I’m a silver-lining-seeker, an other-side-of-the-coin-thinker, an uplifting-quotes-subscriber. But these last few days have been tough. I know I probably shouldn’t post something political, but it’s both political and non-political, as what is happening now is affecting how many are feeling. I’ve read postings on Facebook by friends who state that something good will come of this, though there are a surge of postings by people who’ve experienced hatred, verbal abuse, physical assault, and other crimes at the hands of people in support of Trump (I recognize this is not the majority). And this is just a few days in. I find that hard to stomach. I find it hard to tell myself to breathe deep and let go. I find myself riled up!
So much so that I jumped out of bed to write this.
The fact is that I do still believe in our better selves (no, not bitter selves). That includes everyone. I think that people are acting out of hatred in response to their own fears and insecurities. But it doesn’t make it any easier if you are the victim (or potential victim) of any of that hatred. And I find it hard to reconcile, as I personally can’t imagine taking those steps of aggression toward people of a different race, gender, sexual identity or preference, or religion. But I am not in the shoes of those people. I was not taught the same things. I’ve been fortunate.
I will not, nevertheless, allow that hatred to rear its ugly head in my presence. My Japanese-Canadian grandparents know/knew racism. They were moved from their homes in Port Moody, BC to internment camps in ghost towns. They had their property taken from them by our government. Some of their neighbours and friends tried to help. Some did nothing. Some stood aside, allowing it to happen. Some cheered as it happened. My grandparents and their families did as they were told. They said, “Shikata ga nai.” That literally means, “There is no way.” In other words, there’s nothing we can do, so let it be done. They quietly accepted.
After the war, they were not allowed to return to their homes. Their property had been sold, so they had next to nothing. They were told to either return to Japan (some had never been there, having been born in Canada!) or move east of the Rockies. It’s my mother’s generation (the Sansei—3rd generation) who spoke up in the 1980s, asking for apologies and financial concessions. They also fought and won an end to the “War Measures Act” that allowed the government to suspend civil liberties and personal freedoms.
I often use the mantra, “shikata ga nai, shikata ga nai, shikata ga nai,” when I’m faced with something that seems out of my control. It can be a good mantra to help relieve stress and tension.
But, today I realized something. In this case, that’s the wrong thing for me to say. We all have something we can do. I had a conversation with a patient who is a financial planner. We got talking about how many people in the U.S. are angry and feel their poverty is outside of their control and caused by others. There may be some merit to that. But it’s also possible that they didn’t understand how to best take care of their limited finances. It’s not taught in schools. In fact, many otherwise well-educated people don’t understand much about managing their finances, investing wisely, or saving effectively. He tries to change that by reaching out to those he knows to help them understand the basics. Maybe those of you with that knowledge could shout a bit louder that you can help.
What if you’re a history teacher? Rather than just have your students memorize dates and events (that was my history class in high school), you could discuss key historical events and their impact, both good and bad. Help us learn from our past mistakes. Remind us where we’ve erred before so we can correct our actions now and in the future.
Each of us can rest a bit easier knowing that if we have something we do well, we could do that with a little more oomph. Something that provides more good in this world. And that can be with anything that we do.
When I purchased something at a store today, the salesperson asked me, “Would you like to donate a dollar to…Donald Trump?” He smiled mischievously and I laughed. This morning as I headed into the Skytrain station, the guy handing out free newspapers was shouting, “Have a wonderful day!” and “Happy Thursday!” He didn’t need to do that, but he clearly wanted to uplift those around him. When my cell phone’s screen went dark and wouldn’t display anymore, I had to take it in to get it fixed. At the phone kiosk, the young guy behind the counter was extremely friendly and helpful. At first, I didn’t want him to be. I was mad that I had to spend my time getting this item fixed when I bought it less than a year ago. But, he didn’t let my grumpy mood alter his attitude. Soon enough, my mood was softened.
