Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The price of being too emotional

By Monica Vest Wheeler

Recently, I was told I was too emotional, that I needed to chill.

Well, I'll proudly wear the "too emotional" label because it makes me who I am … who I am finally at peace being.

I'd rather err on the side of humanity and authenticity. I'd rather be transparent than cloudy … even when tears blur my vision.

And because I choose to feel and share those emotions, that makes me less than perfect. I accept the role of being only human.

I gave up perfectionism several years ago, and it was one of my best decisions ever. Taking that load off my body, mind and soul opened the door to so many more life experiences that would have left me far poorer in spirit if I had missed them.

Try it if you suffer from the perfection bug. Cheaper than medicine or therapy. Also extends your life. Guaranteed!

Being "too emotional" is not easy. It can be beyond exhausting. It can make you vulnerable. It can be embarrassing. It can make some people uncomfortable.

Apparently that is what happened to the person who labeled me "too emotional."

I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry …

I've spent much of my life apologizing … for what, I'm not exactly sure. A lot of folks have asked, "What are you apologizing for?" And it's a hard habit to explain. I just wanted to make sure I hadn't bothered or inconvenienced or offended anyone … almost everyone I encountered.

Oh, how ridiculous! And it's an even harder habit to break!

The other day, while saying goodbye to a friend here in Peoria, I got teary-eyed again and tried to hide it. Putting her arm around me, she gave me the greatest gift by saying, "I know you're crying, hon. It's okay."

There are moments and connections and words and love that frequently tickle my tear ducts these days. I guess God wired me with extra tears, and I MUST produce! It's amazing I haven't short-circuited yet.

Maybe it just gives me more power and energy to live … and love.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Caregivers are worthy, too

By Monica Vest Wheeler

I do need more sleep.

But I've realized the past few days that what I really need much more of is more of ME.

Yep, I used the word "more" three times … just like Donna Summer did in the disco age …

The role of caregiver can suck the life out of you. I've seen it happen to the kindest and the most stoic individuals in the world. I've witnessed firsthand the stress of caregiving debilitate the strongest bodies.

Ironically, caregiving can also give birth to the strongest hearts and souls in the universe. For in those moments of monumental physical, emotional and spiritual challenge, a new life purpose can be born.

In more than a dozen years of engaging with caregivers, I've learned that no two individuals and care scenarios are alike. It's all because we have different DNA and experiences. I still find it so fascinating that God keeps coming up with unique fingerprints and souls every second …

After six months of traveling back and forth to Indiana and living 75 percent of my life in the Hoosier state during that time, I've decided that we have a choice to be caregivers or careworriers.

Yep, you heard it here: careworriers.

We can begin to define ourselves by what we think we can and should do. We can give ourselves the title of head cheerleader and then beat ourselves up mercilessly with the pompoms when our loved one isn't cheerful.

We can question our own reasoning abilities when we're arguing on the phone with insurance companies, where we're sure the representatives have been trained to subliminally make us believe we've become stupid after pressing 42 buttons in search of a real human being.

And it's such a tiny request, a live voice …

A live connection …

After you've written a dozen new definitions of the meaning of life … and seem to adopt a new one every few days …

And then start to compose a new theory of your own life … because no one can do it for you … and because you just need to sit down and do it.

It's too easy to be consumed by the challenges that stand in front of you when you care for someone else …

And push aside the ones that are just as important but are hiding … like yourself …

I still don't know what the immediate future holds for my loved one as we take it day by day …

But I know I have to rediscover the core of myself this minute and the next …

Because, as I tell all the caregivers I've encountered over the years …

You are worthy, too.

Yes, I am worthy, too.

And desperately seeking horses to talk to …

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The kids are smarter than the adults

By Monica Vest Wheeler

The kids are smarter than the adults … because their minds haven't been poisoned by politics.

The kids have more common sense than the adults … because their minds haven't been poisoned by greed.

