Goals · Grief · Life generally...

day two: secret bearer

Today was a better day than yesterday. For starters, I wasn’t in nearly as much pain, which was amazing. I really can’t overstate how much of a game changer that is.

(As an aside…how people who suffer with chronic pain issues do it, day after day after day? Going to work. Taking care of families. Having friends and hobbies. I have respect for them in a way I didn’t before all of this. It is so hard to try to be positive or do anything, when walking and sitting feels like knives…and I know my pain is a drop. in. the. bucket.)

I also think my improved mood has to do with this blog. Yesterday, when I hit “publish” on my first blog in over a year, I announced, “Guess what? 2021 is the actual worst, and this is why.” I felt liberated just naming the hurt in black and white and putting it out there, even if it’s never read. For the past ten months, I’ve been keeping this terrible secret about how I feel and why. Trying to ignore the grief of this experience that is not what I wanted. But now, I don’t have to keep the secret anymore. It’s not a burden I have to conceal. It’s out there. It’s named.

I hadn’t really expected that–the release, the relief of no longer being the Secret Bearer. (Though now that I’ve written that sentence, I have an image of some sort of bizarre medical/professional Frodo, which is inexplicably funny to me. A Ring that can make you disappear–even an evil ring–is way cooler than a fistula, by the way). I don’t know what I expected when I clicked that “publish” button…I wasn’t expecting to feel so much lighter, that’s for sure. But the weight that has been lifted, which I guess is one way of figuring out it was there in the first place.

And that is something worth holding onto when all of this is over: there is power in verbalizing and naming the Secret–the diagnosis, the issue with work, the fractured relationship, whatever. Putting it in words and making it public in some way–telling someone, writing it somewhere and passing it on–that’s significant. Life-changing, even.

Naming the Secret is taking back power. Now, my struggle isn’t a Secret. It’s just a plain old fact, like the fact that the days are getting shorter or the sky is blue. My Secret is something real: it’s a fistula and a crappy time at work. That’s it. It’s no longer some giant, amorphous monster or a mist that I was blowing out of proportion. It is strange how something can make you feel like you’ve got a seven ton elephant on your back while at the exact same time make you feel like it’s probably imaginary and you’re being irrational and making it up.

So, I feel like I need to pass this on. If you are a Secret Bearer right now, I’m here to tell you you don’t have to be. Find someone you trust. (Or start a blog people don’t read because you post too infrequently–haha!). But do it. You can do it. Voice the fear. State the fact. Take back the power.

Name the Secret.

Goals · Pandemic

i will try again tomorrow

Today is the last day of my spring break. Tomorrow, I go back “to school,” which is, of course, a completely amorphous term at present, but there it is, nonetheless. Tomorrow, the Vulcan, deemed “essential” by our statewide Safer at Home order, will have to go back to work, which means he can potentially come into contact with all sorts of people who may or may not be sick. Tomorrow, life is supposed to “get back to normal,” even though I think we all agree Normal is pretty conclusively in the rearview.

I’ve been thinking a lot today about how to navigate this Land of New Normal, and how/what my “schedule” should look like/feel like in a world where time (as in Big Hand, Little Hand time) has a vague meaning at best. I have given up using my Old Normal planner because looking at my calendar with all the X’s through events that have been cancelled, and staring at my day-timer and thinking things like, “Well, I could grade from 10-11. Or should I go for a run, and then grade from 1-3? Or maybe spread it out–45 minutes in the morning and 45 in the afternoon?” is downright depressing.

I think the hardest thing about New Normal is that there isn’t a normal yet. In two weeks, we’ve gone from business as usual to statewide “shelter-in-place” orders. Every day is completely different. I’m still grappling with what I actually have control of, if controlling that thing actually matters, and if so, how can it help me or anyone else?

