Blog

Racism is hidden within ourselves. (6/5/2020)
Kneeling in prayer for George Floyd.

Dear friend,

Once again, I’m writing about a topic I didn’t plan to write about–racism. Once again, as a writer, I feel obligated to use my skills and my modest platform to say something of value. I’d rather leave the societal commentary to the bigwigs—those with sway, with clout, with fancier and more relevant degrees than me. Those who can make a difference.

But to not speak is to be complicit. And. I. Refuse.

So I’m sharing my thoughts about the murder of George Floyd, the black man in Minneapolis who was “kneeled to death” on camera. He was yet another man killed for the color of his skin.

I didn’t want to watch the horrendous video of the last eight minutes and forty-six seconds of his life, and yet I couldn’t not watch. I made myself pay attention to bear witness to his death. To look away was a privilege he and his family and his community could not exercise.

So what am I gonna do about racism? That’s the question we’re all asking ourselves, isn’t it?

I start by looking within. I consider myself a non-racist, but I acknowledge that in the past, I’ve not always confronted racist words or actions of others. That is racist on my part. I own that. For many of us, if we dig deep enough, I believe we’ll find racist leanings in our conscious and subconscious thoughts, and in our visceral reactions.

How do I fight the racist hidden within me?

First, by acknowledging it. And here I am.

Second, by changing.

Speaking up doesn’t come easily to me. Even the potential for conflict is anxiety-provoking. I’ve been actively working to escape the unhealthy people-pleasing box I built for myself. Now, when a voice in my head says, Karen, speak up, I do. I don’t give myself a choice.

George Floyd took his final breath under the knee of an oppressor. I will use my breath to speak up on his behalf and others who are oppressed. I will call out racism wherever and whenever it hides.

This declaration scares me. I’m not an in-your-face person. Then I think of the terror Mr. Floyd must have experienced, and I resolve to be mightier than my fear.

Third, by increasing my awareness.

Other than Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou, I can’t recall if I’ve read works by African-American authors. (Truth be told—I’m very bad at remembering authors and titles, so I may have read other black-authored works. I promise to pay more attention going forward.)

So I’ll buy books to enlighten me. Anti-racism books are selling out across the country, and I may have to wait for Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Anti-Racist, Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race and Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race. You can see these and other recommendations here.

Anti-racism books are selling out across the country.

But, even before I became a memoirist, I knew I gained more insight into issues through personal accounts than from most other forms of writing. Offer me story vs. expository writing, and I’ll choose story every time. Here and here are great lists of memoirs by African Americans.

If you have other book recommendations, memoir or not, please let me know.

After I finish one of these books, I’ll pass it along to someone in my majority-white community, and ask that they pass it on when they’re done. Collectively, in my little part of the world, maybe we can become better allies to our neighbors of color. And maybe, if this type of thing happens all over the country, it will make a difference. And maybe, just maybe, George Floyd will be the last person to fall victim to his skin color.

My efforts feel so… disconnected, so abstract, when others are protesting and putting their safety and lives on the line to make their statement. But sometimes, when so many are screaming, one more loud voice is not heard. Sometimes a whisper gets the attention.

In the words of Mahatma Gandhi,

In a gentle way, you can shake the world.

I will fight racism in my gentle, meaningful way, and continue to look for other ways to change our world for the better. We so need it, don’t you agree?

How about you? How are you fighting racism?

Post-traumatic growth–the end of the pandemic tunnel? (5/13/2020)
The light of post-traumatic growth may await us at the end of the tunnel.

Dear friend,

I’ve been thinking about that phrase, “The light at the end of the tunnel.” At this stage of the pandemic, I can still see the light, but it feels like this damn tunnel keeps getting longer and longer. Does it feel that way to you?

Or maybe you’ve lost sight of the light altogether.

I hope my words today will help—they are my final thoughts about the Art of Manliness podcast my son, Matt, brought to my attention last month. To catch you up, I first wrote about pandemic grief, and then about the sixth stage of grief, which is making meaning.

But the reason Matt sent me the podcast in the first place was that it referenced something else he and I have in common.

This was our text exchange:

Matt: “Wow! This is that podcast I always talk about. The episode I just listened to is about the pandemic, but from the perspective of emotions.”

Me: “Cool! I’ll listen at lunch.”

Matt: “I WAS NOT expecting it, but they went on to talk about a lot of your book stuff, and just as I was starting to think it, the guy mentions…POST-TRAUMATIC GROWTH!”