Since I’m in healthcare, my offering is going to be health-related. I try to teach people how to take care of their health. When you are sick, tired, in pain, or just not feeling well, you aren’t your best self. You may be more likely to snap at people. You might have less energy to do your best job. You could find yourself unwilling to push yourself to go that extra step to provide more good in this world.
So, I pledge to keep trying my very best to make each of you healthier so you can spread more of your own positivity.
Now I think I’ll use the mantra, “Hoho wa arimasu”—“There is a way.” Or perhaps “noli illegitimi carborundum” (look up this phrase online).
Pain, fatigue, depression, anxiety, disabilities, injuries, and chronic illness. Every day I work with people who are suffering. And the question that sometimes comes up is, “Will I get better?”
I believe that our bodies are designed to heal, so yes, I do reply that things will get better. Does that mean 100%? Sometimes, against all odds, yes. Sometimes not 100%, but better.
Courage to Come Back
I was recently honoured to get to watch someone I know well received a prestigious award, the Courage to Come Back Award. Tom is a man who doesn’t do things for awards or accolades. In fact, in this video, you can see that he says he doesn’t know if he was a good social worker (I’m sure he was!), but that he felt he could do his best to do little things to help others.
He has many major health challenges—legally blind, kidney transplant (twice), chronic pain, and more—but despite them, is one of the more active people I know. He curls, does yoga, and walks everywhere. He travels, he volunteers, he writes articles, he advocates for people in need, and his home is a regular gathering place for parties.
So, what does Tom have to say about overcoming and dealing with challenges? I interviewed him for his perspective a week after receiving the Courage to Come Back Award.
Support of others
Tom was born with severe vision problems. Nearly blind, he could see the blackboard at school, but couldn’t see the words on it. He asked his teachers to read aloud what they wrote on the board. In university, his friends read his textbooks to him.
So, it’s no surprise that when I asked Tom to name some of the things that have helped him through his life, despite his health challenges, he said that support is the most important. Find people you trust, respect, and can rely upon. And know that it’s a two-way street, so be trustworthy, respectful, and reliable to them.
But then I asked him how to ask for help. Because sometimes it’s hard to ask. He said that his experience is that most people want to help. And that when people care for you, they don’t want to worry about you. It’s more of an impediment to worry than to be able to help. And sometimes people don’t simply offer to help without you asking because they don’t want to intrude.
Sometimes pain continues. Sometimes things don’t get better or more challenges arise. So, how do you manage? What do you do?
Tom’s suggestions? “Pain is something you may not always be able to get rid of, but you can work on reducing it. Your body and mind can adjust to pain. If you can just get better bit by bit, even chronic pain can feel less painful. And remember, it usually took a long time to get to where you are now, so it takes effort, commitment, conviction, and hope to make changes for the better.”
Though this phrase may not work for all, Tom remembers with a chuckle, a time that he was really struggling and a friend said to him, “It’s better to be above ground than below.” For him, that was motivation to push forward.
If you get to meet Tom, you’ll find out he has a great sense of humour. He says he’s always perceived things in a “zany way,” and that has helped.
One of the main messages he’d like to share is that it takes courage. It’s no surprise that the award is called Courage to Come Back. “Everyone suffers some type of adversity, struggles in their life. And the most important thing is to take steps forward, one at a time, and keep trying. Don’t give up. Stay positive, even when it’s hard.”
What you can do to help someone in need
What if you’re on the other side of the equation? You may know someone with chronic health issues, and perhaps you want to help, but you don’t want to mistakenly offend. Tom told me that a simple question to ask is, “Can I help?” That way a person can say yes or no to assistance.
Also, try to avoid saying, “you should…” as that can come across as overbearing. But, Tom says that it’s important for all of us to remember not to take things too personally. Most of us are well-meaning and are just trying to help.
Additionally, sometimes it’s better to just listen instead of offering soothing words, suggestions, or a pep talk. “Silence is very important. It shows you are listening and thinking,” Tom says.
And, when you do talk, Tom told me of advice he received from one of his mentors, “It’s not always what you say, but how you say it.”
