A Buddhist Nun Told Me To Chill

Pain in my feet might help.

I had foot surgery a little over a week ago.  General anesthesia, both feet, outpatient surgery.  The hope was to repair or modify some of the damage from 26 years of rheumatoid arthritis so I can walk better.

The challenge is not walking on them now.  Since the first couple of days I’ve had no pain so I was up and moving around.  I saw drainage on one of the bandages four days after surgery, went to see the doctor and was told to stop walking on my feet so they could heal.  To the bathroom or to get something to eat is okay.  Sitting with feet up on the ottoman is good.  Lying on the couch is better.  For the next week and a half.

I started a 3-year-term on a non-profit’s board of directors this month.  Triad Health Project provides HIV/AIDS services, education and support to those infected and affected by the virus.  I got involved as a volunteer in the mid-90’s.  You know that Bucket List thing?  I always wanted to say, “I’m on a Board of Directors.”

Last month, I missed the social get-to-know-each-other gathering at a wine bar because I had horrible back spasms.  Now this month, the first for-real meeting, I have healing feet so I can’t go again.

With all my free time, I am reading Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change by Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun.  This morning I read about how we get caught up in 8 worldly concerns:  pleasure and pain, gain and loss, fame and disgrace, praise and blame.  While I was reading, the other track in my brain was struggling with whether/how to get to the 5:30 THP board meeting.  (It gets busy inside my head.)

I am used to being the good kid.  I generally follow through on commitments and am pleasant and helpful to have around.  My reputation matters to me.  A lot.

I do not like that my disease may shape others’ first impression of me.  I want to be seen as competent.  Not needy, not vulnerable, not disabled.

Pema Chodron says, “If we don’t act on our craving for pleasure or our fear of pain, we’re left in the wide-open, unpredictable middle.  The instruction is to rest in that vulnerable place, to rest in that in-between state, to not hunker down and stay fixed in our belief systems but to take a fresh look with a wider perspective.  The truth is we’re always in some kind of in-between state, always in process…When we’re present with the dynamic quality of our lives, we’re also present with impermanence, uncertainty and change.”

I think that means I’m not in control.

She describes three commitments or vows Buddhists take.  First, the commitment to cause no harm.  Second, the commitment to take care of one another.  Third, the commitment to embrace the world just as it is.

I emailed the THP director and told her I would not be at the meeting.  (Do no harm to myself.)  I want to be able to help with the big fundraiser in early Dec. If I let my feet heal, I’ll help more. (Take care of one another.)  As my brother used to say, “It is what it is.”  (Embrace the world just as it is.)

I will be present to the discomfort that washes over me every time I imagine my empty chair at the THP conference table.

Sometimes doing the right thing doesn’t feel good.

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I Better Live a Long Time

I must possess at least 6-7 books about how to be organized.  If I ever purge, sort and organize my books into  categories, I’ll know for sure and be able to list the titles and authors.  Hasn’t happened yet.

I worked on my office this afternoon.  I emptied two big baskets (left from another attempt to organize) full of books and magazines and paper.  Don’t use baskets.  As my organizer-friend, Beth, pointed out one time, out of sight is out of mind.  But it’s still there.

I sorted and purged and filed.  I re-shelved books.  And I didn’t move from those baskets to sorting and purging my books.  I controlled my low-grade ADD.

In one of the baskets, I found this book:  Organizing From the Inside Out: The Foolproff System for Organizing Your Home, Your Office, and Your Life by Julie Morgenstern.  She had me at the title.  I flipped through it.  Page corners are turned down.  That means I was reading without a pen to underline with, probably in bed.  A bookmark stuck out of the middle–I guess I never finished studying it.

Believe me when I tell you, I already KNOW this stuff.  All the books come down to the same thing:

Get rid of the majority of my shit.

Find a place for things I love.

Don’t buy anything new unless I give something away.

Put my shit away in its designated place (labeled?) every day.

I get it.

