On Control

imageThe other night Michael and I arrived home from dinner to a door we could not open. Our glass front door was stuck shut. Each trying the handle, jiggling and tugging, we realized quickly it was in vain. Thankfully we have another door to the house so I was able to get inside and tried to open the door from there. We discovered, each on opposite sides of the door, that the handle was stuck in the locked position.

An hour and a half, and a new door handle later, we were grateful to be done with this surprise project. And grateful that we worked on the project together without argument.

As far back as I can remember, I looked around and made mental note of any potential stressors. If I could anticipate the problem, I thought, I could control the outcome. I was vigilant with preparedness, sure that being in control was the best way to manage life. Trouble was that managing life isn’t very fun. And it is exhausting.

Several years ago, coming home to the door stuck shut would have left me furious. Its unpredictability would have been a monumental stressor. I would have taken it out on Michael. Most likely I would not have helped him with the project, and would have been steaming mad until it was fixed.

A few years ago, I made a conscious decision to stop trying to control the unexpected, to stop taking inventory of each possible stressor. I kind of think (and I’m not a lunatic or being dramatic about this) that God let me have a heart attack and subsequent health crises to show me who is in charge. I am not in charge, and I needed to loosen up. I needed go easier on myself, to realize that the beauty in my life would come from how I handled the stressors.

So much of life is not in the forecast. I believe learning this is one of life’s great lessons. Although taking things as they come does not come naturally to me, I enjoy choosing to operate this way. I hope that you can’t related at all to what I am talking about, that you never need to be the person who works at going with the flow. But if do struggle with the vigilance of anticipating stress, I encourage you to give it a shot.

Make it a good week!

 

Curb Appeal

I love this time of year, Springtime. People seem peppier, a little brighter and happier, although sometimes sneezier due to allergies. Trees are budding, and green is popping out of the ground as new plants and flowers grow.

The other day I was cleaning up and pruning the landscape in our front yard. Last fall I left the flowers and greenery on small bushes for “visual interest.” Someone told me it looks nice to have some height in the landscaping over the winter, and it helps with curb appeal. I gave it a try, and it did look nice over the winter. But there really was nothing to those flowers or bushes. They were dead.

These are last year's flowers I cut out of the new, growing plant.

Last year’s flowers that I cut out of the new, growing plant.

As I cut off the dead flowers and pulled old leaves out of the bushes, the landscaping looked much better, cleaner, and healthier. It got me to thinking about spring cleaning, for my life in general. I wonder how much I do to maintain my visual interest or curb appeal–holding onto a façade throughout a season.

If you have a chronic illness, or have had a medical condition, addiction in your home, a significant loss, or perhaps a child making his own choices on what seems to be the wrong path, you probably know what I’m talking about. The façade we put on for other people, just for appearances, is like the bushes left for the winter for visual interest. It is just that, a façade.

What we say to others about ourselves is selective and, with Facebook and other social media spaces, it is easy to post the positive things in our lives–the good curb appeal. When asked how we’re doing, it is often easier to say, “I am doing fine,” than to really get into the truth of the pain we feel. Or, we try to show our best physical selves when we are holding onto unhealthy habits, or dysfunctional relationships.

This spring, in addition to pruning, weeding, and washing windows, I am thinking more about my life in general, and what needs to go. Perhaps the easiest person to fool is ourselves. But at some point, it becomes obvious that we need to be honest and make changes. What is the visual interest that you need to let go of? In what ways are you pretending, putting on a façade? Can you prune some of it away?

The little Autumn Joy Sedum bushes after pruning.

The little Autumn Joy Sedum bushes after pruning.

Buoyancy

The greatest glory in living lies not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.  ~  Nelson Mandela

Remember when you were a kid? When you played softball and struck out? When you played goalie on the soccer team and allowed the game-losing goal? When, as a top student, you bombed the final? When you didn’t get asked to the prom?

Okay, I’m not trying to bum you out. Failure feels really bad. Even after years have passed, we can still feel that pain in the pit of the stomach, reminding us of how that bad experience felt. But failure is one of those inconvenient and difficult facts of life.

Learning how to fail, accept and learn from it, is critical. We need to know we are okay and secure, even after a mistake. And we need to try again.