One more quote
One more bit from Tom, “Healing is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.” And he would know. Tom has been beating the odds for more than 70 years.
For more about the winners of the Courage to Come Back Award, check out their site here.
I see a lot of runners at my clinic. It could be because runners are generally a health-conscious group, open to alternative forms of treatment like acupuncture and biopuncture and Chinese herbals. It could also be because running causes a lot of injuries. I think it’s a combo of both reasons.
I’m not a runner. But I need to be for June 22nd. That’s when I do the Tough Mudder. Or, at least, that’s when I hope to do the Tough Mudder. I’ve signed up for it, paid the fee, and started training. But I do wonder if I’ll make it.
Running is hard on the body. Or at least it’s hard on my body. Some people seem built to run. I recall my “Gait Analysis” course from my university days. I remember checking out the feet of my friend, a triathlete. I looked at his running shoes. My analysis was that he was an injury waiting to happen. But it didn’t happen. He was—and is—one of those people who loved/s to run. His body had somehow figured out how to make running work. My body simply does not understand the purpose of running beyond catching a bus or rushing to an appointment.
You see, my knees don’t have enough cartilage under the kneecap to protect them from the friction that happens during repetitive and pounding activities like running. But, then I see how a runner with the wrong feet can be a great runner. I’ve also seen a YouTube videos of a two-legged dog running without any extra support. And I see the patients at my clinic who regularly move past their own pain, suffering, and challenges. So, there is a way.
I am trying to start slowly. I run only on soft surfaces—chip trail, grass, and mud. I keep track of my distances, increasing them gradually. I’m now at 7 km, having started at 4 km. I walk when I need to walk. I listen to my knees. To a point. My knees talk pretty frequently when I run, but I’m learning when their chatter is nothing and when it’s telling me to stop. Last week I erred in my communication with my knees. I pushed an extra km and paid for it. I could barely walk a couple of blocks that afternoon. My knees were M…A…D…mad… at me. But some TLC afterward and I think we are resuming our happy relationship with each other again.
Are you a runner? If yes, what do you like about it?
I recently—and crazily—decided to sign up for the Tough Mudder endurance race that describes itself as “Probably the Toughest Event on the Planet.” Gulp!
I’m not a runner. I’ve never been a runner. Even as a kid I didn’t like soccer, basketball, or track. I figure skated, danced, dove, swam, did gymnastics, and played volleyball. I had good reason not to like running. Running hurts my knees. Yet, here I am, signed up for an event that includes 10-12 miles—yup, miles (16-19 km)—of running.
I know that this is interspersed with obstacles (mildly put) and is not a straight running course. Where most people I know are worried about the “arctic enema,” “electric eel,” “boa constrictor,” “fire walker,” and “walk the plank” obstacles, I’m most worried about the running. This distance is close to that of a half marathon (21 km) and I’ve never done a 10K or even a 5K.
So, why am I doing this? Well, I like a challenge. Tough Mudder proclaims that this is more than an event, saying, “it’s a way of thinking.” Pushing through obstacles and challenges all the while having fun and sharing the experience with a group of people all there to support each other sounds like a lot more fun to me than racing a bunch of strangers.
Plus, I turn the 40 this year. I remember the big birthday party my mom threw for my dad’s 40th. I remember the “over the hill” jokes and how I thought of 40 as old. Of course, “old” is a very relevant term and we now hear that 40 is the new 30. Did I hear that or did I say that? Hmmm…I forget. Uh oh, forgetfulness.
But seriously, I do believe that new experiences and opportunities to learn are a great way to stay feeling vibrant. I may never do this again, but while I still don’t enjoy running and I may not like the potential for the 10,000 volt zaps, I know that I will enjoy the camaraderie and the chance to celebrate making it through each obstacle. Even if it ends with a couple of ice packs and lots of Tie Ta Wan (one of many Chinese herbal formulas for injury).
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced that has brought you a sense of accomplishment?