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!

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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.

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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.

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Closet Shopping: Part Deux (II)

Tis the season to switch out tank tops, short sleeves, flowy dresses, capris, and sandles for scarves, long sleeves, sweater dresses, pants, and closed toe shoes…at least for me…at least in Texas. Mind you, I was born and raised in Chicago, so I appreciate a change in seasons. After all, fall has always been one of my favorites. Granted, I love summer, so Texas suits me well, however, change is good. I’ve been wanting to replace my clothes for a while, but if you’ve been keeping up with my blog, you’ll know that life happens.  It’s time for my 2nd installment of “Closet Shopping“.  I received a relatively decent amount of views for a new blogger on that post back in the summer.  You can also read it here.

An acquaintance of mine, born and raised in Texas  once told me that she doesn’t change out her clothes with the change in seasons. She happily wears summer clothes in the fall and winter. To each, her own. The weather in this region tends to be unpredictable every season except summer so I can see her point. You can wear a sleeveless top with a thick, belted sweater and you’d be fine in the fall, and maybe even winter.  Most people dress in layers which I believe is the best approach. It can get cold down here, but not like Chicago and definitely for not as long.

What you see in the featured picture is a collection of my old shoes that I used to wear back in the early 1990’s. The fuschia pair are my prom shoes and the rest I’ve worn with different dresses. Not only are they out of style, but I don’t wear that shoe size anymore. Yup, thanks to my 12.2 lb son who I birthed 15 years ago. During that preganancy, my feet grew a size and a half.  I proudly gave my shoes to my daughter a year or so ago since she loves to play dress up. Earlier this year, my husband and I were helping her clean up her room (you read that correctly) because it was a plumb mess. She was too overwhelmed to do it alone, so we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. There were piles everywhere. She had the nerve to put MY shoes in the section to throw away. I couldn’t believe it! I got a kick out of giving her shoes from my past that she could play with in the present and she didn’t want them anymore. I remember her love of high heels and trying to walk in them when she was a few years younger. Alas, she has become less girly, girl in that sense. Nowadays, she’s into gymastics gear.  She’s been telling me for a while that she does not like to wear dresses anymore. I guess I have to honor her preferences, so I snapped a picture of the shoes in case that would be my last time seeing them. They’re in a bag in the garage, which is out of her room, per her request.

Elise’s stuff

More stuff

I felt so energetic yesterday that I decided to embark on the task of switching out my seasonal clothes. The plan was to do that today, which I fully intended to do, but it did not happen. My disclaimer is that life happens and because I had another energetic day today, I got into some other organizing activities (I layed down and rested after that overambitious fiasco). Hopefully, I will get to it tomorrow. 

I recently got the urge to go shopping. I think part of that was boredom. Then, I realized that I have a whole other seasonal wardrobe. Sweet! I did buy a few button down shirts prior to my surgeries because I realized that I only had two and they were both white.  Apparently, button down shirts are not my style, but they are a necessity after a lumpectomy and breast reconstruction.  I believe that some of my fall/winter clothing will be too big because I’ve lost weight this summer. I may be able to get away with large sweaters, but I’m not so sure about other tops. I will spend some time trying on items to see how they fit.

In a future post, I will write about where I am in my weight loss journey. Wait…what am I typing? I can affirmatively indicate here that my weight loss has stalled, obviously, because…life happens. Surviving is more important than weightloss (in my case), but now that I’m getting more settled and know the side effects of future treatment, I don’t want to gain the weight back that I’ve lost, plus some. Also, fitness has been such a part of my life and I’m unable exercise at this time in my treatment.

I will abruptly end here because I could go on and on, but I’m tired. Until next time. Stay tuned. 

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Gratitude

This is the time of year for giving thanks, so it’s no surprise that I’m about to lay out exactly what I’m thankful for in this post. Before I do, I will point out that practicing gratitude on a daily basis is something I’ve aspired to do over the years.  At one time (the impetus is fuzzy, but I suspect upon reading an article in a magazine on the benefits of expressing gratitude), I arranged for each of my kids and my husband to have their own gratitude journal. I personalized each journal with their name followed by a heart ♡ that I drew myself. The plan was for us to write or draw what we were grateful when the urge hit. 

Looking back, that was my attempt to instill the process of journaling in my kids. To my chagrin (I may be exaggerating), I don’t know what happened to those journals. I was just kidding myself thinking my husband would do it, but for a time I think he used it to write his notes from church. I’m not even sure where mine is, but I’ve had so many journals over the years it’s likely somewhere. My daughter loves paper, notebooks, and journals, and she never really learned to use the whole book before starting a new one. I don’t take responsibility for that because I’ve harped on this many times. (I probably should not have bought so many supplies at once or maybe I could have hid the extras, but that’s neither here nor there for this post.) Whatever the case, I gave up. Occasionally, a journal that’s been missing/forgotten would pop up in a corner after months. That’s the case with these gratitude journals. I vaguely remember a few months ago that one popped up somewhere in the house. I thought to myself, “Oh look. I remember you”, and kept on walking. 