And I also get that it feels good to see my cleaned out corner off to my right and all the paper in my recycling trashcan.  I stacked paper that was only printed on one side on top of my (broken) printer  to use for printing rough drafts.

The problem is what’s left.  I start an organizing project well.  I control my need to do the whole room straight through until it’s done.  I don’t have the desire or the stamina to work that hard anymore. anyway.

Today fear kicked me into gear.  Did those baskets hold something important that I should have taken care of weeks ago?  The paper breathed on me every time i sat down at my desk.  I couldn’t write.  I couldn’t work on a project for church.

Now, my desk is clear.  For me anyway.  The (very) few papers that need attention are in a nice wooden inbox behind my laptop.  So I know they are there, but they’re not breathing so loud anymore.  And I am writing.

I feel good.

The retired man I live with came upstairs,  looked around the room, and said “Doesn’t look any better to me.”

Did I ask?

I think I’ll have a Hershey’s kiss and go down to the basement where piles of laundry wait patiently.  You know, if got rid of some of my clothes, I wouldn’t be able to ignore laundry for so long because I would run out of clothes.  Instead I wear all the stuff I don’t love and then have to wash them before I can get rid of them.

I’ll never be finished.  I’m afraid that when I die my poor daughters will be left to deal with my clutter.  Because I’m damn sure not putting this house on the market and moving.

In July, 2010, I wrote a blog post titled “I’m Workin’ On It”  about my friend’s idea to make buttons for all of us to flash when questioned by others about progress on tasks.  In bright letters big enough to see easily my button would say “I’m workin’ on it.”

So, dear daughters–

I’m workin’ on it. Pray I live a long time.

Published in: on March 21, 2013 at 6:27 pm  Comments (11)  
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Disabled

I asked the Social Security Administration of the US government to label me “disabled.”  The application process left me drained and depressed.

I listed my “Physical and Mental Conditions,” 6 of them.  I listed my “Doctors and Other Healthcare Professionals,” 5 of them.  I listed my “Medicines'”, 7 prescriptions.

The paralegal at the attorney’s office helped me with the last section, “Remarks.”  She asked questions, I talked about what all I can’t do, she suggested more specific words and she typed it into the application.  Here is what she wrote:

I can only walk 5-10 minutes due to joint deformities due to my Rheumatoid Arthritis.  I do not have an even, steady gait and use a cane at times as my doctor recommended.  This has caused me to have intermittent back aches.  I cannot stand long for the same reason.  I drop things a lot due to the weakness and deformities in my hands and fingers and cannot lift more than 10 pounds and even then I have to use both hands.  I have loss of dexterity and some of the joints are frozen in my hands.  I can’t do cross stitch anymore, either.  I cook much less now as I can’t safely lift heavy pots and pans nor stand very long.  I have trouble changing the sheets on the bed and I can’t clean my bathroom.  Even though I had non-Hodgkins lymphoma in the past, I no longer have any limitations or symptoms for that.  I started having Vertigo a few weeks ago and my heads spins when it hits.  In my latest blood work I was anemic.  I am fatigued easily now.

Wouldn’t you be depressed?  I was upset for a couple of days.  Then I listed things I CAN do.

I am resilient and strong and creatively adaptable.

I thank my husband for helping me when I ask and never complaining.  (Although he said one time if I have another knee replacement he might not be my primary caregiver.  The first one was rough.)  I thank him for not offering to help all the time.  He sits back and watches me struggle with tasks of daily living.  He says okay when I want to travel by myself (even the time after the cancer diagnosis when I told him I wanted to go to Paris by myself, which I did in 2006.)  I know he worries, but he doesn’t burden me with those thoughts.

I am grateful for my daughters who cheer me on, give me shit when that’s appropriate and worry together behind my back. I hope I model fierce, not stupid, independence.

