Thrive-al mode: we create our own words…uh worlds

When I was in graduate school completing my coursework in social work, I had to make some adjustments in my life to accomadate my relentless schedule. If you’ve been following my previous posts, you’ll know that I refer to myself as a recovering perfectionist. Well, when you’re a full time employee, mommy to 2 children, wife, and graduate student (no particular order), you learn to reprioritize the priorities. One thing that I decided to let go was my perfectionistic, and borderline obsessive compulsive process of cleaning. It was obsessive compulsive because if I saw even the slightest spec of dirt or crumb, uninvited visions of that spec or crumb would play in my mind over and over again until I did something about it that day…and sometimes in that moment. That level of detail can be too much when your plate is full. I developed a strategy that so impressed my therapist (I did 6 months of counseling to help me cope with life in my last semester of graduate school) that she asked if she could borrow it.  I tend to be gracious at times, so of course, I said it was okay. In fact, I was flattered.

My main trigger is to “see” the madness. Once I see, I can’t “unsee” it. Therefore, in attempt to control my cleaning tirades, I avoided the trigger spaces (i.e., my kids’ bathroom) or if I had to go in that said bathroom, I would go in with the lights off and turn my head, blindly grasping for whatever item I needed. That strategy didn’t work for every space. My husband often says thay I come home looking for stuff out of place. I maintain that is not the case. Just the other day, I walked in from work greeted by shoes facing every which way in the walkway…one of my all time pet peeve’s considering that we have shoe cubbies. I can’t “unsee” that. Let’s just say for 2.5 years, the house was dimly lit & my husband was tasked with the chore of cleaning their bathroom. I think that was a successful compromise for all parties. 

It’s been over 5 years since graduate school and I realized recently that some areas of the house are still dimly lit. I use the excuse that my optic neuritis makes my eyes sensitive and that is true to a point. There’s this one blinding, halogen, overhead light in the kitchen that when turned on, allows you to see every spec of unidentifiable thingamajig in any crevice. I hate that light. I cringe when it’s on and stop whatever I’m doing at the moment to admonish the poor soul that flipped the switch. The light bulb went out in the other, less intrusive light, so we had to use the blaring one until we bought another light bulb. I was struck by how dirty the sink was and the obsessive compulsive thoughts crept right back in. So what did I do? I turned off the light and instantly felt better. In that moment, I had an epiphany. We really do see what we want to see. If we can control it, we will…at least I will.  Even my daughter pointed out that I have been keeping the lights dim so that I wouldn’t see the dirt. If she knew better, she would keep her mouth shut because this has implications for how busy she’ll be for the remainder of winter break. We still have this weekend and I’m in organization mode.

I will regroup right now to determine the appropriate takeaways from this epiphany. No, I’m not “saying” (I am aware that I’m writing not talking, but you know what I mean) that our home is dirty (definitely don’t want to send that message to my audience) because we clean weekly and the kids have their chores. I will say that the level of cleaning that I used to do has waned over the years. Sure, there are some spring cleaning type “projects” that need to be done. I’m also not saying that I have a clinical diagnosis of obsessive compulsive disorder, although, I’ve worked with clients who’ve had this condition. I’m also not saying that I blatantly avoid areas of my life that I don’t want to deal with. What I am saying is that I decided a few years ago that the world I wanted to create for myself included spending more time doing things that I enjoyed and being with the people that matter rather than the contrary. I want to enjoy my family most of the time, not spend most of the time yelling or picking at them for not doing things to my level of satisfaction.

By dimming the lights, I made a compromise, and I created a world where I saw what I wanted to see so that I could cross some things off my list and to simply feel better. I’m willing to bet that others dim the lights in ways whether it concerns relationships, politics, unsatisfactory jobs, goals, world events, etc. We create the world we need to so that we can survive. However, I do think it’s time to turn the lights back on full blast because I’m not in survival mode anymore…I’m in “thrive-al” mode (YES, I just created a word!)  I’ve gotten a little comfortable with overlooking other things like finances and long term goals that involve money and spreading my wings. This blog is about self-care and wellness and there are many aspects to self-care. It’s okay to create a world you can manage, but it’s also beneficial to reevaluate those parameters. The only constant in life is change and what served you in one season of life may lose its efficacy and/or revelance in another. And this is a poignant time to reevaluate as we embark on a new year. Happy New Year to you!


