Saturday, May 11, 2019

4 Things I Didn't Understand Until I Lost My Mom


(I understand that Mother’s Day is filled with accolades and outpourings of love for moms, but not everyone had the gift of a loving mother. This saddens me, and if this is you, I truly hope there was someone in your life that encouraged, uplifted and loved you. The title ‘mom’ doesn’t have to be written in blood to be meaningful.)
I was born when my parents were older and my three other siblings were either grown or almost grown. My experiences, and memories, were slightly different from theirs based on these time frames. I am confident when I say we all shared extreme respect and love for our mother; Alma Suis. 
She has been gone for 12 years now, and I am still discovering the tremendous impact she had on my life.

I Took Her For Granted

Don’t get me wrong, I loved my mom tremendously. I did not intentionally set out to take her for granted, but looking back; I can see where at times I did.
I took for granted when I walked over every morning that she would be at the kitchen sink. I think for most of her life she stood in front of a sink. Her and my dad had a restaurant back in the late 40s; way before I came along. Then, she went to school to become a hairdresser and stood at a basin washing people’s hair until she became too sick to do so.

And, of course, her kitchen sink. Where she made my dad breakfast EVERY morning until he passed, countless lunches and dinners and it wasn’t until the day she couldn’t stand at that sink any longer that I began to realize how sick she really was. 
I took for granted when my kids got off the school bus, she would be there. I was extremely fortunate to have lived next door to my parents when my children were growing up. The memories (and the help) are more than I can recount. Family is not always perfect, but I have been very blessed when it came to mine. 

My mom was 45 when she had me. (I know, makes me shudder now too.) So she was in her sixties and seventies when my two came along. She seemed so strong and invincible, even at that age, that I didn’t fully appreciate how exhausted she must have been at times. At 54, I help with my 2-year-old grandson and some days it’s all I can do to keep up. She had twenty years on me when she was doing the same thing. She loved those girls, and they loved her, but I know there must have been days when she didn’t feel like doing it. But she did. She always did. That's what moms do. 

And I will be forever grateful and humbled by her sacrifice.

The Holidays Would Not Be The Same

In an obvious sense, I understood the holidays would be different without her, but I don’t think I completely understood what that meant. Since I was a single mom, Santa Claus didn’t want me to have all the fun by myself on Christmas morning, so he delivered the toys next door to my parent’s house. (They had the chimney anyway.) So when my kids got up, we would run to grandma’s house to all be together. Those are really some of my very best memories.
Thanksgiving was unique because, when I was very little, we did the traditional turkey thing, but as she got older and the family was spread out more, spaghetti was always on the menu that day. I have no idea why she picked that particular meal, but I now associate marinara sauce over cranberry sauce with the pilgrims.
New Years Day was her birthday. So that day is always flooded with memories.
Oddly enough, April Fools Day is the day that stands out the most for me in terms of my mom’s enjoyment. And that isn’t even a holiday. My mom took her Christian beliefs very seriously and felt very strongly about lying. In fact, she didn’t even use the word lie because she felt it was a harsh word. She would use the word ‘fib’. But on April Fool’s Day, she had creative license to ‘fib’, and she would do so with great glee. She derived much pleasure in ‘tricking’ me into various sorts of dilemmas, and it was my immense pleasure to always be fooled.

If you are not already doing so, create traditions with your mom. They will comfort you for years to come. 

How She Cooked Banana Pudding

Or pretty much anything she cooked. I didn’t pay attention. I will say, by the time I came along, my mom’s patience for training had probably dwindled a bit. I remember her whizzing around the kitchen when I was a kid and BAM, food was on the table. 

As an adult, I tried to pin her down on recipes, but there weren’t any. She cooked by memory, by feel, by taste. As such, I’ll never again have a biscuit as good as hers or home-made-from-scratch banana pudding. My children suffer the most from my lack of the traditional passed down southern delicacies. I had forty years to enjoy her magic in the kitchen; they had so many less.  