The kids are more compassionate than the adults … because their hearts haven't been poisoned by lies.

The kids are quicker to learn than the adults … because their minds haven't been poisoned by tunnel vision.

The kids see more obvious solutions … because their souls haven't been poisoned by hopelessness.

The kids are willing to spring into action … because their bodies haven't been poisoned by laziness.

The kids want to give … because their lives haven't been poisoned by taking.

The kids want to work together … because their lives haven't been poisoned by lack of compromise and cooperation.

The kids want to live … because they haven't been poisoned by hate.

I choose to be a kid.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

If you're still searching for the perfect gift

By Monica Vest Wheeler

Valentine's Day is that time when retailers go a little crazy catering to the needs of crazy people in love … in search of the perfect gift … to candy or not … to flower or not … to ring or not …

Whether it's my life experience or the gazillion folks I've interacted with, I've decided that the most sincere form of love for someone else is loving yourself first …

And caring for yourself enough so you'll be there for those who love you.

I've witnessed so many people not take care of their own health or care enough to take basic steps to curb, handle or reverse conditions that can be managed. I've heard every reason and excuse in the world. I've offered a few colorful ones myself …

In 2001, I faced the ultimate self-truth: treat this depression or let it all go.

I like to think I gave my family and friends the best Valentine's Day gift ever that year when I decided to start taking medication and get some therapy to treat myself with the ultimate self-respect I was long overdue …

And give them the real gift of ME that had been haphazardly wrapped for a long time.

Is it laziness that keeps us from taking care of ourselves when we need to? Is it avoidance? Is it living a lie?

I've decided that we can easily feed ourselves a lot of tall tales about who we are and who we can be. Fiction is easier to manipulate than non-fiction, and that's why we keep telling stories featuring the three major culprit characters: Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda.

If you're still searching for the perfect Valentine's Day gift for a loved one, look in the mirror.

Open your eyes to what you may be hiding under the surface.

Open your heart to all the potential of life, YOUR life.

Open your soul to fulfilling the purpose of YOUR life.

And remember, you don't need a holiday on the calendar to give yourself.

Monday, January 29, 2018

When will we learn to think for ourselves?

By Monica Vest Wheeler
My question for the day: When will we learn to think for ourselves? God gave us free will.

I finally had the opportunity to see "The Post," the current movie about the 1971 Pentagon Papers, a critical turning point in our nation's history.

It should be required viewing for everyone in this country. And everyone should have to write an essay about it.

(I'm really nice because it's not like I'm making you sit down and read the whole Constitution, though it wouldn't hurt us at this junction of our human history.)

I am a child of the 1970s, lit by the fire of an incredible age of journalism. I took an unspoken pledge to research and uncover the truth and facts, and write about them to educate the public so people could make informed decisions. What a sacred vow I accepted when I learned the heart and soul of the journalism field from my high school teacher, Lee Pursley, pictured here inspiring me.

I'm more troubled today about the future of this nation than ever before in my 59 years. I wonder where its common sense has gone by the way people run with rumors and ignore facts. The internet has spawned some of the most ridiculous and vile theories and opinions that have crippled, not enlightened the world … creating blind obedience and dangerous paths to the cliff where people will jump just because they've been told to … because they've forgot how to think for themselves.

One of the greatest lessons of "The Post" is that the First Amendment is the FIRST amendment. And as the Supreme Court said, the free press serves the governed, NOT the government.

Fearmongers and power-hungry individuals who consider themselves above the law are grounding our nation's symbol, the eagle. Just remember this: if you consider yourself right-wing or left-wing, a bird cannot fly with only one wing.

Absolute devotion to one party is dangerous, not loyalty. It blinds you to THE truth, THE justice, THE American way.

That's the trio that earns my undying respect and devotion.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Take a moon pill

By Monica Vest Wheeler

What is the song that "Annie" sings … yes … "the sun will come out tomorrow …"

Yep, the sun is shining whether we can see it or not, depending on how playful the clouds are that day. It's simply there, doing its job, lighting the way whether we choose to see the path or not.

