A fellow blogger, Rose Wolfe, who is a true encourager, shared the following response to one of my postings.
Just recently, I have been formulating a concept that there is the Gift of Suffering. In its most basic form, the idea is that our suffering adds to our spiritual maturity. As we continue to add to our faith, we grow in our relationship with Christ. Once we trust God with our lives (and, we, who are disabled, know the meaning of this), we can move forward in our appreciation of God’s plan for us. One gift: tribulation develops patience; and patience, character (maturity). Another gift of suffering: we can then comfort others with the comfort that we received from Christ. Rose Wolfe Living Free with disAbilities.
Let me explain how I experience the Gift of Suffering.
It’s been 21 months since my life took a sudden and profound turn. I continue to adjust to the changes which have included a liberal dose of suffering. The suffering has extended deeper into my personhood than the initial, immediate and persistent physical pain. The pain of sudden loss of a job. The pain of losing the ability to do so many physical activities that I took for granted. The pain of memory loss. The pain of not understanding what was happening to me. The pain of not being able to deal with various social situations. The pain of having plans evaporate. I never could have imagined such a multi-layered array of pain.
Suffering has given me the ability to live in the moment. Having daily familiar activities of job and family come to a grinding halt has changed my view of life. This new perspective is not a dull, monotonous, emptiness. I have learned that life can be also be appreciated at a much slower pace. Had I known this was coming I would have been wrong in expecting impatience to be one of my greatest trials. Even as the dust initially settled I had this sense that whatever healing I might receive it would take time. This has given me the gift of recognizing and appreciating the moment.
Suffering has exposed me to the compassion that lives in the community in which I worship. The words of encouragement have been generously shared. The questions that I get asked, I see as a heartfelt desire by people reaching out, wanting to understand this part of my journey. This has given me the gift of compassion and surrounds me with a level of encouragement that is hard to describe.
Suffering has shown me some clear personal limitations. There is something liberating about not being able to put up with someone’s inappropriate behaviour. I no longer try to negotiate with myself on how much to tolerate or how to put the best spin on dealing with someone’s rudeness or impertinence. My internal or subconscious response has been a clear signal to call out the inappropriate behaviour or quietly walk away from the situation. It’s a gift to not deal with lingering doubts of pushing my personal limits.
Suffering has given me the time to explore new interests. Advice for those contemplating retirement is to resist the urge to immediately jump into something else. Commit to giving yourself a year or so before signing on to new responsibilities or projects. My recovery time has given me the gift of moving at my own pace without the threat of giving in to feelings of selfish restraint.
Suffering has created an environment that encourages reflection. In being forced to take on different activities, different pace, and different timelines I’m confronted with contrasts and comparisons. Being mercilessly pulled out of one lifestyle with it’s various pressures, choices and expectations has in some strange way benefits akin to traveling. A change of scenery creates conditions conducive to refection and taking stock. It’s a gift to be able to experience acknowledge blessings more deeply.
Suffering has given me a greater sense of trust. One word that describes much of the initial experience is ‘vulnerability’. There was so much that I was not able to manage or control. I was exposed to many unknown forces and impressions. What first expressed itself as confusion, helplessness and anxiety, gradually gave way to a beginning level of acceptance and trust.
Suffering has not destroyed my sense of hope. Initially my sense of hope was expressed in the form of “I’m glad the injury wasn’t worse.” Right from day one I had a sense that my injuries were not insurmountable. That sense of hope has given me the conviction that God has a clear purpose for me. He has gotten my attention. God chooses ways to slow us down. We might not like the means, but we would be at a greater loss if we miss the message.
It’s strange in a good way, how having suffered significant loss, I am able to see rays of hope however faint, shine through when others share their experience of loss. It seems that in the telling, when a person is sharing their loss, there is a sense of hope. One needs a sense of hope, even if it’s a mere glimmer, to be able to share their story of loss. Without hope there would be no motivation to share.
Recently a friend shared a passage from 2 Corinthians 1 that has given him hope.
