During the hospital prep to remove my spleen and the two-inch tumor it contained, the hospital tech gave me dull tan hospital socks to wear. I could see bright red socks in the stack of clothes on his cart and asked if I could have those instead. The tech looked puzzled. I explained that I didn’t want to see anything depressing as I recovered. I sought a cheerful color instead. Because of another medical issue, I had to get out of bed every hour during my two day post-op hospitalization. The red socks were a small matter, but they helped maintain my spirits during recovery. Sometimes small things, like red versus tan socks, help make a challenging situation just a little better. It never hurts to ask for what you want.
For about a year, I shared an office with two wonderful middle-aged women. One day, through casual conversation, I learned that each of us wanted to lose fifteen pounds. We all looked fine. The other women were very attractive by any reasonable standard. I didn’t think they needed to lose any weight, but I respected that they knew their ideal sizes better than I did.In that moment, I related to innumerable women. So many of us are striving to drop that middle-age girth. I felt supremely normal, not at all like a woman who’d had to watch her weight scrupulously her entire life. At last, I was just like everyone else! Normality never felt so good.
MSI Press published my new book, 100 Tips and Tools for Managing Chronic Illness, on Friday! Library Journal wrote: “ An excellent resource worthy of multiple reads. For those with a determined spirit during discouraging times.”
My day always begins with a to-do list. I accomplish all of life’s tasks with careful pacing. However, there’s also a place for spontaneity in my life. Sometimes this spontaneity doesn’t involve saying yes to an impromptu invitation. Instead it manifests in permission to take care of myself by jettisoning my list. On a bad day, I may want to go to a movie after work or binge watch my favorite TV show. I tend not to procrastinate regarding life’s demands, so there’s no long term down side to putting my tasks aside for a day or two. Sometime plowing through on a tough day gives me a sense of accomplishment, but on other days it’s wiser to let go, put everything aside, and focus on being kind to myself.
I know when I’m upset, I need to refrain from immediately reacting. This is especially true at work, where maddening e-mails appear suddenly or colleagues say stupid things in meetings. My adrenaline surges, and I want to respond with snarky or other similarly inappropriate comments. I’ve learned that no matter how distressed I am, I need to calm down before I put hands to keyboards or open my mouth. I once walked out of a meeting run by my two bosses. They had no idea what happened until the colleagues who remained seated explained it to them.
After I excused myself from that meeting, I left my office building to relax. By the time one of the bosses sought me out to apologize, I could respond professionally. I try to take this same tack in my private life. My emotions and intellect are not always in synch. As a result, I make a conscious effort not to be reactive when upset. This practice applies to my health challenges too. When I learned I’d grown a two-inch tumor in my spleen, I didn’t call my family right away to tell them the bad news. I mindfully calmed down before reaching out to them. When under duress, I wait for the surge in stress hormones to abate before I take action.
When I woke up on my fifty-third birthday, my life was fine. My health was stable. I had a job I liked. All was well with my family. But I had the mid-life blues, as though I’d entered a long, slow, slide to sixty, with nothing particularly invigorating in my future. I had written a manuscript about managing chronic illness at my father’s urging, but it sat in my desk drawer for almost eight years. I decided to combat my ennui by hauling my manuscript out of the drawer where it had lived for years and doing whatever I needed to get it published
MSI Press published that book, Living Well with Chronic Illness, in 2015. My second book is being published this spring. I have published thirty-two short essays on the HuffPost Blog, as well as publishing on two other health and wellness websites. I’m amazed at my beginner’s luck. My writing life is more demanding and rewarding than I ever envisioned, and I’m deeply grateful. My stepmother, an award-winning science fiction writer, summed up my literary life perfectly by observing that I am having “the best mid-life crisis ever.” I’ve tried to be brave dealing with my health issues, and I’ve tried to be brave with my literary life. There’s no doubt that the challenges of the former helped me as I struggled to become a new author. It’s a grand adventure.
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.