In the world we live in today, there is so much competition, so many choices, and so many opinions. I get frustrated sometimes with simply reading the comments section on social media posts because many opinions are rude, mean, and thoughtless.  There are also many pleasant, thought provoking, and affirming comments, but I hate it when I get blind sighted by a mean, rude, thoughtless one. It does give indication of how people across the world think, even if folks are hiding behind a different persona than when not on social media.  All of this can be overwhelming to navigate, making it difficult to hear our own voices. Perhaps these are only my perceptions, but I suspect that if I’m feeling it, someone else is too because I’m not that unique.

When I write posts, although I may not indicate it, I often research definitions to ensure that I’m using words accurately even though this blog is a reflection of my thoughts. I did a quick superficial search to compare the definitions of gratitude and thankful and they are generally synonymous. A very slight difference is that the definition of the word gratitude includes the word “expression” (i.e., expression of gratitude).  Thankful is described as a “state of being” (i.e., of being grateful/pleased). Both can be used as an expression and both can be used as a state of being. Feel free to research these nuances on your own, but I’ve used them synonymously in this post. 

It is so important to be grateful for the little things as much as we are grateful for the big ones. This year, I’ve been living more in the present than ever before. Here’s a short list of what I’m thankful for:

  1. God bestowing His love and favor on me
  2. Waking up
  3. The love and support from family, friends, and all my social connections (church, fitness)
  4. My mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical (actively working on the breast cancer) health
  5. That I can purchase and cook nutritious food that tastes good for my family…like the homemade sweet potato pie I made shown in the picture 😉
  6. Our cozy home
  7. Creating memories with my loved ones
  8. My little, furry nuggets of love (i.e., my 2 kittens and cat)
  9. That I am a compassionate person and chose a career in social work that serves people that are marginalized, poor, and often unseen/forgotten
  10. Doctors, nurses, and other medical and health professionals that truly care about what they do
  11. The wealth of information that is available and accessible
  12. Living in the USA

Happy Thanksgiving!  I hope that you get to spend your day expressing gratitude to those that you love and to those who don’t have a place to go. 
 

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Writing is my super power

I’m surrounded by my favorite things right now: one of my 3 cats (the outside cat) sitting on my lap, on the porch while sipping a cup of tea on this beautiful day that will soon transition to night time. I wasn’t planning on writing, but it’s the setup for a wonderful writing experience. I get caught up in the desire and it consumes me. That’s how my writing process has been lately: I’m inspired by an experience, thought, or one of my many photos that I take, and then I stop what I’m doing at the moment to write. 

When I initially started my blog, I thought about maintaining a writing schedule to include publishing a post once or twice a week. For the most part, that was manageable when I was working, but I have way more time on my hands this month as I recover from 2 breast cancer-related surgeries. 

It’s been about 5 months since I started this blog, and so far, it’s one of the best things I’ve done. The desire really came to me about 2 years ago, but June 2016 is when I decided to take the leap. And it’s a good thing that I did too because I realized that the time would never be right. With my first leap, the grammar wasn’t perfect, but I published it anyway. In fact, this is the strategy I use with all of my posts. I publish whether or not all the grammar is perfect because I can edit it later. I don’t want perfectionism to prevent me from achieving my goals. Again, these are my steps towards recovering from perfectionism and you get to witness this.

I was one of those teenagers that kept a journal growing up starting at age 12 years or so. I’ve used spiral notebooks and eventually graduated to actual journals as I got older. As my handwriting has become more illegible, I’ve kept electronic journals as well and have gone back and forth between my laptop and smart phone. At work, writing is an essential component of my job and I often organize my projects with some aspects of journaling. At home, I organize my household with different lists whether electronic or paper. Writing is definitely something I’ve practiced for a long time so it comes to me naturally. I like being able to process my thoughts in this way, which is why I had to add writing in the form of a blog as part of my self care routine. 

I’ve learned so much about myself as I’ve reread my journals. I’ve noticed trends in my attitude, mood, and spiritual, mental and emotional states. I admit that it can be depressing reading them sometimes depending on the time period. I’ve used my journals to help me grow by assessing my progress, making changes, planning new moves, etc. However, I haven’t always reread my journal entries for those purposes. Usually, the process of writing is enough to center and ground me. 

