A look at relationships, personal growth, & living/working in the 21st century.

Archive for October, 2011

Anxiety – It can ruin your day – if you let it.

This is the Halloween season – a time when we claim it’s fun to be afraid. So, let’s take a look at some things which can strike fear in the heart of any man, or woman. Let’s take a brave look at anxiety. More specifically, let’s look at fear of the unknown.

Winnie-the-Pooh’s best friend, Christopher Robin, said, “You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” From Christopher’s perspective, the view of a child, even a short-in-stature, rotund, honey-seeking bear can change the world. Christopher and Winnie both sometimes doubted their own abilities to problem-solve and cope, but they firmly believed in each other’s strength and tenacity. So why can’t we all have such ‘fear-busting’ faith in ourselves? After all, when you’re feeling scared and anxious, as all of us do at times, ‘Who ya gonna call?”

Anxiety is one of those experiences we share with so many other warm-blooded creatures on this earth. We may think we have exclusive rights on anxiety, but that’s only our arrogance talking. I’d venture to say that every warm-blooded creature can relate to their own ‘blood running cold’ out of intense fear. So why can’t we cope with it in a healthier manner like so many of our fellow members of the animal kingdom? We refer to some animals as being “domesticated,” and we bring them into our lives as companions. Because, like us, such animals are social, tribal beings who cope best with their lives when they share their existence with others. From cats and dogs, to those creatures we label as ‘wild,’ the lions, tigers, and bears – many creatures improve their lives by seeking a way to share their world. We know joining forces makes reproduction possible, survival of the species and all, and it helps keep those mouths fed. But, also consider that part of the reason why animals band together, forming purposeful relationships, is that it helps them deal with their experience of anxiety. If you’ve ever left a dog alone in the house for a few hours and returned to find your pet busily re-potting your houseplants, you may have asked yourself ‘Why, oh why?’ The answer – ANXIETY.

Anxiety is to a very large extent just fear. Often, the worst anxiety one experiences is not fear of something specific, something identifiable, but a fear of the unknown. As any horror movie illustrates, fear of the unknown is always much more frightening than fear of the known. When I was a child, my fear of the bogeyman hiding under my bed was much scarier than any movie monster. When you’re facing Dracula or Frankenstein, you know that what you see is what you’ll get. So, logic may suggest just destroy those ‘Draculas’ and ‘Frankensteins’ plaguing you. But, if your plan is to rid your life of anything and everything that causes you anxiety – you’re doomed to fail. Because, with an irrational fear of the unknown, which for many of us is our preferred brand of anxiety, the terrible possibilities are endless. There is an up-side to this discussion. Although we cannot control much, if anything, in our lives, we can control how we react, how we respond to our anxious feelings. Managing anxiety is like managing anger – you learn ways to live with it, not how to eliminate it.
So though it may seem like you’re being followed as you take a short-cut down that poorly-lit alley, it’s probably just your anxiety – or is it?

More on anxiety to come. Have a fun and safe Halloween.

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Somebody, please – help me be a better puppy parent

I think I need help being a better puppy parent.  We have a 9-month-old puppy in the family, Rex, a male Beabull (1/2 Beagle & 1/2 English Bulldog).  He really doesn’t ask all that much of me.  However, lately he’s let me know many times that I’m falling short when it comes to giving him the attention, love, holding, etc., that he wants.  Rex lets me know I’m not attending to him properly in multiple ways.  There’s the ever-so-subtle, very sharp, puppy bark.  The barks may be few, such as when something happens to capture his attention, or the barks can be many – unending until I give in, stop whatever I’m doing, and let this almost 40-pound dog pretend he’s a lap dog.  Then there’s the lengthy whine, often high-pitched, piercing, and one which makes you wonder if your neighbors are now certain you have begun the nightly beating of your dog (kidding, of course).  Who would have thought so much drama could be communicated by a whine.  If these methods don’t work, Rex gets really creative and finds new and better ways to be annoying, destructive, or just amazingly cute, all of which are done to capture your attention.

I’ve finally accepted that in my relationship with Rex, he’s the ‘giver,’ and I’m the ‘taker.’  Oh sure, I make sure he’s fed, bathed, walked, etc.  But he’s the one always offering unending affection and unconditional acceptance.  My moody self can be flighty as the wind – loving one minute and an iceberg the next.  Now don’t get me wrong, neither of us in this relationship is without his faults. So, lets look at Rex’s shortcomings.  He has that Beagle stubbornness, which can really try your patience.  When he picks up a scent he likes, his ears turn off, his eyes focus only on whatever has captured his interest, and I become non-existent and irrelevant.  What about dogs being pack animals, what about my being the ‘alpha dog’?  All of that goes out the window when Rex smells something interesting. Apparently, I’m just the ‘means to an end’ for Rex.

