A Lesson from Option B

When my husband got sick four years ago, I read a book about grief that really stuck with me because grief is not just about someone dying. It can also be about the hardship you are going through when someone is ill. That book was Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. Over the holiday, my husband ended up in the hospital once again to undergo emergency surgery to clear up an infection that is running amuck due to his diabetes and Sjogren’s causing complications. As I navigated a week of text messages and phone calls from friends and family, I am reminded once again about the lesson that really stood out to me from their book.

Screenshot from the website for Option B

The website for Option B has been updated to include a message about resilience in the time of COVID, but that part I read years ago is still prominent today…when you ask what you can do or how you can help, you are putting the burden on the person experiencing the hardship. This week, I had many such text messages or phone calls. Honestly, I am exhausted. This hospital stay is a lot more nerve racking than previous ones because I can’t be there for my husband. Due to the COVID restrictions, there is a no visitor policy being reinforced. To make it even more stressful, he had to be transferred to a hospital out of state, almost two hours away because our local one was too rural to have the needed specialist on staff. They contacted nine hospitals before they found one that had the available surgeon and room in the hospital.

When my husband arrived at the hospital, the Emergency Department decided to do their own evaluation of his condition. So it would be another 36 hours from when he first went into the ER at our local hospital to when he received his surgery. Our local hospital let me stay in the ER with him until around 2am on Monday when they decided he needed to be transferred. So I was there to ask questions and advocate for him. At noon on Tuesday, he was transferred via ambulance to the bigger hospital. It took over two hours before I heard he had arrived, but I could not get any updates on his condition when I called the hospital. I knew how to access the patient portal for the lab reports and doctor notes, but when I called, I would be told there were no updates. Finally, I received a call that night from the surgeon that they would operate, but they did not know when that would be other than the next day, most likely in the morning.

Wednesday, I received a text from my husband that they were prepping him. He tried to do a video call, but my phone would not allow me to pick up the call and then he would not answer when I tried calling him back. I knew that he probably had been taken to the OR and it would be a while, but missing that call played on my anxiety. When I still had net heard anything after three hours, I started calling the hospital. I was transferred to the ER, but told he was not there and must still be in surgery, so they had no updates. The process repeated for hours. I couldn’t imagine the surgery taking that long because I was told it would be general anesthesia. So either something went wrong or the ball had been dropped. At my wits end, I tracked down the information on how to contact the nursing supervisor for the hospital since the patient advocates office was closed by this point. Within 20 min of speaking to the supervisor, I got an update that he was out of surgery and they were just waiting on a room to open. Apparently, he had been out of surgery for hours already. I hate that I had to “Karen” the situation by asking to speak to the supervisor, but it is what it is…

I updated friends and family through Facebook posts to keep them in the loop on what was happening. People offered prayers and thoughts, but there were some that offered to talk or to distract my son for a while. My landlord even offered to drop by the hospital or to lend a hand if needed. One friend sent me a giftcard to Grubhub so we wouldn’t have to worry about meals. Those offers were appreciated because if asked what they could do, my answer was nothing. I was sleep deprived, anxious, and stressed. The last thing I could think about was involving other people.

As I write this, my husband has undergone a second round in the OR. Still no word on when he can go home. Things have calmed down since the start of last week. My biggest strength is my son who has made sure we eat and even watch Supernatural to distract our brains from the waiting. It is probably similar to the mother-daughter study discussed in Option B. We are there for each other, so it lessons our anxiety.

So what is the lesson? Be there for each other and don’t leave things to ambiguity. Do what you can so the person feels like they have a semblance of control and a small piece of normality. We are still waiting, but things are getting better. I really appreciate my friends and family during this time. It is hard right now during COVID without things like non-COVID medical emergencies. Resiliency cannot happen alone. It is through community and support that we weather the things thrown at us.

Here is to a brighter year in 2021!

What a year!

There is still over a month left of 2020, but oh what a year it has been. There has been plenty of bad, but there has also been some good this year. My family has a lot to be thankful for this year.

What color have you been spending most of your time in?

I wish I could say that I have been living in the green zone from the above chart, but to be honest, I think I hover between yellow and orange. We have been in semi-quarantine since March. But oh so much has happened since that last day in the office…which I am pretty sure was a Friday the 13th!

