A couple of years ago, we hired an electrician—I’ll call him Ed—to install a ceiling fan on the front porch and a new wall switch in the foyer.
Because there was a light switch in the living room on the other side of the foyer wall, the new switch would have to be installed lower than usual. My husband explained the situation to Ed, who understood.
Ed’s assistant—I’ll call him Jack—came the following day to do the work. I was in the kitchen when I heard a muffled curse and immediately knew what had happened. When I went to investigate, sure enough, there was a gaping hole in the plaster, exposing the back side of the living room light switch.
Damn. I hated seeing that hole, but, even more, I hated the conflict it presented. As a people-pleaser, I’d rather scrub a toilet than face a conflict.
There were a number of ways I could have responded:
1) I could have yelled and make a fuss:
This is exactly what I feared would happen! We told your boss the switch couldn’t go there. You’d better fix it and it had better be perfect!
The very thought of making a scene like this gives me the heebie-jeebies. For better or for worse, I’d rather have a hole the size of New Jersey in my wall than yell at the person who put it there. Jack already felt horrible, I assumed, and I didn’t want to make him feel worse. The damage was done, literally, and yelling at him would not patch the plaster.
A people-pleaser is usually more concerned with another person’s feelings than their own.
2) I could have calmly expressed my anger in tone and words:
Jack, this is really maddening. We explained to Ed why the switch couldn’t go there. Didn’t he tell you?
This type of response wouldn’t patch the plaster either, but it would honor my feelings. A mistake was made, and I had every right to be mad and to express it. Most of my regrets in life–not that I dwell on regrets, but I try to learn from them–happen because I hadn’t honored my negative feelings, and didn’t speak up about them. I wish I had learned early on in life to express anger appropriately, but what I learned was to not express it at all. As you suspected, I didn’t choose this option.
A people-pleaser often doesn’t know how to express anger constructively.
3) I could have squashed my feelings and minimized the problem.
“It’s OK. Don’t worry about it. These old houses are always tricky. The hole can be fixed.”
Sigh. I’m sorry to say this was my choice. No problem! is my default. Face-to-face, in-the-moment, person-to-person conflict makes me so uncomfortable, I often pretend there isn’t a problem. I pretend I don’t care or that I’m not mad or upset or disappointed or annoyed or ready to explode.
I’m not proud to admit it, but it’s the truth.
I’m telling my truth to hold myself accountable.
A hole in the wall rates only a meh in the scheme of life. But by “outing” myself about these minor incidents, I hope to better understand and come to terms with the incidents that really matter, like the story in my memoir. And I hope to outgrow my toxic agreeability.
I tell my truth as a way to hold myself accountable.
I tell my truth in hopes that it will inspire others to explore and free themselves of their own people-pleasing habits.
I’m telling my truth to inspire other people-pleasers to free themselves.
The hole-in-the-wall scene is Act 1 of my wall-switch story. Dealing with Jack was the easy part. Confronting Ed, his boss, was the hard part–the part that left me with regrets. I’ll tell that scene next week.
(If you’re not subscribed and you don’t want to miss Act 2, just find the “subscribe” button and provide your email.)
If you’re a people-pleaser and you’d like to call yourself out, feel free to email me your story at email@example.com (just click on “Contact” in the menu bar) and I’ll keep it between us.
If you’re feeling bolder, please add your comment below. (If you don’t see the comment box here, click on the title of this post and scroll to the bottom.)
Who knows? If my story inspired you, your story may inspire others. Together, we’ll grow stronger backbones and thicker skins. Together, we’ll be free.
Twas the morn before Christmas and outside my house, not a car was stirring, nor even a mouse.
I had zipped my winter coat over my pajamas this morning to bring our recycling to the curb. When I stepped out onto the porch, it reminded me of the mornings when my boys were young and we woke early on Saturdays to take them to hockey games. Those days were hardly quiet. It was always a rush to get breakfast into their bellies and gear onto their bodies and all of us into the car.
