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.

Please visit my Resilience Network Group on Facebook

Every life has a story

A life worth living is a life worth

For the first time in several years. I had the opportunity to spend time with my friend Amanda R. Amanda has a special place in my life. Amanda and I met in grad school. It was she who told me that I should write a book about the strategies I shared with classmates. Her encouragement led to the writing of my first book in 1999.

I suspect you‘ve thought about writing a book more than once. But something is stopping you, right? What is it? The fear that no one would enjoy what you wrote. The belief that your life isn’t interesting enough. That’s what I used to think. Now, five books later, I feel differently. 

You and I haven’t met, but I KNOW that your life is truly fascinating. How do I know? Because the human condition demands a lot of us. We experience triumphs and tragedies, wins and losses, joys and pains. And yet, we keep going.

The questions I have for you are, how do you manage these realities? Do those around you ask for your advice? When they take it, does their situation improve? Great, write about it. Before you know it, you have enough for a book.

Keep in mind, that when I first took Amanda’s advice. I didn’t set out to write a book. I was simply trying to capture the strategies I’d learned that were helpful for others. Then the collection grew to over a hundred pages. I’m no master of the English language mind you. The rules of formatting and punctuation are completely lost on me (dyslexia). So I hired an editor to help me polish it up. She corrected my errors and recommended ways to connect my various essays into a cohesive story.

Now back to Amanda. While we were talking, her mother in law Kim happened to stop by. Amanda told her the story of how I got started writing books and Kim asked, “What are your books about?” It was difficult to answer at first because they were about different things. One was about cancer, others about autism, my latest about being mindful in relationships.

Then it hit me. I write about how I handled whatever life threw at me at the time. I write about my own resilience and hope those reading about it can find something useful for their own lives. 

At one time in my life I thought of myself as a cancer survivor. When my sons were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders I became an autism specialist. Sharing stories of the strategies I’d learned to help my sons was my focus for several years.

As I became more proficient in relationship strategies needed to help parents relate better with their children with autism, I wrote about that.

Until recently, I somehow missed that the theme of resilience permeated everything I was writing. That also explains why people without autism in their lives have benefitted from my book about autism. It’s because the book is about something bigger than autism. It’s about navigating the complex experience of parent/child relationships. It’s about the mistakes we make and how to bounce back from them without beating ourselves up. Hence, resilience. 

I imagine your life is overflowing with these stories. The stories you share repeatedly and don’t capture in writing. Well, I hope you start to. In fact. Here’s an outline you can follow to help you capture each story concisely. In a way that will increase the likelihood that it will be helpful to others.

Make sure your story includes:

  • The problem you faced
  • The decisions you made
  • The actions you took
  • The results you experienced
  • The lessons you learned

There is no rule that says it has to impress Oprah to be helpful. People aren’t looking for the profound, they’re looking for something they can use.

One story may only require a paragraph to tell. Others may take several pages. It isn’t about the length, it’s about the value. Don’t let your story die with you. At the very least, it’ll show you how far you’ve come.

Oh, one more thing. I just created a Facebook group called The Resilience Network as a place to share and get feedback on our stories. Imagine, getting feedback on which stories are the most helpful. Hmmm, maybe you could turn them into a book 😉

What story are you going to write about first?

Can you see me now?

Can you see me now?

I’m new to the world of physical disabilities. As a member that is. I know people who use canes, walkers or wheelchairs to get around.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t open doors or offer to help in some way. It just made sense to be helpful. No matter who it was or how they happened to get around.

Lately, I‘ve seen articles about the 25th Anniversary of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).

One website in particular declared the passing of the ADA as the day “our nation committed itself to eliminating discrimination against people with disabilities.” Is that what happened?

Sure, some advancements have been made. But one stark reality needs to be acknowledged. A legal change doesn’t equal a cultural one.

Just ask Republican Congressman Cresent Hardy who referred to people with disabilities as a drain on society. I sure hope Stephen Hawking didn’t hear that.

There are so many things I notice now that were never on my radar before. The world looks much different from a wheelchair. I noticed that one of my favorite restaurants (Applebees), has a ramp to the back. So folks like me can access another level of the restaurant. But there’s no push plate to electronically open the front door.

I went to an area library yesterday to meet with a client. I was walking with my cane yesterday. There was an elevator in the lobby that only went down. We needed to go up. Where was the elevator that went up? In the back of the library after what felt like a 30 yard walk.

I recently attended the wedding of my wife’s cousin Kate. We love Kate and wouldn’t have missed it for the world. What made this wedding even more special, is that she asked my 10 year old son Connor to be the ring bearer.

I was so looking forward to photographing the moment. When he would successfully deliver the ring to the best man.