And if we want to continue to "see," we certainly never look directly at the sun.

What we don't observe as often is the moon. It's constantly on the move and changing shapes and playing hide 'n seek. And sometimes, we're simply too tired by the day's end to look for it.

Eh, it will be there tomorrow.

How easily we forget.

We often spend a ton of money on entertainment … flashing lights, fancy moves, fantastic noises. But one of the grandest performances in the universe is right above us, demanding our attention several nights every month.

I'm back in Indiana, caring for my loved one. The other night, she said the moon should be out, and she walked slowly to the window.

"Look," she urged me to join her as she pulled the curtain back. "Isn't it beautiful?"

"Wow, it's gorgeous!"

And we stood there for a couple of minutes in silence, mesmerized by the bright globe breaking through the darkness. It seemed close enough to grab, and we both left fingerprints on the glass to touch it with our imaginations.

It was the best drive-in movie I had seen in eons because I wasn't distracted by all those man-made elements. Both of us were in awe of the universe … and how much bigger than us it will always be.

Sometimes we need to be put in our place to see the bigger picture …

To see that we have a greater role than we usually allow ourselves to play …

To reach beyond our self-imposed limitations …

To indulge in the simple beauty of the earth and sky and heaven.

As she laid down in bed, her smile was bigger than the winter moon …

For what ails you … take a moon pill and call me in the morning.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Shame on all of us for not stopping bullying

By Monica Vest Wheeler

How many headlines does it take for us to fully examine our personal behavior?

How many more children have to kill themselves before we regain our civility as a society?

Saddened, disheartened, heartbroken, angry, downright pissed … that's how my gut rolled when I read the story behind the obituary of an 11-year-old boy … a Peoria boy who committed suicide after relentless bullying.

It was inexcusable. It was devastating. It IS unacceptable.

Eleven years old.

Shame on all of us for not stopping bullying … at all ages.

Shame on all of us for not standing up to kids who bully.

Shame on all of us for not standing up to the parents who let their kids bully.

Shame on all of us for not standing up to adults who bully.

And stop making excuses for people in power who thrive on bullying. They're not leaders. They're bullies and cowards. Every one of them.

Bullies love to show off how big or important they THINK they are.

They aren't big or important. They're weak and spineless.

Parents who don't teach their kids manners and respect are lazy and selfish. Yep, I'm saying it.

I've witnessed it in person. My son was bullied in middle school. It was heartbreaking. But I took it to the parent of the bully, and she was stunned to learn of his behavior. He tried to squirm out of it, but finally admitted he had emotionally and physically attacked my son. I do give her a LOT of credit for taking a stand and demanding her son apologize to my son.

I took a stand. I held someone accountable.

And he never bothered my son again.

Do YOU take a stand when you see something "bad" going on? When was the last time YOU spoke up when you witnessed cruelty? Or were YOU afraid of what people might say?

Is vanity or pride more important than YOUR God-given conscience? Where are YOUR priorities?

I've also witnessed the tragic consequences of apathy and selfishness by looking into the eyes of Holocaust survivors around this nation. They witnessed the murder of family and friends by hateful, cowardly bullies who ruled by fear.

The Nazis targeted a group of people just because they were Jewish. They executed children in front of their parents. They herded and shot them line by line falling into pits on top of each other's bodies. They stripped them naked and forced them into gas chambers where unimaginable panic and terror likely consumed them before the gas finished the job.

Six million Jewish men, women and children murdered. Six million.

Six million. Say that aloud or does it scare you too much? Say it anyway!!

Six million.

I've been to Germany and seen the buildings full of forms documenting murder and sickening habits of daily lice counts and so much more. I've been to the Auschwitz death camp and walked upon the ashes of victims. I've cried with survivors and been forever transformed by the experience.