3 Praise be to the God …,4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
Let me share one of the basic tools I have been learning to use. The tool is a very practical four step process, Goal, Plan, Do, Review, that helps me live with ABI. The real value comes with refining the use of the tool, knowing what factors to take into consideration. Just as good wine improves with age, so the tool improves with use (and guidance from a mentor).
This tool reminds me of an educational tool called Action Research. Action Research… is a disciplined process of inquiry conducted by and for those taking the action. The primary reason for engaging in action research is to assist the “actor” in improving and/or refining his or her actions.ASCD (2000)
In education the intent is to improve the art of teaching for the benefit each student. In my case the intent is to increase my mindfulness and make informed choices to help improve my quality of life
I’ve been working with an Occupational Therapist (OT) to help me better understand how my ABI affects my day to day living. A better understanding is leading to a better management of my challenges. The use of Goal, Plan, Do, Review is the key tool in the ‘detective work’ of avoiding or minimizing obstacles during the course of my day.
GOAL – Choosing achievable activities
Recently, in reviewing my schedule for the week the OT stopped me and asked, “How are you going to do all that?” She was commenting on my calendar which showed a concert on Friday evening, with a two hour trip to a wedding shower the next day, followed by an hour and a half drive to a birthday celebration. What she was alerting me to was the need to have a plan. Failing to plan would be a plan to fail.
PLAN – Figured out the necessary accommodations
There were a few obvious issues. First of all, I was reminded that driving or being a passenger creates its own set of challenges. Second, I was reminded that music, especially live music was a challenge. Right off the top there were two significant factors that needed to be addressed. How to manage the two days without experiencing sensory overload or neural fatigue.
Failure could result in having to bail part way through the day or less drastically needing a couple of days to recover. The object is to avoid the first scenario and minimize the second. Early on I depended on the help of an OT to make sure I had recognized all potential challenges. Part of the planning involved leaving some flexibility for factors I had failed to identify. Eventually I was learning to recognize more of the potential challenges on my own. The end of the process would always determine how successful I had been with the planning.
DO – following the plan work
The most important rule is to be rigorous in following the plan. The value of the planning would be seriously undermined by allowing short cuts or deviations.
For the concert I made sure I had my musician earplugs on me and a lawn chair. Since the concert was out of doors, the live music did not come with the additional challenge of reverberating off the walls. The musician earplugs would reduce the volume of the music by 15 decibels. The lawn chair would allow me to sit further back from the action and away from distractions of spectators. To create some additional resilience I scheduled a ‘rest up’ time a couple hours before the concert.
For the two hour drive to the wedding shower, (I was actually the ‘tag-along’ for that event), we made several accommodations. First of all, we scheduled three hours for the drive. That allowed for several short stops and a longer break half way there. I made sure to have a proper lunch as well as an opportunity for a ‘rest up’ time. Can’t under estimate the importance of nutrition to keep the brain fed. Since it was a ‘women only’ shower I had time alone and a chance to ‘rest up’ for a bit.
For the drive into Toronto, I am better able to handle traffic as driver than a passenger. This is even more significant when dealing with heavy traffic and traffic jams. As expected, we made rather slow progress once we reached the outskirts of the city. Since I’m quite familiar with Toronto, I had several alternate routes in mind depending on where we would encounter traffic congestion. I made route changes based on my own judgement without discussing options. Had I been the passenger and asked to give input I would have been into neural fatigue within a few minutes. That type of discussion and problem solving has too many cognitive and social layers.
When we arrived at the party I found out there would be live music. Unfortunately I had forgotten my musician earplugs. This raised the real likelihood of having to abort our time at the party. In the end it was a non-issue. The guitar music created a calm background to the party activities.
The social dynamics of large groups create challenges for me. After doing introductions and sharing birthday wishes I sought out people who preferred one on one conversations. Surprising how many people for different reasons have difficulty with large groups. Yeah, it helps to feel like I’m in familiar company.
On leaving I drove the first part till we were clear of the city traffic. After switching to the passenger seat I became aware of how tired I was. Tired is better than sensory overload. I dozed off during the last half hour of the drive home. I had followed the plan quite closely and was pleased with the results.
REVIEW – How well did I land on my feet?