Unconditional Love

I believe my relationship with my mom went full circle. I was not an easy teenager to deal with. I was sent to go live with my sister in St Louis during my senior year of high school. When I returned, I soon ran away from home with a cowboy from Oklahoma (true story) and brought back a baby.
I tested her patience and love, but she never failed me. Ever. She led by example and taught me grace, forgiveness, humility, compassion, and complete unconditional love. I hope I redeemed myself in her eyes, as that became my life’s goal as I finally began to grow up.  
As she faded from this world, both in mind and in body, I did my best to return the favor. I didn’t do it alone, but it was important to follow the journey with her to the end. That trip next door looked different as the cancer stole my precious momma, but I am eternally thankful I was able to make that trip every day until she moved on to find my dad in heaven.


So if you are still able to celebrate Mother’s Day with your mom this year, here is my advice. 

Don’t take her for granted. 

Cherish the holidays (and every day). 

Get her recipes. 

And enjoy the gift of her unconditional love.
Oh, and one more thing. Give her a hug. And then another one for me. You never know when it will be your last.

I want to wish all the moms out there a very Happy Mother's Day! Your sacrifice, love and strength are truly remarkable and today is the day we want to honor you!

Always.....

Hope WIth Abandon

Hope Out

www.hopeboulevard.com 



Sunday, April 28, 2019

Don't You Trust Me? (How Doubt and Betrayal Affect Our Relationships)



It goes without saying that trust is the foundation of a relationship. Like a foundation, it is built up over time, brick by brick, until it is a stable platform from which everything else rests on.

There are specific ways to build trust, and there are also behaviors that erode it. Let’s take a look at both.

Building Trust


Do What You Say


If you make a commitment; follow through. Be on time. Run that errand. Do the chore. Return that call/text. If you prove to be a man/woman of your word, then you begin to build trust. Your partner needs to know they can depend on you to do what you say you will do.

Allow Yourself to Be Vulnerable


This can sometimes be very difficult, especially if we have been badly hurt before. The problem is, as long as that wall is there, the trust just sits waiting on the outside. We have to be raw and available in order to allow the expectation of good to grow.

Value Your Partner


They can do and say all the right things, but if you don’t appreciate them, their hard work seems pointless. Someone will not continue to pour into a relationship where they feel taken for granted. They need to believe their contribution is important to you and the relationship.

Practice Honesty


In addition to doing what you say, you need to always be honest. I’m not talking about the 'do I look fat in this dress’ kind of honesty. I mean the open communication style that allows both parties to freely discuss feelings and situations without fear of being mocked or ridiculed.

With complete honesty, you do run the risk of discovering that the two of you are not compatible. That would indeed be sad, but it is better to determine that now than years down the road after one or both of you have not lived your true self.

Keep A Check on Opposite-Sex Friendships


I was asked the other day if guys and girls can maintain a platonic friendship only. Of course, they can, but it is not always easy. Sexual tension is an underlying biological component we all have. Spending time and sharing ourselves with someone can open the intimacy gate.

Both people should regularly check their feelings to make sure it is still a friend-only status. If one starts to cross the line, steps need to be taken to safeguard your relationship. Never do or say anything with your friend that makes your partner uncomfortable.

If your friendship and your relationship are constantly at odds, there is a problem with one of them. Figure that out and fix the issue.

Destroying Trust


Most of these points are the opposite reaction to the ones above. It is like putting your love in reverse.

Creating Doubt


Distrust begins with simple doubt. It doesn’t have to be over something huge. Just a nagging thought that something isn’t right. Maybe your partner didn’t show up when they said they would or forgot a special occasion. If they don’t pay attention to things that are important to you or listen when you are talking, these all create the first seeds of doubt.

A Sense of Anxiety


A step above doubt is anxiety. When someone consistently behaves in a way that is hurtful, the fear begins to set in. We begin to question why? Why would they do that; say that; forget that? What else (or who else) is going on that is more important than me and the relationship?

The biggest clue to someone bailing on a relationship is changing regular behavior. We all settle into routines and for the most part, our lives have a certain dependable pattern. When one side of a relationship breaks that routine and starts new patterns, this is definitely a troubling sign that increases anxiety. It may not end in betrayal, but it does begin to erode the level of trust.

The Broken Cord


Not all breaches of trust are about infidelity; although those are the worse. It can be a betrayal with finances, a family matter or even a selfish decision that impacted the relationship without any discussion. Whatever the reason, once the trust is severed, it is extremely difficult to weave it again.

