In November 2016, my bestie G was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer. We were relieved, in a way, to have a diagnosis for the disturbing symptoms that had been disrupting her mind, relationships, and daily life for months. But... cancer.
In an effort to cheer myself, and cast some hope into the future, I purchased some decorative papers to make a journal for her. But the days were so full of worry, fatigue, and challenge after challenge... my energy and inspiration pulled away. The book didn't get made.
Two years later, G is cancer-free! She is restored to her full and healthy self. Her family, work, and other relationships, all share in the gifts of her renewal. We are all relieved. We are reconnected. The tenuous thread of life, its preciousness, G's preciousness, made obvious by disease, remains close in our hearts and minds, even as we resume the usual and mundane of our day-to-day.
Finally, I am making her book. A token of love and celebration. For her birthday.
Our living situation isn't exactly something most American families would aspire to. A mom and her tween son living in a one-bedroom apartment?! It wasn't my first choice but it's what I can afford as the executive assistant at a non-profit. And, so, we moved into this tiny space back in December.
Then, a few weeks ago, J did something super special to help us out. He drove out to Ikea, bought us a loft bed for N and a loveseat, hauled it back to our place, and pretty much single-handedly assembled it for us.
Now we have space! Space to sit together during tv-time. Space to tuck all of N's precious things away under the loft. Space to walk through the living room without getting snagged on random pieces of tween-boy treasure.
So, still less than ideal, according to conventional standards. But it's working. And I am grateful.
Here is Little N with Slim and Brother Justin enjoying a leisurely Sunday morning.
It was such a leisurely Sunday morning that I got to sleep in until 8-ish. We stayed at J's Saturday night after a 4-hour playdate with G and her family. Pizza and a movie later and Little N was sound asleep. Only to rise early, with the cats, and then J, while I slept on. happy sigh.
Happy too, to note that N's behavior toward me improved a little after a call with his dad. N heard that he was going a little too far in his treatment of me and some of his classmates. He is still impatient and quick to anger, but he's eased up on his verbal abuse of me.
So we enjoyed a playdate with G's two boys. We enjoyed hanging out for the evening at J's. Little N put down the iPad and enjoyed imaginary games in J's house, which he wishes was ours. He enjoyed pizza, a raucous movie, sleeping in a big bed by himself, with maybe a cat or two. And I enjoyed my son.
It's a beginning. It's a sign, I hope, that we're in a change. I anticipate bumps. I'm seeking additional support in the form of a counselor for N. And I'm holding onto my hope of N learning how to manage big emotions, like anger, like reactions to change and loss. Holding onto my hope of knowing my son throughout this transition and continuing our relationship, on good terms, on the other side of this.
We are sicker than sick on this day of gratitude. The kitchen is a cluttered and unclean mess. The boy lays low in his tent, entertained by the screen. I'm under an afghan, nursing an earache, waiting to feel better. And we are home. That feels so good to me in a way that all this gooey achey irritating illness cannot touch. Our home. A tiny apartment that holds all of our worldly possessions and we're in it, held by it, resting and relating to each other in our home. I am grateful.
Ms. G and I have known each other since we were little girls back in Boston. This photo was taken 11 years ago on my wedding day (of my doomed marriage...). Since then we've had children, I've gotten divorced, she beat a rare blood cancer.... It's been months since we had a good long visit and Sunday night she came over and we caught up on everything. (sigh)
I'm grateful for my dear friend who has seen me at my best and worst, ordinary and ornery. I'm grateful for time with her on a given evening and the time she's been in my life. I am grateful.
My mother is visiting from North Carolina, so I thought we'd do a hike that's been on my list for a year. Ebey's Landing on Whidbey Island. It was gorgeous! Totally worth it, to me. For mom... a little too strenuous and brisk. I'm sympathetic. I find that much of my life, these days, is a little too strenuous and brisk. My days are exhausting and I experience physical and emotional pain regularly. But on this hike - I felt free. Little N and I took the lead on a narrow, muddy trail along the bluff and down to the ocean. The views were bright and expansive. The air was fresh and blustery. The sun and sea gleamed. Sigh.