This is resiliency. Actually, I like the word buoyancy better because I see a visual image of a boat buoyantly moving on the water, floating easily with the waves, never covered for long by water, always reclaiming its place on the surface.

There are a few mistakes in my life that I remember vividly; the wrong words said in a relationship, an error at work with huge financial impact, mistakes from moving too quickly. It felt really bad each time, and I thought if time could be reversed, words retracted, then the world would be so much better!

But, with time, I can recall the lesson in each one. And I haven’t made those mistakes again. Likely never will.

I think the ability to absorb failure begins in childhood, and I wonder if it is taught rather than simply attained. If children see it is okay to strike out, to allow the goal, to get a bad grade, and are encouraged and supported through the difficulty, their sense of self will be bolstered to sustain some failure.

Mistakes and failure usually have higher stakes in adulthood than they do in childhood. But our reactions to them can mirror our reactions to our childhood mistakes. If we learn how to get up again after the failures as children, we will be better able to get up again as adults.

I wish no failure for you. But if you are going through a rough patch, or have made a mistake, I encourage you to get up and try again. It is just one stop on the path to success.

Make it a good week!

 

 

 

What’s Your Why?

imageYesterday I attended a writing conference and was inspired in many ways–to write consistently, to develop my online presence as a writer, and to believe in my writing. I’ve been working on my memoir for a few years off and on; lately I’m on, and have a deadline of May to give the second draft to a professional editor. Exciting!

One of the most powerful messages yesterday came in a memoir workshop led by Lee Blum, author of Table in the Darkness: A Healing Journey Through an Eating Disorder. Her moving story is about growing up in a family where she did not feel good enough, about her struggles with, and ultimate recovery from, anorexia. When beginning to write, she said yesterday, you must find your why. Why are you telling your story?

My why for my memoir, at first, was to tell people about having a strange heart attack when I was just 38. But I have figured out over time it really isn’t about that at all. My why is for those living with chronic health conditions, about living fully and completely, with faith and hope. If I can help one person with their process of healing, it will have been worth it.

Telling our stories to make money, or for the shock value, or to please others, will ring hollow. It won’t work. In life, as in writing, If we tell our stories for the wrong reasons, lack of authenticity will shine. I hope that my why for the memoir shows through in my life. I want to listen to people, and be empathetic to those going through difficult times. Perhaps one of the reasons why I live with a chronic health condition is to help others.

What is your why? Not just for writing or telling your story. But what motivates you as you go through your life? How has your why changed as you have aged, or as you have experienced new things?

The cute little white typewriter in the photo was a gift from my lovely aunt, Georgette. She said she thought of me when she saw it, and knew I needed it. I love this little typewriter and its simple but potent message. This post is my 50th since starting this blog a year and a half ago. Thank you for reading, for your feedback, and support!

Make it a good week!

 

Consider Your Heart

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February is American Heart Month and I would do my heart injustice by not writing about it. I try to be careful in how I talk about my heart. Sometimes, in effort to be brief and not get into personal details, I abbreviate my heart story by saying, “I have heart disease,” and leave it at that. Or I say, “I had a heart attack when I was 38 but I’m good now.”

A few months ago, attempting to explain away the reason I take so many medications, I said to a nurse, “Well, I have a bad heart.” As soon as the words left my mouth I paused, said no more, and wanted to yank the words back in. I felt awful. My heart has been through the proverbial ringer, with a heart attack and at least three different dissections/tears over the next couple years. It has been invaded by tubes and dye multiple times as doctors have gone in to look around and add stents. It beats with fantastic regularity. It pumps blood efficiently, and it accommodates the six stents that prop open one of its arteries. It is not a bad heart — not at all. I am incredibly grateful for all the work it does. It hasn’t failed me.

My hope in talking about my heart disease is to influence others to consider their hearts. About 80% of heart disease is preventable with lifestyle choices… the old adage of eating well, exercising, and working to keep stress to a minimum. The other surprising statistic is that more American men and women die from heart disease than anything else, including all cancers combined.