As humans, we tend to seek the most immediate and easiest form of delight. In order to maintain a healthy and sustaining relationship, we have to consciously put the feelings and needs of the other person ahead of our own.

When Distrust Goes Terribly Wrong


There are times when fractured trust can be restored. It takes time, more time than the original foundation, and complete transparency. The one who severed the bond must accept responsibility and reopen the lines of communication and honesty.

However, oftentimes the injured party says they are willing to rebuild, but in reality, they are not. Their insecurity and fears overtake them and their mission in life becomes to prove their partner is still doing wrong. Their behaviors border on stalking and every movement is monitored.
While this may be viewed as understandable, it is very unhealthy and destructive. It does nothing to truly restore the relationship and only fosters resentment.

If you are truly unable to forgive and work together to move forward with the relationship, then it should be ended. It will be painful, but not as bad as continuing to live in distrust and scrutiny all the time.

The Decision


We all make hundreds of little decisions every day; from hitting the snooze button (again), what to eat, how to handle a co-worker, when (or if) to hit the gym, and a host of mundane life choices.

The decision to honor our partner, be honest, kind, helpful, open and faithful is one that will put us on the long path of a happy, sustaining relationship.

It’s as simple as the golden rule. So follow it!

And always...

Hope With Abandon

Hope Out

Monday, April 8, 2019

Medication for Mental Disorders – The Pros, The Cons, The Acceptance


Week 6 – Family to Family Series - NAMI

There are almost as many different types of medications for mental illness as there are diagnoses and the side effects can be wide-ranging. Many people with brain disorders struggle with starting and maintaining a solid medication regiment.

The more information we have as a family, the better we can support our loved one in finding the right medicines and encourage them to stay consistent with the plan.

Why Acceptance To Meds Is So Difficult

If we get a sinus infection, hurt in an accident, or even a more serious medical condition we do not hesitate to take the prescribed drugs to help us feel better and heal. So why is it so difficult for those with a mental illness do the same with their symptoms?

Admitting the Need

Most of us know when we are physically sick. There is a large portion of those who are mentally ill that refuse to accept there is anything wrong. They try to convince themselves it is a phase (or maybe someone in their life told them that). The symptoms on the worse end of the disorder spectrum cause the person to believe it is everyone else around them that has a problem, and they themselves are perfectly normal.

Not being able to accept the fact there is a biological and/or chemical imbalance that needs medical attention is a huge obstacle.

Afraid of Long-Term Use

With the exception of terminal conditions, most of the medicines we take are to treat a condition and then we stop. We become better, our health restored and we move on with life. This is not the case with medications for a brain disorder. Your family member will most likely need to be on a monitored regiment for the rest of their life. The feeling of being tied to a bottle (or bottles) to be able to function daily forever is just too much for some people to wrap their minds around.

The Side Effects

If you think reading the side effects on a bottle of cough syrup or antibiotic is bad, try reading the side effects for psychiatric medicine! It is very depressing and unnerving. And the worst part is, depending on the specific chemical makeup of your family member, their side effects may be different than anyone else’s. The regiment for one person with Bipolar I might work great for them and totally incapacitate another.

The trial and error of this medicine, then that medicine then increasing the dosage then decreasing the dosage; it all seems pointless and frustrating especially for someone already struggling emotionally. To top it all off, it can take weeks to determine if the medicines will actually work. Sometimes the symptoms get worse before they get better! This can totally throw your loved one into a tailspin and make them want to just forget medication altogether.

The Highs and the Lows

The proper drug regiment for depression will alleviate the feelings of hopelessness and improve overall function in a positive way.

The result is somewhat different when treating mania. That person is already excited, hyper, buoyant. They feel elated, inspired and able to conquer the world.

They may also hear voices, be unreasonable and have a false sense of reality. But when they are in the ‘zone’ they feel invincible. The medicines used to curb all of that mania also curbs their joys, inspirations, and excitement.

This is why artists and very creative individuals with mental illness may refuse medication. They say it dries up their creative juices and ideas and reduces them to dull, lifeless, boring people. It flattens their personality and many really hate that.

How to Help

Education

The best way for both you and your loved one to understand the different medications and their side effects is to do research. Talk to their doctor. Look up credible information online.

Be cautious when dealing with doctors unfamiliar with this type of medication. A psychiatrist is always your best resource.