Post-traumatic growth—PTG— is what happens when a person grows from trauma, instead of languishing in it, as they might do with post-traumatic stress disorder–PTSD. I had never heard of post-traumatic growth until Matt introduced it to me a few years ago after hearing about it on NPR.

Post-traumatic growth—PTG— is what happens when a person grows from trauma.

When Matt told me, he said, “I have that, Mom. I have PTG.”

After I looked into it, I realized I, too, have post-traumatic growth, twenty + years after Matt’s diagnosis at age eleven with a brain tumor.

Twenty years. It was a long tunnel.

And I didn’t realize until recently, when my therapist suggested it, that I probably had undiagnosed PTSD. Every once in a while, it’s still triggered when Matt hits a snag in life that I am powerless to solve, like when his basement got flooded last fall with five inches of water.

With no idea what to suggest or who to call–and it was late in the evening, so who would answer anyway?–I was lost. Michael was out at a meeting. I had just finished a glass of wine and didn’t feel safe driving over to Matt’s to offer emotional support, although he needed it.

It triggered the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness I had when Matt was young and was deteriorating before my eyes. That crumbling tunnel was three years long, and the light almost flickered out.

Helplessness and hopelessness–sound familiar?

So when Matt called about his basement, my mind flooded, too:

It was a mistake for him to buy that house. It’ll get mold and he’ll get sick. I wish he didn’t live so far away. (Twenty minutes!) I wish I could buy him a perfect house that would keep him perfectly safe and he’d never have an emergency like this and I’d never have to worry like when he was little and I wanted to move us to a desert island where no one would tease him or make him feel bad and I’d love him enough to keep away the hurt and I’d keep him safe and I’m so tired of worrying because I’ve done enough worrying already to last me a few lifetimes.

Yet Matt got his basement pumped out, dried out (mostly), and grew wiser, more confident, and seasoned as a homeowner. I grew too, in reminding myself that my fears are not Matt’s. I grew in understanding that with adversity comes growth, a lesson I hadn’t fully embraced when my children were young.

My difficult motherhood taught me more than I would have learned from the perfect life I had expected. It’s cliche, but I’m a better person because of it—more compassionate, humble, forgiving, wise. That’s part of post-traumatic—appreciating the lessons of your experience.

If your interminable tunnel has been too chaotic or lonely or dark to see any lessons yet, I hope you’ll be open to finding them in retrospect, when they often reveal themselves. And I hope you’ll remember that the light is there, even if you can’t see it.

The light is there, even if you can’t see it.

If this rings true for you, if it feels right, feel free to stop reading.

But…

It may not ring true if you’ve lost loved ones during this difficult time when our normal support systems for grief are absent. The loved one was your light. That light did go out.

I have not walked in your shoes, so feel free to X out this page, and know that my heart goes out to you. But if you’re open, here are my thoughts:

I believe you are now in a different tunnel, one without your loved one. It is longer and darker and grimier and lonelier than you ever could have imagined. You may not see the light at the end of that new tunnel, so you may believe there is none.

But it is there.

And on the days when you feel you can’t get out of bed or pull on a pair of pants or put a fork to your mouth, all you need to accomplish in those difficult moments is to believe in the light.

Believe it is there. Believe you will see it again. And believe you will reach it, because someday you will get there, and that will represent growth.

The path to PTG is paved in meaningful moments.

In the podcast, grief expert David Kessler, who lost his teenage son unexpectedly, says the path to PTG (at around 13:50 in the podcast) is paved in meaningful moments. When friends and family call and text and send food and flowers, those are meaningful moments. Revel in them. Allow them to buoy you. They are reminders that the light exists, even if it’s still hidden.

When you are ready, you’ll create your own meaningful moments—picture collages, memorial gardens or displays, virtual celebrations of life—and you will catch a glimpse of the light. It will flicker on and off for a while. But it will call to you, and you will put one heavy foot in front of the other and slowly, laboriously, painfully move toward it.

Only you can decide if your loss manifests as PTSD, and if your growth feel likes PTG, but those are only labels anyway. What matters is that you climb out of your tunnel, and the you who exits, worn and tired though you may be, has survived.

That is my wish for us all—that we move toward the light, that we survive, that we grow.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. What will it hold for you?

(The podcast doesn’t go into much depth about PTG, so here’s another great resource.)

