the picture, I was able to see the situation in a fresh light. Look at it in a more rational and non-emotional way. I was no longer looking at the situation AND the stress, simply the situation.

Basically, I separated the resulting stress from what was causing it. So there were now two issues and the stress itself was really the only one truly effecting me.  Since the stressor situation no longer had an effect that I could feel, I could approach it in a detached, more rational matter.  Clear as mud, right?

Now, as I am doing this as a conscious effort I find it feels very much like concentrating on a task at work. The task however is my perception of this moment. I have to concentrate to focus on what is happening now, what needs to be addressed now, to keep those other thoughts out of my mind.  To push those thoughts to the back of my brain until I choose to deal with them. I have to be very careful of how I think and carefully be aware of the thoughts that need to be pushed aside until I chose to focus on them, also in a detached manner.

For example, I have found myself no longer thinking about my home situation when I am work. If those thoughts start to creep in I push them aside and re-focus on what I need to do at this moment. It takes effort to do that, quite a bit of energy it seems. In the evenings, once I get home and settled-in, I find myself getting very, very tired very, very quickly.  Maybe that will fade over time as I get better at consciously approaching each moment in this fashion.

I was standing like an oak against these stresses and not acknowledging that the feelings were what was hurting me so much, a fight against a non-relenting foe that I could not hold my own against. This particular situation is not one I can really exert much control over. I was fighting for that control because I felt it was the best way to care for mom. The problem was that it did not allow for me to care for myself and that was not good for either of us.

Speaking with Morpheus earlier this week, I uttered some words in the same sentence that she thought she’d never hear together. Bending “allows me to have compassion for myself.” As I am “detached” from the source of the true issue, the stress, I no longer have to worry about self-loathing that I am so good at.  It is almost as if there two of us in here or maybe my Will Bother attitude has taken on an expanded role in my life. Either way, it’s a good thing. 

Being able to look at a situation in a non-emotional manner, first by Recognizing it is an emotional issue then  Allowing that emotion to happen allows me to Investigate and understand why it stresses me. Non-identifying myself with the issue allows me to find a solution that does not have to go through my layer of self-loathing. It is no longer my problem.  My true problem is the stress that is being caused. Thus, being detached doesn’t let that stress insert itself into my day unless I let it. I decide. That is something that I can control and that is how I do it.

Applying this technique to the other situation, where I was originally bending and just letting it happen because I thought it was better for some others, was also ignoring the effect it was having on me. Again, being detached allowed me to look at what truly effecting my self-care and I saw that it would be best for me and therefore, probably everyone else involved (hopefully someday anyway) to stand against the stressor. Detaching myself from the problem let me see the issue as belonging to someone else entirely which helped minimize any guilt I was feeling until I was ready to deal with it, again on my terms.

I’m also attempting to apply this to the stresses associated with diabetes. I find it helps me treat each particular instance of a stressor, say an individual episode of hypoglycemia as a separate item. I find don’t get pissed as often (well not much, well maybe just a tad, well…) because I don’t look at is as “WHY ARE ALL THESE HAPPENING!!!  ARRRG!!!” and more of a “well, crap, better treat it.”  I’m hoping that this approach will help with avoiding burnout.

Wow, that is a long post for me, thanks for dropping in!

Today’s snarky comment: “Be mindful of the future, my young padawan, but never at the expense of the moment” – Said some Jedi in a movie just before poison gas filled the room.

© 2013 Scott Strange, Strangely Diabetic and

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  • Scott, it has been very beneficial for me to watch you grow and share through all of this.

    Thank you for not keeping it all to yourself.

  • Mike Hoskins

    I’ve also found myself feeling like I am reading your blog and seeing myself in your writing, Scott. So often, it seems like I lump everything into that same box and that’s what causes it to sink. Rather, if I’d just do like you’re doing – make them individual items in individual boxes – they’re more likely to float or at least stay closer to the surface. I’m glad to read you’re making progress still and have come as far as you have. Gives me hope and continuing inspiration in my own mental health journey… Thanks, bro.

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