Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Creative Thought Case Study: Cynthia

Cynthia is the kind of friend everyone would like to have. She is always there with a kind word and a helping hand, lends money, helps people find jobs, never forgets a birthday, keeps an eye on her elderly grandmother and takes in stray animals. She works fifty to sixty hours a week in the leasing business she and her husband own.

You've heard of "the straw that broke the camel's back?" One day in January shortly after 1999 turned to 2000, Cynthia reached for her computer's "On" switch and fractured her first and second lumbar vertebrae. She was hospitalized for ten days and sent home with strict instructions for bed rest in order for the bones to heal. Armed with her laptop computer and cell phone, Cynthia continued to work 50 or more hours a week and kept up with as many of her other obligations as possible short of leaving her house. Ninety days later, her doctor pronounced her healed and Cynthia was cleared to resume her normal life.

Things did not go as planned. Cynthia's pain did not get better; in fact, it began to get worse as she threw herself back into her life. Her parents asked for her help in their retail business and Cynthia began to spend evenings and weekends doing the books. Her grandmother's health took a turn for the worse and Cynthia made a 150-mile round trip every Saturday to cook and clean for her. Cynthia took over IRS negotiations for her self-employed brother-in-law who had not filed a tax return in six years. She also began staying overnight with a longtime friend who was in the end stage of breast cancer. This was all in addition to keeping her own business up and running.

As Cynthia's pain worsened, her doctor prescribed progressively stronger medications, finally putting Cynthia on Methadone shortly before her 40th birthday. Periodic MRI scans indicated that her spine was deteriorating. Osteoporosis was setting in and she had the beginnings of scoliosis in her lumbar spine. Foreseeing a grim future, Cynthia started looking for the connection between her thoughts and the condition of her body.

Cause and Effect:

Cynthia does not remember a time when she felt supported. Growing up an only child with parents whose business demanded most of their time, Cynthia was responsible for getting herself ready for school on her own from the day she started kindergarten. Beginning with her after-school work in her parents' business, up to and including the busy and prosperous truck leasing company she and her husband own, Cynthia's knowledge, skills, talents, contributions, hard work and extraordinary marketing ideas have remained unacknowledged. She had made herself indispensable and obligated herself to so many people and projects that any words or gestures of gratitude are lost on her.

It took a while for Cynthia to recognize her role in the endless whirlpool of obligation her life had become, and a while longer to take responsibility for it. Cynthia learned that the constant motion and action she created were keeping her safe from feeling her emotions and dealing with the pain they caused. As she gradually became a "human being" instead of a "human doing" she learned to focus on her feelings and process negative emotions and trauma. Cynthia acknowledged her sadness, anger and fear at having spent the first 45 years of her life "bending over backwards" and "breaking her back" by taking on not only her own, but others' burdens with no support whatsoever.

Today, Cynthia is still working on asking for what she wants, whether it is support, attention, acknowledgment or assistance, and has gotten pretty good at saying "no." Oh, and she no longer takes pain medication, her back pain having diminished to approximately 10% of what it was a year ago. Her most recent MRI shows an increase in bone density and a decrease in the degree of rotation of her spine. Cynthia is confident that as she continues on this path, both her osteoporosis and scoliosis will continue to improve.

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