Something happened to me in my forties—I began to feel the need to feed others. This urge was wholly new and completely unexpected. Whether I purchased with love (very likely) or cooked with care (less likely), I wanted others to eat my food. If I had guests over, I’d quip, “I’m Jewish, and a little bit of my heart dies if you don’t eat my food.” A joke, but it felt true. When guests ate what I offered, I experienced a deep satisfaction that exceeded logic. The feeling was primal. If someone came to my office and mentioned they were hungry, I felt similarly compelled to volunteer whatever snacks might be tucked away in my desk drawer. If they accepted, I was happy. If they declined, I felt unreasonably disappointed.
I love feeding people. I have no idea why. I’ve decided to live with this mystery and enjoy its upside—the glow I feel every time my food is accepted. I’ve lived with an illness without a known etiology since I was nineteen. I can live with this
I love the feeling of slipping into a bed with cool, crisp, clean sheets. Once a week, when I change my sheets, I know I will be luxuriating in this sensation. In order to live well with chronic illness, I try to remember to appreciate simple, accessible pleasures.
Sometimes I feel the need for flowers in my home. The urge seems organic, like a primal pull towards something beautiful. Unless I’m broke, I try to satisfy this urge with a simple bouquet. It always lifts my spirits.
I was driving home recently from a weekend afternoon of running errands. I’d cleaned my house and paid my bills that morning, my refrigerator held plenty of food, and my chores were completed. I felt a deep feeling of peace. My health can vary daily. Some days I can keep life running without much effort, and other days I manage through sheer force of will and careful pacing. But when everything necessary has been accomplished, I can relax. Then I feel proud that I’ve taken care of my animals, my home, and me. It is always deeply satisfying.
When I cleaned out my grandmother’s apartment after she died, I found reading glasses in various places around her home. I discovered more than one pair in some rooms, for example by the television and on the coffee table in her living room.
Last year I had two cataract surgeries and a PRK procedure. Since the most recent procedure, I’ve often felt as though I’ve morphed into my grandmother. I’ve purchased eleven pairs of reading glasses, which I keep in my home, my office, my car, and my purse. I use all of them. At fifty-seven years, I feel prematurely old, which is unsettling.
But my grandmother rocked. The second wife of my maternal grandfather, she weathered the depression, married twice, had her own business, fulfilled many of her ambitions, and never lost her sense of humor and style. She’s always been my role model. So despite being dependent on reading glasses to see anything a yard away or closer, there are worse things in life than remembering this wonderful person each time I put on my reading glasses.
Sometimes our bravest action is simply staying the course. How many of us have struggled to be diagnosed and then searched for effective treatment? Many people live with chronic illness or other demanding life challenges that require daily fortitude. We forget to validate the effort and courage we sometimes need to conduct our lives. We are brave and strong, even on our worst day, simply by refusing to give up and by continuing our efforts to have a good life.
When I’m sick, all of my activities are curtailed. I eat simpler meals that require less time and energy to prepare, take shorter showers, and pace myself throughout the day to ensure that my basic needs are met. When I’m home all day, mundane activities are challenging to complete. But I’m also more appreciative of small moments of relief.
Even a minute or two in the sun can feel soothing. So on those days, when I go downstairs from my 2nd floor apartment to the building’s lobby to retrieve my mail, I take a few moments to step outside. I lean on the railing of the stairway to the street and feel the sun on my skin. I watch the pedestrian traffic, which often includes several dog walkers. I look at the trees and the lawns, and I’m grateful for these few moments of fresh air and normality in an otherwise hard day.
Pets aren’t children. We’re allowed to have favorites. Of my three cats, Simon, my foster failure, is my most adored animal. I thought I’d be fostering him briefly. He was eight years old and fat. I didn’t need or want three cats. But love often isn’t planned. I feel better when Simon is in the room with me. I love all my cats, but he’s my best buddy, all twenty pounds of him. I’m grateful every day that he’s mine.
Work on the psychiatry ward had been especially challenging all week for numerous and complex reasons. On one particular day, I did my work and anxiously waited for the day to be over. Usually the treatment teams assess new patients in the morning, but sometimes, on a bad day, in the early afternoon. That day we saw a patient at three o’clock—extremely late. My patient appeared sad. He looked like he might cry but informed us he felt “just fine.” I wasn’t buying it.
After completing the assessment with the team, instead of rushing to my office to dash off a chart note and quickly exit for the day, I met with him privately for about fifteen minutes. We discussed the things he’d not been ready to talk about in the larger meeting. He wiped away tears as we parted, and observed, “You must be very good at your job.” I felt I’d reached him in a fundamental way that I hoped would be helpful. Focusing on my patient, offering my best to him and having it accepted, healed many of my bad feelings from the week. He reminded me of what’s important to me. Through my efforts to help him, I restored myself. This is one of the many reasons I love being a social worker.