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Making Meaning—the Sixth Stage of Grief (4/29/2020)
Making meaning from a lump of clay on a poetry wheel.
Image by zsuzsannasolti from Pixabay. My mother was a potter–she found meaning in a lump of clay.

Dear friend,

Last week, I wrote about my pandemic grief, and the podcast that helped me identify that feeling. Many of you acknowledged that you were experiencing grief, too.

People don’t race through the original five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance—like running a marathon. There’s no mile marker to put behind us as we pass by, and there is certainly no finish line.

Grief is more like a revolving door—we cycle through the stages multiple times. Every so often, we step off, and then a song, a word, a memory sends us spinning again.

This week, I’m spinning. I’m reeling.

I had alluded to a sixth stage of grief last week, but I didn’t want to get into it, as I thought my blog was already too long. I didn’t want to lose you.

Sadly, I did lose someone. My friend who had battled COVID-19 for over a month died last Thursday.

Rest in peace, Ron.

As for Ron’s family, peace will evade them for a long time, especially since family and friends can’t gather to comfort them. It’s a cruel twist to this deadly disease. My husband and I drove up on Sunday to see Ron’s wife—my girlfriend—and we stood in their—in her—garage, just out of reach of the pouring rain. She and her son stood near the back wall while we all chatted and fought back tears.

No hugs. No kisses. Just presence. It was a meaningful moment. That’s what David Kessler, the grief expert in the podcast would call it.

“Making meaning” is the sixth stage of grief.

(You can find it at about the 10:22 mark in the podcast.)

Kessler is careful to say this stage is not about finding meaning in death. He mentions the sudden death of his son three years ago, and says the unhelpful platitude people often express—“Everything happens for a reason”—is bullshit. (My word, not his.)

It’s about honoring the life that has ended.

Making meaning is about honoring the life of the person who passed.

Sometimes making meaning is big, like fund-raisers and movements and lobbying for legislation. More often, it is a phone call, a “thinking of you” text, a card, the food and necessities we drop off, the pictures, stories, and memories we share.

These days, meaning includes car caravans, waves, socially-distanced visits, even social media posts, and this blog.

Meaning is a cushion for death, the “light within the darkness,” says Kessler.

The grief expert says meaning follows the acceptance stage, but I imagine it’s in the revolving door, too. After we cycle around a few times (or a few hundred times), the door opens to acceptance and we see that it’s there, but before we can fully step in, we’re dragged back, our head spinning.

It’s too early for me, and especially Ron’s family, to embrace acceptance, but the community of love that buoys them is hard at work creating meaningful moments. I am so grateful to be part of that community.

Whatever your experience of this pandemic, my wish is that you find ways to make meaning. You may already be doing that, and now that you’ve identified it as such, I hope it cushions you in the uncertain days ahead.

I hope you find light in the darkness. I hope you become light in the darkness of others.

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Stages of Grief during COVID-19. (4/22/2020)
Image by Carrie Z from Pixabay.

Dear friend,

Are you still struggling? Me too.

So much loss and pain and fear within myself and among humanity. I’d been trying to wrap my brain around what I could say about it but it all seemed like more blah, blah, blah, just like the blah, blah, blah that fills the airwaves and my inbox every day.

Then my son Matt sent me a link to a podcast he listens to regularly: The Art of Manliness. In this particular episode, the host, Brett McKay, interviewed David Kessler, a grief expert and collaborator of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross—-creator of the five stages of grief.

You may be familiar with the stages, which ebb and flow, not in any sequential or linear order: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.

In this interview, Kessler said what we’re experiencing during this pandemic is grief. All of us, except those rare individuals (if they exist) who are somehow immune physically, socially, and emotionally to what’s happening to our world, are experiencing grief.

We’re experiencing pandemic grief.

It certainly feels that way to me.

Kessler goes on to assert that we’re the first generation to have “feelings on feelings.” In other words, “I feel X about this situation. And I feel Y about my X.”

No wonder this is so difficult!

Kessler doesn’t name the second level of feelings, but in many cases, as it is for me, that feeling is guilt: since I have it so much better than others, I feel guilty about and un-entitled to my negative emotions.

I believe it’s a form of survivor guilt. I recognize it from Matt’s rumble with a brain tumor when he was eleven, and it persists for me today. He was, and is, so much better off than many, many other brain tumor survivors. How can I possibly grieve for what was lost when I have so much to celebrate? Deep in the thicket of bringing my memoir into existence, I fight that war often.

