Silver-linings Playbook

I don’t know how you felt about that movie, people had mixed feelings. I guess I did, too. Mostly, I liked it because I like movies like that, but as soon as it was over, Will was like “omg, that was two people just using each other over and over” which gave me a different perspective on it. I have mixed feelings about jlaw. Mostly I think I like her, but I’ve been told that, in every role she plays, it’s just so obvious that she’s Jennifer Lawrence, which is not the sign of a good actor so I dunno. I DO know that I kinda love Bradley Cooper, so I think all in all, when it comes to that movie, I’m a fan.

One time, I was talking to my therapist about being Pollyanna and how I didn’t want to view the world through rose-colored glasses, and she said “I don’t think you view the world through rose-colored glasses, but you are always looking for the positive thing in something bad.” Maybe that’s why I liked that movie: The silver linings playbook IS my playbook. It has to be.

I think that regardless of what I’ve been through, life is too hard not to look for the good in the bad. Maybe we’re just deceiving ourselves, but I don’t know. I guess I’d rather be in a state of deceit rather than defeat.

My uncle recently died and I was fortunate enough to travel home for the memorial (shout out to my husband, Will, who makes any travel I do possible). It was for a really sad reason, but I got see lots of family friends I hadn’t seen in forever, and I was able to stay with my parents at the house I grew up in, with my cousins who I hadn’t seen since my wedding (One of whom lives in COLOMBIA) and with Susan and Bruce who aren’t genetically family but are basically my family. Yes, we were all together for a really sad reason but the silver lining was that we all got to spend time with one another!

My life requires silver linings, but I think it’s a good practice for everyone. Sometimes, they’re really hard to find, and I think often, they look bronze, but until you find it, I’ll be that annoying person in your ear being like “ok, but what’s the good thing in this?”

For better or for worse?

In relation to my disabilities and dealing with my new life, I’ve been trying to decide what’s better and what’s worse. Not to toot my own horn, but is it better or is it worse that I’m smart? What about the fact that I’m fairly athletic? Better or worse the I already had a life I liked?

Will and I like to joke about how my long, monkey appendages make it easier for me to reach important things, but I do think there’s something to be said for my physicality. Being tall and having long arms and legs is certainly helpful, but I also think the fact that I’m sorta flexible and pretty athletic helps a lot, too. I’m part of a lot of Facebook groups filled with people who have struggles similar to my own, and one person posted to a group, “imagine dealing with all of this and being obese.” It’s obviously not impossible, but it would make my life harder than it already is. At that moment, I was thanking Gaia that it’s relatively easy for me to get around and for Will to manage me.

But BECAUSE I’m athletic, I was always active. I walked a lot, enjoyed hiking, and was one of those annoying people who actually LIKED working out. I loved the water and I loved to swim, even if my stroke is nothing to write home about. I can’t do any of those things now, and I get really frustrated when my brain tells my body to do one thing and it does something else entirely when it used to be so automatic – my instincts were good instincts.

So, is it better or worse that I’m athletic? It makes things that I HAVE to do easier, but I don’t have the same access to a thing I love and I’m frustrated with myself a lot.

Being Intelligent means I can understand my disease better and find/think of more ways to deal with it. It makes it easier for me to wade through all of the bullshit of the medical industry, and I already really enjoyed the life of the mind (like reading and writing and logic games) so finding things to entertain myself was simple.

But it also means that I think a lot. And am in my head a lot. I have a lot of ideas/opinions that I can’t act on or adequately express. When I DO try to express them, people either don’t understand or ignore me (I’d like to think it’s the former not the latter, though I suspect it’s some combination of the two.)

My life was good. I had a good childhood filled with bike riding and roller blading, summer camps and swimming pools, climbing trees and playing games. And I had (have!) a loving family who I had fun with and who care(d) about me. I got to go to top-notch schools with really awesome teachers that gave me a good education, and that gave me some really great friends. Most of all, I found Will, who is really incredible and who has given me the type of love most people only hope for.

This is all amazing and awesome, but it means that I spend a lot of time looking back. You know, the higher you are, the further you have to fall (this is one reason falling rarely phases kids. That and they are made of rubber). I spend a lot of time lamenting what I’ve lost or believing that all of my best times are behind me. Like, this is just my life now. Nothing ahead, nothing to look forward to. So would it be BETTER if my life had been bad? If I hadn’t grown up with friends or a loving family? It would sure make now EASIER but I don’t know about better.