I am grateful for my grandchildren,  my joy and reasons to take care of myself.  They know me only as I am today. I can’t lift them up by myself, though I can hold a sleeping baby for hours and cuddle on the couch really well.  I can’t change diapers anymore (hee hee) and everyone is okay with that.

I thank God for my family, friends and therapist who keep me functional and medical science for the medications and doctors and nurses who ease my discomfort.

I recognize that the people I know who are HIV positive teach me about acceptance, letting go, the power of faith, and living with pain in all its forms.

I am who I am because of my challenges, my limitations, and the lessons to be learned from them.

The letter from the Social Security Administration came last week.  “You are entitled to monthly disability benefits.  We found that you became disabled under our rules on March 31, 2009.”  (I wasn’t disabled on March 29?)

I shouted to my husband, “I qualified for disability!”  “Congratulations,” he said and we high-fived.

Is that something to celebrate?

I choose, most of the time, to celebrate and be proud of what I can do today.  I certainly get frustrated and upset at times.  I say bad words and even let myself cry a bit.  That’s just okay, as my friend Jan says.

We all have choices.  I choose to keep going, laugh as much as possible, and try to ask for help when it’s wise to do so.

The US Government says I am disabled.  I say, not really.  Who ya gonna believe?

Know Your Colors?

Do you remember back in the 80’s when we all tried to figure out what colors “brightened” us and which ones made us look washed out with dark circles under our eyes?  A book called Color Me Beautiful by Carole Jackson started this new quest for personal perfection.

A woman in our neighborhood had her colors analyzed professionally.  From then on, all her clothes were from the appropriate color season.  (I still wonder how she could afford to do that and what she did with her old stuff.)  Most of us just sort of guessed at our color season and then hoped we had a few things in the right colors.

My clothes tend to look the same year after year.  Jeans, t-shirts, black pants, dressier shirts.  My size might change, but not my basic shape or style.  I do like to look at what’s new each season, the colors and styles, but they rarely work for my body or my age or my tastes.  Jeggings?  I think not.

My colors shifted some when I stopped dying my hair.  Some of my gray hairs sparkle like silver and some hairs are still kind of dark.  When it was a warm brown, I couldn’t wear gray.  Now I have tops in several shades of gray.  Why?  My skin color didn’t change.

Several years ago I found the perfect black pants–for me, anyway.  Jjill Sympatico Stretch in petite.  The waist fit.  And the hips, too.  The length was fine.  They needed no alterations.  I bought 3 black and 2 dark gray pairs.  I celebrated.

Then I lost enough weight to drop a size in pants.  I wore those Jjill pants until they were baggy enough to look ridiculous.  No problem, right?  I’ll just get some more in a smaller size.  I looked everywhere on the Jjill website.  They are gone.  Discontinued.  Not available.  Why??

Now I have no nice black pants.  A sixty-year-old woman can only get so far in jeans, even a size smaller.  I have hope.  I found some before and I’ll find some again.

By that time I’ll probably be the old size and will be able to wear the ones that are too big now.  Which I will save, along with the jeans that I used to wear.  What?  You don’t have more than one size clothes in your house?

My husband always asks at these times why I can’t just go into any store and pick something out in my size like he can.  How do I answer him without my voice getting louder and louder as I rant about the stupid, inconsistent sizing in women’s clothing?  And why can’t I?

I got a new Lands End catalog.  I like them and L.L.Bean.  Trendy I’m not. The fall colors  look good.  The one color I know consistently “brightens” me is dark green, forest green, pine green.  Lands End online has a v-neck, 3/4 sleeve tee-shirt in pine green.  I ordered two.  And a silk/cotton blouse in the same color.

I’ve learned not to wait when I see something I like.  And to buy multiples.

Published in: on August 24, 2012 at 8:52 pm  Comments (6)  
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Living Beyond the Warranty

Last week I wrote about my ailing computer.  It ran really slow and I was afraid it had early-onset dementia and would lose its memory.  Which contains a lot of my memory.