In March, we had my husband’s SSDI hearing via phone conference. Our lawyer thought we should wait and reschedule for June, but my husband didn’t want to put it off any longer. There were technical difficulties which did not make the start any easier. It was about thirty minutes and it didn’t seem like the judge had many questions other than my husband’s income for 2017. He had started a new job that year, so the six months that he did work were equal to the previous year of part-time work and it really confused the judge that my husband had not been back to work since June 2017. When we were done, we didn’t know what to think, but out lawyer had a good feeling. About three weeks later our lawyer called me to say that they were approving the disability date. Honestly, for these past couple of months, I have been in shock that that journey was now over. I still didn’t believe it until the first monthly payment in July and was still nervous until we finally got the three years of retroactive payments for the three years that my husband had been going through the process of applying for disability. It is a very odd feeling to finally be able to pay off bills without a worry.

The SSDI journey is not the only one that concluded this year. Last week, I defended my dissertation for my doctorate. It was a success! I am officially a doctor (but not that kind of doctor)! I have a doctorate in Educational Leadership & Management with a concentration in Creativity and Innovation. I know this blog has been pretty silent lately and part of that is because I have been burnt out trying to conclude that chapter of my life. I kept telling people I would be a doctor by Christmas, I just wasn’t expecting before thanksgiving.

So what is next? I asked my son that question and he said I should take a break. He said no more classes or book deadlines. My husband doesn’t think I will sit still though. He thinks I will go for another degree. My professor thinks I should turn the dissertation into a book. One of my committee members told me that it is not the time to be humble and that I should strive to put myself out there (If you remember, one of my previous posts was about imposter syndrome).

My answer for what I would do was sleep. That is the only thing that I can think of right now. It has been a crazy couple of months and it feels like everything has been nonstop even working from home instead of commuting to the office. I took the last two days off and honestly, that is what I have been doing— sleeping! Maybe I will get to cleaning the house or baking cookies this weekend, but for now, I need to reset.

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful that my family is safe and healthy. I am thankful that our long journeys are over and it is time to turn to a fresh new page. I don’t know what the future will hold, but it can wait for another day.

Fight Feeling Like a Fraud!

I have been teleworking from home since March 16, 2020 due to COVID quarantines. It has been a bumpy process because at the same time, my son was also virtual learning. As you know from earlier posts, my husband also was going through the process of fighting for social security disability. He won his case, but we are still waiting on the backpay (we are at three months now and have been fighting for three years!). Oh, yeah, and there is the little matter of my dissertation too.

This is my mom’s list of who may enter (this is edited from someone else!). I’ll just take the puppies!

I have been battling internally for a couple months with the idea that I am not working hard enough. I am busier than ever, but I feel like I am getting nothing done. My days are filled with Zoom meetings, emails, and research on how I can turn my face to face workshops into virtual sessions. Oh, and there are also the committees and tasks forces I am a part of as well. And that is just my library job. I am also teaching, working on my dissertation, being a wife, parenting, keeping track of the household stuff, and so so much more. Yay, me!

Part of my struggle with my productivity is probably related to the feeling of Imposter Syndrome. I have had a couple of heart to hearts with my supervisor since March because my anxiety keeps telling me lies. The truth is that many of us feel like we don’t belong or have nothing interesting or worthwhile to share.

It is not the first time I have felt like that. On top of my regular office job, I teach a graduate level library science course about integrating STEM into libraries collections and programs. I am pretty sure by now you all know what STEM stands for, but just in case, it stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. A couple of terms ago, I had a student who had already received her PhD in Astrophysics. She was a Rocket Scientist! So here I was trying to teach a Rocket Scientist about STEM. Can you imagine? A librarian teaching a rocket scientist? What did I have to teach her that she didn’t already know? But that wasn’t the point of the course. I wasn’t there to teach STEM concepts, I was there really to teach about program planning, collection development, and, well, libraries. I was there to show the connection of how STEM fit into all of that. That is where I was the expert, so why did I feel like the biggest fraud there was?

A couple of weeks after the term was over, I received an email from another student in the course. He was thanking me for sharing my personal experiences and said that I had inspired him. That made me feel like all the other stuff didn’t matter. Here I had made an impact with at least one student and that was all I really needed. It was wonderful to hear back from this student that I had made a difference for him. But that feeling still lingered in my mind that I didn’t really deserve to be there teaching the course.

