I’m fond of most flowers, but the tulip is my favorite. My grandfather grew them, and I’m reminded of him every time I see them. I love how unpredictable they are. I can place a bunch of tulips in a vase in the evening, bent over as if they are yearning to kiss the surface they sit on, and then wake up the next morning to a vase of flowers standing straight, as if they received a magical drug during the night.
I relate to their changeability. I never know how I will feel hour to hour, just as I never know how my tulips will transform. They are kindred to me, and I love that I’m able to relate to something beautiful and elegant.
A colleague with whom I once shared an office liked to eat her lunch with no distractions. She wanted to eat mindfully, focusing only on her food, without conversation, reading, or interacting with electronic devices.
I thought a mindful meal might be worth exploring, so now I’m eating a mindful breakfast. My mornings before work are a whirlwind of activity, including taking care of the cats, making my bed, taking a shower, and emptying the dishwasher. A small pause to quietly eat my breakfast could be good for my mind and spirits. So far I’ve enjoyed my peaceful meal. I’m always trying new things to improve my well-being. If I think it’s of benefit, I’ll maintain the practice. If not, at least I tried something new instead of simply continuing an old habit.
Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep. When this happens, I try not to add stress by worrying about lack of rest. Instead, I practice good sleep habits (also referred to as “sleep hygiene”). After half an hour or so, I get out of bed and eat a light snack of carbohydrates, usually a few crackers. I stay away from electronic devices and don’t even allow myself to watch television.
Usually I read for a while before returning to bed. Most importantly, I don’t create drama in my mind. One night without enough sleep is manageable. I might be tired, but I could still function. If I became upset when I woke up and couldn’t fall back asleep, I’d be making a bad situation much worse. There’s no point in getting upset. It won’t help me get a good night’s rest.
Recent studies have shown that gratitude leads to longevity. Some of my days are easy, and others are stressful and painful, like everyone’s. I end every day by counting all the good things that happened that day. Sometimes the good things are big, like the day I learned I’d receive an unexpectedly large tax return; other times they’re small, such as the time a toddler smiled at me in the grocery store line.
I try to find at least a dozen positive things in every day, even the bad ones. To my surprise, I can usually find enough to meet my goal. When we live with illness, it’s hard to remember that good things still happen to us. Identifying a dozen of them every day helps me to remember all of the positive things in my life.
Just as I recovered from my splenectomy, I caught the horrible cold that was going around my work place. It started with a hacking cough in my chest. The day the cough started, I went to the Nex (Navy exchange, similar to a 7-Eleven) in the basement of my building and bought cough drops. They were vile but wonderfully effective. I hated them but needed them to be even marginally functional and to get to sleep.
I ran into my neighbor a couple of days after the coughing started and mentioned the horrible cough drops. He said he’d had the same illness and recommended a better- tasting brand. He fished one out of his pocket and gave it to me. His brand tasted much better, but I didn’t have the time or energy to go to the drug store right then, so I continued to ingest the horrid ones for a while longer.
I often advise my mental health patients do what works to improve their health even if they don’t like the options, such as taking psychiatric medications. Cough drops are a minor issue compared to an antipsychotic. I always want to practice what I preach, so I used the bitter cough drops until I could replace them
After my spleen was removed in 2017, my doctor informed me that I must go to urgent care whenever I have a fever over 100.5 degrees. Without a spleen, I’m at risk of complications from infections. This seemed like a low threshold, but I’m not a medical provider, and I’ll follow these instructions.
To complicate this issue, I also have orthostatic instability, resulting in in chills and sweats. In addition I still have hot flashes seven years into menopause. Half the time I can’t tell what’s happening to me, and I just ride out symptoms in the hopes that they’ll go away.
Now I carry a thermometer in my briefcase and in the future I’ll travel with one. I remind myself that my spleen was removed because I’d grown a two-inch tumor, which I learned, post-surgery, was benign. Monitoring potential fevers is a much preferred outcome to undergoing cancer treatment. I’ll check for a fever if I feel unusually hot and remember to be grateful for my good health.
Recently I learned another important lesson at my favorite place—the movies. One of the movie chains I frequent has separate lines for premier customers, who are always served first, at both the ticket line and the concessions stand. Several times recently I found myself believing I was about to be served, when I was then bumped by a premier customer. I became huffy and ill tempered, not the mood I want to be in at a movie.
I’m an outgoing person even when I’m miffed, so I chatted with a couple standing next to me in the premier line. I listened as they enthused about the benefits of this service. How much does it cost? I asked. Fifteen dollars, they replied. I could easily afford that! I signed up for membership immediately. I felt stupid for being annoyed at the special service enjoyed by the premier customers and was reminded once again that I need to get over myself. Now I’m served first at this theater chain. I only hope that the other customers are less full of themselves than I was before I had a change of heart. Sometime I must be mindful to check my reactions. A bad attitude doesn’t hurt anyone but me.
Sometime in the mid to late nineties, a friend who I worked with mentioned that he and several other co-workers were going to a Barry Manilow concert. My colleagues were young and hip. I had difficulty imagining them enjoying the music of Mr. Manilow, whose career had peaked many years ago. I replied with something like, Really, why on earth are you guys going to a Barry Manilow concert? My friend told me off. He reminded me that every single person in our generation could sing at least one Barry Manilow song by heart. I realized he was right and that I’d been a snob.
Barry Manilow is a great songwriter. In that moment I climbed off my high horse and admitted I’d been wrong. Sometimes we are simply wrong. It’s good to acknowledge our errors. Then we can move forward with grace and good will.
I am extremely fortunate to belong to this family. There is no substitute for the love of the people who know us best, who appreciate our strengths and fogive us for our imperfections.