On Sundays, we woke early for church. Monday through Friday, it was work and school. Never a day to sleep in. Never a break, it seemed.
My mom used to talk about how much she loved getting up before anyone else and enjoying the quiet. When my kids were little, what I wanted more than anything was to sleep in.
But I always relished that moment on a winter morning when I stepped outside into the cocoon of the stillness and silence. If someone had boxed up that feeling of peace and put it under my Christmas tree, I’d have needed no other gift.
These days, my kids are grown, and I have my fill of solitude. I’m much less in need of cocooning but I still appreciate the gift of quiet, peace-filled moments. They are opportunities for reflection.
This holiday season, I wish you many of those moments. I hope they allow you to reflect on life, and I hope you find reasons for gratitude, even if you have to dig deep, as I know many people do. If it helps, pretend I’ve wrapped the gift and placed it under your tree with a fancy bow and a tag that says,
“From Karen. To my friend.”
If you don’t celebrate Christmas, pretend the box is on your table or windowsill or already in your hands.
Unwrap. Enjoy. Repeat every day.
Until next year, I wish you all the best.
Two years ago, I wrote this last-minute Thanksgiving blog about my mom’s recent heart surgery, and my gratitude that she survived.
This year, she’s gone.
I lost my best girlfriend, but I gained a surprising new confidante–my dad.
What’s important is our current connectedness.
When I was sixteen, I never could have imagined sitting on the couch next to my dad with my legs up on his lap, discussing our dreams and fears late into the night. I never could have imagined us side-by-side, holding hands, sharing our deepest feelings. Not that long ago, if you had told me a day would come when no one in my family would understand me as well as my dad, I’d have suspected you of imbibing a little too much holiday sauce.
Yet, it has all come to pass.
When I was younger, my dad and I didn’t relate well to each other. He was an involved father with all six of us kids–changing diapers, building a backyard ice rink, attending games and performances–whatever was needed. He said, “I love you,” regularly, and I knew he meant it. But we just didn’t bond emotionally. I closed my heart to him. The complicated dynamics of our previous relationship don’t really matter–what’s important is our current connectedness.
I’m trying to pinpoint when this new relationship with my dad started, but it was less a point and more an evolution.
Since 2016, when my declining health forced me to leave my job, Dad has never neglected to ask me how I’m feeling. And in spite of the embarrassing symptoms, humiliating symptom-management, and undignified procedures I’d endured, nothing was ever TMI for him. His only concern was for me. The more I shared my distress, the more love he gave.
Vulnerability is an opening for love.
Vulnerability was not a state or characteristic I’d have associated with my dad in the past. He was used to being the family provider, his rock-hard Catholic faith buoying him through stressful times. But as my mother’s health declined, and she became more and more in need of care, my father wondered what the future held, and for how long. His faith wobbled.
Dad felt unmoored, perhaps for the first time. And I felt deep compassion for him, perhaps for the first time. His floundering to find his footing opened a place in my heart that had often been closed to him. It was an opening for love.
We’re often afraid to share our angst, our fears, our unsettledness. It’s risky. Others may think poorly of us or act unkindly. They may use our weakness against us. It’s wise to be cautious.
But sometimes a risk pays off. It did for Dad and me. I’m glad we’re flawed human beings because it is our shared vulnerability that brought us together.
This Thanksgiving, you may have an opening to share your vulnerabilities. Dare you take it? If you do, please let me know!
Regardless, I wish you a day filled with deliciousness of every variety.
[If you don’t see the comment box here, click on the title of this post, scroll to the bottom and, Voila! Or, you can click on “Contact” in the menu bar and send me an email.]
A note to my WordPress followers:
If you don’t subscribe to this page with your email address, did you know you’re missing out? My quarterly Newsy Letter is delivered only via email, and provides updates on my memoir, book recommendations, embarrassing photos of me, and more! Just find that “enter email” box and, well, enter your email!
Since my mom died a few
Mom was one of the biggest supporters of my writing journey.
But here I am, my third post in less than a month. I hope you understand.