What causes us to have these feelings like we don’t belong?

We are living in a culture where we are told to be humble, that we shouldn’t talk about our accomplishments because it will come off as bragging or egotistical. So we downplay our accomplishments and it shocks us when other people point out them out and perhaps even makes us a little uncomfortable. I first heard the term Imposter Syndrome in Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. Apparently, this happens to a lot of people where we feel like we don’t deserve a seat at the table. This feeling of being an imposter chips away at our confidence. We feel anxious, stressed, and experience moments of self-doubt. Just like in my experience teaching my course, we feel like we have nothing of value to impart. Heck, even the COO of Facebook feels this way sometimes.

I like to joke that every time I create my monthly report at work, I am reminded of all the things that kept me busy that month. Let’s just say that it was eight pages long last month! But that monthly report is only a small snapshot of everything I do. Keeping a record like that can actually be pretty helpful when it comes to battling Imposter Syndrome.

A few months ago, I had to update my curriculum vita, which is basically an academics version of a resume. In case my boss is reading, don’t worry, I was not applying for a new job. I needed it as part of an application process for a research project related to my dissertation. It had been two years since I had last updated it. I’m a librarian, so one of the things I do when I have a task is to research it. As I looked up things to include in my CV, I realized I needed to add some sections. Things like committees and statewide projects I served on. Awards or grants I had received. As I added these things to my CV, I started to think to myself, why did I feel like a fraud? Right here on paper was a list of everything I had accomplished in my career. And I have to say it was a lot of stuff. Great stuff. Interesting stuff. Inspiring stuff. Publications and committees. International conferences. I had pages stating right there in black and white of all that I had accomplished. There was my reminder that I have value in my career and I deserved to be where I am.

This process of writing down a list of your accomplishments is actually a form of writing therapy that is used for people who might be suffering from forms of Imposter Syndrome. It is easy to dismiss our accomplishments, but much harder to do so when we have a written record showing that they exist in reality. I am sure that many of you have these same feelings like you don’t belong or that you are a fraud. In fact almost 70% of people worldwide suffer from these feelings.

We can wait for those moments when someone will say thank you or job well done. But while we are waiting, that feeling of being an imposter will continue to chip away at us. We need to tell ourselves that we are interesting. That we deserve to be where we are. That we deserve to strive towards our best potential. So I challenge you, create that list. It doesn’t have to be something as formal as a resume or a CV. Just simply take some time to list out everything you do. Then look at that list any time you feel like you don’t belong. You might be surprised at what you find.

Oh, yeah, I finished my completed draft of my dissertation this week. I am still waiting for the feedback from my supervising professor before the final draft and the defense, but I am feeling a little less like an imposter now. Here is to Dr. Jen in 2020!

Update from Self-Quarantine -Day 48

I saw this online this morning and the feels…

Via https://www.newyorker.com/humor

If you have been following along this month, you know I only made it to the letter “I” in the alphabet for the A-Z challenge. The reason for this is that it began to feel more like a chore than something I was excited about. Plus the stats were the same as when I was not posting. So I felt a little adrift in figuring out where to go from there. That is of course not to say I have not been busy.

We officially heard on Monday that my husband has finally been acknowledged by the Social Security Administration as being disabled. Surprisingly, he was approved not for his Sjogren’s Syndrome (which is a blue book listing), but rather because of a combination of health problems not the least of which is migraines. I plan to have another post with full details because it has been a three year battle and I have found that not many people talk about what happens after…

I have a meeting with my dissertation chair tonight. I had joined a group on Facebook that was hosting a challenge to get the dissertation written, but nothing has happened in the two weeks since my last group meeting with my chair. Again, it is that feeling of being adrift. I know I need to get more motivated and I should feel like I have all this time now to work on the paper, but I feel like I am busier than ever while still being at the least productive I have ever been. Anyone else feel like that? I tried describing the feeling to my husband, but he wasn’t understanding what I was getting at.

I am an introvert at heart, so I am not bothered by the fact that a month and a half has gone by since we began self-quarantine. I enjoy my coffee on the deck in the mornings. I keep up with my emails, and I am still teleworking for my full time job which means lots of virtual meetings and conference calls. Plus, I am prepping for the Summer quarter of the online graduate course I teach to begin. My family is healthy (well, healthy-ish). I may not feel like I am getting much done, but I know that I really am. I just need to stop comparing myself to what others are doing.

