I (Paula) swung by the Urgency Center on a Thursday, after getting a manicure with a good friend, because I had had an ‘incident’ that afternoon. I had been on a Zoom call (as usual) with a client and my chest tightened enough that I felt anxious. I had uncomfortable tingling in my left arm and a pain shooting into my left shoulder. Interestingly enough my priority was finishing the client session (doesn’t that just scream self-care?). After about 20 minutes the discomfort went away. To my credit – I did leave a voice mail for my daughter-in-law (nurse) and I went to get my manicure.
My daughter-in-law caught up with me as I got into my car following the manicure, suggesting that the responsible thing to do would be to swing by the Urgency Center on my way home and let them tell me that I was fine, as opposed to ignoring what happened and going to the Doctor the following week. So I went.
I was treated to an Ambulance ride to the hospital after they found the enzyme in my blood associated with heart attacks.
I share this tale for two reasons – first, it was a powerful lesson around paying attention to your body and that seemingly difficult to attain ideal called self-care. Note to self – your body knows best. Pay attention Paula!
The second reason I share is related to what happened next. As I was put in the ambulance with what I’d had on that day and my purse, I was checked into the hospital and informed that no family could come visit or be there with me. None. Ever.
So many people have had this experience during the Pandemic with dire results – so in most ways my experience is not comparable. But in some ways it is.
Alone, dealing with a health situation that I did not completely understand, having to listen to multiple doctors (most having slightly different opinions and perspective), digest the data alone and make decisions (and then keep my family informed) was simply overwhelming.
I started to think about what it means to advocate for yourself, BY yourself. From a neuroscience perspective I recognize that we are either in an away state (threat) or a toward state (reward). When we are anxious, angry, afraid. . . we go into a threat state. The threat state we experience may be mild (mildly anxious, a bit afraid, slightly angry) or debilitating (highly anxious, very frightened, furious).
Our brain can get in our way
If you have heard the wisdom that you need to communicate something 10 times in order to know that others have ‘heard’ you, this is why - our PFC (prefrontal cortex) – the part of our brain that solves problems, collaborates, manages our responses to situations – goes offline when we are in a serious threat state. Translation: To the extent that someone is in a threat state (mild to debilitating) is the extent to which the PFC is offline and they cannot ‘hear’ you.
As a leader, when we say to people ‘meet me in my office at 3pm, I have some feedback for you’. . . many people enter a threat state at that point and by the time 3pm comes, they can barely hear you greet them – let alone the ‘feedback’ that you have. To the extent that they are anxious or afraid or angry is the extent to which they actually cannot ‘hear’ you.
I sat there in the hospital bed, trying to listen to Dr after Dr describing test results and tests to come and I tried to process what it all meant. By myself. I know I missed things, and I am thankful that I can advocate from outside the hospital having recovered.
Everyone doesn’t get that.
Food for thought: How do you advocate for yourself in good times? How will you advocate for yourself when your life depends on it?
Advocating is to champion. I believe it’s a muscle and that it takes practice. If I do not champion ‘me’ when life is good, then how will I have those skills when life throws a challenge my way. I now know that there will be times it I have only me to depend on, so I will practice. Will you?