Mom was one of the biggest supporters of my writing journey and my goal of publishing my memoir. Before she died, I had told her about a big “first” for me: being interviewed about my memoir on the Midlife A-Go-Go podcast. Mom was excited, but she never got to listen.
I wish I could hear her voice.
When the interview first aired last week, I believe Mom heard it. I believe she knows all that goes on in my life, more so than she did while she was earthbound. But still, I find myself waiting for her call to tell me how proud she is. I wish I could hear her voice. I imagine it, I hear it in my head, but I ache for the real thing.
Since I won’t hear from Mom, maybe you can listen for a few minutes and tell me your thoughts. It would give me a smile. Mom, too.
[If you don’t see the comment box here, click on the title of this post, scroll to the bottom and, Voila! Or, you can click on “Contact” in the menu bar and send me an email.]
Before my mom died, she and my dad regularly ate lunch in the dining room of their senior facility. Mom didn’t have the energy to make it down for breakfast and dinner, so they had those meals delivered to their apartment.
Mom, an extrovert, missed the socializing, but the schedule suited Dad, an introvert. I take after Dad, so when I visited, the limited “peopling” suited me, too.
For introverts, “peopling” is draining rather than energizing.
When our trio went down for lunch, I pulled out every reluctant extrovert cell in my body (and there are a few) for a song-and-dance-show. I turned on the charm. Since Mom wasn’t always her usual bubbly self and she so desperately wanted to make friends, I tried to be her girlfriend ambassador.
Those ninety-minute lunches drained me, but it was OK since I had a whole day to recover.
In case you don’t know, one of the hallmarks of being an introvert is not that you dislike people and/or socializing, but that “peopling” is draining rather than energizing. And just like any drained battery, introverts need to recharge.
After Mom died two weeks ago, I thought Dad might wither away in his room, but he put on his big boy pants and started going down to all three meals. I’m visiting him now, still turning on the charm at lunch and sometimes dinner, this time on his behalf.
After one particular noisy lunch gathering, my charm quickly wore thin. “I can’t believe you do this every day,” I told Dad on our way back to his apartment.
Introverts need to recharge.
When I got back, I opened my email, found this article about introverts and the cartoon above by the talented Aaron Caycedo-Kimura. It nailed my exact feelings. When I showed it to Dad, he agreed, with a laugh.
For too many decades, I was so caught up in people-pleasing, in wanting to fit it with the extrovert world, I ignored my need for solitude. And although I often enjoyed “peopling,” I ignored my need for recovery.
Mom and I had often talked about our extrovert and introvert experiences, but Dad and I never bonded over our introvert inclinations. Until now.
At eighty-seven, newly widowed after sixty-three years of marriage, Dad is living proof that it’s never too late to learn and you’re never too old to grow.
At sixty, newly bonded with my dad, I’m learning and growing, too.
[If you don’t see the comment box here, click on the title of this post, scroll to the bottom and, Voila! Or, you can click on “Contact” in the menu bar and send me an email. I really do want to hear from you!]
Reflections on the day Mom died.
On Friday, September 27, my eighty-seven-year-old dad, who often has trouble sleeping, got up at 3 AM. In the independent-living apartment he shared with my mom, he took a few steps from the bedroom to the tiny kitchenette to get a bite to eat. He grabbed a pita bread, then took a few more steps to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a scotch.
As he sat on the living room couch enjoying his snack and his “middle-of-the-night-cap,” my mom, eight-six, appeared with her walker at the bedroom doorway.
“Do I hear the tinkling of ice-cubes?” she asked.
“Yes!” Dad answered.
His “yes” would have been enthusiastic and drawn out, both arms and one scotch raised in celebration, his eyebrows raised like a character in a Norman Rockwell painting.
“Does that mean you’d like a shot of bourbon?” he added.
It meant exactly that. So Mom shuffled to the couch while Dad fixed her drink. They sat for about fifteen minutes, holding hands, until Dad broke the silence.
