You’re being lied to

Anxiety can be a real BITCH huh? My oldest son Zach just began his senior year in high school. For years, anxiety has been a prominent feature in his experience of life. 

Last night we had a conversation about how his first few days of school have been. He said, although he enjoys being back at school, he also feels very anxious about being there. This is not an experience he enjoys and wanted to change it.

Anxiety, I explained, is fed by a belief. That in a situation that contains unknowns, those unknowns are likely to be dangerous. Therefore, your mind and body go on alert so you’re ready to defend yourself against those dangers.

Allow me a moment to call BUTTSHIT on this kind of thinking. I also want to disclose, that there was a period of my life, when I was the most negative person you ever met. I could be depressed on a sunny day, on the beach, with ten naked supermodels dancing in front of me. I was that negative. But I found a way out.

What I shared with Zach is an insight I learned that transformed my thinking.

As each of us take in the experiences of life, your mind strives to assign meaning to it all. Now, the primary goal of the most primal part of your mind is to survive. So it is inclined to look for danger first. It’s like a monkey, chattering all day long with the message, “LOOK OUT” bombarding your thoughts. Here’s how this part of your mind lies to you. It tells you the story that things are dangerous until proven otherwise. WRONG!

I can’t emphasize this enough. Experiences are NOT inherently dangerous. They are inherently neutral until we assign meaning to them. I’ve seen parents freak out when their child gets a cut on his arm. I’ve also heard stories of soldiers who lose part of a limb and keep fighting. We are absolutely in charge of the meaning folks.

All day, every day, your mind invites you to buy into a story about what your experiences mean. That’s where conscious choice comes in. The conscious choice to anticipate experiences with a sense of wonder. An “I can’t wait to see what happens next” kind of attitude. Sure, life will throw in a healthy dose of Assholes to keep life challenging. You can respond once again by choosing your story about that encounter. What I often say to myself is, “I’m glad I’m not telling myself the story you’re acting out.”

The we can choose is a story of adventure. A journey of discovery. Zach said, “I don’t know how you stay so positive with all the stuff that’s thrown at you.” I told him, “First of all, I have a few decades more experience that you. I’ve spent that time disciplining my mind so I have complete mastery over the quality of my self talk.” I went on to explain that the revelation of needing a wheelchair was not something I embraced smoothly.

I reached out to friends and my wife Cathy for support and reassurance. A key point to understand, is that as I processed this reality of my life. I was on the lookout for a story that would empower me. I wasn’t looking for a, “Yea Bri, that sure sucks. I’d be pretty pissed off if I were you.” That’s the monkey mind talking.

I know, that I’m in charge of my story and I want one I can use to keep moving forward. My story is still a work in progress. But when I find it, watch out.

Thanks for being you.  

 

What it means for me

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Disclosing our weaknesses is so much fun, right?

Now imagine what it’s like for those with Dyslexia or some other invisible disability. Trying desperately to remain undetected out of fear of judgment from others. 

Today I had the pleasure of talking with Laura Cianci. She’s the founder of an organization called Jobs for Dyslexics

She shared story after story of very capable people who were repeatedly fired for being too slow. The quality of their work was great, but their crime was being too slow. REALLY?

Thank God I work for myself because I have the same issue because of my ADHD and Dyslexia. I come out of the gate slow but once I get up to speed, watch out.

The people Laura told me about were and are afraid of disclosing that they have dyslexia. Why? Because time and time again, people would assume and treat them like they were stupid.

Having difficulty reading doesn’t make you stupid. It simply puts you in the position of having to be resourceful. Resourceful enough to find another way of experiencing the written word. I use text to speech as often as possible. 

I wanted to help Laura help her clients in this area so I offered her the following strategy. When you’re in the position of having to disclose anything that might require accommodation. I recommend this approach.

“I have dyslexia, and here’s what it means for me . . .”

Follow that statement with the unique way that particular challenge affects you. Make sure you explain your strengths as well, so the listener has a more balanced understanding of who you are.

If you simply say, “I have dyslexia” and leave it at that. You’re leaving the listener to make up his own story about what that means. I doubt you’re going to like that story.

“Here’s what it means for me,” keeps you in the driver seat where you belong. When it comes to your challenges, you MUST own the story. Do your utmost to tell your story in a way that your disability is seen as a footnote instead of a headline.

Please tell me what you think of this strategy.

Thanks for being you.

A Message to Today’s Children

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So you don’t want to help out or commit to learning because it’s BORING. Since when does the world owe you entertainment? Since you were born you’ve been, clothed, fed, loved and given the opportunity the achieve mastery in any endeavor you choose. You have access to all the information in the world at the end of a computer mouse.