I thought about calling this post "part 1... of infinity" because I think that there are that many opportunities to catch a glimpse of and understand self-care. Because I think that there is that great of a spectrum of what self-care means. For now, I'm starting with what I'm learning in therapy sessions, naturopath visits, and my inconsistent, fumbling practice to take care of myself.
For a long time, I believed that this is what self-care looked like - the gentle drowsing in a hammock. Decompression. Rest. Recovery from the work-week or workday. Checking out from responsibilities, roles, and relationships.
I still maintain that going slow, for me, is part of self-care. And... my work with the naturopath tuned my ears to hear something else. Self-care is also doing the good, even challenging, stuff that I don't feel like doing. It's taking action now, and again, and keeping it up, using my calendar, smartphone, gold star stickers, rewards-along-the-way, falling-off-the-wagon-&-getting-up-again to develop the healthy habits that care for my body, mind, and heart.
Weekly sessions with my new counselor harmonized with the naturopath's voice in my head. My counselor calls it, "a life worth living." It's a concept I've been toying with for years. I even own a book titled Creating a Life Worth Living. I've been moving this book into every new apartment, setting it on the shelf, staring at the title, and not reading it. I so want a life worth living. I haven't any faith that I can have it nor imagination of what it looks like.
Until, maybe, now.
When my counselor talks about a "life worth living" he's referring to a life that embodies my values. He points to "self-validating" actions that make me feel good just for doing something that embodies or reinforces one of my values. Then he requires that I get concrete in my answers as to what those values and actions are.
For example, I was recently diagnosed with "metabolic syndrome." It's the All-American coexistence of truncal obesity, high cholesterol, borderline high blood pressure, and pre-diabetic levels of blood sugar. I'm a stroke waiting to happen. It's discouraging. But! I value health, vitality, active longevity. So! I commit to and practice the new habits that align my body with my value. That means taking on some challenging and occasionally boring new behaviors that I don't always (or maybe ever) feel like doing. In fact, right now, at the starting point, they feel like more work and not like the lounge-y self-care of my daydreams.
Fortunately, I have a smart, supportive care team - the naturopath, the counselor, a nutritionist, and even my son and my ex-husband. Together, these folks provide me with the information, accountability, and motivation to get my actions in line with my value. With their help, I'm exercising to a sweaty degree, refining my diet to cut sugar and increase fiber and nutrition, drinking gallons of water, and generally incorporating daily habits that demonstrate and embody the value of my health.
Today, it's a heavy lift. Change is hard. Change that requires me to plan and adopt new activities within my limited schedule - feels impossible. I'm already worn out, how can I possibly be expected to plan meals, cook new recipes, log a food diary, work out... and not reward/appease myself with sweet treats and vegging out! How can I truly care for myself and inhabit a life worth living if I don't make these changes? I dust off my calendar and find the time to take care of myself in new ways. I practice mindful breathing during my bus commute. I prepare and pack healthy meals to eat at the office. I pull on my gym clothes as soon as I get home and start moving along to the work-out video that makes me sweat heavily and laugh at myself, too.
Change isn't just repopulating my schedule with healthy activities. It's also reassigning value to different things in my mind. What's a sweet treat in the post-sugar lifestyle? What's relaxing after raising my heart rate to a beet-red-face level? These are new delights to discover and enjoy. Even the idea of work as self-care is a new idea for me to unpack and understand. And that illuminates other areas of my life and other values I say are important to me: creativity and play, connection and compassion, community and service...
I still love the feeling of being held in a gently swaying hammock. Maybe in six months (or two years...) I'll love the feeling of a hot work-out after a day at the office. For now, I'm clumsily, reluctantly, grateful to my care providers for the gift of a new-to-me way of doing self-care.
The landlord raised my rent this summer and I needed help financially. So L moved back in with me and Little N. He's paying me rent to share a room with his son. It's an unconventional arrangement, though I hear it's not as uncommon as one might expect, and it's given my bank account a little breathing room. Much appreciated!
The new living arrangement also initiated some rearranging of the physical space. I've moved into the smaller bedroom and turned it into a bright cozy nest. My little sanctuary of self-care.
There's more to say. About the work it took to get divorced and how I feel. But for now it is enough to recognize it and even celebrate an end, a new beginning.
Out of the Attic
This blog started in 2006
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Out of the Attic.
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