I’m so used to my journaling voice that it was an easy transition to my blog.  Fortunately, I have a plethora of material that comes to my head, so I don’t usually have difficulty coming up with topics. I may have to spend some thought on tying the topics to my blog’s very specific subject matter: self-care.  I did notice that I struggled when I learned of my most recent life changing, health challenge, so there was a period where I literally did not want to write. Now that I’ve gotten over that hurdle, I realize that I have even more material. I keep a tab of topics I might want to blog about in my phone and I add to them as I get more ideas. 

Writing has essentially helped me manage my life. I’ve learned so much about myself and others and I’m using my blog to help others by sharing my “light lessons” and epiphanies. I want you to be inspired, to know that you’re not alone, and to believe that you can handle anything that life throws at you. It’s for these reasons that I’m using my writing powers for good. Writing is my super power!

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What difference does it make?

“I can’t accept that this happened to you. Why did this happen?  You eat healthy all the time…organic foods even. You exercise all the time”. When faced with life’s challenges, some people can’t help but question why things happen to them or question what someone else did to cause misfortune in that person’s life. I ask,”What difference does it make?”

Those comments/questions were actually posed by someone very close to me regarding my breast cancer diagnosis.  I can’t make this stuff up.  There are several different directions that I could take this post because I’ve been mulling over those comments for weeks now. My initial reaction was the title of this post and it continues to be my response.  It’s what I hear in those words that gets under my skin. What my sensitive ears hear are judgment and blame.

I’ve already written a post on managing judgmental people.  You can read it here I’ve indicated in previous posts that I am a recovering perfectionist, so as part of my self-care, I work hard to banish the self-ridiculing, over-critical voices in my head. Yet, I can’t help what people say to me. Comments such as those ultimately say more about what the other person is thinking more than anything about me.  And they may get under my skin, but that’s when I work that much harder to manage my reactions.  

When faced with life’s challenges, I do think in some cases, it’s important to examine where things night have gone wrong. However, I would take caution in spending too much time there, especially if it causes you to place blame on yourself and/or others. Someone may even be at fault, but you don’t want to risk not moving on and learning from it by staying in that mental space too long. In other cases, it may not be necessary to spend time figuring out what went wrong. It may not even be possible. For instance, I can’t control my body on a biological/cellular level. Certainly life style factors affect many conditions including cancer, but in other cases it does not. I have a family history of breast cancer in that my mom and my grandmother (my mom’s mother) both had it. Whatever the case, it’s best for me to move forward and take the necessary steps to treat this illness. 

Maintaining a thick skin is not always easy, especially when people attempt to test your boundaries, whether unintentionally or not. I’m assuming that you would even want to develop a thick skin, but it’s my way of establishing a boundary and it works for me. Sometimes you realize that things still seap through the thickness and that’s ok. Take a few deep breaths, think before you respond, and channel your higher self. You’ll get through it.



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Fight

By the time this blog post is published, I’ll be somewhere in the middle of breast reconstruction surgery. (Update: It’s done.  We got home after 9pm and I’m very sore.) I never imagined that I would be here, but who am I not to be? I’d much rather be dancing like I was in the photo just a few weeks ago, but I have to put that part of me on hold for now. In fact, so much of my life has to be placed on hold as I do what needs to be done to take care of this…to take care of me.

I am beginning to understand why cancer patients are referred to as warriors. It is most definitely a fight, and for me, at times a reluctant fight…a fight to stay postive, a fight to face fears, a fight to face the needles, a fight to heal, a fight to rest, a fight to get up, a fight to advocate for yourself, etc. I’ve had to  fight to live the life that I want, so I’m well suited for this.

Yesterday, I unsuccessfully tried to fight back tears as I came to the realization after meeting with my oncologist that this fight is going to be longer than I anticipated.  Do you remember that kid in elementary school that got so mad right before a fight with a counterpart that he started crying? Maybe you were that kid? Weren’t you thinking that this is the time for fighting NOT crying? Well, I think that crying doesn’t necessarily mean that you feel weak or that you’re going to fail. I prefer to look at is as mustering up the courage for what’s about to happen. It’s the realization that you know what you’re facing. You know you have to gather up all of your weapons so you can be armored up to fight for your very life.

I might be getting too melodramatic. I hope I’m making sense. They just put in the i.v. To my sheer horror, the nurse had to do it twice. I held my breath the whole time, but I got through it. I’m looking forward to some strong medications shortly. Maybe I’ll dream about dancing like I was in the picture. Maybe, I’ll dream about flawless boobs. Maybe I’ll dream about dancing, flawless boobs.