You could learn how to defeat ignorance, spend time building community on and off line or simply become a better human being. You could be working to make the world a better place by volunteering in your community. However, you’re too busy trying to level up.

It’s a shame if you believe that sharpening your mind, building your character and contributing to your community is BORING.

If you took an honest inventory of all the help you received to get you where you are now, and if you respond with anything less than humble gratitude. Then your problem is entitlement.

What I wish for you is this:

  • A library of books to read
  • A world to explore
  • And a broken video game console.

It’s time to be sad

Do you ever feel like life is piling things on your shoulders. Just when you think you can’t do anymore, one more thing happens. That’s when you dissolve into tears. You begin wondering why it’s happening. Sound familiar?

I spoke with a good friend this morning who is experiencing her one more thing. An injury that will slow her down for eight weeks. 

Knowing about my challenges with Ehlers-Danlos she apologized. Stating she had no right to complain. I told her to please understand that it isn’t a competition. I couldn’t understand what it felt like to be her no matter how hard I tried. Each one of us has to walk our own path. Each one of us has to call upon our strengths, our decisions and our resources to manage anything that stands in our way.

She talked about grieving the inability to continue to do it all. To be superhuman.

Then I asked her, “What does this situation require of you?”

I shared the following with her. You may have noticed that my work has become far more specific recently. Resilience has been the undercurrent of my life since I was a child. When my pain is at its worst, and my exhaustion keeps me in bed, I wait for it to pass. Then I get back on track. Why the change in my focus? My friend is about to discover for herself. 

I reminded her that sadness is like the wind. It blows into our lives for a time, then it subsides. It passes and makes room for another emotion. Being positive, optimistic and solution-focused. Doesn’t require you to give up your right to sadness. 

It’s understandable to grieve the realization that an identity you’ve clung too is inaccessible to you now. Either temporarily or permanently. Your sadness is part of the process of expressing your gratitude for it, then saying farewell. 

What DOES this situation require of her?

After some reflection. She determined that, a change in physical ability and in the amount of energy she had available, required her to become more focused. 

She needed to ask herself:

  • What do I love?
  • What am I passionate about?
  • With the limited energy I have, what do I want to give it to?

In answering those questions for myself, I was led to sharing my thoughts and experiences about resilience.

Now my friend has to answer those questions for herself.

I realize more and more, that as my condition limits my movement, and lessens my energy. It gives me an opportunity to magnify my focus. 

To choose my priorities more wisely and to explore my imagination more ambitiously. 

That’s enough for now. I leave you with this. Allow your sadness to come and go like the wind. While it is here. Make room for the gratitude of what you’re saying farewell to. 

Then embrace the opportunity to place your focus on something far more specific. Then use your energy to make it grow.

Thanks for being you.

My puppy, my teacher

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Learning opportunities are all around you. That is, when you approach the day with curiosity instead of crabbiness.

Yesterday I spent almost my entire work day driving from here to there. So much left undone, I knew today would be dedicated to catching up.

This morning my mind was all a buzz about the list of things I needed to do. Busy Busy Busy, Work Work Work. That’s all I could think about.

I started my coffee and grabbed breakfast as though these activities were slowing me down somehow. They were preventing me from starting my Work Work Work. How inconvenient.

As I waited for my coffee to be ready I glanced into the family room. There was Penny. Our little Corgy mixed puppy. She was bouncing around, her eye fixed on a fly she was trying to catch. She was focused and she was present.

We rescued Penny not long ago from a local shelter. She was discovered as a stray on the streets of Chicago. Her left eye was so infected it had to be surgically removed.

Earlier this week, Penny broke two bones in her left foot. She now has a cast on her leg and a cone around her neck so she can’t chew it off.

How is Penny handling all of this? At first she fought it. Today, she seems like Penny again. After tiring of fly hunting, she decided she wanted to go outside. I wrapped her cast in plastic to prevent it from getting wet. Then I took her outside and set her in the grass.

I thought it would be a quick potty break, then back inside so I could work work work. Penny had other plans. She simply wanted to be outside.

I sat on the back stoop wondering how long we would be. Then the chirping of the birds caught my attention. I had practiced meditation outside often enough, that the sound of the birds reminded me to be mindful of my breath.

It turned out, my breathing was high in my chest and shallow. I’d gotten myself all worked up about work. So I took a few deep breaths and let them fall into my abdomen.

Ahhhh, that’s better. I felt my mind slow down as my breath fell. After a few moments I said to myself, “Brian, take a break. The work isn’t going anywhere.” I sat, and I listened, and I breathed.

Penny just laid there, sunning herself, enjoying the day. Something I forgot to do. Thanks to my resilient and practical puppy, I remembered. Thanks Penny.

Thanks for being you.

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