Distraction in the time of COVID-19.

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!

Self-disclosure of my people-pleasing foibles.

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.

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.