Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Chicken Makes Visit to Hospital

Dear Wanda,

We have a friend in the hospital who has been in and out for several months now do to having his body severly injured in a horse riding accident. We talked to a mutual friend today who said that depression is really setting in on him.

I think we will make the 100 mile drive up to see him but don't know exactly what to say to him or bring to him that would help him out. We haven't seen him since the accident. We have talked about it but I guess have been chicken. What would do you in our position?

Dear Chicken,

First, I send good wishes to your friend and hope he has a good team of doctors, as well as a lot more people like you on his side.

Our culture isn't very good about teaching us how to deal with injury and grief and loss. Mostly, we are expected to keep a stiff upper lip and make our lives look as normal as possible. The fact that you are "chicken" is pretty common. Give yourself a break about that. Just remember that this guy is your friend and you love him and you want to help. Good intentions go a long way.

I am also pleased that you are looking for information, knowing that you don't know what to do. Good intentions are wonderful and having ideas, tools, and skills can make the whole process easier on you, too.

Depression is common after a serious injury or illness. Much of the depression is biochemical because the body requires so much energy to heal and deal with the injury's shock to the system. The adrenals take a huge hit with this kind of accident and once the life threatening portion of the process is over, depression can set in while the body it trying to restore its equilibrium. I once knew a guy who was an Ironman Triathlete. I asked him what he felt after he had finished a competition and he said, "Depressed." The demand takes all his juice and it takes time to recover.

When the shock is not intentionally self-imposed (as in an Ironman competition), we tend to think that the depression is purely emotional. Our ideas about depression and emotional difficulties in this culture are unkind at best and self-destructive at worst. (That, however, is probably the fodder for another post at another time.)

What Would Wanda Do?

I would go visit my friend. I'd take the visit as it comes and "pace" him. Pacing is a concept from Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP). What I'd do is meet the person where he is. I'd match his energy level and his current level of expression to develop rapport. In other words, I would just be with him. Does that mean I would become depressed if he is depressed? No. It means, if he is depressed, I would keep my initial energy level low. I wouldn't come in and start laughing and joking and slapping him on the back. I would test the waters and see how he is feeling. I wouldn't patronize or talk down to him. I would just match him. A really good way to develop rapport is to begin to breathe at the same pace he is breathing. Some of us do this unconsciously; however, in matching his breathing consciously, I am purposefully saying non-verbally, "I am with you. We'll take this at your pace."

After developing rapport, I might begin to "lead" him a bit. Leading is also an NLP concept. Once I have rapport, I can begin to take the lead and see if he follows. I might start to smile a little bit more (on purpose) and tell him stories that are lighthearted to see if he is able to let them in. If he can't start to smile and lighten up with me, then I would back down again and just be with him where he is.

Since I am also a massage therapist, I would probably ask him if I could touch him. You don't say what his injuries are, but I would ask to touch him in a way that wouldn't hurt or jostle his owies. Ideally, if I could touch his back without hurting him, I would put my hands on his adrenals. The adrenals are small glands that sit on top of each kidney at the lower part of the ribcage. Probably, I would just put my hand on his back and hold it there with the sense that I was supporting his adrenals in their recovery. I'd send his adrenals good energy.

If touching his back wasn't possible because of his injuries, I might hold his hand or give him a hand rub or a foot rub--something to make contact with him physically. Touch is an important part of healing and hospitals don't provide for much of it other than turning or poking or prodding and such.

Last, I would talk with him. I'd tell him stories that are light and funny or amusing. I would catch him up on people we both know and care about. If he got around to talking about his depression at all, I would tell him that it is normal to feel some depression after an incident like this and that a big portion of it is physical rather than just emotional. Having that information can take a big part of the worry out of the depression.

Most of all, I would just love him and do my best for him to feel it while I was with him and for a long time after.

That's what I'd do. I hope this helps.