Category Archives: Mindfulness

“We Found Something. You Need More Follow Up Tests.”

As a Newlywed

Many years ago I had a health scare. A routine exam turned into, “go to a specialist to get this checked out.” Many phone calls and appointments were made and  many big scary words were uttered.

Between the onset of this foray and its resolution, I became a raving lunatic. I didn’t do well with living in suspension and fear. My greater fear is of the diagnostic procedures rather than the verdict, only because I can’t seem to get past the fear of procedures, not because I have no fear of the verdict.

During this time my new husband was patient with me as I pitbulled on my plight. After weeks of my hand-wringing and histrionics, he finally said in exasperation, “I can’t deal with all this drama! You’ve got to find a way to calm yourself down!”

Instead of taking it as a rebuke, I chose to take it as one of those interventions that only a loved one can offer. I chose to believe that he wanted me grow up and, not exactly to be a better person, but become a better version of myself. Was I up to reaching for that?

The needle aspiration revealed nothing alarming and all was well.

Freak Out, Take 2

Years later we relived a similar scenario. Though I didn’t score quite so high on the histrionics scale, I would say I was still past yellow, well into orange. I told dozens of people — family and close friends. And maybe the occasional dry cleaner or barista. It was important to me that everyone was thinking of me, rooting for me. At the time I had a strong victim mentality and thrived on such attention.

After a few weeks, this near-crisis resolved through a core needle biopsy that revealed no malignancy.

Dealing a Third Time

A few years after that, again I got to spend an entire summer chasing down knowledge of my own health as I visited doctors, specialists, radiology departments, and finally the surgeon who performed a two-part stereotactic biopsy. This time I had small children. I was a still a wreck, but I was able to keep more of the anxiety inside.

follow up mammogram© Nevit Dilmen [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons.
(Not my images.)

It was not only the diagnostic procedure that was causing me angst. It was also the scary thought of going through treatments while parenting and the even scarier thought of leaving my kids behind as one possible ending of this story arc. Though I kept the outer drama down for my kids’ sake, inside I was churning churning churning.

My coping mechanism this time was to make deals.

  • Dear God. If you make this OK, I’ll ____________.
  • Or I’ll give up ____________________ if I get to keep my health.
  • Or I promise I’ll never ________________ again if Benign is the word.

Benign WAS the word the surgeon delivered and I was flooded with relief. I can’t actually remember any of the deals I made so I don’t know if I fulfilled them.

Life went on.

Growing Up

Just this spring, I found out I needed a follow up mammogram, possibly with an ultrasound.

I’ve been through a lot since that last time. I’ve moved fully into the role of Mom, which caused me to grow up and stop being the child (not to say that people who don’t mother don’t grow up; just that it made a difference for me). Now I am the one calming others down, helping them face and release their fears. Plus, I’ve discovered yoga and meditation, and I’ve practiced for thousands of hours of bringing my mind back to the present moment, a moment in which all is well.

So when I got the news I’d need more tests, I was annoyed that I’d have to add phone calls and appointments to my ToDo list — but I didn’t feel  debilitating fear.  I knew I was healthy (well, I was pretty sure). I know my body; I live here.

And I wasn’t crazy about the hefty price tag for additional testing — several hundred dollars, funds that already had a line of claims on it. I saw this as money I’d have to pay to have someone outside me tell me what I already knew — that I was OK.

But  I wasn’t fearful.

Should I spend the time and money for certainty? I had to decide.

Without the fear, this time I had no need to tell everyone. Instead, I wanted to make a private decision. I knew what virtually every other person would tell me to do, implore me to do. But the decision needed to come from inside me, not outside me.

Without the fear, this time the specter of treatment and beyond did not overshadow my days. In fact, I rarely thought of it for several weeks.

Eventually I made a a decision with my wise mind, not just my emotional mind (to use DBT terms). Last week, I got squished again.

The waits  from check-in to radiology and from dressing gown to actual squishes were not too long. Neither was the wait to have the images read.

Without the fear, during these waits I did not make deals. I stayed present. I breathed. I didn’t anticipate all the possible futures I could be facing in mere moments when the verdict would be in. I remained drama-less. I remained alone and calm, knowing I’d have the resources to face whatever I’d need to.

“All right, Lori,” said the very kind squisher after about 15 minutes. “You’re all set. It’s just extra tissue. Go ahead and get dressed and I’ll show you out.”

I texted “all clear” to the few people I’d told on my way to the appointment. None of my loved ones were in suspense for very long, except for my husband.

When I told him the news, I flashed back to our first time at this rodeo and was astonished at how different I have become — thanks to him, thanks to becoming a mom, thanks to the passage of time, thanks to my own efforts.

No matter what the results might have ended up being, I can attest that the process is a lot more manageable without the fear.