Also, be very careful with the ‘opinions’ of others. Remember each individual will react differently and just because Aunt Susie did really great (or really bad) of a particular medicine does not mean your loved one will have the same outcome.

Documentation

Start a medication log. Your family member may be unable or unmotivated to do this, so it is in everyone’s best interest if you can take on this task. Write down the medication, dosage, when it should be taken, etc. Keep track of all side effects, the good and the bad, as the days progress.

If the good outweighs the bad, it might be a keeper. If the side effects are too severe or no discernable improvement is noted, it may be time to try something else or increase the dose.

Keeping detailed and accurate notes on a daily basis will tremendously help the doctor on each visit. It is easy to forget or speak in general terms when sitting in a doctor’s office, but having a daily journal will provide invaluable information as the next steps are planned.

Encouragement

If you have been following this series, you will see a common thread of encouraging our family members as they struggle with their mental illness. This is not always easy because many of their symptoms cause them to lash out at us and be challenging, but as often and as much as you can, continue to encourage them in the right direction.

Provide positive feedback when they agree to take their medication and help them formulate a plan for remembering by setting reminders. If they take more than one or at different times of the day, prepare a pill organizer so they know exactly what to take on what day/time.

Reassure your loved one that if they have any questions or concerns that you will do your best to find answers and that you are committed to seeing them through the ups and downs while deciding the best course of action.

Relapse

Unfortunately, relapse is common. A person starts to feel better and decides they don’t need the medicine after all. The side effects are too difficult to handle, so they refuse to take it. Whatever the reason, once they voluntarily quit their medication a relapse is most likely in their future.

This can be heartbreaking for us to see, especially if we thought it was helping. As adults, we cannot force the medicine in them, and often we have to watch them deteriorate again right in front of us.

My Side

This has always been a challenge for me and my daughter. One of her phobias is taking medicine. Any type of medicine. She has a profound fear of medication and even hesitates to take it for physical conditions. She will even refuse a medication that has helped her in the past if it looks different or is packaged in a new way.

Having her commit to taking medication to help her mental illness has been quite a struggle. She would start, then stop. Have a relapse, start again then stop. She is so afraid of side effects, the first time she felt anything ‘odd’, she would refuse to ever take that one particular kind again.

Fortunately, she has now been following a prescribed regiment for several months. We started from scratch and are moving very slowly with any changes or increases. There are times when I am frustrated at the pace, but I am thankful she has agreed to continue. That’s all any of us can hope for.

The Bottom Line

Medicines are around to help us feel better, recover from illness and in some cases provide life-sustaining support. Great advances have been made in the area of help for mental disorders. It can completely alter your family member’s outlook and prospect for a more productive life.

Research, patience and a hands-on approach with your loved one will go a long way in convincing them of the benefits. Don’t lose hope and don’t lose sight of the goal to enable them to be at peace and calm their inner turmoil.

And as always.....

Hope With Abandon

Hope Out

 




Wednesday, April 3, 2019

3 Steps to Problem Solving - When Mental Illness Issues Affect the Family Home


NAMI Family to Family Series – Week 5

Having someone in the home with a mental illness can often cause conflict and chaos. Outbursts, not following the house rules, and refusing to communicate are all examples of how disruptive it can be to everyone involved.

Your loved one who is suffering and unable to live independently relies on you for many things. Because of that, there are some simple rules they should be able and willing to follow to make the home as comfortable as possible.

When problems do come up, it is a good idea to brainstorm solutions with the family before presenting them to your loved one. In the middle of a crisis, it isn’t fair or productive to include them in the discussion. They will most likely not be receptive and will pick up real quickly on anyone in the family who is wavering.

Let’s walk through the steps to restore some peace and harmony to the home.

Step 1 – Define the Problem

1 - Pick the most pressing issue

You can only solve one problem at a time. I’m sure there are several issues you would like immediately solved but Rome wasn’t built in a day so they say. So, pick the most pressing issue to tackle first.

Let’s use, for example, your loved one getting so upset they punch a hole in your wall.

Sometimes you have to break the problem down into smaller pieces to get to the real issue.

A trigger causes a meltdown. The meltdown results in a confrontation. The confrontation ends up in something being broken (the hole in the wall), someone being hurt, or worse, the police being involved.