And I find myself fighting with my first and second generation feelings about COVID-19:

  • I lost my disability income last September and my appeal was recently was denied. I’m not able to produce any sustainable earnings. But how can I feel sad when my husband is still employed and we’ll never lack for food and shelter?
  • I’m afraid of getting infected, but I rarely have to leave my house. How can I worry when so many others put their lives on the line every day?
  • I feel hopeless about the future of the book industry, and worried that I’ll never get an agent for my memoir. But how shallow can I be to even think about a mere book when people are dying?
  • I’m distraught over my good friend who is extremely ill with COVID-19. But how can my feelings even compare to what his family is going through?

You get my drift.

Kessler’s advice is to “Stay in your first generation feelings,” allow yourself to feel without judgment. If you do this, he says, the feelings will pass through you in a few minutes.

I’m not sure that “passing through” happens so easily, but I’m going to try that this week.

I’m going to feel whatever I feel. I’m going to sit with all of my feelings and acknowledge them. I’m going to accept them whether they pass through me or not, and my goal will be to go easy on myself: self-acceptance is key.

I hope naming this collective expereince as grief helps you to go easy on yourself. I hope you can sit with your feelings today, accepting them for what they are. I hope you can grieve in whatever way you need to. And I hope that gives you solace.

Above all, I hope you are safe and well. If not, know that I grieve for you, as does the world.

There was much more in the interview that I’d like to share (including a sixth stage Kessler added) but, because there’s so much we all have to process every day, because of all the blah, blah, blah, I’ll save those thoughts for another week.

What about you? Does this pandemic experience feel like grief?

[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!]

To my WordPress followers: Did you know you’re missing out on my quarterly Newsy Letter and exclusive news and updates if you don’t subscribe via email? Find that “subscribe” button and sign up today!

Purpose–it may be simpler than you think. (4/13/2020)
Image by ArtCoreStudios from Pixabay

I had intended to write a blog last week to process some of my emotional overload, but after starting a draft or two, nothing substantial materialized.

Then, I got caught up in the whirlwind of coronavirus writing and submitting, because there’s so much I want to say and so much that needs to be said and so many opportunities not be squandered and this could be my big break to get a byline in a big mainstream publication and I’d better not blow it.

The outcome after three days of frenetic writing and revising was two essays and a handful of rejections. Everyone, it seemed, was writing about COVID-19. No one, it seemed, was interested in my words.

By Friday, after I submitted my essays one final time each, my thoughts returned to writing a blog. Easter was almost upon us, and, even for those who don’t celebrate, the metaphor of resurrection from darkness was too meaningful to ignore in these pandemic days. Again, I started a draft, but nothing gelled.

My thoughts were dandelion seeds dispersing in the wind, and in my attempt to catch them all, every single seed slid from my fingers.

Then I thought maybe I’d wake up early yesterday, Easter Day, and tap something out. Surely a seed would germinated on Easter, right?

Wrong.

Easter morning dawned on the heels of a few worse-than-normal gut days for me. The morning was another physical and emotional ordeal. By noon, I was so exhausted, I had to lie down.

Usually, when I need a ten or twenty-minute reset like this, it will revive me enough to face the rest of the day. Yesterday, it didn’t. I didn’t know if I could get up. I didn’t know if I wanted to.

I’ve never had a day when I couldn’t get out of bed, when depression or illness imprisoned me so fully that I gave in to the pull of the cocoon under my covers.

Yesterday, I wondered if it would be the first.

But my son was coming over. He was coming to celebrate Easter.

My husband and I had nothing special planned. We got curbside take-out on Saturday, wiped down the containers, and put them in the fridge for Sunday. We planned out our social-distancing-together strategy—where we would sit, how we would handle food distribution, which doors to use or not use.

Steve, our son who lives further away, didn’t make the drive for the weekend as he’s done for years. It was the right choice not to travel. I missed him, but he was safe–that mattered more.

But Matt lives twenty minutes away, and he was coming over. He was my purpose in getting up. So I did.

Please excuse the pun, but I rose from the bed.

I brushed my teeth and showered and got dressed and ate lunch and picked up a little around the house and scrolled through Facebook.

By the time Matt arrived at dinnertime, my gut had settled, allowing me to enjoy our visit. The day that I thought might break me turned out to be a great day.