5 Mental Health Takeaways from Disney Pixar’s Inside Out

As far back as I can remember I’ve been fascinated with how the mind works. In high school I wrote an essay on the subconscious and later I earned a degree in psychology in college (though I never made a career out of it).

More recently, I started practicing yoga and meditation, as ways to bring the subconscious up to the conscious level on an ongoing basis.

And even MORE recently, as part of my interest in trauma work in the realm of adoption, I’ve begun a year-long self-study of DBT — Dialectical Behavior Therapy. When I read (in either The Atlantic or People — I always get them confused) that Disney Pixar was about to release Inside Out, I did a double-take. Hey — that’s DBT in Buzz Lightyear style!

Based in Headquarters, the control center inside 11-year-old Riley’s mind, five Emotions are hard at work, led by lighthearted optimist Joy (voice of Amy Poehler), whose mission is to make sure Riley stays happy. Fear (voice of Bill Hader) heads up safety, Anger (voice of Lewis Black) ensures all is fair and Disgust (voice of Mindy Kaling) prevents Riley from getting poisoned—both physically and socially. Sadness (voice of Phyllis Smith) isn’t exactly sure what her role is, and frankly, neither is anyone else. — Disney Pixar

My family attended a pre-screening the other night (disclosure: we were guests at the theater). Each of us loved the movie, for different reasons. Reed liked it for the cartoon-y feel, bright colors, and fast pace. Tessa liked it for pulling on her heartstrings. Roger liked it for the multi-layered humor that Pixar is so good at (as in virtually any episode of The Simpson, there is in-your-face kid humor alongside more subtle adult humor).

I liked the film because it takes Dialectical Behavior Therapy from flat words and theories into dimensional images and a narrative. Along with basic tenets of attachment parenting, here are my takeaways (which will make sense even if you’ve never heard of DBT).

Disney Pixar InsideOut emotions

1. Every emotion has a purpose. None are “bad,” though some could be overused or neglected/repressed. Part of the journey within the film involves finding the purpose for sadness. It highlighted for me how much emphasis many of us put into NOT feeling sad.

disney pixar's inside out sadness

2. Relationships are key. Relationships allow for connection. Connection allows for resilience. Connection is required before claims can be made on a relationships. Before you correct, connect — as one of my tutors is fond of saying. When dealing with a traumatized kiddo like Riley (her trauma was being uprooted by a life she loved in Minnesota when her family moves to San Francisco), the connection with her parents must be perceived by her before requests of her can be entertained.

disney pixar's inside out relationships

3a. Play builds connection…Inside Out portrays each of Riley’s memories as a large glowing pearl. Memories that have great significance or are oft-repeated are called core memories. Joy explains in the clip above that “each core memory powers a different aspect of Riley’s personality, like my personal favorite, Goofball Island.

Courtesy Goofball Island, many of Riley’s core memories reflect her family’s silliness: food served in a zooming airplane spoon; undies worn on the head;  nekkid toddler Riley shaking her patooty to the sheer glee of her parents.

Riley’s core memories show strong connection within her family, which won’t prevent tough times but will make recovery easier when she encounters them.

disney pixar's inside out play

3b. …and we should invest in connection. The steady building of Goofball Island, Family Island, Friend Island and the other foundations are necessary for Riley to weather emotions she experiences due to stress-inducing events in her life.

Though in my home we are past the zooming airplane spoon and nekkid toddler patooty stages, we can still invest in Family and Goofball Island infrastructure through games and giggles like jumping rope, getting out the Twister mat, playing charades, bouncing on the trampoline.

4. Simply abide. We in the ALI (adoption/loss/infertility) community have a tradition of abiding with someone who is enduring a loss or facing a fear. We don’t dismiss the emotions (“it’ll all be OK”) or tell someone to “get over it.” We don’t avoid tough emotions. We sit with a person while she feeeeeeels it. We walk alongside.

Riley is able to fall back on core memories of being abided with as she deals with her losses and fears. Surprisingly, Sadness plays a key role here, especially when Riley is allowed to feeeeeel sadness and is supported while doing so.

disney pixar's inside out school

5. Becoming your own observer is one way to be mindful. I vaguely remember a similarly-themed FOX-TV series in the early 1990s called Herman’s Head. Perhaps turning our emotions into their own entities is an effective mindfulness technique because it turns us into our own observer even as we are also the observed. That helps us retain a rational element while also being intensely emotional. What would it be like to observe yourself in a moment of highly-charged emotion and lend a color, a name, a personality to that emotion? Would that make it easier to stay in control of the emotion rather than allow the emotion to control you?

disney pixar's inside out anger

Inside Out by Disney•Pixar is a movie my whole family recommends. If you see it, come back and tell me what you think of it.

My friend Addison Cooper has reviewed this film also. Check out what he has to say on Adoption at the Movies.