Obviously, no one wants the police called or any damage to property or humans. You could argue all day that your loved one should not become ‘that’ upset but rarely does that do any good. If you back it up to the beginning, it was the trigger that started the landslide. That’s a good place to begin. 

2 - Be specific

When we are frustrated, we start talking in absolutes. Things are always bad. H/she is never happy. H/she is uncontrollable. I’ve tried everything. All of these statements are emotionally based and most are not 100% accurate. In order to work on solving a problem, you need to be specific about what that is.

In the example above, the root cause can be traced back to the trigger. Let’s say for this instance that the trigger is not taking their medication on a consistent basis. That is a specific problem.

3 - Is this the problem or a ‘feeling’ about a problem

This can get tricky. We focus sometimes on how a problem or situation makes us ‘feel’ because there are some legitimate bad feelings floating around for everyone. However, problem-solving is not about feeling better (though that is a wonderful by-product). Problem-solving is to help our loved ones cope better in life, succeed and live in harmony with the rest of the home. Some people would focus on the feeling that the hole in the wall gives them instead of focusing on the resolution. 

4 - Getting the Family on the Same Page

With a family dynamic involved, it is crucial that everyone be on the same page. As an adult, your loved one, even with a mental illness, can sense tension and division among the ranks. Even if everyone doesn’t agree 100%, for the sake of solving a specific problem, the family has to present a united front.

Step #2 – Problem Solving with POW

1 - Look at Past experience

You need to look at what has worked in the past. Using the same problem above - was their behavior better when they consistently took their medicine? Is there a pattern that can be followed when they do or don’t take their medicine? This can help provide the evidence when talking to them about taking it.

2 - Find Options

As a family, you need to brainstorm ideas. Set a reminder on a phone. Have someone hand deliver the medicine. Put it in a pill organizer so there is no confusion. There are many things you could try. You should prepare a list to present. Be sure in this list to specify who will do what and when. There should be no misunderstandings.

4 - Prepare for the What If’s

No matter how much time and thought you put into your plan of action, there are no guarantees it is going to work. You are dealing with another human being after all. You can’t force them to take medicine or anything else really. You need to discuss a backup plan.

(If it is impossible to reach a consensus or agreement from everyone in the family, then you may need to pick another problem. You have to be open to the opinions and ideas of others. As the process goes forward, everyone should have a chance to work on a problem that truly bothers them. Compromise will work well if everyone participates fairly with the same goal in mind.)

Step #3 – Setting Limits

1 - Limit Your Expectation

No one likes to go into a situation expecting to fail. We all want the best for our loved one and the rest of the family as well, but we have all learned the hard way that we can’t control another person, even when control is what they need and even crave the most.

The number one goal here is to maintain control over your home. That should be the one safe and comfortable place where everyone comes together. You cannot control what anyone does outside of the home, but you have the right to set basic rules from within. Keep in mind though, those small victories are still victories and this is a process.

2 – Make Consequences

Almost everything in life we do has a consequence; either good or bad. The same goes for your loved one. Having a mental illness does not exempt your loved one from consequences out in the world, and it should not exempt them from those in the home. You do, however, need to be realistic about them. Do not state the consequences that you are not willing or unable to enforce.

3 - Setting Limits for Your Loved One

The first thing you need to learn when presenting an issue and expectations or limits is to keep a controlled attitude. If they can get you to lose your cool, they have already won the first round. 

Nagging isn’t going to cut it either and the same goes for criticism. Just present facts in a firm but realistic tone and demeanor.
Pick a time when everyone involved in the discussion is calm. You don’t need a huge family meeting unless you believe that is required. You don’t want your loved one to feel ganged up on. You should pick one head of the family to talk with the loved one and discuss the problem.

Clearly communicate your expectations and any subsequent consequences. Understand that your loved one will test those limits (and thereby test your resolve). Don’t get into a battle or try to justify the rules. If everyone presents a united front and is willing to follow through, your loved one will be more likely to eventually comply.

The flipside to that is if they decide the rules or aftermath is too much to accept, it will persuade them to work on becoming independent.

The Bottom Line

I understand it is easy for me to list out all the steps and then leave you to try and figure out all the details. It is often extremely difficult for all these variables to line up. Getting everyone on the same page is hard because everyone has a unique hot button.

