Tag Archives: illness

Can Wendy Whiner Change Her Ways?

 

I take great pride in my ability to worry. To dread events that have or have not (yet) happened. But unnamed others in my personal sphere have a different view:

As in their comments that I may occasionally resemble one of the following:

  • “Wendy Whiner” (SEE: the sketch character by that name on “Saturday Night Live” in the early 1980’s.)
  • “Debbie Downer” (SEE: due to my hyper-knowledge of every local, regional and world crisis or catastrophe, personal or public.)

At this particular moment in time – I have few active complaints. Everyone in my life is relatively o.k.

Which is in and of itself problematic.

Because of my profound skill in Anticipatory Worrying, I recognize the temporary nature of this present lull.  Soon enough the phone will ring or a text will ping and unpleasant, painful, and/or possibly horrific news will arrive.

Change is inevitable as we get older – a subject near and dear to my now-Medicare-aged heart.

But my position on how to handle sad news may be more malleable than I thought.

The Carolyn Hax advice column in today’s Washington Post contained a reader entry that made me reflect on the Wendy Whiner label.

(Pause here to note the path not taken. I should have become an advice columnist instead of a lawyer. I LOVE giving advice. Solicited or not.)

A reader of the Hax column, known as C., wrote in to give advice on “Losses and Dread” (two of my favorite subjects!) C. explained that she has had a wonderful, devoted friend for over 35 years who “truly understands how to sustain and nurture friendships.”  Because C.’s friend has many other close friends and family, C. felt that she couldn’t be as much of a source of comfort to her friend as her friend has always been to her.

This hit home to me. I, too, have a wonderful, devoted friend who also has a million (slight exaggeration only) other wonderful, devoted friends, all of whom jump up to help her whenever she is in need. I am part of the larger circle, always wishing I could be of more support.

It occurred to me that this kind of imbalance is probably quite common. Some of us are the center of the wheel of friendship and others are pinned to the outer spokes – and always will be.

C. goes on to suggest that one way to be a true friend is NOT to share your problems.

Imagine that.

C.’s tells us that her mother and her wonderful, devoted friend’s mother were the same age. Then C.’s mother died. But C. decided not to burden her friend with her sadness at the death of her mother. C. explains it better than I can.

So what I can do is NOT call her when I am sad – though I know she’d be there for me – and  I cannot dwell too heavily on the loss when we do talk. Instead I can ask her about her grandchildren and let her tell me about their antics, though I’m not a kid person. Time and circumstances will bring us to a common reference point on the loss of a beloved mother…The chance to spare my friend from going to this sad place any earlier and more frequently than absolutely necessary is a blessing.”

Kind of a friendship gift, don’t you think? To NOT bring all our woes to our close friends even when we really, really, really want to.

And the part that got me the most? From C. again:

“Sometimes our losses – or health or parents or jobs – scare our friends, and they just want to live their regular lives and not think about it – or catch it.”

O.K., so C. and I differ in several important aspects. I’m a grandmother and very much a kid person. Not all my friends have achieved this most wonderful phase of life so I try (honest I do) not to overshare adorable photos and tales of their toddler brilliance.

I am also not as selfless as C. I haven’t (yet?) reached the point where I can regularly keep my mouth closed and not burden my friends with my woes. I am too dependent on having friends to listen and offer support.

Perhaps the next stage of getting older is to recognize, as C. does, that grief shared may multiply it unnecessarily.

I always want to be there for my friends when they reach out  – and I think I am. But maybe I don’t need to add my sorrows to ones they have not (yet?) experienced. Losses are inevitable. Keeping afloat above them is not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aging Parents, Communications, Female Friends, friendship, Relationships, Women, Women's Health

Friends, Husbands, Media and Moms: Five Thoughts of an Adroit Hopper

 

 

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Given last week’s Fabulous Fibula Fracture, I suddenly find myself with a significant amount of time on my hands.

Time I cannot spend on my feet. Or at least on my left foot on which I cannot bear any weight. Which has turned me into a rather adroit hopper.

But I cannot hop all day long.  So how to spend this unexpected gift of time?

Thinking. And Writing.

Here’s my chance to write without any filter, to dredge up my innermost thoughts, to articulately reflect on the state of the human condition.

What do I have strong feelings about? Here’s my list of current issues – sarcasm first, serious to close:

 

1. On the Importance of Having Wonderful Friends: Even those friends who assure me in all sincerity that they will stop by, visit, bring me lunch and then forget to do so while I am home with my propped-up ankle, I still like you. I remember those VERY BUSY days when I was working f/t when I could not jam everything in. When I made promises meant in good faith as the words dripped from my lips. It’s fine, I am here – bored, hungry and lonely on the couch if you ever find a few minutes to drop by. I get it.

 

2. On the Value of a Deeply Caring Husband: Even one, like mine, who is constitutionally unable to close a bureau drawer after opening it. Who kindly opens said drawers, gets out my clothes and even helps me pull on ratty old Pilates pants over my “booted” left leg. And then “forgets” to close the bureau drawers. Or the closet doors. He thinks I am a bit off in my insistence that what was opened must then be closed. While I temporarily cannot do these chores, they will not get done. His mild little revenge on one of my pet peeves. I get it.

