The richness of both/and living

Life would be easier and simpler (though not better) living in an “either/or” world, rather than a “both/and” world.

I may fail often, but I choose, as much as possible, as a matter of personal policy, to choose, “both/and” living.

Lemme explain.

I used to work in a rehab clinic helping people figure out how to stay living in the community with their physical challenges.

I remember one day working in the clinic…we would often have 2 or 3 people in the rehab space at a time. The folks we were working with required frequent rest breaks, and so while one was catching his/her breath in one part of the room, I’d go to work with another patient in another part of the room.

One day, I was working with two elderly people, both of whom had mobility issues…I was helping them with “functional mobility”…figuring out how to walk while opening doors, crossing thresholds, or needing to carry something from table to counter, etc. All of this gets trickier when using a walking aid like a cane or walker…thus, the need for therapy with me.

What made this day interesting were the difference in these patients…both of whom were working on their functional mobility:

1. One patient’s main issue in walking was fear…she had fairly good balance and good tolerance/energy for walking…but the last fall she had terrified her. She was scared to move…and so she was her own worst enemy. She was going to become less fit as she was choosing to not walk very much, and as she walked less, she was going to lose strength, and then could become more fragile.

2. The other patient’s main issue was judgment…his balance wasn’t so great, but he had little patience for using the walker that would increase his stability. He had more confidence in his walking ability than the formal testing suggested was wise…and he was at high risk for falling often because of the foolish chances he took….which could lead to fractures, and permanent loss of mobility.

What made working with these two lovely and fun folks adventuresome this particular day was that they both had significant hearing loss and were sharing the same space.

I was very aware that I was chatting with one to encourage her to believe in herself and trust herself to walk on her own without waiting for someone to come by to assist her…I was speaking slowly, clearly, and in an amplified, deeper voice to ensure she heard me so that my voice would carry well…hoping desperately that the guy across the room had poor enough hearing he could not hear my encouragement to her to “go for it”.

Because it wasn’t long before I crossed the room, and spoke with him about the value of waiting for someone to be there while he rose from his chair, to remember his walker at all times, and to practice significant caution. Again, I was deliberately clearly working to be heard by someone with hearing deficits…but hoping I wasn’t so effective at being heard that the “Nervous Nelly” across the room was hearing my words of encouraging tentativeness. I was working to instill a healthy level of fear in him…and if the woman across the room heard me…well, it wasn’t gonna be good.

The same problem…impaired mobility…required opposite strategies for each…because one had an overabundance of fear/caution and the other had an attitude that was too cavalier to attend to the very real risks of falling.

I was working with each of them to develop an awareness that it was important to

  1. stay active and moving while
  2. paying significant attention to safety.

Both/and to mobility and safety…
because either/or has dangers in becoming

  1. immobile through inactivity or
  2. increasing risk of severe injury significantly.

Seems to me that a lot of life is both/and which can be frustratingly more challenging than either/or.

Which proverb is true?

  • A stitch in time saves nine.
  • Haste makes waste

Think about it.

Both have truth in them. And they seem to contradict.

Wouldn’t life be easier if we could just pick one and run with it?

  • As parents our job is to give our children both roots and wings. Stability and comfort paired with encouragement to be their own person and try their own thing. Protecting them from harm while at the same time allowing them to make mistakes they can learn from, and use to develop resiliency. The trick is to provide adequate support and increasing independence at the same time. Or one moment letting them work something through on their own…and then recognizing the next moment that it’s time to step in and support. And this is tricky.
  • As spouses, we need to be both able to be OK within ourselves–so that we are not blaming our partner for our own unhappiness…but also seek to be meaningfully connected, being responsive and available to a partner—to seek to find ways and adjust one’s approach to allow the other to feel safe and secure within the relationship. We need to be able to be confident in ourselves and the relationship to give feedback to a spouse about how they are being experienced to allow the other to find ways of better loving you…without expecting the partner to change this way and that, at your command.
  • As human beings, we need to risk mistakes to vulnerably and authentically connect with others in a way that allows for relationships of intimacy and depth. At the same time, we need to find ways of protecting ourselves from those that are destructive and damaging in the way they relate to us. At some points in life, during times of significant loss and pain, a person is generally more vulnerable to pain, and may need to pull back from all sorts of things…but staying that way on a long term basis becomes destructive and counterproductive to healing.

Both/and is so much trickier than either/or. There are times that, after a harrowing experience with a child, spouse or any other, that there is a tendency to swing one way to an extreme because “both/and” seems to hard.

Bergen and Associates Counselling in Winnipeg works with people who are seeking to live a full and rich life, with less anxiety and depression

Both/and living involves risk, involves lots of challenging decision making, involves uncertainty as one seeks to figure out, moment by moment, how to be fully engaged in the business of life considering all the complex layers.

Either/or living can have short term gain, and thus, in the immediate moment, seem preferable…it doesn’t have as much vulnerability, it appears simple as one single path to managing life is chosen. However, either/or living involves a cost.

For my patients that day in the rehab clinic…one had a very high risk of losing mobility by moving too little…the other had a very high risk of losing mobility by frequent falls.

Too often, those that have been hurt in relationships decide, “never again”…and choose to shut others out, not ready to risk finding meaningful connection with another…that may be an important part of recovery, but to stay in that place means bearing another sort of cost, even while preventing the possibility of being hurt in a relationship again.

Both/and living is tricky, challenging, risky, fraught with errors but it is also rich, engaging, and opens doors to opportunities that either/or folks may never even dream of.

It lives large and lively…it is exhilarating and terrifying and hang-on-for-the-ride sort of way with has big payoffs along with the occasional disaster. It laughs at itself in a way that reassures a person that mistakes provide opportunities for learning and bridge building. It chooses to live life with curiosity and without boredom.

Which do you choose?

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