“Whoever said these were the golden years could not have been a day over fifty,” Dad said. “There’s not much golden about getting old.”
There’s not much golden about the “golden years.”
Mom agreed. She would know
Two years ago, she had heart surgery from which she never completely recovered. At times, she seemed to be on the mend, then a UTI or stomach bug or new medication would spiral her back down and we’d wonder if we were going to lose her.
In the past month, though, she gained strength and spirit and seemed to be on a solid rebound. She had asked my sister and I to plan a joint visit for a “girls weekend,” which we hadn’t done in years. I had booked my flight for tomorrow.
Sitting on the couch with his wife of sixty-three years, Dad found the silver lining of another color.
“But, truly,” he said, “this is a Golden Moment.”
Golden Moments are the silver lining of aging.
I’ve enjoyed Golden Moments with my parents, too.
After I graduated from college in 1980, I never returned home to Pittsburgh. Between my relocation to Troy, NY–my husband’s hometown–and my parents’ moves later in life, I’ve lived anywhere from 500 to 3,000 miles away from them.
When I came in town to visit, I usually didn’t make plans to catch up with friends or to sight-see or take side trips. I preferred to spend my precious little time with my long-distance family.
Once, my sister-in-law asked me, “So what are you going to do while you’re out here?” I was dumbfounded. I wanted to say, “Nothing,” because that was the truth. But it seemed so boring. It seemed small compared to the jet-setting lifestyles of some of my siblings. I can’t remember how I answered.
I’m not suggesting that there’s a right or a wrong way to spend time while visiting family. I wish I had been better about keeping in touch with friends. But I have no regrets about the Golden Moments with my parents. Especially now.
My golden moments give me no regrets.
In their living room at the independent living facility, Mom and Dad sat and held hands for another fifteen minutes, enjoying the silence before going back to bed.
Dad would have followed Mom into the bedroom. He would have put her neck pillow in place and raised or lowered the head of the bed to the perfect angle. He’d have arranged another pillow under her ankles so her painful heels didn’t bear any weight. Then he would have tucked Mom’s favorite pink blanket under her chin and she’d be asleep before Dad made it to his side of the bed.
That evening, after an uneventful day, Mom and Dad again sat on the couch, watching the PBS News Hour. Around 7 PM, Mom stood up, pitched forward, and was probably dead before she hit the floor.
My heart aches that Dad witnessed that scene. I grieve for his loss. I grieve for my family and many friends who loved Mom. I grieve for myself and the loss of my best girlfriend.
I lost my best girlfriend.
Tomorrow, I’ll fly down to visit Dad. Instead of a girls weekend, it will be a father-daughter week. Dad and I will sit on the couch, holding hands, sharing a drink, enjoying our Golden Moments. Mom will join us and I’ll feel her hand in mine. I feel it every day. It’s golden.
[If you don’t see the comment box here, click on the title of this post, scroll to the bottom and, Voila! Or, you can click on “Contact” in the menu bar and send me an email. I really do want to hear from you!}
Giving up gets such an unecessarily bad rap.
I’ve neglected my gardening for most of the summer. I don’t do vegetables, just perennials, with a few annuals in pots. This year, the deer have been voracious, eating things they never touched before. Even my makeshift deer “fencing”–rows of
Giving up on gardening came first.
I became a gardener when I first planted marigolds and petunias in front of our first house over thirty years ago. I was such a novice, I didn’t know the difference between an annual and a perennial. I didn’t know certain flowers needed sun and others needed shade. All I knew about planting flowers was you dig a hole, stick the flowers in it, and water.
When my garden bed became a mass of bright yellow and hot pink, I was hooked.
I don’t know when (or if) I got hooked on writing. What I know is I’ve devoted so much time to it lately, I haven’t had time to miss my gardening.
Nature abhors a vacuum, right? Take away gardening and writing fills the void.
My “writing” includes doing some updates to this website (did you notice?), creating my guided meditation video (free to subscribers; did you receive the link?), “guesting” on a podcast (I’ll let you know when it airs), building my social media platform, and, occasionally, transcribing actual prose.