Sometimes, we just need to find one purpose in the day that won’t allow us to quit, that makes us get up, show up for our day, and crawl through it if that’s all we can manage.

If you think you don’t have a purpose, you are wrong my friend.

For you have read my words. You have given me purpose today—to get these imperfect words onto this imperfect page so they reach your imperfect eyes.

Today, you are my purpose.

You may not think anyone cares if you get up or not, but you may be the very reason someone else rises, too.

If you can rise, I can rise. If I can rise, someone else can rise. And if more of us rise, then we make a statement that all hope is not lost.

The world needs that message right now. The world needs you. I needed you today, my friend, and you showed up for me.

Thank you.

Distraction in the time of COVID-19. (3/31/2020)
Image courtesy Pixabay.

How are you holding up, dear friend?

Our lives are all in such different places lately that the continuum of potential responses to that question seems to get longer and fatter each day.

Some of you may be bored, reduced to cleaning out closets and old email messages. Others of you may be swamped, like my husband, who is trying to manage the needs of his staff and unit from home. Others are surely crazed with fear and worry and grief, either because COVID-19 has hit too close to home, or because you are on the frontlines fighting it.

Whatever your experience, I’m thinking of you.

As for me, I feel driven. Overwhelmed. On edge.

I’ve been doing a final read-through of the memoir manuscript I “finished” last fall, expecting to have a little tweaking I might want to do. I’m now on day four of dedicated tweaking–no other writing, very little social media, and, of course, sheltering in place. I’m up to chapter seven of twenty-seven chapters and I am obsessed with finishing.

When I get absorbed in a project, if the end is anywhere in sight, I want to ignore everything else, put my life on hold and GET. IT. FINISHED.

At first, tweaking was a good distraction from coronavirus news. But chapter seven covers the year before my son was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age eleven. It got to be too intense. I didn’t know if I was crying more about the memories, or about what’s going on in the world today.

Then, yesterday, it hit close to home. I got the news that my friend who is infected with COVID-19 has taken a turn for the worst.

My emotions are so close to the surface, I can’t even watch or read happy and uplifting stories without crying because they remind me how much is at stake.

So I’m reaching out to connect with humanity. I need a distraction.

My son, Matt, is going stir-crazy working at home alone. I wanted to do something every day to let him know I’m thinking of him. So yesterday, I texted him some silly riddles and knock-knock jokes. (Writer’s Digest has a good collection.) They weren’t even funny. But sometimes what’s funny isn’t the joke, but how bad it is.

Here’s one:

I took the shell off my racing snail thinking it would make him faster. It only made him more sluggish.

(It’s OK to groan, really.)

It’s such a little thing, but I already know this will be a memory Matt and I will have forever. When I’m old, we’ll laugh at our attempts at comedic relief. It’s simple. Literally, right at our fingertips.

Next week, I’ll have more distractions to share–three essays coming out. Their deadlines so close to each other kept me driven at the beginning of my social isolation and I was glad to get them behind me.

What about you? Do you need a distraction? Do you have a distraction to share? If you’re hurting, I’m listening.

[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!]

To my WordPress followers: Did you know you’re missing out on my quarterly Newsy Letter and exclusive news and updates if you don’t subscribe via email? Find that “subscribe” button and sign up today!

The best self-care: giving to others. (3/22/2020)
A few years ago when I was visiting my parents, my dad came back from shopping with this. I said, “Dad, that will never be enough for me! And what are you and Mom going to use?”

Are you coronavirus-ed out? Have you had your fill of worry and fear and depressing news? Are you tired of suggestions about what to do as you shelter in place, and reminders to practice self-care?

Me too. It’s why I wasn’t going to write anything about pandemic life. What can I say that hasn’t been said ad naseum?

But here I am, so obviously I’ve reconsidered. I realized I didn’t want to be the writer who doesn’t write at a time when there’s so much to say.

My life these past two weeks isn’t much different than it’s been for the past three-and-a-half years. My gut disorders have kept me sheltered in place pretty much every day. I love my solitude, so isolated life is easy for me.

The biggest change was that my husband Michael worked at home last week. Good news–we didn’t strangle each other, as I feared! The only surreal thing was that a few times he’s run out at the crack of dawn when stores opened to hunt down toilet paper (which I use at a rate of about ten to fifteen times the average. No exaggeration.) Twice, he came back empty handed, but this morning he scored big–eight rolls! That should last me a good two days. (OK, that was an exaggeration. LOL.)

