Thursday, March 1, 2012

Turning Pains into Unicorns

After more than a year of politics, my husband reported in a small victory. The behavioral health clinic is now the recipient of a paper shredder that can turn documents into dust. Department meetings won't be the same without the, "Status of the shredder report?" No worry though, they are now battling for drinking water supplies. The red headed step child of medicine, behavioral health, is not in the same building as all of the other medical services. It sits in a stand alone building where the water is not potable. The water delivery used to be mostly adequate, occasionally my husband asked me to drop off extra water, but then there was a change in vendors by the admin gurus who work in another building and decide these things. They also decided the weekly water supply could now be the monthly supply (Willy Wonka Science Teacher anyone?). My husband, being in a leadership position, has been forced to advocate for the staff and patients. You might think they work for some low rent fly by night company, but this is admin at work in the United States Navy, saving tax payers everywhere money.

You may wonder why I know so much about all of these inner workings. My children call their dad at the office to say, "Good night Dada!" I then chat with him about why he is yet again at work until ten or later in the evening. He tells me about all the nonsensical duties he has to attend in addition to his "real job" of seeing patients, writing reports, mentoring colleagues, telephone consults, and being on call. These duties make for a long day as is but the hair that breaks the camel's back includes using hostile computer programs that crash, dump data, and take longer than pen and paper; mandatory computer training to be completed by the close of business or else you can't go on leave; and responding to emails to justify drinking water supplies. My children only see their dad on the weekends.

My husband amazes me. I would go bonkers in his shoes with all that bureaucracy crap to negotiate. What am I saying, I go bonkers in my own shoes.  Do you remember the movie The Fifth Element with Bruce Willis? In a hostile situation where the bad guy aliens are taking over a pleasure ship, he, Bruce the hero, guns down the bad guy alien leader and then his comrade asks, "Any body else want to negotiate?" No one does. Maybe that's why the scene is funny, we all get sick of negotiating and wish things could be direct, to the point, and over something important.

I wonder how my husband stays sane. He bears a heavy load with grace. I respect the hell out of him for that. I grump and groan more than necessary. I also support him by way of assuming responsibility for things in his life that he cannot attend to, namely childrearing, packing lunches, and home life. When he does have time at home, he gets in some trouble for sleeping too much, but he gets brownie points for cooking dinner, playing with children, and repairing things meaning he's a good guy who helps when he can. He is also a man of habits. He reads the daily lectionary, plays guitar, watches horror films, and has a few cups of tea while "widgeting." That's it, that is how the man stays mellow. He says the bike ride to and from work is essential too. Every recipe is different, his works for him.

I'm still working on my recipe for mellowness. The main problem has to do with my delusion that life should not be so hard. This flies in the face of the Buddhist teaching on suffering. I think the Buddhist are winning. I'm always shocked when good doesn't prevail, when someone is unkind, when things don't go according to plan. My expectations get me in trouble, but somehow I keep hanging onto them.

Our son worries a lot for a six year old. He thinks about death and dying like some kids think about having ice cream- too much. He asked me recently, "What can I do so I won't think of these bad feelings?" I worked with him on, "Focus on your breathing like the monks do. Take a deep breath, follow your breath in and out. Try doing this ten times." He uses the idea about every fiftieth time. His dad waltzes in and quotes a movie line. Son responds. They crack themselves up. Maybe you don't need those deep breathes, well, you do when Dad isn't around or at least until Mom gets a better sense of humor.
It goes something like this:
Dad says, "If God had wanted man to fly,"
My son finishes, "He would have given him wings Mr. Kidd."
This kind of humorous distraction works. I see it in my own household daily. I came upon a TED Talk that touched on this idea. It is a great technique and a funny story. Shawn Achor starts with a story about when he was seven years old and playing war with his kid sister. She falls off of the upper bunk bed and lands awkwardly. He panics, having accidentally broken her arm the week before. He comes up with this, remember he was seven at the time:
Did you see how you landed? No human lands on all fours like that. Amy, I think this means you're an unicorn. Now that was cheating because there was nothing in the world my sister would want more- not to be Amy the five year little sister, but Amy the special unicorn. Of course this was an option that was open to her brain at no point in the past and you could see my own poor manipulated sister's face conflict as her better brain attempted to devote resources to feeling the pain, the suffering, the surprise she had just experienced or contemplate her new found identity as a unicorn. The latter won out. 
Shawn Achor, TED Talk "The Happiness Advantage: Linking Positive Brains to Performance"

My husband is a natural at this technique as well which is why "status of the paper shredder" was on the meeting agenda for over a year- it brought humor to the ridiculous admin bureaucracy that blocked a mental health department from obtaining a piece of necessary office equipment. Let's see how they fare with getting drinking water. It is also why he quotes movie lines to himself and our son. It keeps absurdities on a humorous level. I haven't fully appreciated this until now, I am going to work on turning more of my pains into unicorns.

Do watch the talk for yourself, there is at least a few chuckles in it for you.