When I started writing over twenty years ago, I knew nothing. After a long hiatus, when I started writing again in 2016, I knew even less. Well, more accurately, I continually discovered how much there was to learn, so the ratio of what I knew to what I didn’t know increased tenfold. (Here’s an example of one of my first blogs about gardening. Not horrible, but not great, either.)
This past week, although my creative mind has been churning out ideas, the mechanics of writing–for an audience reading a literary or mainstream publication–got the best of me. I gave up.
Giving up on writing came next.
Don’t worry–I’m not going to quit writing. I’m just going to take a day or two to putter among my poor eaten hydrangeas and weathered iris stalks and
By tomorrow, I’ll be refreshed and ready to dig in to my writing again.
Giving up is just what I need to move forward.
Giving up isn’t always a bad thing. It could be just what you need to move forward.
If you don’t see the comment box here, click on the title of this post, scroll to the bottom and, Voila! Or, you can click on “Contact” on the menu bar and send me an email. I really do want to hear from you!
The first time I tried to meditate, I fell asleep. It was about twenty years ago, when I was still a working mom, and our family was recovering from my son Matthew’s rumble with a brain tumor.
The exact setting escapes me, but I was taking a workshop with about a dozen other people, all of us in work clothes, sitting on hard folding chairs. The setting wasn’t conducive to relaxation, but I was so sleep-deprived, it didn’t take much for me to nod off. Fortunately, I didn’t drool or snore (I don’t think).
I thought falling asleep meant the meditation was effective but unfortunately, you have to stay awake for the full benefit.read more
Being assertive is a challenge for me, but apparently not for my appendix, which choose Memorial Day to demand its freedom. That evening, I happily complied, and a surgeon put my appendix, and me, out of our misery.
(BTW, I’m perfectly happy without that little wormlike appendage to my colon. I’ve recovered quickly, thanks in part to the many doctors over the last century who contributed to the development of laparoscopic procedures.)
The day after my surgery, an interesting dilemma presented itself–to defend myself, and risk offending my surgeon, or to stay quiet. I chose a middle ground, and I’d love to know what you would have done.
To be assertive may risk causing offense.
In my memoir, which is written and soon to be agent-ready, I explore the roots, manifestation, and consequences of my excessive agreeableness. I own the sad truth that my inability to stand up for myself made it difficult to stand up for my son Matthew during his long rumble with a childhood brain tumor.
For many years, I was well aware of my reticence toward speaking up. There were times I tried to be assertive, but mostly I stayed in my comfort zone where others’ needs took priority over mine.
Being assertive is outside my comfort zone.
But with my uncomfortable truth ready to be laid bare to the world on the pages of my memoir, I’ve been making a concerted effort to be stronger, more assertive, to speak my truth.
Part of what makes it hard for me to speak openly is my fear that I’ll offend someone. That’s what happened with my surgeon.
The morning after my appendectomy, the diminutive man with thinning hair, square glasses, and nutmeg skin stopped in to check on me, and give me my discharge instructions. In a thick accent, he sped through the dos and don’ts. I caught a few snippets–showering was OK, swimming was not, no lifting, call his office if I had any problems.
“So I don’t need to schedule a follow-up appointment with you?” I asked when he finished.
“Yes, you do!” he said with a laugh, “I just told you that.” His laugh didn’t hide his derisive tone.
What I wanted to say, also with a laugh, was, Well, you have a very heavy accent and you talk too fast, so don’t blame me.
But that seemed rude. I was afraid I might offend him. I didn’t want to sound prejudiced.
So what I said, with a smile, was, “Well, you gave me a lot of information, and I’m just trying to take it all in.”
This was growth for me. In the past, I might have said, I’m sorry, I must have missed that. Or I might have been too embarrassed to say anything.
I took a step in the right direction by not taking the blame, and not feeling the shame. But I regret not being more assertive, and I don’t know how I could have responded without offending the person who had held my life–or at least the life of my inflamed appendix–in his hands.