Rex has that cute Beagle face, you know, the big brown eyes, floppy rounded ears, and the ever-sniffing nose.  Everywhere we go, people respond to him and seem to immediately adore him.  Women always smile, often stopping whatever they are doing to pet him.  I’ve seen women walking, even romantically strolling, with the one they love, pause and react to Rex’s presence.  I’ve seen women stop their conversation, release the hand they are holding, to speak to me and say, “What a cute dog.  Can I pet him?”  I wish I had half of my dog’s magnetism – animal or whatever its origin.  I often see men doing the same, commenting on how cute my dog is, saying it in their most masculine tone of voice.  I often don’t get it – Rex is just a puppy.  I grew up in a household with pets (cats & dog), and when I was a pre-teen, we had various creatures in (guinea pigs) or outside (a rabbit) the house.  I know the attraction of household pets.  However, what is it that happens when you walk a puppy down the street causing others to go out of their way to get some ‘puppy time’? I just took Rex out for his last walk of the night. I planned to get him, do the deed, and get back in – you know, a clandestine manuever. Wouldn’t you know it, we were mobbed by dogs and people in the elevator. When we got outside, other dog owners, not content to just enjoy the companionship with their own dogs, began with the questions, “What a cute dog – What is he, a boy or a girl, What’s his name, Isn’t that darling,” etc., ad nauseam.  I guess you’d have to have an extraordinarily ugly or viciously mean dog to be able to take a walk and be left alone.  Don’t get me wrong, many times I get a real kick out of the attention, but, at other times, I just wanna be left alone.  Do I sound jealous of all the instant love and affection Rex gets?  You bet your dog biscuit I am.  Anyway, Rex is worth his weight in gold.  And if you have a dog, or even a cat, I’d bet you’d say the same about your pal.

Grief and Loss in our Daily Lives

Until recently I never thought much about the many ways grief and grieving impacts our daily lives – I’m referring to grief not associated with a terminal illness or recent death. Despite my education and training, I looked at grief and loss in a somewhat narrow way as only happening in preparation for a death, or following someone’s death. My education in psychology gave me the structure of seeing that there are stages of grief and loss, i.e., denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance (Kubler-Ross, 1969). However, I still saw those stages as only related to someone passing away. Actually, we grieve many, many things unrelated to a death. For example, when we don’t meet a goal we set, we grieve. When we acknowledge the loss of our youth, we grieve. When we have to face serious illness in ourselves or others, we grieve the loss of good health.

Grief is one of the most difficult human experiences, in my opinion. I remember my fascination when I learned a college roommate had never been to the funeral of a close family member. I had multiple memories of family funerals, from my grandfather, grandmother, great-aunt, great-uncle, great-grandmother, and so on, as well as having heard about family funerals I was too young to recall attending. I vividly recall attending the funeral of my high school best friend who had passed away suddenly in a motor vehicle accident. Losing him at that time was an experience unlike any other at that point in my youth – I was 17 and had never considered the possibility that a friend could die.

Grief, however, is not always closely tied to a recent or impending death. We sometimes grieve over things which have never even happened. When we’re sad that our deceased grandmother never got to hold her newborn great-grandchild, we grieve. When we wish we would have made another career choice, we’re grieving over the loss of possibilities which will never be. Sometime our grief entails a compilation of what-was, what-never was, and what-never-will-be. Each particular type of grief has its own particular type of pain. When it seems that there is a combination of grief scenarios, the what-was, what-never-was, and what-never-will-be’s, it can seem especially tough to manage. The triggers or things which cue our grief can be many and multi-levelled in such a gathering of painful features. Even so, facing our pain, experiencing our losses, and contemplating our grief, painful as it is, remains a way to actually cope with what has happened. When we try to deny the significance of our hurtful feelings, when we refuse to see that our pain has had an impact and we need time to recover, we put ourselves at risk for leaving a wound open and unable to heal.

Although there is little if anything in life over which we truly have control, we can determine how we plan to start to cope with our loss, and how we’ll deal with our grief. In my work as a counselor, I’ve sometimes tried to compliment others on how well they appear to cope with loss and grief. I’ve often had others give me a bewildered look and thank me, but then tell me they really had no choice but to try their best to deal with their life. I’ve met people who have seen loss quite differently and have instead chosen not to cope – chosen to give up on ever again experiencing happiness or a sense of purpose in their life. Choosing to give up is never an answer, an emotional suicide of sorts, and really only prolongs pain, making it seem impossible to survive.

Grief is synonymous with change, and change means discomfort, or an absence of comfort. Let me know your views on coping with grief and loss – whatever the loss may be. If it’s a personal loss you are feeling, I wish you strength and peace. Consider writing about your experience as this can often help us heal. Please be well and take good care.