I saw a quote once that said “the easy thing and the right thing are not always the same.” I’m pretty sure I saw this in relation to standing up to your loved ones about racism, but I think it applies here. Change “right” to the word “better” and I see the point.

Things always seem nicer when we look back on them, and better or worse is ALWAYS about perspective, but I think any perspective would agree that it’s good to have talents and enjoy your life/childhood.

It’s like that other famous quote by some dude, I think his name was Tennyson or something? “It’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.”

Man, I feel like a woman

The other day, I was emailing with someone I was meeting up with, and I had to say “Oh, I’m not sure if that will work, I’ll have to ask my husband.” I had to fight back the urge to say “my disability keeps me from driving, so I have to check with Will to see if he can take me.” because she already KNOWS all of that and I don’t have to explain myself to anyone! It definitely got me thinking, though. “Why did I have that urge?” The answer I came up with was gender.

I’ve thought and talked about identity before, but rarely in relation to gender identity. I think this is largely because I never felt that my identity as a woman kept me from doing anything. Sure, I knew (and know!) that women are paid less, even professional athletes, and that there are far fewer women in STEM than there should be, but PERSONALLY, I didn’t feel like my womanhood held me back (except in co-ed sports, but that’s a whole nother rant). That said, I often relied on both my stubbornness and strength (mental and physical) to prove that being a woman doesn’t make you lesser.

Having a disability puts me in a unique position. Having a disability and being a woman puts me in even more of a unique position. I have to ask for help, but I’m not helpless.

In some ways, women have been training their whole lives to be disabled. They are seen as fragile little creatures that need things DONE for them: open that door. Carry that heavy box.

I’ll never forget when we moved from Capitol Hill to Beacon Hill. Will hired movers because I was going through chemo and was useless (and because hiring movers is WORTH IT! Moving suuuuucks.) As these big men moved stuff, Will helped and I sat on the floor. They must have thought, “damn, this chick is lazy.”

Thus the urge to explain myself: No! I’m really super strong! And not lazy! I just have cancer! Partially I wanted to explain myself because I’m a strong, independent woman, and partially because I didn’t want to confirm what they already believed: that women are feeble and need big, strong men to carry boxes for them.

And maybe they didn’t believe that. Maybe they were raised well by strong women who made sure they knew that one does not represent the whole. Still, there are are so many out there that think being a woman makes you less capable, and they may say “Oh, that’s not true! I love women!” And they’re not lying, but the truth is that we live in a society that treats one gender as lesser than the other.

As a disabled person, I HAVE to ask for help. Part of why that’s hard is because of my stubborn independence, but another part is that I don’t want to be seen as just another helpless woman.

Let me tell you how I REALLY feel

My high school had a long hallway that connected the classroom area to the lunch room. The hall monitor sat at a table in this hallway. My senior year, I was a teacher’s assistant during 4th hour, but if the teacher didn’t need me that day (which happened a lot) he’d just let me go, so I essentially had a free period that day. I would often use this time to go to the cafeteria to just hang around or get a snack. On one such day, I was doing just that, walking through this hall during class time, and the hall monitor, my then assistant basketball coach, called me over to talk with her. You see, at the end of practice the day before I had broken out in tears in front of everyone – I had torn my acl and was struggling to get my confidence back, I’d had a crappy practice, and I thought the head coach was being a dumb dumb and treating me unfairly. She wanted to know what was up. When I talked to her about this, she said something to me that has really stuck with me: “if anyone can handle this, it’s you.”

Now I’m sure she meant it as a nice thing like “you are strong! You’ll handle this with grace! You got this!” and while all of those things are nice (and true, by the way), I couldn’t help but think “yeah, but it doesn’t mean they have to happen.”

I thought about this story today, because I was thinking about this in relation to my cancer. Sure, I’m trying to make the best out of a shituation and I’m working really hard at not being a bitter little monster, but that doesn’t mean it had to happen. That doesn’t make it “worth it.”

I think I’m handling this about as well as anyone could, but I can’t help but wonder why somebody else, who isn’t grateful and loving and smart and outgoing, isn’t dealing with all of this. And then I remember that they are.

Life’s not fair and bad things happen even when they don’t have to. Some days I can deal with that. Some days I can’t.

