The Case Study of Mister Woo

First, a story.

 

Mister Woo is a 45 year old male.  Three years ago he was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.

Woo had lived a moderately healthy lifestyle.  He had gone to the gym twice a week, ate broccoli and two portions of fish a week, and subscribed to Men’s Health magazine.

Since his diagnosis of an autoimmune disease, Mr. Woo has upped his exercise routine to everyday, though he feels more tired and needs pain medication to get through just a few hours of his schedule.

He has done a juice fast, consulted experts in naturopathy, acupuncture, Reiki, as well as allelopathic surgeons, though he gave up his health benefits when he quit his job.

He no longer reads Men’s Health but instead spends his days logged into a chatroom for persons with his autoimmune condition and shares links from a huge bookmarks folder he adds to from obsessive Google searches.

Mr. Woo has given up his dream to go on a month long photo-history journey throughout the Netherlands.  He is now planning a trip to a research hospital in Detroit to participate in new clinical trials.

Mr. Woo has started suffering marital problems because he doesn’t share his thoughts and feelings with his partner.  His partner complains that Mr. Woo no longer acts and talks like a regular person but is a walking encyclopedia of his disease.

Woo admits that he becomes mired in debates about diets and supplements.  For all Mr. Woo has tried, his condition has not improved very much.

Today he was diagnosed with clinical depression and required to give up his hunting rifles because he’s been making suicidal threats and gestures.

Mr. Woo is taking a break.  He voluntary admitted himself to a psychiatric inpatient program.

He feels resentful toward his wife and brother who suggested that there was more going on than just his autoimmune troubles.  His wife cries into the shoulder of another man as she feels rejected for trying to help and wishes that Woo would stop yelling at her that she doesn’t understand anything about his condition.  She feels guilty for wanting to go out with her friends and for not having a chronic illness.  She is entertaining the idea of separation.

Mr. Woo’s brother visits him once in the hospital.  He offers Mr. Woo some extra accounting work for his business and wants to take Mr. Woo on a meditation retreat for 3 weeks.  Mr. Woo grudgingly accepts the work but laughs at the idea to go for any type of retreat without the risk of a guaranteed benefit.  He claims that he failed at yoga, “just like everything else”, and that he has the perfect treatment plan mixing biologic pharmacotherapy with a diet infused with Turmeric (which he has bulk ordered from Amazon) and juices made from raw green vegetables only.

Mr. Woo attends a multidisciplinary team session with his psychiatrist, his specialist, a dietician, and his wife.  Mr. Woo walks out of the session and discharges himself from the hospital.  He shouts at everyone in the meeting that they do not care about helping him and that their ideas will make him worse and that his wife needs to cut out her moaning, and no he won’t do couple’s therapy.

Upon leaving the hospital, Mr. Woo checks himself into a motel.  His funds are dwindling as he sits on the edge of the bed washing back narcotic pain medication with a bottle of whiskey.

Mr. Woo is discovered dead by the housekeeper the next day.  It doesn’t appear to be a suicide per se.  It appears that he just wanted pain relief and had been hiding misuse of his medication, pain medication bought illegally, and engaging in binge drinking.  Everything in his system had caused him to stop breathing in the night.

Mr. Woo is cremated.  Two years later his brother marries his widow.  The life insurance company is refusing to pay out.  His former partner has discovered over $26,000 in credit card debt.  Still, every year she runs in a 5 k marathon to raise money for the autoimmune disease research charity.

Mr. Woo died before his four year old son could get to know him.

–THE END–

What the heck was that?!

The above story is meant to be fantastical and is just a piece of fiction.  Yet, I can imagine that most of you have known someone or heard of these similar fates before.  And, maybe, you can see ways that you are like Mr. Woo or perhaps his brother or his wife or his young son.

The point isn’t that we hear a story and we judge Mr. Woo.  The point isn’t that chronic illness and disease are relationship killers or precursors to addiction and suicide.  The point isn’t that natural treatments or conventional treatments are somehow better or worse than another.  The point is not that a meditation retreat would have saved Mr. Woo.  No, none of those make an intended point..

The point I take away from this story is that we, by default, want someone or something to blame.  And yet, that isn’t helpful no matter which person’s shoes you decide to try on.  Maybe, the point is that many little things can build up.  And they usually do.  But, instead of obsession, rumination, and trying to do it right, we come to face that acceptance is the only tangible control we have.

