The best self-care: giving to others.

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.

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? 😉

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My vulnerability and why I’m thankful for it.

Dad and I shooting pool. We both won.

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.

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