Did you every think, in this land of plenty, that we’d be hoarding toilet paper? And then discussing it on social media, no less?

Now that our TP shortage has been remedied, I’m OK.

But maybe you’re not OK. Many people are not at all OK. I feel their pain acutely, which makes me not OK. It’s a vicious cycle.

I get overwhelmed with wanting to save the world and feeling helpless that I can’t. I wish I had a few million dollars to spare so I could really make an impact.

But that thinking is a trap. I can’t save every person in need, but can I take the edge off this disaster for one person?

YES.

Instead of focusing on what I can’t do, I’m going to identify what I can do. That will make me feel better. It’s a win-win.

I’ve decided that the best self-care I can give myself is to give to others.

I’ll share my plan, not to appear generous, because there are many, many others whose generosity makes mine look like the Grinch’s. I’m sharing to hold myself accountable, and hopefully to generate ideas of small things we can all do.

Here’s my plan:

I ordered disposable diapers online and had them mailed directly to a local food pantry. I saw a Facebook post from this particular agency that gave me the idea. There’s another food pantry I want to do this for. (I’ll call ahead to see if that will work for their limited hours, and I suggest you do the same.)

I’m going to donate blood tomorrow. I used to donate at least four times a year, but when I got sick, I had so much to manage with my gut symptoms, I gave myself a pass. But my blood is healthy and plentiful, so it’s time to share it.

If I get that check from the government–$1,200 last time I heard–I’m going to donate it. (I haven’t yet decided where.) Michael’s income won’t be affected by the pandemic and I didn’t have an income to lose, so, financially, we’ll be status quo. If we’re OK now without that money, we don’t need it. But someone else surely does.

I have other ideas, but I’m going to start with these because I’m more successful when I set manageable goals.

If you are hurting, know that people do care. You may feel invisible, but I know you’re there and I’m wishing the best for you.

What about you? Do you have small ways that you’re helping in these uncertain times?

Self-disclosure of my people-pleasing foibles. (2/28/2020)
Lily-of-the-valley shoots sprouting up through blacktop.

Self-disclosure of my people-pleasing foibles often leads people to tell me not to be so hard on myself. It’s true that I feel mad about the times I didn’t stick up for myself and shame in admitting what I see as a weakness.

But sharing my truth means I can’t hide from it. Once it’s out, I’m confronted with its destructiveness and feel I have no choice but to change.

My self-disclosure is working. S-L-O-W-L-Y but S-U-R-E-L-Y. I’ve written some funny stories about my successes on Facebook. *

And now, another story:

You may know some of the background of this one. If not, the short story is that in May, 2016, I had to take medical leave from a job I loved due to my increasingly disabling and difficult-to-diagnose gut problems. My employer encouraged me to take advantage of their short-term disability policy, which turned into long-term disability.

What a blessing. Not my illness, but the disability benefits. That income took the edge off leaving my job, and helped to cover the thousands of dollars I spent (and spend) on out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Then, in September 2019, I received a call from my disability representative. I’ll call her Mary.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this,” Mary said, her voice wobbling. I could hear the emotion in her voice and I knew it was sincere. We had become fond of each other in a weird kind of way during our three-year phone relationship. She was always professional and business-like, but with heart.

“Our medical directors have determined that you are no longer eligible for benefits.” She gulped. “Your cased is being closed as of today.”

Shit. I felt my shoulders and chest collapse, and my breath, my hopes, my future squeezed out of me like toothpaste.

I had wondered if I might face a reduction of benefits someday. I’m not bed-bound, after all. I’m not immobile. My mornings always suck, but I can usually leave the house in the afternoon or evening if I need to. I can take care of myself and do household chores and tap away on my laptop.

But I never expected a complete benefit mic-drop without warning.

As crushed as I felt, I also felt bad for Mary. My instinct was to comfort her.

“It’s OK,” I told her. “I won’t starve.” And I blathered on about the benefits being a blessing, and how grateful I was, blah, blah, blah.

I heard Mary typing to transcribe our conversation, like always. It’s her job. I knew she did it and I wasn’t worried because I had nothing to hide.

A few weeks later, I decided to appeal the decision, so I requested my full medical file—all 2,400 pages.

I read, or at least skimmed, most of it. When I came to my final conversation with Mary, I wished I had sewn my lips shut. It sounded like I was overjoyed to be losing my income. Blessing this and blessing that and all kinds of gratitude shit.

