Review: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande

Author Atul Gawande is an American surgeon, writer and public health researcher; he practices general and endocrine surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. His personal experience regarding the subject of aging and mortality includes a grandfather who lived to be 110, his father who experienced cancer, and his mother-in-law’s aging and dying process. Professionally, he was often called upon to perform last chance surgeries on patients in a medical system that doesn’t like to admit defeat.

Many of these surgical procedures didn’t provide clear benefits, but in today’s medical world, a lack of action is equated with giving up. Gawande learned the hard way that though medicine could offer endless treatments to prolong life, in most cases, additional treatment did not serve the patient’s deeper wishes, and often made matters worse. These “heroic measures” also greatly interfered with a peaceful and connected exit; it’s hard to talk when you’re intubated.

Gawande unflinchingly explores the nursing home and assisted living options today. Once again, it’s clear our country and health care system have “issues”. Being Mortal addresses these areas as it elegantly and intelligently explores (the book’s subtitle) “medicine and what matters in the end”.

You’ll hear an amazingly informative history of how our current nursing homes came to be. Have you ever heard the term poorhouses? My great aunts would use this term in a joking matter, such as, “Oh no, then you’ll wind up in the poorhouse”. This was clearly something to avoid. Continue reading

Your Problem – A Good Problem to Have?

There’s our heroine, our hero; beauteous and brave, triumphantly traipsing along when Lo! Adversity lands. That crosscurrent appears – family crisis, job change, health issues, money meltdowns, long slow slog periods that seem like they’ll suck the spark from your soul.

At first our heroine thinks, “Oh no, a problem. That’s not supposed to happen.”

Wait, is it? Not supposed to happen? Really?

Think on this. In every really good story you know, the ones that keep you glued to your seat and smiling for hours, very soon into the story, a PROBLEM always emerges. A big one.

When Dr. Eleanor “Ellie” Arroway in the movie Contact starts her science career investigating the possibility of alien existence, she runs into quite a few problems. Any of these may have derailed the best of us. Funding issues, egoic and short-sighted bosses, and a mysterious transmission from the planet Vega including images of Hitler and a repeating sequence of prime numbers. Our heroine is not perfect – in fact, early loss of her father due to a premature heart attack makes her driven and intimacy-avoidant. You have to have a few interesting subplots, after all. Plus, look at how this trauma with her scientist dad serves to strengthen her bigger purpose …

In stories, that adversity crosscurrent is not only a given, it’s the critical rub that contributes to a compelling story. The common first response to problems arising may be, “Wait, this wasn’t supposed to happen.” But if you do a Take II, and look at the bigger picture of the story, and of human stories, this irksome problem may be just the sandpaper needed to create the next brilliant piece of evolution.

For my clients, it’s become very clear that in the bigger picture or perspective, these crosscurrents end up being the perfect invitation to transformation. Well, provided you don’t succumb to the distraction and seduction of the dark side. That’s another story, right?

What story would you like to create? What stuckness seems insurmountable at the moment for you or the world? Let me know in the comments.

HSP Chronicles #2: Learning to Thrive vs Taking a Dive as an HSP

HSP Chronicles #2: LEARNING TO THRIVE VERSUS TAKING A DIVE AS AN HSP

We talked about HSP land in the last blog which defines the term and gives resources. Once you realize you have this curse/gift, pacing and managing your rhythms and sensitivities can be a game changer.

Esther walked into the staff lounge, passing a co-worker with a stressed facial expression. Esther immediately registered her co-worker’s stress, thinking, “Oh, I wonder what’s happening for her?” She thought of how tough life can be. Without realizing it, her own mood took a dive for the afternoon.

PREVENTION STEPS – SO HIGH SENSITIVITY DOESN’T BECOME A BURDEN

If you’re an HSP, it’s rare that this was appreciated or embraced when you were young. This often leaves you feeling you’re flawed, when compared to others. You may try to “man up” when you can, or when it’s suggested to you, but never quite pull it off. In relationship and work, you may have differences that confuse you. Similarly, HSP and non-HSP communication and work flow can completely bomb without HSP education.