Life isn’t an easy journey.  Chronic illness, be it mental or physical or both, poses many complicated dilemmas that further make life unpleasant and complex.  But I’m here to tell you that, at any point, accepting THIS moment and not taking it too seriously is likely the most positive thing you can do.  I know it’s true for me.

 

 

3 Lessons from Carl Rogers

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A few weeks ago I went on a bender of complaining to my therapist that I needed more appointments, that I was feeling rushed through our sessions, and that I didn’t feel we were talking about the things I needed help with.  My therapist was kind enough not to react to my venting but waited to respond.  She said to me that a lot of the “resistance” I push back with is because I have been in therapy for years.  I am used to the way old school therapy works.  Today, the model that many mental health agencies used is “brief therapy”.  The goal is to sort you out and then get you out.  Personally, I don’t agree with this approach.  Yes, I can hear the arguments about becoming dependent on a therapist, but my curt reply is “look at the other things people become dependent on — and tell me what’s worse!”

I spent some time in school studying therapy and psychology.  And as I’ve mentioned, I’m also a consumer or client or patient (whichever works for you).  I am probably the sickest person I know (being hubristic) but there a few things from my studies which I think everyone can use.  Everything I’m going to tell you, I am pulling from Rogerian therapy, also known as Client Centered Therapy, or Person-Centered Therapy.  It’s a humanistic psychotherapy.  Humanists believe in capabilities of other humans.  I think…

Maybe you’d like to watch a video of Carl Rogers giving “Gloria” therapy.  I find it entertaining, but then again, I’m an oddity.

YouTube – Carl Rogers and Gloria

Here are 3 lessons we can learn from Carl Rogers and the therapy model he created.  I feel these things can benefit most people and their relationship with their self and their relationship with others.

LESSON ONE

#1  –  UNCONDITIONAL POSITIVE REGARD68

Unconditional Positive Regard (UPR) is psychobabble that means accepting and respecting others as they are without judgment or evaluation.

How to do it:

  • Don’t compare yourself to others or others to others
  • Forgive yourself / others – you did your best at the time
  • Do something to know yourself – journal, blog, paint, stare into the mirror

 

 

LESSON TWO

#2 – VALUE YOUR RELATIONSHIPSgrandma-cookies

In a sense, even the most antisocial of us still need people.  Relationships are powerful forces for good and not so good.  Relationships define part of you and facilitate your growth or stagnation.

How to do it:

  • Identify the people in your life – friend, lover, mother, child, nurse, mailman, warden, etc. even Tom Hanks character had Wilson the volleyball on the deserted island
  • Be aware of the time you give others and yourself.  Are there parts of your day that are invested in tripe?  Could you be investing more in yourself or others?
  • Write an email, bake some cookies, don’t screen your calls, crochet a scarf, have a date night, go to a tupperware party, smile at strangers, spend an afternoon in the ‘self help’ section of Chapters

 

 

LESSON THREE

#3 – PRACTICE EMPATHYempathy

Empathy is to put yourself in the shoes of another.  It’s a manner of caring that brings us very close to understanding from another’s perspective.  A lot of people don’t want to be fixed, they want to be heard.

How to do it:

  • Listen, ask questions, seek clarification
  • Be a participant, be vulnerable, be genuine
  • Close your eyes and imagine someone; what do they see, what do they feel, what do they want?  What is their “point of need” where you can fit?

 

 

I hope you enjoyed this post.  It feels very basic and limited because well… this is a blog, not a textbook.  And yet, if you practice a few of the things I mentioned, especially in the ‘How To’ sections, you will find a deep experience and some beneficial insights.

 

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Grief: The Simple Version

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I sat in my new therapists’s office.  It was just after Christmas and New Years.  Today was our first session together.  After exchanging pleasantries, she said to me:

“When I got to work this morning, I got the news.  And I feel bad because it’s our first session and it falls on me to tell you this — J., your counselor for the past six years passed away on Saturday.  I’m sorry.”

** It was a huge punch in the gut **

He had stage four cancer that had gone undetected.  One day he went up to the ER because he had a very sore throat.  Three weeks later, he died.  I didn’t get to say goodbye.

A second story:

Sarah lived with her father.  Her mother died when she was just a baby.

