A big reason that I decided to pursue the field of patient advocacy was pain. I want to help people in their challenging healthcare situations because of the level of pain and discomfort I’ve experienced. Does that make sense?
I am familiar with pain. I’ve been uncomfortable. Head-scratching, bemoaning, self-destructing-ly uncomfortable at pivotal times in my life. What I’ve learned is that for me discomfort can be a real motivator.
Suffice it to say that in my life there have been times of absolute aweful-ness, some of which I did not handle all that well. A couple of the most painful times that I am willing to discuss here may be instances like staying in a job or a relationship too long, remaining well past the point of becoming toxic. In the past I have put off decisions (which may have been a decision to remain in the pain) that prolonged or intensified pain.
On the family front and during the years of caregiving for aging parents there was pain. I found this to be a sort of intelligent pain, as I was telling myself I had education and training that should have been calling the shots.
As a daughter and caregiving sister I’ve second-guessed many a decision. I hated (the situation and myself) when I didn’t know the answers. I told myself I had the goods, the education and all-around smarts. I should know, should be able to figure out the answers or action required, the best next step. At the very least logic should rule over emotion, right?
Oh, The Shoulda’s (visualize placing self on whipping post here). I should have done so-and-so, been more aware, been a better sister, said “I love you” more often to my parents, communicated this, managed that.
I hated the direction and the dynamics within the relationship between me and my sister and the direction it took. Many of you have heard me speak of our struggle to get along during caregiving. Looking back I find it hard to fathom that I was about to seek legal action against my sister for not doing what I thought was right for our father. I nearly sought to unseat her as the designation as agent with Healthcare Power of Attorney, likely railroading past both my parents’ decisions and hers. Turns out we both wanted what was best for our dad, we just had different ways of getting there. (Mercifully, we found common ground and have that today). I can summon up that pain with little effort.
Such pain. Such long periods of enduring discomfort. I had little sense of direction save a shred of moral compass. I remember I would query those around me whose opinions I respected “Why? Why am I going through this, why is this happening to me, or us? What is the lesson here?”
It was an awful place to be. And it lasted a long time.
Just yesterday I was in conference with another professional who relayed a similar circumstance. She described the myriad of feelings that she was feeling while caring for her aging grandparent (not the least of which were fear, anger and doubt). All of a sudden she blurted out “if I can stop somebody from feeling that, I sure would”.
We shared a strong moment there and in our call we paused to sit in those emotions and the synergy between us.
I have to DO something with those feelings. When they come up I have to use them in some constructive way. This is pure resolve. It’s resolve, with a dash of If This Then That.
Whipping post no more. I will give myself a good talking to at times (To Self, with love).
I have comeuppance. I have experience. I have knowledge, education and skill and I’m a darn good communicator. I can see up and down the line, from both my family’s experience and from the hundreds of people that I’ve had the honor to assist. I can use my past to help others By way of patient advocacy I can bring it.
I’d like to tell you it is confidence that drive me yet I have to admit to you that it is often the discomfort-feelings that motivate me still. I can return to that discomfort in about three seconds’ time. To me it’s still fresh. It is also useful, and so I call upon it.
Most would think that a positive feeling, not a negative one, would be a better motivator toward business success. In truth I’d like for my motivator to be positive. (Would that be pretty?). My conclusion in this case is that I can always draw from the less-than-positive when needed. (Ahem, how’s that for reframing?).
Nowadays you will hear me proclaim, out loud or in writing that a large part of my reason for being a Patient Advocate is this: If I can help anyone to avoid (that level of) pain then I want to do that. In fact I must do that. I must journey with my clients to mitigate, to help and to help them grow, and to provide solution. It’s just that simple.
I’m very respectful of the fact that the old pain and emotion are there, so close, so real… I am also grateful that I can call it up anytime.
The freeing thing is that I can choose how I use it (the pain, memories, “shoulda’s”). I can let it stall me, stop me, or I can use it for good.
I know I can help people that are feeling that pain now.
Nancy Ruffner is a Patient Advocate – Consultant – Coach offering services for patients and advocates alike. Contact Nancy if help is needed inside the patient journey or if as a provider you’d like to more confidently reach the people who need your services. Nancy gladly offers her comeuppance and exptertise when working inside the profession to help both client and professional to connect and achieve their goals.