When you start to see this in light of how sensitivity and arousal work for the HSP nervous system, it makes more sense. This can be a big relief and big help to better functioning in the world.

There are a few things that can help support HSPs to live and work well in the world today, according to original HSP author/researcher Elaine Aron and others. The good news is, once you get the hang of your own HSP needs and rhythms, you start to see and experience the gift side of this more than the burden.

4 THINGS THAT HELP HSPs THRIVE: Knowledge, Reframing, Healing, Finding your Way

1) Knowledge
Understanding the qualities of the HSP and how well this profile fits for you can be enlightening. Along with this, working with your physical self, the seat of this sensitivity, is important, so you don’t override or ignore your body’s signals or label it as weak or uncooperative.

A quick acronym to remind you of HSP qualities is DOES:
Depth of process (deeper thoughts and more elaborate brain processing)
O – Easily Over-aroused or Overstimulated (Avoids/needs longer recovery time from events)
E – Stronger Emotional reactions (emotions of others, and internal emotional reactions)
S – Aware of Subtle stimuli (high responses to senses and stimuli – noise, smells, light, crowds)

When Esther in the above example found out about her HSP nature, she caught herself as she instantly registered the emotions of her co-worker. She saw her sensitivity and appreciated it, realizing not everyone in the lounge felt this. She realized she didn’t really know what was going on for her co-worker, but didn’t have to assume too much. If desired, she could check in with her later. Meanwhile she kept her focus and productivity going.

2) Reframing
When the world is in a more yang or aggressive mode, sensitivity is less valued – this may be true today. But rather than accept derogatory labels like wimpy, whiny, or dramatic, you can see this in a whole new light. This reframing can happen in your present day world; you can also use reframing to understand past adversities.

The rulers and warriors of the world always had their advisers and counselors – who probably were the HSPs. With proper framing, you can see life events with understanding and compassion. You can explain your needs better to those you love, and offer the world valuable insights and helpful perspectives they may not have considered.

Empath author and psychiatrist Judith Orloff’s group of friends know that she may not come to large gatherings, or if she does, she may arrive and leave early. They may know the label “introvert” or “sensitive”; and they know not to take it personally if Judith disappears in the course of a party.

3) Healing work
Sometimes HSPs can be easy targets for abuse or scapegoating. If there is a backlog of difficult and unresolved past experiences, it’s often of benefit to do the healing work to clear and move that along. HSPs tend to be more impacted by rough childhoods and these effects can linger or arise later in life if re-triggered.

Genevieve had major surgery which went smoothly, but in the recovery period, she found she had a lot of anxiety arising, seemingly out of the blue. After some therapy, she remembered how insecure she felt as a child with parents fighting and threatening divorce frequently. She learned how to manage her anxiety with meditation and relaxation skills. Finding HSP info. was also a huge help. It helped her understand why her anxiety came up and how to be gentle with herself about her experience. She could appreciate herself for how differently she raised her own children, who had grown up to be great adults.

4) Finding your unique, graceful way through the world
HSPs need to find out how to recognize their needs and preferences, and how their sensitivity might positively and negatively influence areas of their life. There may be ways to compensate for jobs that are less supportive to HSP temperaments – for example, changing your desk location if it’s in a noisy spot. Relationships with non-HSPs can be aided with more knowledge and accommodation of how high sensitivity works.

This doesn’t have to mean you’ll be confined to classical music and ear plugs forever. There is a wide diversity and uniqueness to what exactly you can be sensitive to as an HSP, and what really isn’t as big of a deal for you, in terms of the common traits and characteristics. (See original article for info/resources.)