I've been involved with the Peoria Holocaust Memorial since 2002 and am proud to witness its relocation to the Peoria Riverfront Museum.

I dare YOU to take a stand and be part of its dedication, its rebirth, at 2 p.m. Sunday April 23, in downtown Peoria. I dare YOU to stick around and listen to one of the few remaining Holocaust survivors who will speak afterward in the museum auditorium.

I DARE YOU to look within those glass stars and triangles and remember that every button represents a life brutally ended because someone else didn't speak up and take a stand. Would you have been one of them?

The bigger question is: who are YOU today?

Do you talk badly publicly OR privately about blacks, whites, Jews, Muslims, Mexicans OR any other population that aren't PERFECT like YOU?

If you do, you're a bully. You're a coward. You're weak. You are NOT perfect. And neither is anyone else.

I will NOT tolerate intolerance any more. And I mean it.

You want more reasons why? I've got two presentations I'd love to share with your group or community. Contact me at info@copeandsurvive.com or 877-267-4640.

• For high school and teen audiences: "Tolerance is NOT a Joke": This presentation ties in the lessons of the Holocaust and how the most horrific chapters of human history exploded out of hatred and intolerance. It includes stories that illustrate the message of how tolerance is respect, kindness, an attitude, takes practice and much more. Young people are encouraged to think before they speak, text and post online and how bullying is reportedly leading to more teen suicides. The overriding theme is that each person — no matter their age — has the power to destroy or save the world.

• For general adult audiences: "Look at YOUR Level of Tolerance in the Mirror": Building upon the above program, this goes into more depth with harder-hitting questions about personal behavior and responsibility, the increasing brutality and insensitivity of social media, and the examples we set for our children.

And lastly, I want you to look into each pair of eyes pictured here.

They're lives cut short all because of bullying, intolerance and hatred …

Let me know how you sleep tonight if you didn't speak up today. 

PLEASE SHARE … your experience of being bullied, no matter where or when or by who, and how you were affected physically, emotionally and/or spiritually. Drop me a line at info@copeandsurvive.com because I want to keep educating the world on the impact and danger of bullying. You can share your story anonymously, if you wish. We can only stop it together. Let's collectively turn our empathy into action.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The cure for pain may be close at hand

By Monica Vest Wheeler

Pain is a royal pain, isn't it?

The frustration of not being able to fully convey something only YOU can explain, AND someone else getting "it," is maddening and saddening … especially when it comes to the issue of individual pain … no matter its source.

We're not all created "equal" … in our pain tolerance.

In my countless hours of being with and serving individuals confronted with the deeply personal challenge of REAL pain — whether the cause is visible or unseen bodily discomfort, or the physical ramifications of emotional and/or spiritual aching — I've heard every description and witnessed so many tears of loss and anger. Some people suffer in silence … some proclaim that agony loudly …

No, we're not all created "equal" when it comes to pain.

I tell the following story NOT out of seeking comfort or sympathy, but to share what I've learned about pain recently.

I tumbled on the ice in Indiana, two days after Dad passed away unexpectedly. My left knee took the whole force of the fall. I told myself I had no time to be down. My bonus mom and the rest of the family needed me as much as I needed them to get through the real tragedy … losing Dad, NOT my bad ice walking skills.

I hobbled through the following days emotionally and physically. By mid-February, the knee pain intensified, and I had my doctor check it out. I was referred to a specialist, but the earliest appointment was six weeks away. I got myself a Velcro brace to ease those fearful moments of it giving out, and drove to Las Vegas and Louisiana for my beloved camps serving stroke and traumatic brain injury survivors and caregivers. (Thankfully it wasn't my driving leg!)

When you focus on and care for others, it does take your mind off your own discomfort. One of the best treatments in the world for what ails you! I highly recommend it!!

Then I'd wait for a private moment to cry when the temporary waves of pain were overwhelming … before getting back to work again. And that was okay.