My computer and I are reunited.  It has a new hard drive.  Its memory is intact.  Now I can’t connect to iTunes. I need to connect to sync my iPhone calendar to my iCal (calendar) on my computer.  (That sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?)

I see a pattern.  I increasingly rely on my tech-toys to back up my memory.  I’m okay with that. Really, it’s kind of cool.

Now I need a new hard drive for my body.  I celebrated my 60th birthday in March.  And, as a cancer survivor, I am grateful for every day.  However.  My parts are wearing out and beyond the warranty.  I don’t think I have enough time left to replace them one by one.

After 25 years of rheumatoid arthritis, I have artificial joints in my knuckles on one hand and a left knee replacement.  I set off the metal detector the last time I flew.  No one cared about my official card from DePuy describing my titanium knee.  I had to go into the total-body scanner.  On the inside I giggled about the poor guy in some little room who had to look at my body unfiltered by clothes.

I miss being independent.  My damaged hands frustrate me daily.  Now I’m anemic and so I have limited energy each day.  I choose my activities carefully.  I drive myself around town and go most anyplace I want, but I get tired and I feel very vulnerable in parking lots.

I want to replace everything at once.  A new hard drive rejuvenated my computer without losing any memory.  A rejuvenated Robin with intact memories and no loss of hard-won wisdom?  Perfect.

What would I do?

I’d pick up each grandchild with no fear of dropping or hurting them.

I’d swim laps without hanging on the wall to catch my breath.

I’d get on an airplane and fly to NYC or Paris.  Alone.

I’d clean my house all by myself.  (maybe!)

Or I could just accept the body I have and be grateful for medical science and my own determination and resilience.

I could find joy in each day and learn to ask for the help I need when I need it.

And pray.

Writer’s Block Is Real

Here’s how I got it:

1.  Joined a Writer’s Group of the Triad Memoir Group with real, published writers.

2.  Went to a 2-day writing retreat with some really good writers.  We wrote and then read out loud to the group of 15 writers.  Did I mention how well they wrote?

3.  Got a stomach virus that kept my family away on Mother’s Day.

4.  Got pneumonia right after the stomach virus.

(I may never see my grandchildren again!)

I’ve read the cure for writer’s block is to just write.

One of my early blog posts was titled “I’m Workin’ On It”–please click here to check it out.

I’m workin’ on it–writer’s block and good health.

What about me?

Before grandchildren, I created a business:  Spirit…Rest.  (www.spiritrest.org)

I offer spiritual and 12-step retreats (1- 3 days), spiritual companionship/guidance for individuals and groups, and labyrinth walks using a 24-foot portable labyrinth.

Spirit..Rest has been on sabbatical for a while.

My daughters each had a baby this year.  Maggie was born January 11 with a heart abnormality that will be repaired later this year.  Atticus was born April 2 with a penis.  That’s new for us.  He has a 2-year-old sister, Adaline.

Our girls are terrific moms, but they are both still trying to figure out when to shower.  And eat.  And breathe.

Sometimes they need to express their emotions.  Historically I’ve been the one to listen.  They are just beginning to learn that their father will listen, for a bit, if he has to.

The emotional energy in my house stunned me last week.  Maggie and her mom were here while we had Adaline for 3 days.   So were the three dogs we all own.  Atticus was born by planned C-section that took longer than we expected.  And I had the worst back pain I’ve ever had (why??).

I know that all I can really do for my family is to be present and emotionally available, love them, and pray for them.  That can still feel, at times, like a full-time job.

“What about me?”

I feel weird asking that question out loud.

Grandmother  and mother heresy–that’s what that question feels like–“a belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs, customs, etc.” (according to dictionary.com).

Wife and mother/grandmother is a comfortable, familiar role for me and I’m good at it.

Spiritual guide, retreat leader, writer–those challenge me.

And complete me.

“Only a well-fed soul can offer sustenance to others.” (Peggy Tabor Millin)

Balance.  Forever a challenge.