Expecting your loved one to hear, understand and comply is usually the hardest task to accomplish. They are so caught up in their own inner turmoil that your rules are the last thing they are worried about.

I understand how challenging this is because I am literally going through the same thing right now. In fact, that is why I started the NAMI course to begin with. I wanted help in being able to set limits and discuss expectations without commencing WWIII.

 I can tell you that these steps have helped, but I can also admit there is no foolproof method. I don’t tell you that to discourage you, but actually the opposite. When you have done your best and things still fall apart, it’s ok. Or it will be ok. Or YOU are ok.

Don’t give up on a peaceful home and never give up on your loved one. Both things can co-exist, just not always easily. Hold your line and then maybe even hold your breath.

The time and energy you invest will pay off!

And as always...

Hope With Abandon

Hope Out

www.hopeboulevard.com

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

I Am More Than A Label

As a society, we put labels on everything. Some are necessary.  

I need to know the expiration date on the cheese that has been in the bottom drawer of my refrigerator for two months (I mean weeks).   

Some are frivolous. Yes, I know taking a bath with my space heater is not a good idea. 

But sometimes I think we have gone overboard with the labels. Especially the ones attached to humans. Rarely are they correct and more importantly, even if they do fit SOME of the time, all of us have so many layers that go into making us who we are.  

Here are a few of MY non-labels! 

Label me an introvert BUT I’m not anti-social

Well, maybe I am a little, but only if I’m annoyed or very tired. I love talking to people. I especially love hearing their stories; the good ones and the sad ones. I am honored when someone trusts me enough to share their journey with me. I may not be the life of the party, but I’ve made peace with that.  

Label me single BUI’m not alone 

Seriously, I live with two other adults and a toddler. I’m NEVER alone! Being single is not a word I’m ashamed of. It does not have a negative impact on me. Sure, there are times when I wish I had a sidekick to walk through life with, but now is not the right time. I don’t necessarily buy into the quotes I see daily that say “just wait, he’s coming”. For all I know he came while I was changing a diaper or writing a blog. Either way, if he was that easy to miss, he wasn’t the right one anyway. I’m good. For now, I’m single and I'm good.  

Label me a Christian BUT I’m not judgmental 

I could write an entire blog about this topic, but I won’t today. Let me just say the basic core of Christianity is love, grace and forgiveness. No, we can’t just do anything we want and skip right into heaven, but for those who may not have figured it out yet, no one down here gets to decide what goes on up there. (No matter who much you may want to or have an opinion.) 

Label me middle age BUT it’s just a number 

Just like I’m not worried about being single, I’m not too worried about getting older. I mean, the gray hair and wrinkles are a bit tasking, but what other alternative is there to watch your grandkids grow up? I am thankful for the knowledge and experiences that I had in my life. They have enriched me and I believe made me stronger. The number of candles on the cake doesn’t bother me. Just for the love of all things good, please get the buttercream icing!  

My size is a label, but I’m not sharing that one. In fact, I probably shouldn’t have put this after the buttercream icing cake comment. I’m never sure which is worse, the M, L, XL or the 8, 10, 12, 14. Which looks more incriminating, two letters or two numbers? And why are Junior clothes in odd sizes? Is that so they don’t get mixed up with adult clothes? Just curious.... Either way, I try not to stress about the labels in my clothes. Yes, I wish they were in the single digits/letters, and ultimately, I have some control over that, but learning to be happy with where I am TODAY is a goal and an accomplishment.  

Label me old fashioned BUT to me, it just means I have manners and standards.  

That might sound a little vain and I’m not saying everyone who has manners is old fashioned. But there is something to be said for solid values. I’m progressive enough when I need to be and I am always open to new ideas and improvements, but there are still good basic manners that never go out of style and I am on that bandwagon every single time.  

I hope this has shown you that labels are fine, but they are not to be engraved or permanent.  

Never let anyone define who you are or what you can do. Be the conductor of your own beautiful orchestra and let YOUR music ring out! 

And if you do find the need.....  

Label Yourself AMAZING! 

As always... 