I regret not being more assertive.
The dilemma is, when you want to stand up for yourself, but you don’t want to offend someone in a way that is antithetical to your beliefs, what do you do?
Since I’m learning to navigate these new waters of assertiveness, I’ll ask you–
What would you have done?
I have a therapist—a mental health counselor—who I see regularly.
It’s no big deal.
I’m not mentally ill. I don’t have drug or alcohol addictions. And I’m not in the middle of a big transition like divorce, serious illness, a loved one’s death, relocating, losing a job, or starting a job.
And yet, I see a therapist.
My point is that you don’t have to have a specific diagnosis or life-altering crisis or HUGE problem to engage in counseling. It doesn’t have to be a big deal.
Mental health counseling doesn’t have to be a big deal.
I’ve been in counseling many times in my life, starting when I was an overweight 16-year-old, my self-esteem in the toilet. In college, and as a young adult, I also sought help. And then again in 1997, when motherhood overwhelmed me because my 10-year-old son Matthew was falling apart from what would later be diagnosed as a brain tumor. (OK, that WAS a big deal, but we didn’t know it was first.)
Recently, three life events sent me back to my therapist:
- Writing my memoir, and re-living the challenging years of parenting Matthew through his brain tumor.
- The pain and isolation and frustration of my chronic illness, year six.
- Growing pains. Sigh. Yes, still, at 60.
Mental health counseling is more than a bandaid.
My husband has strong shoulders to cry on, and my friends have ears open to listening, but sometimes I need a neutral, skilled party to help me weed through the surface shit and find the core of what’s bothering me. Friends and loved ones are sometimes just bandaids–very caring and soothing, but bandaids all the same. Therapy is like open-heart surgery–it gets to the source of the angst.
Some people don’t “do” counseling.
Earlier in my career, when I was a student assistance counselor in elementary schools, if I assessed a student who could benefit from counseling, I would ask the parents to consider it.
“I don’t DO counseling,” I often heard.
I get it. Some people would rather have a tooth pulled than to bare their souls to a stranger. Some people don’t feel the need to dig deep into their personalities or lives to figure themselves out. Some people won’t air their “dirty laundry” beyond family or friends. There’s no judgement here.
But if you had a recurrent pain in your calf or elbow or any there body part, when it got to be too much to bear, wouldn’t you see a doctor to treat it?
If you had a toothache, wouldn’t you see a dentist to stop the pain?
If you’re confused or sad or angry or don’t know how you feel, but you know you feel something and you want to feel better, why wouldn’t you reach out to get that help?
I reach out for help from a mental health professional because I love figuring myself out. I feel and think very deeply about just about everything…as my husband would attest. I’ve got more layers than an onion, more sides than a prism. Counseling helps me understand myself and my relationship to the world. We all have just one chance at this life, and I want to be my best self as I fumble through.
Mental health counseling is like running a marathon.
I love counseling in the way that some runners love marathons. It’s hard work. It’s usually painful. It challenges you to push through fear and self-doubt and find your inner strength. It makes you a better person in the end. For me, it’s all about personal growth, and counseling is the ultimate fertilizer.
In recognition of Mental Health Awareness month, I’m sharing my “no big deal” story in hopes that it will normalize counseling. I hope to de-stigmatize asking for, and receiving support from, a professional to help you obtain, regain, and/or maintain your emotional health.
Despite my convictions, I’m nervous about this disclosure.
In spite of my conviction that counseling need not be hidden because there’s nothing to be ashamed of, I’m still a little nervous about “outing” myself to the world on this topic. It just goes to show we all still have work to do.
I hope you’ll do the work with me. If you want counseling, I hope you’ll get it. If you’re in counseling, I hope you won’t hide it. If you’d like to “out” yourself here with a comment, go for it. I’m with you 100%.
Together, we can make caring for our emotional selves no big deal.
How do you find a therapist? Click here, and below for some resources.
Also, many states and local governments have departments of mental health, or behavioral health, and may help you find sliding fee services.