Published in: on April 10, 2012 at 3:45 pm  Comments (6)  
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Are You in Control of Anything?

God will keep giving us opportunities to learn we are not in control.  I read that in a book this morning.  You know it’s true, don’t you?

I’m getting better about not-so-significant stuff, like lines and being on hold and the whole health insurance mess.  But the big stuff still gets me in the pit of my stomach.  You know that cold, dark, heavy spot in your gut when you know one of your kids is in trouble or really struggling?  (It is one of the few things that can kill my desire to eat.)  That’s when you know you’re not in control and are powerless.  What’s left at that point but anger and prayer and tears?

The retired man I live with struggles with this more than I do, I think.  Yesterday morning plugs in the wall of our house that faces the street stopped working.  Adaline was coming for the day and the tree lights wouldn’t go on.  To him, a major issue.  And, I have to say, a bit unnerving in a 55-year-old house.  No circuits were off so it was kind of weird.

The retired man I live with called an electrician.  They can send someone Monday.  (Yesterday was Thursday.)  So he called my brother who lives 3 hours away but knows a lot about electrician stuff.  For hours they tried to troubleshoot the wiring in that wall.  I told the retired man I live with that I would kill him if I had to call an ambulance for him while Adaline was at our house. He kept at it.

It’s not fixed.  We have no Christmas lights.  He is unhappy.  And not a whole lot of fun to be around.

God keeps giving us chances to learn we are not in control.

Published in: on December 16, 2011 at 8:19 pm  Comments (14)  
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I just want to ask why

I are amazing,”

says a 2-year-old girl.

“Who are you?’ we ask.

Me!” says a 1 1/2-year-old girl.

These kids are well-loved.  They were planned-for and very welcome.  They are surrounded by caring and supportive adults.  I pray they don’t lose that feeling of delight about themselves.

I doubt they will grow up to be computer hackers.

A hacker got into my yahoo email account.  My contacts got an email asking for money  because I was stranded in Madrid.  I was at a writing retreat at the coast with my phone turned off.   Mike was at home babysitting our granddaughter.  He answered a lot of phone calls from concerned friends.

I’ve changed my password and communicated with yahoo security.  They are investigating.  The hacker erased my address book.  I hope yahoo can get it back for me.  (Please send me an email if you want me to have your email address.)

I really do want to ask the hacker “Why?”  I guess it’s probably about money.

Maybe the hacker wasn’t wanted or loved.  Maybe nobody taught him/her that choices have consequences.  Maybe no one cared enough to teach right and wrong.

Or maybe he/she is just a clever, bored teenager with too much free time.

I think the whole thing is just mean.

Published in: on October 10, 2011 at 8:30 pm  Comments (9)  
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Girl Power

“GIRL!!” came the text last Friday from the doctor’s office.  We have another grandchild on the way!  Stephanie and her husband, Will, are due in January.  They had an ultrasound and saw her moving her hands and crossing her ankles like a proper lady.  Wow.

A week ago I woke from a dream at 4:30 am unsure of where I was or even what year it was.  In my dream I was again a young mother of two preschoolers on a really bad day.  Everything was out-of-order, me most of all, and I was spiraling down in anger and frustration.  I wasn’t seeing me at my worst.  I WAS me at my worst.

I wrote down what I could recall and later that day wrote about the power and the feelings in the dream.  I can’t let go of this dream. I feel the out-of-control-ness.  It still scares me.

I was anxious during my second pregnancy about my ability to manage 2 kids in diapers in 2 car seats.  They were both very much planned and welcomed, but the second happened quicker than I anticipated.  They are 26 months apart.  Our grandchildren will be 23 months apart.

I know I’m not that young, overwhelmed woman any more.  And neither are my daughters.  I’ve worked hard for years to understand and learn from that time in my life.  I hope I’ve passed some of my wisdom on to them.

I am wondering, though, why that dream now?