Her father had sunken into a life of alcoholism and he found himself angry, bitter, and out of control.  He was verbally and emotionally abusive toward Sarah.

Sarah found comfort in her relationship with her grandmother, Rose.  After school, she would go there and do her homework.  Her grandmother taught her to knit and sew and make macaroons.

Sarah successfully survived her youngest years and went to school for web and graphic design.  She lived a big and blossoming life in the big, bold city.

Then one day she got a call.  Her grandmother had passed away during the night.  She quit school and became deeply depressed.  She started to feel physical pain all the time.  Many years later, Sarah would be officially diagnosed with fibromyalgia.

 

Grief

What is it?  Queen Elizabeth the II, regarding the death of Princess Dianna, said, “Grief is the price we pay for having loved.”

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Make no mistake, grief is not limited to those who have died.  It’s possible to grieve a marriage that ends, a friend who moves far away, the loss of some social or professional status, the loss of one’s health or the disability of partner / child, the things that were once your dreams and goals that never became.

brokendreams  divorce

Grief is the experience of loss

 

Grief isn’t a predictable thing.  Some people naturally work through it.  Many people get stuck in what we in the biz call “complicated grief.”

 

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There are many things one can do when grief comes.  But, the truth is we don’t need more books or photo albums or the lighting of candles in churches.  There isn’t anything wrong with those things, but one needn’t seek a complicated answer.

In my own grief, I quite often fail to see the forest through the trees.  Nothing takes the pain away.  But, pain is simply pain.  Pain and suffering are different.

What if we accepted our grief?

What if we changed in such a way so as not to live in resistance to grief?

What if we just allowed ourselves to feel it?  

Does grief have a color>  A smell?   A voice?

 

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Loneliness: It is more complicated than that

lonely

The last time I left the apartment was twenty one days ago.  In that period of time I haven’t had any visitors.  I had one personal telephone call.  I did write quite a few emails.

Being an introvert is some sort of hipster trend these days.  I notice that places like Reddit promote a sort of “I am emo, but I am not” ego identity.  One way I see this phenomenon is that its popularity grows in proportion to the widespread reality that people do feel lonely — even whilst in a crowded room.

As a teenager, many years ago, I had a group of people I could be around.  Some of them were friends, most of them were merely being friendly.  Back then, and in the present, I always felt like I could only fit in so much.  At a certain point, I just felt tired and unloved and misunderstood.

You may have heard that there is a difference between being alone and being lonely.  I know this to be true.  It can be more complicated sometimes, though.  Sometimes, if you have a health condition, you can’t get out of being alone.  You can’t go to the party or make coffee shop dates.  Perhaps anxiety leaves you paralyzed in the middle of the grocery store and you just want to run.

Sometimes we have the luxury of choosing to be alone and sometimes we don’t control it.  But loneliness goes further.  Loneliness is a feeling you can have even if someone is holding you in a warm embrace.

There is a common misconception that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.  Maybe it is.  Maybe it isn’t.  The truth, for me, has been that loneliness isn’t squashed by something outside myself.  Still, my mind often insists that if so and so would just love and accept me and if I had friends, I would be happy and complete.  Deep down, this just is not true.

Maybe loneliness is really me not accepting me and me not loving myself.  It’s the “I wish I could love myself.”

I read a quote the other day that said, “there is no one on this earth that, if you heard their story, you couldn’t learn to love.”  Think about that.  How does it make you feel?  Maybe the starting point is simply to admit that one has the potential to learn to love oneself.

When we cannot accept ourselves, how can we accept others?  Let’s admit that this just might be the hardest work we might do in our lifetime.  Yet, as we open our hearts to others we see the good and the bad, and we see that we can accept them exactly as they are.  Love is an embracing of the whole package.  If we see this potential with the world outside of us, it must be true that it is equally applicable to the world within us.

Tomorrow, I am invited to a stranger’s birthday party.  At first I was shocked to be invited.  Then I felt happy.  Then I started to panic and had to do deep breathing.

Will I go?  I said yes, but a huge part of me wants to say no.  When the moment comes, I’ll make a choice one way or the other.  I accept that it might be an answer to my social needs but I also accept that sometimes I need to be gentle with myself and know that I don’t want to feel that overwhelmed.

“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” — Jack Kornfield

Perhaps loneliness is teaching a lesson to us.  What do you think?

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