If you also find yourself adrift in this time of uncertainty, it is okay. Don’t let those with their baking, their house cleaning, their craft projects, and their sheer productiveness get you down. Remember that social media is only showing us a glimpse of what is happening in the background and everyone handles stress differently (mine seems to be by buying bulk snacks via Amazon). We are not quite superhuman, no matter how much we may try to be. So hang in there!

Do Nothing Day

“Doing nothing often leads to the very best kind of something.” – Christopher Robin

Today is Saturday, but it is a different Saturday. Today is a Do Nothing Day…leave the teleworking and the homeschooling behind. Okay, so technically January 16th is Nothing Day, but that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate it today. Don’t plan on being productive today. Just plan on being…you may find that by slowing down and doing nothing that you actually discover something. Of course, doing nothing doesn’t mean just sitting in silence like a mystical monk on top of the mountain somewhere. But it also doesn’t mean that what you are doing has to be for purposes of anything other than you enjoy it and can relax.

According to a study conducted in 2014 by the American Psychological Association (APA), 77% of the people surveyed reported regularly feeling stressed. An almost equal percentage of 73% reported experiencing psychological symptoms caused by stress. Half of those responding reported experiencing a negative impact to their personal and professional lives. The cost to employers for stress related health care or missed work is over $300 billion (American Institute of Stress, 2016). Stress is an epidemic plaguing many Americans. It can affect their relationships, their work, and their health. However, through making small “c” type creative endeavors part of their daily routine, an individual can see a positive return on their emotional well-being that can lead not only to a lessening of stress levels, but also prevention.

When we are stressed, the body goes into protection mode. Our blood pressure rises, heart beats faster, and our senses become more alert. According to Abbott (1998), “our hormones can also rise the levels of fat, sugar, and cholesterol in the bloodstream” (para. 5). When we are stressed, it can affect our mood and interactions with other people such as being short-tempered and irritable. It can also lead to sleep disturbances, constant colds, and in some extreme cases: death. Overall, being in a constant state of stress is unhealthy for us physically as well as emotionally.

According to Runco (2014), “[c]reativity can help the individual maintain both psychological and physical health” (pg. 110). While many creatives face a stigma of the “mad genius” where the creative is believed to be so immersed in creative work to the point that they let their mental and physical health suffer, that example has more to do with manic type states and does not actually categorize every creative. Actually, creativity can help to alleviate stress and build a more positive mood. Nicol and Long found that music hobbyists with low levels of stress were among the group that had the highest amount of creativity (Runco, 2014). Creative endeavors are one way to cope with the buildup of emotions that need to be let loose.

Maslow (1971) also describes a need for creativity as being part of his Hierarchy of Needs. Creativity is part of the highest tier of the pyramid because creativity is part of what is needed for the individual to reach that stage of Self-Actualization. Artist and author, Julia Cameron (2002) refers to this as “discovering a sense of perspective”. She recounts the story of a woman named Sarah who was described by many to be high-strung, crazy, and nervous. This woman went from therapist to therapist, treatment to treatment. It wasn’t until she began to use creativity tools as part of her daily routine that she began to find balance in her life.

A study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that people who do small creative projects report feeling happier and more relaxed (Lewis, 2016). According to the study, “[i]ntervention designs are still relatively rare in creative research […], but research suggests that art-making interventions can reduce stress and anxiety” (Conner, DeYoung, & Silvia, 2016, pg. 2). In fact, the study found that the effects of small creative endeavors, small “c” tasks, could induce states of “flourishing”, as described by CsikszenItmihalyi theory of flow states. These states were recorded as lasting longer, up to a day longer, than the time the participant invested into the activity. If emotions can have an effect on levels of creativity (Runco, 2014), then it makes sense that the inverse is also true where engaging in creative endeavors can have a similar effect on emotions resulting in a more positive mood and therefore reducing stress levels.

