The End of Pain and Suffering
By: Abby Twyman | December 17, 2019
Throughout my career, I've been focused on designing and implementing interventions to improve the quality of life (QOL) for those with whom I chose to work. However, there was one thought that haunted me daily... "what about my own QOL?!?" When I really stopped to ponder that question, the reality was that for 38 years my life's work was dedicated to helping other people improve THEIR quality of life while MINE was still seemingly filled with pain and suffering. Additionally, I was taking no active measures to change that fact.
Stormy Seas Rock the Boat
The pattern of behavior I found myself repeating day in and day out with clients, friends, and family and was: (1) find something wrong with someone else, (2) tell them about it, (3) have a thought about how to fix their problem, (4) start trying to fix it without fully working out or discussing the plan, (5) end up failing miserably and blaming it on everyone else, and (6) lament about how I wish I could get to addressing my own problems... if not for everyone else's problems that I needed to fix first, I would be able to fix my own, but since that wasn't going to happen anytime soon I might as well continue to dress for the weather and brace myself for the storm.
The problem with this way of thinking and acting, however, is that the day I was going to start working on my own problems never came. My thoughts became darker and my words became sharper and my actions more robotic. Every day I went through the motions, but only ended up feeling seasick at the end of every day.
Calmer Heads and Calmer Seas
2016 was a tumultuous year which ended with me, my husband and our dog moving to Alaska. The move was promoted to professional colleagues as a sabbatical from clinical practice to study more advanced topics and figure out where I wanted my career to go, as well as a move to help my parents as they were aging and beginning to struggle to keep up with the day to day management of their home and business. What I didn't realize at the time was that there was something deeper and darker with which I needed to deal.
During a visit to Alaska prior to our move, I felt this sudden and dramatic wave of emotional release as we were on my parents' boat heading home from a fishing trip. Sitting alone on the top deck of their boat I began to cry. As I was sobbing and gasping for air, the prevailing thought in my head was "it's time to come home." At the time I chalked the thought up to the deep-seated belief that my parents were suffering due to aging-related issues and that I was the only adult child willing and able to uproot their entire lives to provide them with the support they needed. What I failed to realize was that emotional release had more to do with my own pain and suffering than with theirs.
The Motivation to Change
Earlier in 2016, I had the privilege to meet Scott Geller and was honored when he shared his publications with me. Big ideas I took away from his work were that (1) a dedication to actively caring for people provides the motivation to change, (2) the most ideal time to make a change is when motivation is at its peak, (3) it takes courage to take the steps required to truly change, and (4) when considering any decision one should ask the following questions: Can it be done? Will it work? Is it worth it?
I carried these lessons with me throughout the year and allowed them to freely catalyze thoughts, which then came out as words, which then triggered a series of actions. This led me to the decision to leave a successful career as a clinical behavior analyst and follow my heart back to Alaska to take care of myself and my family so we could all live lives free of pain and suffering. While the past three years did not turn out the way I envisioned, in considering the big picture, I realize that this was exactly what I needed to begin actively caring for myself.