It was an outdoor wedding and my wheelchair wouldn’t have navigated the grass very well. Fortunately, there was a small concrete landing near an exit door to the building. It would give me a perfect view of the ceremony.

Shortly before the ceremony began. The exit door opened and a flood of attendees streamed out. Having not planned for this (as I was told everyone was asked to exit through a different door), I felt a bit overwhelmed. So I repositioned myself to the right of the door.

As the stream began to die down I noticed something that truly hurt my feelings. Many of these able bodied strangers, who could’ve stood anywhere on the lawn. Looked directly at me then stood right in front of me.

“Are you F***ing kidding me?” I thought to myself.

I was tongue tied because I didn’t know how to stick up for myself in that situation. I noticed the lady standing next to me had also seen this. She asked, “Do you want me to say something?” I think I replied something like, “If you’re okay with that.”

She spoke to the folks in front of me, who looked at me again with an, “Oh, I’m sorry” then moved.

As crowds often do, one person shifts for a better view, then others. It wasn’t long before the people who moved were in my way again. I didn’t get my photos of Connor.

I felt invisible.

“Is this really what the world has in store for me” I thought to myself.

Fortunately, the reception was a different story. Many relatives and guests made a point of coming over to my wife and I to visit. One couple even asked us to join them at their table.

I know the world is bigger than me. I know I’m not the center of the universe. I also know that the community of people with disabilities is made up of people with challenges as obvious as a wheelchair, and as subtle as social awkwardness.

You can pass a law that says you can’t discriminate against people with disabilities. But a signature on a bill doesn’t change people’s minds. It won’t make them suddenly see us.

To truly eliminate discrimination toward any group, requires a commitment. To acknowledge that every single one of us deserves to feel as though we’re a valued part of this world.

That you see us as a blessing to your life instead of a burden on your budget.

Do you see me? Do you see a fellow human being, with hopes, dreams and dignity?

Do you see a way that we could walk through this life together? Laughing, loving, and learning from one another.

What will it take to find the place in your mind, that finally makes it handicapped accessible? We still have a long way to go.

I’m in. Are you?

Thanks for being you.

From “why me” to “try me”

Where focus goes energy flows. - Tony

 

How did you feel when you woke up this morning? Did you feel refreshed, groggy, a little sore perhaps?

I woke up at 5 AM. Not because I had a good night’s sleep, but because I was in pain. Now stay with me here, this isn’t the beginning of a whine fest. There is a happy ending.

One of the primary human needs is for certainty. We enjoy things we can count on. One thing I’ve learned to count on is that each day I will wake up with pain. The only real question, is how much?

Today when I woke up, my pain was about four. Which is pretty good considering. I also had the added bonus of a partially dislocated collarbone. Fortunately, I know how to put it back.

Some people have questioned the choice to share my story so openly with so many. But the more I receive emails from grateful people who tell me how my sharing is helping them. The more I listen to the latter and dismiss the former.

With that said, I want to share something that happened as I laid in bed this morning.

Are you ever amazed by how a single, negative thought is like lighting a string of firecrackers. Once the first one is lit, the entire row starts firing. I’ll explain the relevance of this analogy in a moment.

I haven’t counted how many times a day I feel sorry for myself. Obviously, there’s no point in doing so. It happens in fleeting moments, sometimes happening so quickly I don’t even notice.

It comes in the form of  frustrated statements such as, “This sucks,” “I’m really sick of this shit” etc.  This morning, however, was a “Why me” moment.

For some reason, that question is particularly powerful at sending my mind spinning in a negative direction.  The question, “Why me? When I do so much good for people, should I have to deal with this?” This question was followed by many others, equally as negative. I found myself becoming sad, frustrated, and wanting to just curl into a ball and ignore the day.

Fortunately, there’s another thing that my mind does. It’s very good at catching itself. I’ve studied and practiced the Buddhist discipline of mindfulness for over 20 years. What this has trained me to do. Is to be an observer of my thoughts, instead of being a mindless participant in them.

So after about a minute of this stream of negativity. The observing part of my awareness asked the questions, “Now what’s this about? Is this the best you can do?”  To which I answered myself, “Of course not.”

One thing I’ve noticed. Is that by categorizing days as good days and bad days, I end up diminishing the quality of this day.

The reality is, regardless of how any other day has been, this is the day I am given. The realities of this day are the only ones I am in any position to manage.

So once I realized that the negative thoughts I had begun with did not equip me to take any action to manage this day, I caught myself. Then shifted to a better quality question. So I paused, and said to myself, “Let’s try that again.”

I wanted to make sure that the next question I asked was solution focused. The question that appeared was, “What action can I take to manage this pain?”  The answer was clear, I need to get up and take my pain medicine.

I’m composing this letter for you using Dragon Dictate speech to text software. Because my hands are still in too much pain to type. Isn’t technology marvelous? (NOTE the ADHD moment there – SQUIRREL).