Stress Reduction Strategies

One suggestion on how to beat stress is to play music; however, music alone is not enough to beat stress. Researchers from the Stanford School of Medicine found that when played in conjunction with stress-reduction techniques, stress levels dropped for the participants in their study. They found that upbeat music was also the best selection to play during the activity (Harrar, 1999). A study of the relation of knitting towards stress reduction stated that many people choose hobbies as a way to reduce stress because these types of activities can provide a distraction from the stressor and also provide the individual with a feeling of control in the situation (Utsch, 2007). While avoiding a problem is not healthy, immersing the self into an activity like knitting can induce a feeling of concentration that allows for a more mindful and present sense of being. There may also be connections to Csikszentmilhalyi’s concept of flow and Torrance’s studies of Japanese satori (Runco, 2014). Similarly to knitting, baking is another small creative activity that can provide focus and control (Lewis, 2016). 

Journaling and creative writing are another method for relieving stress and contributing to positive mood building. Building on the work of Maslow’s self-actualization, researchers have found that if an individual participated in positive-writing, this was followed by an increase in mood and well-being. The study also found that writing created an outlet for solving problems and working through difficult experiences. In addition to affecting mood, there was also a documented increase in immune function as well (Lowe, 2006). As was mentioned in the work of Lowe (2007), positive-writing can increase mood and well-being. However, it is also important to record moments of triumph or success. Dr. Stacy Shaw Welch, Director of the Anxiety and Stress Reduction Center of Seattle recommends keeping a folder of past successes and referring to that folder when struggling or feeling anxious about a current project. By doing this, it can lay waste to the internal squelchers that distract us from believing that we are capable of accomplishing our goals (Weiner, 2007). According to Runco (2014), it is important to not only stimulate a good mood, but also to know why one is in a good mood. Therefore, it is important to keep notes or some type of journaling for reflection purposes as well as being able to analyze what task or routine was being completed that lead to the good mood.

Runco (2014) also suggests as creative tools the idea of shifting the perspective of a problem so you can see it from another angle or turning it upside down. The benefits of looking at something from a new angle is that it can inspire renewed interest in the problem which can generate new ideas and it also can change the perspective enough that new ideas will be generated because things will no longer be looked at as obstacles. A major way of changing your perspective may be leaving the problem entirely, taking a break and trying something new or even traveling. Runco (2014) states that traveling produces excitement as it can be stimulating. This change in mood can facilitate creativity as well as help people to be more grounded. They may even produce those aha moments because the individual is no longer so focused on the thing that was stressing them that they are finally able to think clearly.

So how will you spend your day? Will you pack it full of to-do lists? Or will you take a moment to savor the opportunity to find balance and center your being?

References

Abbott, I. O. (1998). Practical strategies for reducing stress. Practical Lawyer, 44(8), 63-74. Retrieved from http://www.library.drexel.edu/cgi-bin/r.cgi/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/274310495?accountid=10559 .

American Institute of Stress. (2016). Daily life. Retrieved from www.stress,org/daily-life .

Conner, T.S., DeYoung, C.G., & Silvia, P.J. (2016). Everyday creative activity as a path to flourishing. In The Journal of Positive Psychology. DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2016.1257049

Cameron, J. (2002). Walking in this world: the practical art of creativity. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam.

Harrar, S. (1999). Got pain? Got the blues? Try the music cure. Prevention, 51, 100-105+. Retrieved from http://www.library.drexel.edu/cgi-bin/r.cgi/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/212668450?accountid=10559 .

Lewis, D. (2016 November 29). Feeling Down? Scientists say cooking and baking could help you feel better. In Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/feeling-down-scientists-say-cooking-andbaking-may-help-you-feel-better-180961223/ .

Lowe, G. (2006). Health-related effects of creative and expressive writing. Health Education, 106(1), 60-70. Retrieved from http://www.library.drexel.edu/cgi-bin/r.cgi/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/214706253?accountid=10559 .

Maslow, A.H. (1971). The further reaches of human nature. New York, NY: Penguin Compass.

Runco, M.A. (2014). Creativity. Theories and themes: research, development, and practice (2nd ed.). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Utsch, H. (2007). Knitting and stress reduction (Order No. 3250730). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (304742173). Retrieved from http://www.library.drexel.edu/cgi-bin/r.cgi/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/304742173?accountid=10559

Weiner, L. (2007). Yes, you’re stressed…but what are you doing about it? Shape, 26, 138-146. Retrieved from http://www.library.drexel.edu/cgi-bin/r.cgi/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/195288526?accountid=10559 .