But statistics only share facts; they don’t tell stories. None of us consider ourselves a statistic, so we aren’t going to see ourselves in a fact. Stories are easier to identify with, and this is why I tell my story. Consider your own heart, your own story, within the facts.

As you think about eating and exercising, and about managing stress, consider the work of your heart. Will eating this food strengthen my heart and me, or will it make my heart work harder? Do I really want my heart to beat faster and my blood pressure to go up because of this irritating thing at work? Or is there a better way to deal with the stress than allow it to hurt my body?

You get the idea. As you consider other parts of your body and how you treat them, your face, your hair, your teeth, consider your heart.

My other hope in talking about my heart disease is to encourage people, especially women, to get things checked out if they think something is wrong. Ladies, our symptoms of heart attack include:

  • Extreme or unusual fatigue
  • Chest pressure, not necessarily pain
  • Jaw and/or neck pain
  • Back pain
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety, irritability
  • Extreme sweating, feeling extremely hot

As you can see, these symptoms could be due to any number of other daily benign things… stress, hormones, sushi for lunch, or a cold. But, being very general here, one of the things I think women avoid most is speaking up for ourselves. If you have some of these symptoms in combination, or if any of them start suddenly and get worse, get yourself checked out. You aren’t overreacting and you aren’t causing a scene or making trouble for others. Please. You know when you know something is wrong.

This Friday, February 6, 2015 is National Wear Red Day to raise awareness, specifically, about women’s heart disease and the fact that heart disease affects more women than men.

Wear red on Friday if you can. Tell others why you are wearing red. And consider your heart.

XOXO

 

 

 

Beginnings

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Happy New Year! It’s the first day of 2015 and I wish you well today and for the days to come!

For me 2014 was a bit of a rough year; things just seemed difficult as I wrestled with expectations of myself and had a dip with my health.

But I have been looking forward to today, to moving on to a new year. I like change, new things, and beginnings. Last year I wrote about the pursuit of excellence on New Year’s Day, the idea that making resolutions is an example of pursuing excellence in our lives. I still see truth in this and am excited to have new year with a clean slate to again evaluate goals, make plans, and take action.

Cheers to new beginnings!

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Consumes Your Mind?

I am reading a memoir called “Un Moving Four Ward” by Bob Bell. It begins with the story of how he suffered an accident as a freshman in college. He became paralyzed, a quadriplegic after a classmate broke his neck in a wrestling move. Bob’s life was altered completely in a dorm room hallway by someone he knew, but was by no means friends with, in a wrestling move.

He describes the move and the scene as all happening very quickly. After Bob fell to the ground, his body completely out of his control, he lay on the floor knowing certainly that something was very wrong with his body. He looked up at the young man, this guy he did not consider a friend, and said, “I forgive you.”

Reading these words and imagining the situation, I cried. I could not imagine a 19-year-old kid, first year in college, looking up at a guy he really didn’t like, a guy who made fun of him and aggravated him, and saying, “I forgive you” without even knowing with certainty what was wrong.

It got me to thinking about the freedom Bob created for himself by uttering that statement. He seems in the memoir to truly feel that way. Bob was freed up evermore from the burden his soul would bear if be blamed the young man. By looking at his quadriplegic state as an accident, his energies could be dedicated to healing and improving as much as possible.

What consumes our mind controls our life.

Because of that forgiveness in Moment One, Bob did not allow hate, anger, or revenge to consume his mind or control his life. I dare say many of us, if not most of us, would not forgive in Moment One. And, therefore, we may be consumed in our life with the negativity of hate, anger, or revenge.

Since my heart attack and diagnosis of a chronic vascular disease (FMD) five years ago, I have tried to consume my mind with gratitude. Living with a chronic medical condition and gradually becoming accustomed to new, lower levels of “normal” is challenging. But as soon as I start to feel sorry for myself I learn of someone else in a tough situation. And the other person’s situation is always worse than mine.

My goal is to allow my mind to be consumed with positivity, with gratitude, and with joy in experiencing the moments of the day. These are the attitudes I want to control my life.

Fear, anxiety, and anger have consumed me from time to time. But I refuse to be controlled by them. And I am thankful to Bob Bell for the reminder.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends and family. May we all give special thanks this season. Make it a good week!