Hope With Abandon 

Hope Out! 

www.hopeboulevard.com

Sunday, March 10, 2019

The Art Of Small Talk - Help For The Socially Awkward


I'm really writing this for me, but I thought I would bring you along for the ride. 

Whether you are on a first date, a business meeting, a social setting or just a ridiculously long line, knowing the art of small talk is a life-saver. 

I am notoriously bad at it; seriously. I have been known to walk the long way around the parking lot to avoid having to having to walk in with someone and feel obligated to share chit-chat. I know, it's so sad. 

However, instead of continuing to wallow in my defeat, I decided to find better ways to handle this and I am going to share them with you. 

Sometimes it's not just knowing what to say, but how to say it. Everyone has a different communication style, and when small talk is challenging it helps to have some tips in your conversation arsenal. 

Pretend You Are Interested

I know the 'fake it 'til you make it' advice sounds lame, but it just might work. People are drawn to enthusiasm. Keep a go-to question or two in your small talk starter pack. Something light and breezy like a current event, news item, upcoming holiday, weekend plans, etc.

If all else fails, pick something in the room or surroundings to talk about. It is the one thing you both have in common. 

Most people like to talk about themselves, so ask open-ended or opinion questions. Instead of just asking what they do for a living, ask how it's done or why they like it.  Try to stay away from controversial topics. 

Be Interested

The best way to sound interested in a conversation is to BE interested. Pick a topic that already interests you and you will be more engaged in the conversation.
 
Believe in the Best in People

I know for me it is easy to assume someone is going to judge me for my answers or make negative conclusions about me. That's not fair. There are jerks in the world, but most people you meet are just as wary and awkward as you are. You don't have to sound brilliant; just be kind. Everyone wants to put out a good impression. 

And don't stress if you don't remember their name (unless you are on a date; that's a bad sign). That's why they make people wear name tags at events and business gatherings; we are all bad at remembering names. Just ask; it's ok. 

Be Honest/Not Argumentative

If you don't want to talk about a particular subject or answer a specific question, just politely say you would rather talk about something else. Then steer the conversation in that direction. 

If you are asked for your opinion about something you truly dislike, just say, 'That's really not my thing." Or if they express a dislike for something you love, you can come back with, "It takes all kinds." You can disagree without being disagreeable. 

Compliments/Criticisms

We all love to hear something nice about ourselves. Find something about your small talk companion to compliment on. It will brighten their day and they will generally start to talk about whatever you mentioned. 

If someone gives YOU a compliment, simply say thank you. I know for some of you that is difficult. Don't try to convince them they are mistaken. Don't feign pious modesty. Just accept and appreciate the nice gesture. 

Now if they slide in a criticism, refer back to above about not being disagreeable. For the purpose of small talk, if someone casually mentions something that doesn't sit well with you, just let it roll. Offer the non-committal, "You could be right." You can finish the sentence however you want as long as it is under your breath.  

The Getaway

Despite all your best efforts, there will still be times when you just want to escape. Either they are overbearing, getting in your personal space, or you are just emotionally winded. Whatever the reason, just simply excuse yourself with an "I Need" phrase. 

"I need to use the restroom." "I need to get some food/refill my drink." "I need to make a call." "I need to answer this text." (Just look at your phone. They will never know you don't have a text. Your phone is on silent anyway, right?) Your 'need' can fit the location/situation, but very few people are going to question the sincerity of your statement. 

I do suggest if you claim to need to go and/or do something you at least attempt to make good on that statement. I mean, after all, it's the polite thing to do. 

Practice Makes Perfect

My hands started shaking even as I wrote this. I know the best way to get better at something is to continue to do it. I would improve my small talk skills if I put myself in the position of having to do it. 

Can I just say; ugh. 

Seriously though, unless you retire to a deserted island or a cabin in a rock underground, you will need to interact with people. Being an introvert, I understand it can be difficult. It doesn't come easy for some of us. But it is always worthwhile. 

For the times when I truly attempt to make a connection with someone, I almost always enjoy the conversation. I learn something about me or the other person. 
I fancy myself to be a storyteller of sorts, and everyone has a story. Learn how to step out of your comfort zone just long enough to get someone started on telling 
theirs. 

You might just be surprised at how pleasant small talk can actually be. At least that is what I am telling myself...

And as always..

Hope With Abandon

www.hopeboulevard.com 

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