3. On the Efficacy of the News Media: Even before the Fabulous Fibula Fracture, I was overly attached to being well-informed. So with this extra time, I’m absorbing more content than ever. CNN. MSNBC. World affairs. Domestic Politics. I’m finally caught up. Which is why I am not at all bothered by the Breaking News crawl that flashes at the bottom of the screen for up to a full seven (I’ve counted)hours after the original event took place without providing any new details. Don’t move on, CNN. Stay with that story with no updates. Being told over and over again that the same thing has “just” happened makes me internalize it better. What an innovative news technique for us slow learners. I get it.

4. On the Need to Remind Us That We Are Getting Older: Even I recognize that aging dulls one’s ability to stay on-trend. Which is why I’m happy to be reminded via all forms of media, social and otherwise, which I now have the time to appreciate, how hard I must work to keep up.  I recently learned what “on fleek” means. I know that “Hulu” is a video streaming service, not only a dance done in Hawaii. And that “streaming” has nothing to do the rush of water downhill. Thank you, Millennials who create these new phrases and technologies to torment us, your parents, the non “digital natives.” We provided the same torment, sort of, to our own parents. I get it.

And MUCH more seriously.

 

5. On the Wisdom of Knowing What You Do Not Know: These past few weeks (and really for far longer than that) I have wanted to opine, oh how I have wanted to opine, on what I think about the uptick in mass shootings. About how my first sympathies –  beginning with Virginia Tech, running through Columbine, Sandy Hook, Tucson, Aurora – are always, bizarre as it may seem to others, for the mothers of the young male shooters, for the moms who also lost a child, now vilified for the ages. Our national focus is, as it should be, on the victims of the shootings and on the multiple, interconnected reasons for each tragedy, but somehow my heart also always goes out to the mothers who loved their sons but could not reach them. From all that I have read, I know with certainty just two things:  (i) all of these young males had access to guns, which they should not have had and (ii) that they were socially isolated, lonely individuals who needed help from their communities which they did not receive. The larger answers to this troubling puzzle?  I have the wisdom to know that I do not have those answers. But ponder them I will.

 

 

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Filed under Aging, Communications, Female Friends, friendship, Husbands, Mental Health, Midlife, Moms, Sons, Women, Women's Health, Writing, Young Adult Mental Health

September is for Apples, Honey and Tiny Acts of Resistance

 

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September is a time for looking back and looking forward. I am excellent at the rear view mirror part – less so at seeing into the future.

Recent Septembers (2010, 2011, 2012) have not been kind to me or to my family. It’s been the month where we find ourselves in hospitals, and not wearing badges that say “visitor.”  Luckily, so far this September 2015 neither I nor any one in my family has had a close up view of that big neon sign that blares “EMERGENCY ROOM”.

(Note that we are only half-way through the month so there is still time for unfortunate things to happen.)

My daughter “fondly” calls me – “Negative Nancy” – for my uncanny ability to latch onto bad news, to be in the know with the latest gloomy international headline or have an update on a friend’s poor health. She would likely shake her head in dismay if she knew how avidly I read obituaries in the newspaper every day.

Nothing like a well-written obituary to get you motivated in the morning.

Which is why in synagogue earlier today for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year (happy 5776!), I took a small census of those around me. We sat in the sanctuary near friends and friends of friends. I take cheer in seeing all of them fully dressed, sitting upright (a/k/a alive) and thus not in the obituary pages.

Will they be sitting near us next September?

One of the prayers we read on this holiday talks about who will live in the coming year –  and who will die – describing possible means of death in the most graphic, biblically-specific fashion.

I like to look around me during that prayer and say a little one of my own hoping that those close to me will thrive this coming year. Not that thriving is under my control which is what the rabbi discussed in part  – that control over our own lives is the biggest illusion of all.

And yet we make plans – for that is what we do each September.

To go football games, take college visits and travel for Thanksgiving. For weddings – three of my friends have adult kids who are getting married in 2016 and I am already looking forward to their celebrations. All confident that everything we plan will come to pass.

Which of course it will not.

Which is also why my prior September ill-health experiences caused me revert to two-year-old behavior – to try to exert control over the smallest of matter as some toddlers do.

When our son was two, his favorite phrase was “I don’t haf’ta if I don’t want to.”  I was the opposite as a child, teen and adult. The ultimate, dutiful, Susie-Student-Council-Type who always did as I was told.

Three years ago – from September 2012 through December, 2012 –  I tried out for the “best patient award” – – ever compliant, dutiful and trusting during multiple hospitalizations and two open heart surgeries. The human pin cushion, that was me, the “Horizontal” ( a/k/a the patient), always smiling, polite and friendly, ready to be poked, prodded by any “Vertical”  (a/k/a doctor, nurse, aide) wearing a badge who entered my hospital room.

Very little is under your control as a hospital patient.