The real test as to whether my participation with the Friday night and Saturday events were a success wouldn’t be confirmed till the next day. If I slept well and experienced no lingering fatigue in the next day or two I could then confidently declared the execution of the plan a success.
Had the plan not worked, I would then need to get into the detective work of figuring out what factors or combination of factors contributed to the plan going off the rails. Sometimes unexpected situations develop that create a domino effect. For example, had the weather been hotter than expected, that could have changed things very early in the ‘Doing’. That could have required a decision to abort the second event on Saturday. Just one example of the importance of having flexibility in the plan.
In ongoing detective work of living with ABI, the main rule is don’t arrive at premature conclusions. Each ‘detective’ review following an event or series of events is to continue to build a case, to constantly work to clarify two things:
When experiencing success, determine what can be added to the list of successful strategies. At times a successful experience will show a successful broadening of an activity or adding a new activity to the list.
When experiencing a setback determine the possible culprits. When a culprit is suspected analyze the context and possible contributing factors. Don’t immediately rule out the activity. Certain activities create a setback only in combination with specific factors.
The more I use the Goal, Plan, Do, Review tool the better I am at realizing successful results.
I decided to attend an educators’ convention as an honourary member. After 36 years as a paying member I smile at being given the title ‘honourary’. Deciding to attend was easy, attending was a different story.
In order to attend I needed to get to the event. Knowing that my driving limit is about 100 km, I knew the 200 km trip would be pushing my limit. For good measure I gave myself a slight advantage by not setting my alarm clock. I would let my body indicate when I was reasonably rested. Had I woken up at 9:00 I might have abandoned the idea of attending.
I was on the road by 7:00. I complimented my body both on being awake and getting organized and out of the house within an hour of waking. The two hour trip took almost double the time due to the slow traffic caused by the rain.
I arrived at the event feeling overtaxed, the sensory loading and the neural fatigue had left its mark. Neural fatigue and socializing just don’t mix. With over a thousand people at the event, I felt I was in the wrong place. I had definite misgivings about staying.
Since it was almost lunch time I assembled a plate of food from the buffet table and searched out a quiet place to eat. I had to get away from the overcrowded area soon to be filled with hundreds of people. The volume, the acoustical effect of block walls, would do nothing to help reduce my neural fatigue.
Eating lunch; the nutrition and the calm location, should help to relieve some of the fatigue. Shortly a former colleague approached and asked if I was open to having someone join me for lunch. Her sensitivity, and consideration was a clear signal to extend an invitation.
Had a boisterous and excitable colleague approached me I would have cringed. Had a colleague who didn’t have the sensitivity to engage in a balance conversation approached me my fatigue would have persisted and left me discouraged. Had a colleague who was absorbed in their own accomplishments joined me I would have gone into a downward spiral.
We shared laughter. We shared tears. It was energizing and refreshing. The nutritious lunch, the supportive company and the brief time to relax, rekindled a desire to participate in the afternoon events. Her awareness of my needs and mindfulness during our lunch gave me the social momentum as it helped to dissolve my isolation.
On the second day of the convention, after a good night’s sleep, I was in better shape. Another colleague shared how my experiences of living with ABI has given her insight into some of the challenges her students face. We discussed various possible challenges that neurologically atypical children likely encounter in institutional settings like schools.
We ended our discussion as we entered the auditorium to join in the opening program of the day. No sooner did we step inside when 800 people, accompanied by four amplified musical instruments, broke into song. For me the music had the effect of a sound canon. My only saving grace was having taken a seat a mere ten steps from the exit. Despite my quick exit, it took me ten minutes to recover. The five seconds of music had transformed me from engaging in an animated discussion into sensory overload. Unable to even speak I couldn’t alert my colleague that I needed to make a hasty retreat. Nor could I afford to delay my exit.
In reflecting on the convention the sessions were engaging and left me with food for thought. However, I need more than that to rate the experience as ‘good’.
Despite being in the profession for more than three decades, for me the event was not so much about looking back as it was about looking forward. Considering ways to serve educators in new ways. Exploring that potential made the effort and challenges of getting to and attending the convention worthwhile.
While my ABI coloured much of my time at the convention, it did not define my experience.