Anyhow.  Now in the kitchen,  I took my handful of pills and leaned against the counter while waiting for my first cup of coffee to brew. I wanted to keep my positive streak going. The best way I’ve discovered to make sure that happens is to spend a few moments in gratitude.

The first thing that popped into my mind is how grateful I am to have access to these medications. How blessed I am by the people, who connected me with the resources that eventually led to the diagnosis of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. I can’t imagine where I’d be if I was still going through life in pain with no answers.

I could go on, but my point is this. Regardless of how my body feels when I wake in the morning. I still have a business to run, children to raise, and a life to live. I can’t do any of those well with a shitty attitude.

The greatest power of the human mind is the power to choose what we focus on from one moment to the next. Keep in mind that this is coming to you from somebody with raging ADHD. So don’t give me the “easier said than done crap.”  I understand very well that it takes a lot of time and effort to refine this ability. That’s why it’s called work.

I am asked time and time again, “Brian, how do you stay strong? How do you stay positive? How do you keep going?”  The answer to all of these questions is the same. I choose  what I focus on each day. Do I get pulled off over and over again to negative thoughts? Certainly. But I don’t allow my mind to stay there.

The moment I become aware that my mind has drifted. I say to myself, “That’s an interesting thought,  but that’s not what I want to focus on.” Then I  shift my attention back to the task at hand.

 I could think about how I will likely spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair, in some degree of pain. But what good is that? What I think I’ll do instead. Is remember to manage my focus as often as possible throughout the day.

By doing that, I believe I have the best chance of finding a string of joyful moments that are just waiting to be experienced. But only if I focus on looking for them.

Please share a few of the joyful moments of your day with me.

Thanks for being you.

Being positive isn’t the same as being happy

Being positive isn't the same as being

“You’re always so positive.” I hear that a lot. Do you?

Yes, I do have a positive attitude. However, I haven’t been happy lately. Aren’t they supposed to go together? Often they do. Can you be one without the other? Hell yes. This is an important distinction for you and me to understand.

Happiness is an emotion. It refers to the pleasure we feel when we meet our needs. When we do what we love, are with someone that makes us laugh or helps us feel loved we feel happy.

Being positive is a perspective, an attitude. It means your focus is on strengths instead of weaknesses. On opportunities instead of liabilities.

As I’ve shared with you in previous articles. I have a condition that leaves me in some degree of pain daily. Today my pain is at a 7, pretty typical. Still waiting for my morning pain meds to kick in.

I’m not happy that I’ll be in a wheelchair soon, that I can’t take long walks with my wife or run around the park with my children.

However, I’m positive that I can still be a great father, a great coach to my clients and a great friend. See the difference?

I remember times when someone who is sad and overwhelmed has come to me for support. I will ask his/her permission to offer suggestions. When I do, I often hear, “It’s hard to be happy at a time like this.” To which I clarify, “My advice isn’t to be happy. No one said you have to like a situation before you can see the positive in it.”

Learning to be resilient in life doesn’t come to us through rainbows, sunshine and running through the daisies. It comes from being kicked in the balls, over and over again (balls not a requirement ;-). Does this idea make you happy? God, I hope not.

In my case, being knocked down over and over again has equipped me with a truck load of strategies for getting back up. I’m positive that I can get back up because I’ve done it so often. I’ve learned that there are solutions, and if I can’t figure out what they are, chances are someone else has. I seek that person out and learn all that I can.

Last night, for the first time in a long time, I helped make dinner. Far too much has fallen on my wife’s shoulders as my physical condition worsens. The thing I want most is for her to be happy and feel supported. I can’t control how she feels overall, but I hope I can help create more happy moments. 

Though I felt very sore for most of the day yesterday. For whatever reason, my pain subsided long enough that I felt I could do more than sit in my recliner with my feet up.

I noticed the time, she’d be home from work in about 20 minutes. So I sprung into action. Well, more of a slowly stand up and shuffle. I didn’t do it because I was happy. I saw an opportunity to, if only for a moment, support the woman I love in a positive way. I took something off her plate (get it, dinner, plate). 

If only for that moment, I wanted her to realize that it wasn’t all on her. I will be on the look out for more moments like that. I don’t know how often they’ll appear, but when they do, I will take action on them.

I do have happy moments in my life. Writing this for you is one of them. I love writing. I make a point of not keeping score though. I don’t want to know how the happy moments compare to the others. I’m grateful when they show up. 

The key is to remain positive. So no matter how difficult things seem, I know a solution is out there. Knowing this, prevents me from becoming hopeless in my thinking. 

This experience, like any of life’s adventures, can be a mix of emotions. I’m not sure what the future holds, but I’m positive there’s a way to make it amazing.

Thanks for being you.