I’ve succeeded in various areas that HSPs are not supposed to venture, for example, performance and public speaking. It did help me to realize that being an HSP might cause me to lose sleep before an event, even if I’d done it before. I plan more recovery time and try not to overschedule those weeks. I’ve have tools to help manage stress and perspective after these risk-taking events; otherwise my critic’s volume can be quite loud. Having supportive friends and loved ones can also provide that reality testing invaluable to me as a sensitive.

Stay tuned as the HSP chronicles continue, and email Denise with any questions or thoughts: mdenisebarnes at gmail.

Have an HSP experience to share or a tool that helps you? You can also comment below.

Curious if therapy or coaching might help you heal old stories and thrive as a sensitive?
Use this link to schedule a brief free consult with Denise.

You can also call/text Denise at 303.501.7402.

HSPs and Empaths – Pros and Cons of Being Sensitive

Dr. Chotka going within

I walked into the post office recently early one Saturday morning to mail a package. The empty station’s radio was playing commercials; a loud, bright and annoying jingle. The female postal clerk finished helping her customer and left to take the package to the back.

Commercial #2 comes on, just as loud, even more annoying. I realize I am able to avoid commercials these days, either by switching a station or muting. When the 3rd commercial comes on, I’ve had it. I walk up to the boombox, ready to . . . OK, not go postal, but at least turn the volume down. But I can’t find the volume button. Back in line, the postal clerk returns; it’s my turn. I mention the noisy commercials, and the clerk nods and laughs. No big deal to her. I conduct my business with my finger in my left ear, the one nearest the radio. . .

HIGHLY SENSITIVE PERSON – HSP

“Sensory processing sensitivity” first appeared in 1997 as a new human trait. Later termed Highly Sensitive Person or HSP, it applied to 15-20% of humans born with a more sensitive nervous system. Shyness, introversion, inhibition, and low social interest had been studied before, but author Elaine Aron maintained that the HSP was different. They were not always timid, some were extroverts, some were male. Cultural views had impact too. In cultures like Japan where this is valued, “sensitive” and “shy” children were more popular, but in Canada, those traits were not the popular ones.

Further proof came from the animal kingdom, where this same 15-20% of HSP creatures were found. And that’s lucky it turns out – the caution of HSP animals probably helped the species survive!

WHAT IS A HIGHLY SENSITIVE PERSON?

So what’s an HSP? This is the type of human who was born with a more sensitive nervous system. An HSP is more aware of subtle factors in their surroundings. If that’s you, you will notice and even change the lighting and music volume when entering a room. Or, you might wish to adjust radio volume at the post office! HSP is similar to today’s term “empath”, coined by Judith Orloff and others.

Here is a list of some common HSP traits, and in parentheses, (how these translate to real life.)

  • HSPs process things more deeply (longer time for decision making)
  • Easily overstimulated by lights, noise, smells, crowds (tire more easily, need quiet time)
  • More empathy and reactive emotions (feel more impact from positive and negative events)
  • Sense more subtleties (advanced ability to read people, and sense and intuit moods etc.)

Continue reading

Don’t forget the elephants: Stress mgmt. 201

Tom Rath is an inspirational human. A writer, researcher and filmmaker, he studies the role of human behavior in business health and well-being. Diagnosed with cancer at age 16 – high school, yes – he found out during his treatment that he happened to have a rare genetic disorder. As a result, he was missing the all-important tumor suppressor genes. His cancer was treated, but was told that he now faced a life where cancer risk would be very high.

I can’t imagine receiving that news at such an early age, and it was not delivered as a very promising situation.

Some time ago, Tom began to do his own research on any science related to health and well-being. He’d review hundreds of studies some months, looking for any clues to augment his health and longevity, and stay ahead of his own health risks.

Today Tom is in his forties, married, with two children. In addition to his own writing and wonderful work (tomrath.org, twitter @tomcrath), he is a senior scientist and advisor to Gallup, where he’s an expert on employee engagement, strengths and wellbeing. Remember Strength Finders 2.0? That is his work, along with half a dozen other NY Times bestsellers. Fascinating to see his evolution over time.

His story has a big lesson in terms of stress management. Continue reading