During my visit with the physician last week, he said he didn't see anything other than arthritis and inflammation in the X-rays and MRI. He was very nice but he couldn't understand why I was experiencing so much pain. When he felt around the knee, it hurt like h-e-double hockey sticks. My husband Roger also explained that while I have had an incredible tolerance for the chronic pain of fibromyalgia for nearly 20 years, I also have a very low threshold for sharp pain.

Yep, I passed out once after dropping a book on my foot.

Yep, I passed out once from getting blood drawn after being poked too many times.

Yep, I passed out once trying on contact lens. (Imagine that eye doctor's surprise!)

And there are several other sharp pain moments that sent me to la-la land …

When the doctor administered a numbing injection before the real thing, the pain was very real, prompting several "ow ow ow!" though I tried visualizing being anywhere else. He encouraged me to relax, and my tears then rolled in silence … because I didn't want to be a pain.

No, we're not all created "equal" when it comes to pain … because we're all wired differently.

Some have high tolerance or are great actors to hide it. There are some who say "ouch!" when you look at them "the wrong way."

There's also no clear understanding why some individuals opt for a declaration of pain only to get attention. Or those folks who need some redirection to stop focusing on it, real or imagined.

I remember my dad-in-law complaining about pain as he became somewhat of a hypercondriac in his dementia. I'd try a few things before determining if we really needed to see a doctor. When I redirected him or changed the subject, he forgot his pain mantra 99 percent of the time. Then when I asked how his leg or whatever ailed him earlier was feeling, he said he was fine. I'd touch the area in question or ask him to move it, and he was fine.

There is no one answer or cure for everyone's pain. Our economy now runs on it.

What I remembered too late during my own experience was that the most basic human connections do help ease physical and/or emotional pain. So many times I've offered a hand to hold to a loved one or friend who was in pain or afraid, and I was either comforting or distracting. They'd often thank me later for that gesture.

I didn't think I needed it for myself, but I should have asked Roger to hold my hand. I didn't because I didn't want him to be in the medical staff's way. We know that now and going forward that I need a hand in more ways than one, so they'd better make room.

You have a miracle in those God-given tools … and a responsibility to give and receive these drug-free doses of human compassion.

Yes, the cure for pain may be close at hand.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Yep, you're a real piece of work

By Monica Vest Wheeler

You’re a real piece of work. You know that, don’t you?

You’re a patchwork of people, sewn together with many colors and textures and strengths of thread. Your DNA isn’t your only claim to fame of uniqueness. It’s also the people who have walked alongside, behind and in front of you that make you one of a kind.

Every January and February, I get a little, well, okay, a lot sentimental about one of the individuals who carried a big needle and helped sew parts of me together in ways that I didn’t fully appreciate until after she had left this earth far too soon.

After losing my dad in December, I thought about the power of my mom-in-law, Janice, who celebrated her birthday every January the day before her oldest child, Roger, my husband, marked his big day. And now I remember February 12 since she passed away in 2000 from a long-term disease that robbed her of physical vitality, but never her true and spunky spirit.

I’ve often told Roger that I wouldn’t be who I am without him and his mom who took me in as one of her own from the moment we met when I was only 16 and had never been kissed by anyone other than her son. Janice is the person who taught me the gift of one-on-one conversation because she loved to talk. Oh, that woman could talk about anything and everything, and her voice still echoes clearly and loudly in my soul for all of eternity, along with her spontaneous laughter.

With the loss of a parent, I guess that serves as a time of reflection and examination of the core of our very existence. That is where that patchwork quilt of life comes in. I’ve revisited not only memories of my dad but of Janice as well, remembering her folksy sayings and life lessons served with love and respect and deep insight.

Janice gave me a special sense of confidence and reminded me how much my parents loved me, even at those times when I couldn’t understand them. In the quarter-century that I knew and loved this woman, we never had a cross word or conversation that put any distance between us. I only made one strict request of her through the years: don’t smoke around my baby. She obliged, at least in those early years … as it was the one nasty habit she never could kick, even to her dying day.