Nowhere did it say Client expressed anger and disappointment. Client Cried. Client said it must be a mistake because her health has not improved. Nope. Client was as agreeable as always. I saw it for myself in black and white.

I haven’t received the results of my appeal yet, but I suspect my people-pleasing will work against me. It won’t be the first time. There’s a scene in my memoir when a similar thing happened, only that time, it was a doctor I acquiesced to, and the patient was my son.

So you see why I share these stories. I hope you understand my self-disclosure. I must learn the lessons in what happened. And maybe others will learn, too.

In her book, The Disease to Please, the late Harriet B. Braiker said:

Sometimes we see in others what we can’t see clearly in ourselves.

If you see yourself in my stories, stick around. We’ll figure this out together.

*I tried to link to the exact post, but the cyber-gods weren’t cooperating. If you can’t find the post (or you’re not on Facebook), let me know and I’ll email it to you. And if you are on Facebook, how about following me while you’re there? 😉

[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!]

People-pleasing knocks a hole in my accountability. Act 2. (2/7/2020)
A jagged hole ripped in paper
Photo courtesy Pixabay.

Last week I shared Act 1 of my people-pleasing story.

As a reminder, my husband and I gave explicit instructions to an electrical contractor about where a new wall-switch should go, but for whatever reason, the assistant knocked the hole in the wrong place.

I didn’t yell or make a scene, and I have no regrets about that. There are times when it’s appropriate, even preferred, to keep a neutral stance. But it was my failure to act even slightly annoyed that bothers me.

My people-pleasing ensures that no one feels bad–No big deal! Don’t worry! I hate when that happens!–except me.

My people-pleasing is an act to hide my anger. And when I do that, when I stuff down my negative feelings, it feels disrespectful to them–to my feelings–and to myself.

My people-pleasing got the better of me the next day, too:

The day after the hole-in-the-wall incident, “Ed,” the contractor showed up, and I pointed out his assistant’s error.

“I can fix it, but what can you do for me?” I asked, hoping to get a few bucks knocked off his bill. (Yay me for asking! Even that is outside my comfort zone.)

“You want me to pay you to fix it,” he said, staring me down with his chest puffed out. It wasn’t a question, it was a statement dripping with arrogance.

But I didn’t back down. (Yay me!)

“We explained why the hole shouldn’t go there,” I said, “but there it is. And I’ll fix it, but I’d like you to take something off your bill for it.” (Yay me!)

“You want me to pay you to fix it,” he repeated, his eyes and body as rigid as a two-by-four.

What I wanted to say, what screamed in my head, but what my people-pleasing kept me from articulating in words and tone and perhaps a gesture was…

“YOUR GUY F***** UP AND I WANNA KNOW WHAT YOU’RE GONNA DO ABOUT IT.”

I didn’t say that. (Boo me.)

I don’t remember exactly how I replied, but the contractor finally offered not-so-nicely to waive the fee for his visit that day. I thought his offer was monetarily fair, and I wanted to end my discomfort, so I agreed.

So what’s the problem? The incident was resolved, right?

The problem is that I disappointed myself–not in what happened, but in how it happened. I choose my words carefully, but there was an absence of expressed anger.

This situation called for me to be angry–not about the hole in the wall, but about the contractor’s arrogance and condescension. He was a paid worker in my own home, and I allowed him to talk disrespectfully to me.

I allowed him to disrespect me in my own home, and I didn’t do a damn thing about it.

It’s my inaction that gives me regrets.

In my memoir, I tell the story of my son’s undiagnosed, and then frighteningly diagnosed illness. I didn’t cause his illness. I couldn’t have stopped it. But our family saga shone a spotlight on the times that I didn’t stand up for myself, and in so doing, didn’t stand up for my son.

Talk about regrets.

I won’t be that woman anymore. I’m not that woman anymore. It’s an arduous process to change my sixty-year pattern of behavior, but I’m doing it.

So the next time someone wrongfully knocks a hole in my literal or figurative wall, they’d better do it right, or they’ll answer to me.

And the only person I’ll aim to please is ME.

As a people-pleaser, my truth holds me accountable. (1/20/2020)
Workman wielding a hammer near a brick wall.
Image by kalhh from Pixabay.

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.

The correct and incorrect location of the wall switch. As a people-pleaser, this presented a challenge.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of the misplaced hole.

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 contact@karendebonis.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.