You get told what to do and when to do it. Many times I lay flat on a stretcher under a thin blanket in the busy big hospital hallway waiting for an MRI or an MRA or an EKG or an Echocardiogram or a Nuclear Imaging Test. Hospital staff scurrying by me en route to their next task.  My sole task was waiting. For a long time. Until my name was read off a clipboard and I was wheeled into a “procedure” room where I was told by another set of Verticals what to do and when to do it. You get the idea.

When I emerged in late December, 2012, with complications and uncertainties, but most definitely alive, I made an internal vow to leave my always dutiful persona behind me.

During Rosh Hashanah services yesterday the rabbi reminded us that while the big picture of things is not under our control, like whether we live or die, we do get to choose how we live while we do so. His message was to live life as positive person who shuns hatred.

The message of lack of control resonates with me the most. If we can’t control the big things then the tiniest of things that are actually under our control matter even more.

I try wherever possible to be a kind and caring person. But ever since my lengthy experience as a hospital “Horizontal”, I am no longer an unfailingly dutiful person.

Not that I have turned into someone who disobeys all authority. I drive within the speed limit, I get my teeth cleaned regularly, I pay bills on time.

But whenever I have a chance to say, “no”, I do so – if I feel like it, I will skip a meeting, skim through the chosen book club book or sleep way past the alarm.  Or even more daring, I refuse to set the alarm! I have become a master of minor resistance.

For this coming year – 5776 or 2016, however you define it  – I will continue to exercise my right to disobey in the tiny ways that show I remain in control of at least some minor aspects of my life.

Some time soon I may even decide to skip flossing my teeth before bed. Just for one night. Just because I can. Just because I’m “Vertical.”

 

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Filed under Family, Holidays, Midlife, Relationships, Women, Women's Health

What Apples, Honey, September and Writing Share in Common

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It seems odd to me that September, a month which turns the corner towards fall, is also a time of many new beginnings.

The holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the start of the New Year according to the Jewish calendar, began on Wednesday night, September 24, so happy 5775 to those of you who celebrate it as I do.  (and aren’t we lucky that we don’t have to start writing 5775 on our checks? I have enough trouble getting 2014 right each time. And yes, I still write paper checks. I haven’t switched to an all e-commerce world – yet.)

Another new beginning in September is the start of the school year. One of my kids returned to college this fall, to finish what he started some years ago; hurrah!  Cautious optimism, lots of support and encouragement. It isn’t easy being the oldest kid in the class.

Also in the department of new beginnings: several friends of ours have kids who are starting their first real life jobs this September; as policy types, research assistants, lawyers, marketers, all venturing into careers where you don’t get three months of summer vacation anymore. Welcome to my prior world!

And two friends of ours just retired from long-held jobs this month; retirement being both an ending and a new beginning. (there’s a blog post in that, I know.)

What is new for me this September is that (a) I am healthy and (b) I am writing.

September in years past has been a month where either I or family members have found ourselves in hospitals, and not wearing badges that say “visitor.”  A rabbi friend of mine, noticing that ill health tends to strike my family closely coinciding with the timing of Rosh Hashanah each year, suggested that we move to the planet Mars each September where she is confident the Jewish New Year is not likely to be celebrated so we can avert the chance of illness.  But so far my family has made it through September without having a close up view of the sign that blazes the words “EMERGENCY ROOM”.

Another new beginning is that I started to take a writing class earlier in September. I began writing this blog in May of 2014 so thought taking a writing class would help me find my narrative voice. Perhaps just a coincidence (or is my writing teacher that good??), but shortly after the class began, two of my blog posts were published by the Washington Post.  And the editor who liked my posts let me know that many others did too. I was “trending”!  Hah, trending at my age.

When the New York Times, the newspaper I’ve read daily since childhood, featured a post on my blog in its “What We’re Reading Now” column last Tuesday night, I was stunned into silence. (rare). When you write a blog, you put a post out there into the social media ether, and you think it is pretty good and hope others might too.  But you have no idea, really, and what you can not anticipate, I am finding out, is what words of yours will truly resonate with others, which ones might hit a nerve, and I am profoundly grateful to have found this out.

After an unexpected cardiologically-required departure from my law firm in 2013,  getting the chance to return to writing in 2014 is a new beginning. Finding readers who follow my blog has been wonderful (and I thank all of you – and appreciate all of your comments.)

But I also worry. (The word “worry” appears in the title of this blog for a reason. I do a great deal of it; one of my best skills.)  Does a single successful post begat others? Not necessarily. Think of the many one-hit wonder songs, and the authors who wrote one best seller followed by a series of duds.

But I, having grown up in New England with many vacations in Vermont, may try to model myself after Grandma Moses. She picked up a paint brush for the first time when she was 77 years old. Heck, I am a mere child by that standard; still in that sweet spot post-menopause but pre-Medicare. With the cooperation of whoever is in charge of these things, I hope to have many productive and creative years ahead.

So cheers to new beginnings for all of us!

Wishing you a sweet and healthy year.

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