A couple of things that are helping me (today, anyway):

  1. “Look Like You Tried.” For the past two weeks, I think most of America has been on my “I’m not leaving my house, so why bother?” train. I haven’t worn so many sweatshirts in a row since I was in college and, let me tell you, make-up is something other people do. But the last few days, this mindset has been getting me down–I don’t feel great, and the mirror confirms it. So last night, I went through all the steps of my Old Normal skin care regimen. This morning, I pulled out some of my “cute” winter-break style comfy clothes–bulky scarf, fun earrings. Don’t get me wrong–I’m still wearing fleece leggings, but I feel presentable. I would run to the store (I mean, in a world where I could do that) in what I’m wearing and I wouldn’t be ashamed to be recognized. And, even with just myself and the Vulcan at home, I do find I feel better.
  2. “A Plan Doesn’t Have to Be Scheduling Out Every Minute.” Like I said. Time doesn’t mean what it meant two weeks ago. But not having a schedule doesn’t mean not having a plan. This morning, I dug out a planner I tried and gave up on because it was lacking calendar and day-timer features Old Normal required. This planner IS, however, just about perfect for New Normal. Spot for a to-do list, place to list important times (like my one Zoom meeting and my yoga class), ways to track food, water–a place to make notes of plans for exercise and self-care. Basically, everything I need for a day in the life of New Normal. This can be my plan–it has flexibility that New Normal affords as Old Normal didn’t/couldn’t. I feel like I’m accomplishing without drowning in the unrealistic expectations of Pinterest-perfect folks who want to plan out literally every minute of the live-long day. (And if you are intrigued, this is the planner I have. It’s kind of perfect for right now…)
  3. “Things are scary and hard. And I can’t change that.” I’ve written this post about fifteen different times in different ways today. A major feature? Tomorrow is frightening. The numbers of ill are climbing with alarming (though not unexpected) speed. People I love—my husband, my father, my brothers–are all essential workers who will have to go into the world tomorrow with this reality. There is nothing I can do to keep them safe. Except pray. And use my CDC-approved, DIY disinfectant liberally. And stay home myself, to try to protect other people’s parents, spouses, and siblings the way I hope they are protecting mine. When things get scary, it is hard to “Act Normal.” Sometimes, just hanging in there is the best I can do, and that is okay.

So, now I am in the New Normal. I will get up tomorrow and I will get ready. Because I will try. I will do my best. A while back, I wrote down this quote when I was going through a particularly rough patch, but it seems especially appropriate now:

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes, courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’

Mary Anne Radmacher

Have courage. I’ll see you tomorrow!


Goals · Simplicity

bag cleaning

So, the Hubs and I are taking a vacation in a few days, and I snagged some great deal tickets. The caveat? No overhead-bin-sized carry-on. So that means we’re paying for one checked bag and splitting it. It also means I had to find something that could hold my computer, a notebook, novel, water bottle, and wallet, and still fit under the seat.

So, I did a little research (read: a three minute search of Google followed by a 90 second search on Amazon), and found a bag that fits the bill. It is immensely exciting to me, in part because it is a fabulous mustard color and can work as a backpack OR a handbag, and in part because I love that it can fit all the things I need so neatly. It requires me to edit where I may be inclined to go with the “Bring ALL The Things” strategy. And once I’ve gone through the trouble, I’m always happier for it. I guarantee I will not miss whatever I didn’t pack. And I will not hold up the TSA line trying to find my ID, which will make my fellow travelers grateful.

Bags are like life, I reckon. How often in life do we carry around extra things we might need? How often do we stuff things into because it might be helpful? If there is one thing I am learning, it is this: If you don’t fiercely edit your life, you will find it has turned into your overstuffed carry-on–crammed with old receipts you can’t read, bandages without the wrappers, empty lipstick tubes, a pulverized package of fruit snacks, and a vintage edition of Scrabble (because that sounded like a good idea at two in the morning…)

I am challenging myself to prune down the bag of my expectations and commitments so that I am free to do the things I want to do and be fully present with the people I love. I find myself asking…

Am I holding on to my (usually bad) past? This is not strongly me, but I have known so many amazing people who are trapped by this that I can’t not say it. We are not life experts, and yes, sometimes we do stupid stuff. Sometimes, we do really stupid stuff. But me lamenting my old stupid stuff is not helping me move past my stupid stuff. My obsession with how awful it is/was is chaining me to my stupid stuff. Let it go. Seek forgiveness if you need to seek it. Acknowledge it happened with yourself. Forgive yourself. Commit to being better. Change what you can change, then turn your eyes to the eastern horizon!