This is what breast cancer looks like

I’m actually starting to feel normal again…my brand of normal.   I listened to my doctors and rested for the most part.  Over the last few weeks, I gradually started doing housework, cooking, getting organized, primping myself with mani/pedi’s, and have completed a week at the office.  I’ve been exercising for a week via DVD’s from my vast exercise DVD collection.  The desire to do more things has been a sign that I’m getting better…stronger. It’s been 4 weeks post breast reconstruction and I am healing beautifully.  I have to admit that I am beyond pleased with the results…stitches and all.  My breast cancer is Stage 1 and I’ve gotten test results indicating that chemotherapy would not impact my survival rate very much.  Therefore, I will not take part in that treatment.  I’ve since met with the radiology oncologist and had a CT scan last Monday.  It’s just a matter of days before I get a call to discuss my treatment plan which will determine how many radiation sessions I will receive.  After radiation, there’s a minimum 5 years of hormone therapy since my cancer is responsive to estrogen and progesterone.  I’m anticipating living at least 30-40 years once all of my treatment is over. To think that three months ago, I wasn’t even thinking about my life expectancy. I couldn’t be at a better place considering the circumstances.

I intended to write a sarcastic comment about how all of this has been a breeze, but who am I kidding?  I don’t want to bring anyone, or myself, down for that matter, but I want to tell the truth.  My strategy has been to do what I have to do to get better. Period. It hasn’t been a traumatic experience, but it certainly hasn’t been easy.  After the first surgery, I thought “this wasn’t so bad”.  A few days later, I began dreading the second surgery (scheduled a week later), and rightly so, because that was the more intensive one of the two. Post op, I felt like Frankenstein because of the drainage tubes sticking out of my body for a full week. My husband emptied the tubes for me every day, twice a day, helped me take a shower, gauzed up my breasts daily, opened my pill bottles, uncapped the pen  (amazing what strength you lose after surgery) so I could log the fluid amount, brought me food, etc…all because I could not.  The anxiety of waiting on test results, especially those that take 2 weeks to get back, can be overwhelming. There were forced adjustments such as sleeping on my back, dealing with the pain and discomfort, not being able to shower for a period, logging the fluid from the drains, having to expose my breasts at every appointment (still doing this), and not being able to exercise (my preferred form of therapy). This is the reality.

The reality is also that I received a flood of support from my family, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances.  I never thought I’d say this, but I’m on a few prayer lists. People who I don’t know personally, yet know me through my family (i.e., my mom) have sent kind words.  In an age where texts can be impersonal, I’ve appreciated them all because it means that someone has been thinking about me.  I received a lot of texts.  Even a text requires some level of effort, and honestly, at times, I didn’t want to speak to anyone anyway because talking made me tired. The calls and visits to my home with food have been a blessing. One dear friend from Chicago surprised me with a visit.  Another dear friend sent me some coping tools.


Fxxx Cancer

I’m thankful that my children have witnessed people being kind and personal in a world where it doesn’t seem like such people exists. My doctors and medical team have been wonderful as they’ve eased my mind so many times.  I appreciate their expertise and care.  When I worked as a mental health rehabilitation specialist, I thought about how my client’s lives were in my hands (figuratively speaking) and I didn’t take that lightly.  I do believe that my medical team has the utmost respect for my life and are vested in improving it so that I can have the best prognosis.

I’ve been told that I look great, whole, and healed.  I’ve been told that I don’t even look like what I’ve been through.  Sometimes, I can’t believe that I have cancer. I’m usually focused on plugging through my day, yet every now and again, the thought hits me that I have this disease, or I think about my children’s risk, and tears stroll down my face.  For the most part, I feel great physically, mentally, and spiritually, albeit a little tired since going back to work.  I don’t want to let how I look get to my head.  I think the way to get through something as life changing as this is to: 1) take things day by day; 2) be open to receive the love that people (even 1 person) are so eager to share; and 3) to listen to your body.

I’ve had people remind me to take things one day at a time and I needed to hear it.  Overachievers like me have issues that can impair progress. Also, if it were not for me being vulnerable enough to share my diagnosis, I would not have had so many people expressing their concern, love and support.  As I’ve indicated before, 10-15 years ago, my pride would have prevented me from being so open, but I’ve grown since then.  One of my coworkers wrote in a card to me to let the love that others have for me carry me through this journey.  That resonated with me so much and I followed her advise.  I do understand that some people are private, but I still recommend entrusting a select few with what you’re going through.  God puts people in your path for a reason. And listening to your body is so key. I have overdone it at times.  For example, yesterday I did 2 tracks on my exercise DVD instead of one.  At the time, I felt energized and thought that I could do more. I should have known better since I didn’t sleep well the night before, but as I indicated, overachievers like me have issues.  As the day went on, I started to feel it in my hips, and therefore, we decided not to go to the Austin Trail of Lights because I didn’t think I could do the walking required.

Something so fascinating about sharing that I have breast cancer is that I’ve discovered that there are so many people who have cancer.  When you share, you give others permission to share.  I think the prevalence of cancer is an epidemic.  I don’t know…that’s for another post, but what I do know is that people…people you may know are going through all kinds of challenges.  It’s not easy to judge a book by its cover.  My face is of a person who has breast cancer and although it has made a significant presence in my life at this moment in time, it’s doesn’t define me.  It hasn’t taken away my joy.  It’s not who I am.  However, it has certainly taught me some things that will ultimately make me a better, kinder, more loving and thoughtful person.