My wonderful father died suddenly, leaving me bereft. His memorial was postponed for several months until my family could gather from all over the US and Europe. As a result, I wasn’t able to engage in customary mourning rituals. I was in shock for the first several days after his passing. I purposely kept myself busy and in the company of kind, caring people. By day six, I returned to work, but in the evenings I only wanted to rest on my couch and watch television. I didn’t want to talk to anyone or be productive. I simply desired to sit with my cats and miss my father. For two weeks, I gave myself permission to mourn in this manner, after which I felt ready to return to my usual life and its demands.
No matter how prepared we believe we are, the death of a loved one is often a shock. I still feel that the world is a duller, poorer place without my father, but I’m glad I allowed myself those two weeks to fully experience my loss before returning to a normal routine
Sometimes I don’t feel well enough to embark on the twenty-minute walk I usually enjoy during my lunch hour, but I still want to get out of my office for a break. I don’t like to sit inside under florescent light for nine hours straight. On days when I’m not up for my mid-day stroll, I take several micro breaks instead. I walk out of my building into the central courtyard of the hospital and amble to the farthest building and back. This allows me to stretch my legs, soak up some sun, breath the fresh air, and enjoy a mental break from the psychiatry ward where my office is located. These micro breaks are rejuvenating and don’t deplete me the way the longer walks might. If I time allows, I’ll take several of them in lieu of the longer walk I prefer. I’m always seeking new ways to meet my needs, and this one works well.
My new officemates have begun to quote me. What am I doing and why am I
doing it, I sometimes ask myself out loud as I face my work computer. Most people at some point in time have walked into a room and forgotten why they went there. This happens more often to people if they have medical or psychiatric issues that make it difficult to think straight. When I’m sick, my daily tasks loom large. I strategize my way through the evening—eat, wash dishes, brush teeth, etc., and take necessary breaks between each activity. I can easily become forgetful. On a busy workday, I often juggle several tasks simultaneously: a phone call, e-mails, chart notes. I can quickly become distracted and fail to recall what I started doing a few minutes ago.
All of my new officemates talk to themselves. I think creating an external aural structure helps us meet the demands of the day. They’ve heard me ask myself, What am I doing and why am I doing it, and acknowledged that they often can’t remember what they were doing either. Sometimes they quote me to me, but always with humor. They admit seeing themselves in my self-talk. Most of us wish to be accepted, despite our flaws. My officemates have normalized my behavior and laughed with me about this particular quirk.
On July 4, 2016, I woke up to searing pain in my right foot. I limped for three months before seeking a podiatrist’s help. The verdict? I had plantar fasciitis, an easily treatable condition. A year later, my foot is almost entirely healed, although I now exclusively wear specialty shoes or flats with orthotics.
After my foot fiasco and three wasted months in pain without treatment, I decided to be more proactive when I experience new medical issues. I don’t like to run to a doctor every time something inexplicable is wrong with my body, so I’m striving for a middle ground. I allow myself a few weeks, instead of a few months, to see if the ailment will heal by itself. Recently I’ve had several minor issues. I waited about a month and then sought medical care. I was glad I’d implemented this change in strategy since these issues did require intervention. After an entire adulthood of poor health, I continue to adjust my responses to my body’s needs. I’m pleased that in the depths of middle age I’m continuing to learn and be flexible about self-care.
At my mother’s insistence, I’d taken three typing classes by the time I turned fifteen. The summer I was thirteen, she enrolled me in a typing course at a local secretarial school. The youngest person in the class by at least a handful of years, I felt wildly out of place. I took the next class at the beginning of eighth grade. I hadn’t mastered the entire keyboard yet, so it didn’t bother me to take this course again. In1973 no one used computers, but anyone college bound needed to be able to type. I don’t remember the third class, but I must have needed it, because I still can’t type numbers without looking at the keyboard.
Mom demanded that I continue to take typing classes until she believed I’d achieved a reasonable level of touch-typing proficiency. I know people my age whose mothers were not as prescient and forceful, and they are hunting and pecking on their work and home computers. My three typing classes taught me to persevere when a skill doesn’t come easily. Aside from being embarrassed by being the only junior high student in secretarial school, this was a painless experience. Some skills are harder to master than others. Nevertheless, they are worth pursuing if there is a life-long payoff. This is a lesson I’ve often been reminded of as I’ve managed my chronic illness and faced other life challenges.
My new book, 100 Tips and Tools for Managing Chronic Illness (MSI Press, April, 2018), just received a great review from Library Journal. I’m thrilled. Take a look.
Charnas, Joanna J. 100 Tips and Tools for Managing Chronic Illness. MSI. Apr. 2018. 98p. ISBN 9781942891932. pap. $12.95. HEALTH/SELF-HELP
Unrelenting in her fight against chronic fatigue syndrome, Charnas (Living Well with Chronic Illness) offers an incisive supplement to her previous book with 100 tips composed of ten chapters, each containing a common theme of encouragement. The author’s advice focuses on those managing chronic illness; however, the timely affirmations serve a much wider audience seeking positive resolutions to daily life pressures. A recurring thread throughout emphasizes the importance of living in the moment and finding creative solutions in challenging circumstances (“When outside forces change, I have to change, too. Maximizing my health not only requires planning, but it also demands flexibility”). Verdict An excellent resource worthy of multiple reads. For those with a determined spirit during discouraging times.—Angela Dixon, Georgia State Univ. Lib., Clarkston
This blog is dedicated to the memory of my father, Stephen Charnas.
During my childhood, members of my family periodically observed my father laughing quietly to himself. My stepmother would usually comment, “You’re thinking of something funny, aren’t you?” And sure enough, Dad had been mulling over a humorous idea and made himself laugh. I always admired Dad’s ability to create solitary, unrestrained enjoyment.
I don’t share Dad’s gift for laugh-out-loud self-amusement, but I am able to entertain myself by playing with language. I savor using familiar words in new ways. Recently the word confederates has been on my mind and occasionally popping out of my mouth. Everyone knows what the word means in relationship to the Civil War. They were the guys in gray from the South who lost. But I’ve been using another meaning of the word—allies or partners. Confederates is such a rich, warm word. I’m grateful for my love of English. I spend much of my free time reading or watching TV. My ability to entertain myself with language makes the down time easier.
It’s taken a few days for reality to sink in: My beautiful, funny, brilliant, loving father, Stephen Charnas, died shortly after midnight on Wednesday, January 31. I and the rest of my family are deeply saddened, as well as profoundly grateful to have had him in our lives. Today it seems as though the earth should stop rotating for just a moment to aknowledge his departure. Everything is the same but nothing feels the same. He was a great father.
I began studying Tae Kwondo to improve my health. I’m extremely clumsy, often can’t differentiate left from right, and frequently walk into things. My health didn’t improve as desired, but once I started, I enjoyed a sport in which I’d previously had no interest. I could pass the qualifying tests, just barely. Sometimes I’d become discouraged by my lack of grace and skill, but I made a commitment to myself to show up two to three times a week as required and not worry about the outcome. I turned over the responsibility for the outcome to my beloved teacher, Master Cho, an eighth-level black belt from Korea. Eventually I passed the two-day test for a black belt as well as five of the subsequent tests that preceded a second-level black belt. I stopped only when my health declined severely and strenuous exercise became impossible.
Now when I face a major challenge, I remember this experience. I show up, do my best, and then let go. It’s been a surprisingly effective strategy for almost three decades.