Am I filling my life too full of good things? Hear me out on this one before you freak out and close this tab. There are lots of glorious things to do in the world. Things that are genuinely wonderful and do enormous good. Now listen to these next words very carefully: YOU CANNOT DO ALL OF THEM. You do not have all the gifts. You do not have all the resources (of money or time.) Last time I checked, I wasn’t Jesus. It is not my job to save the world. It is my job to find the little corner of the world where I CAN help and do some good and do it well. Saying no to something is not a crime.

Do I get to the end of my day and realize I literally cannot remember a single thing I did, person I talked to, or event that happened? I get it. Life happens. We all have seasons where life is frantic and frazzled. This month has been like this for me. However, as a general rule, I am a big believer in quality over quantity. Do a little less. Invest a little more time/effort in a few fewer things so you can really experience and enjoy them. I am working really hard of this one right now and I really think it makes a difference!

Have you ever “cleaned out your bag?” Do you have any tricks or tips that have helped you? If you haven’t, you CAN! I believe in you–just take a baby-step!


a single step

BY nature, I fall into the “highly creative and equally disorganized” category. I was the child who was never reading any fewer than five books at a time–allowing me to leave a book in all my usual ports of call and thereby never be caught without. This trait has followed me into adulthood. Left to my own devices, I would happily exist in a spinning vortex of dozens of craft projects, novels, and recipes at various stages of “done-ness,” awaiting me to return to them at my leisure.

This is not a trait that is smiled upon in modern American culture. And so, to combat this societal expectation (and to make sure I remember to do things like make dinner and drink enough water), I have become a huge fan of the list. I have lived most of my adult life followed by a trail of little Post-It notes and scraps of paper to keep me from forgetting important things (like when it’s time to pay the electric bill and what I need to pack for vacation.) My lists get the job done, but they don’t exactly embrace the streamlined simplicity I aspire to (being a big one for lists makes me, by proxy, a big fan of goals.)

And then, I discovered the Mountain Journal.

The Mountain Journal, which came to me via my friend’s husband who has been doing them for years (because he’s one of those people who likes math and numbers and other scary things like that…), is designed to break down the big goals that all of us have (Example: I want to lose twenty pounds) into smaller steps (I am going watch what I eat this week) and even smaller steps (I am not going to snack after dinner today), with the idea that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. (Thanks, Lao Tzu, for that little spark of genius.)

After a few stuttering starts, I started using this Mountain Journal, and let me tell you, this little baby is the best thing…possibly ever. I am a big picture dreamer, which enables me to imagine great, sweeping changes in my life, my classroom, my everything. I struggle with breaking these giant goals into things that I can accomplish today. My Mountain Journal lets me harness my sweeping War and Peace-style dreams into actual writing-paragraph-and-sentence-accomplishments. And then I can see my progress. The little to-do boxes get checked off, and once a week I get to reflect on how things went last week, what I’m thankful for, and what my goals are for next week.

It. Is. Amazing. And you know what? It actually works! The fact I’m writing this post is proof of it! For the past 18 months, I kept thinking, “You know, I really should start my blog up again.” But it never happened. But then I made writing more one of my New Year’s Resolutions. I broke it down in my Mountain Journal to actually writing a first draft of a novel this year and restarting my blog. So then I saved up and bought a new (working!) computer. Then I reworked my blog format. Then I wrote a post. And here I am.

To, for all my fellow big picture folks out there, don’t be disheartened! That big goal you’ve been dreaming CAN be accomplished. But you have to start the road with a little baby goal. You can do it! Take a single step!

Do you have mountains you’ve scaled with baby steps? I would love to hear about your inspirations!