“Finally I was able to let go of fear and found courage and trust.” (Marije Smits)
When Susan arrived for her first counseling session, I was struck by her almost fairy-like beauty. With dark hair, creamy fair skin, and crystal green eyes, she reminded me of Snow White. At the time of our meeting, Susan was a 28-year-old PhD student studying philosophy and ethics. Not long before, she had discovered a mole while taking a shower. Susan had been going to tanning salons since she was 20. By the time she was 23, she was addicted to looking and feeling “sun-kissed”. By then she was working at the tanning salon to help pay for her own treatments. For nearly two years, she was tanning every other day.
The mole turned out to be diagnosed as malignant melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. “I didn’t even know what ‘melanoma’ meant,” she admitted to me. “When I found out the results, I was all alone at home and started to panic. I thought I was going to die.”
Are you like Ava and afraid of falling? Then try to fall!
Ava came to see me because she had been suffering with extreme vertigo for the past three years. Uncompensated labyrintis occurs when the inner ear becomes damaged and does not heal after eight weeks. Basically, the brain must then relearn how to correct the faulty signals that are coming from the sufferer’s damaged inner ear. Until then, you can experience dizziness, imbalance, and fatigue.
Ava’s brain was taking a long time to learn how to reinterpret the signals coming from her inner ear. Hence her continual bouts of vertigo which were unpredictable and could last for days. The strange part is that dizziness is actually part of the healing process as it shows that your brain is trying to correct the faulty signals.
Despite all this, Ava kept insisting that her life, in general, was happy and that she was happy. But still there were things she missed doing like skiing and dancing. Ava (30) was married and also wanted to start having children, but she was constantly afraid of falling down and didn’t dare have a baby for fear of falling while carrying the child.
Underneath her presenting issue of vertigo, however, was another story. When Ava was 18 and just beginning university, 200 km away from home, one morning, she spoke to her mother on the phone. Later that day she received a call that her mother had died in a car accident. This tragedy was particular difficult for her for many reasons, not to mention, the accident being so unexpected and her mother’s death so sudden. Ava was an only child. And finding herself far from home, without any real friends at the new school, she had no one to go to for immediate comfort.
This week the world’s first Empathy Museum is opening in London. I have to admit that when I first learned of this, I had to wonder. Do we need to put empathy in a museum to preserve it? Like an ancient artifact, is empathy so rare that we have to start visiting it in a museum?
Well, no. Obviously, I have turned this around. The international touring exhibition has been designed and created by Roman Krznaric to help us to “appreciate other people’s viewpoints, experiences and feelings.” He and his team of collaborators want people to step into the shoes of other people – literally. One of the exhibits invites you to enter a shop where a sales assistant will help you select a pair of shoes to wear, for example, the sandals of a political refugee or shoes belonging to an Etonian banker.
Too much to do? Running like crazy? Hardly able to take a breath? Worried about money, somebody’s health, a deadline? Awake at night with the stress by day?
Stress. When it’s chronic, it can be toxic to our body, mind, emotions and reflected in our negative behavior. But when it’s acute, stress can actually be a motivating factor for positive change.
God (or the Universe, however you want to see the world) played his usual tricks on me. A few weeks ago, I was invited to give a workshop on the “Upside of Stress” and gladly agreed. Knowing that stress is energy which can be consciously transformed into positive change, I thought, No problem! It will be fun.
But the joke was on me. God seemed to say, “Okay, Catherine, if you’re so smart and want to talk about transforming stress to 50 other souls, then let’s see what you are made of.” Wham-O! One thing seemed to come after another. Work piled up on top of work, I injured my hand and it became infected, and my taxes were due. It was all just enough to test my resolve and big, fat ideas!
Tomorrow I will turn 60. What a surprise to softly land at this decade of life after so many turbulent years! I’m afraid that I cannot take any credit for it happening. My arrival has come all by itself with God’s grace.
I am happy to be on the threshold of old age. One of my friends recently said, “Oh, you are entering the age of wisdom.”
“I don’t know about wisdom,” I replied, pointing to my grey hair. “But I am certainly entering the age of whitedom, wrinkledom, and forgetfulness!” I understand this birthday as the beginning of another part of my life which is about to unravel.
As Brigitte Bardot said, “It’s sad to grow old, but it’s nice to ripen.” Old age may be the time when your body starts to fail in strength, energy, and functionality. But it is also the time when the soul starts to ripen. In old age you finally have the time and perspective to weave the various threads of your life into a more comprehensive understanding of yourself. Old age is the time to harvest all your experiences into a synthesis of Joy.