She was a one-of-a-kind mother-in-law who vowed to take me in the settlement if her son and I ever divorced. And she reminded me many times that I didn’t follow through on my promise to give her my son since I wanted a girl so badly. Well, I had to give the kid a chance …

I like to think that Janice has continued to mend me in countless ways from her beachside seat in heaven. I’ve even suggested to myself that her death probably saved my life when I fell apart and finally acknowledged the depression that had been gnawing at me for so many years. Sometimes all the parts of us have to crumble before we can clearly see all the pieces individually and reconstruct the puzzle as a whole.

Who are the people in YOUR life who have provided the textured fabrics that make you who you are? What did they give you? Where would you be without them?

I am comforted by the vision that Janice was among the welcoming committee for my dad when he arrived in heaven in December. And now he’s getting to know her even better and they're creating an even more amazing patchwork of love up above …

Monday, January 23, 2017

Why I marched … toward human dignity AND reality

By Monica Vest Wheeler

Did you ever feel the need to just walk, to exercise your rights, to do something you've never done before? I did that Saturday, January 21, for the first time in my life, taking part in the Peoria, IL, version of the Women's March that swept this nation and various pockets of the world.

I did not take this decision to walk lightly, and for me, it was NOT political. I created my own poster, "It's all about human dignity and compassion, caring for caregivers." My friend Genny urged on her poster for parents to raise their sons to respect women and to raise daughters to earn respect. Her message focused on education and behavior, a powerful one that constantly needs to be reiterated.

I don't consider myself a protester, but rather someone who is not afraid to speak up about the often overlooked needs of a growing number of individuals and families who are dealing with serious injuries, illnesses and diseases, and the ongoing challenges of caregiving. Yes, women make up the bulk of family caregivers, but there are more men AND children joining these ranks every day.

It's not just a woman's issue: it's a human issue, the need to focus on human dignity and compassion for those who are affected and those who care for them. Family caregivers provide billions of dollars worth of unpaid service, and the financial toll grows larger every day. I witness every day that society and government are ill-prepared for the demands of caring for individuals with brain-related conditions, from traumatic brain injury to stroke to Alzheimer's to autism to mental illness and more.

And that doesn't include an endless array of other health conditions. The need to provide 24/7 care for Alzheimer's patients alone could very easily bankrupt this nation. And this doesn't even touch on the emotional and physical toll on caregivers.

We need to work smarter, not necessarily harder, in every corner of this nation. We need to make some personal sacrifices for the greater good. We need to learn to give more and take less. We have to face new realities that the world has changed, that certain markets and industries simply don't exist anymore.

Lamenting the past only prolongs the regrets and self-pity and blame. We must look forward. 

Therein lies the beauty of putting our imaginations to work for that greater good, to reinforce the notion that lifelong learning is a joy and responsibility, that there is endless human potential and ideas that will create new markets and industries, that service to others can enrich us emotionally, physically, spiritually AND financially.

We do not and must not live in isolation.

I abhor those who resort to self-serving vandalism, violence and vulgarity. It's criminal, greedy, selfish and hateful.

I equally admonish those who lie, those who cover up, those who steal from the less fortunate, those who push their own selfish agendas without regard for the human toll. We must hold those individuals accountable and never relent on the path to truth.

That gathering Saturday was filled with sunshine and hope. I see the beauty and potential of healing and lifting. The enthusiasm and passion must be constantly reignited if we are to survive as a community, a nation, a world.

When we serve with sincerity and compassion, we cannot be stopped. When we lift others, we cannot be ignored. When we look beyond ourselves, we will not be forgotten.

Forget the politics. Shame the politicians who put politics above the human condition. Speak loudly against those who only care about their egos and bank accounts.

Now, give me a little while to think of my own movement to keep the momentum going …