It Is What It Is

A friend of mine recently told me that he and his spouse are getting a divorce. I guess this shouldn’t have shocked me given that the divorce rate is like 50%, but you always want to believe that you and your friends will beat the odds and they are both such delightful people, I was sure they would figure it out. I was searching for the right thing to say and I just kept coming back to “it is what it is.”

I’ve always hated that expression – it always seemed so defeatist to me, like why even try?! – but as I’ve gotten older, I understand why it’s become such a popular expression. Sometimes things just suck and that’s all there is to it (and I know a little bit about sucky situations).

What if that phrase wasn’t defeatist but just necessary. When I was younger, I thought everything could be fixed. So, what did that mean? It meant it was my job to fix it. But maybe there are things that can’t be fixed. Maybe they are just broken, and trying to fix them leaves us like Sisyphus, pushing that heavy boulder up a hill.

By accepting that there are some things that can’t be fixed, I don’t think we’re saying a thing isn’t SAD, I think it’s saying that there’s no real way to make it UNsad. We can take all of that energy we expend pushing that boulder up the hill and apply it to something that actually makes us happy.

Because sometimes, it just is what it is.

Intention

“DRIVE WITH INTENTION!!!” is something I used to scream a lot at Seattle drivers (within the confines of the car, I become the meanest person – we all do this, right?). Seattle/Washington drivers don’t seem to care if they get where they’re going. And I’m not talking about driving style like aggression or passivity. I’m talking like basic driving stuff, like not noticing that a light has turned green or taking so long to take a turn that it causes me to miss the light. It used to make me BANANAS (and probably still would, I just don’t drive anymore).

It’s funny because for all this talk about driving with intention, I sure don’t LIVE with it always.I tend to just let things happen and react as I see fit.

In a lot of ways, this makes sense. To someone who got cancer in her 20s, plans can seem pretty stupid. Some plans ARE stupid and God. IS laughing, but a little planning gets us going. It can be motivating.

I was just at home in Arlington Heights and then we went to Will’s childhood home in Massachusetts, where his parents still live. My parents are selling their home, all of my closest friends from childhood/high school live in the Chicago area and 3 of them just bought houses, Will’s parents have done a TON of work on the house and it looks nicer than it has in years (I think Will would agree with me on that, so I can say it), and we hung out with one of Will’s high school buddies and his AWESOME wife and adorable son at their cute home. It’s hard not to fantasize about living in the Chicago area or Massachusetts but would I like that? I don’t know.

I think that’s part of the problem – we are at a threshold where we have to choose – be intentional about – what’s next for us. I think that is made even more difficult by the choice constraints that we face – my health, career, family. There is no obvious place for us to settle down. We’ll just have to be really a INTENTIONAL about where we go next.

Quality vs. quantity

When I was in college, I really wanted a pair of tall boots (riding boots were really the rage). I went through a few cheap pairs, mostly from Target, usually getting rid of them because they became uncomfortable or wore out. After college, I saved up big money and purchased a pair of Frye Boots. It is ten years later and I still have those Frye boots AND I still wear them. Not to get all mathy on you, but say I got lucky and found some boots that were $20. Over ten years, I would have spent $200 if I had gone at the rate I was going at. Sure, I had to pay some money here and there to get the boots re-soled or re-heeled, but I think, overall, I spent the same amount of money – and probably less – by forking over a lot at once to buy the Fryes. Plus, I created a lot less waste!

What’s the lesson here? It’s not just that I’m a financial wizard (though, obviously I am). It’s that, often, quality over quantity pays.

You could work all of the time, but hate your life. Sure, you might be rich, but are you happy? That’s all quantity but little quality. Maybe every time you see your family, you do something really special but you hardly ever see each other? A lot of quality but limited quantity.

I guess we all need to learn to balance these things in our lives, because sometimes the scarcity of something is exactly what gives it its quality.

And then there are some things that, no matter how high the quantity is, you just can’t get enough. Like potato chips. And other, more meaningful, things.

For your enjoyment/entertainment: https://youtu.be/PgpDN-bARwc

Fustrated

My freshman year of college, one of my roommates (I was in a triple) used to say the word frustrated with the emphasis on the ATED part, instead of the way Americans typically say that word. Being college freshmen, my other roommate and I found this hilarious, and we got into a debate about the proper way to say frustrated. After that argument, my then boyfriend sent me some songs where the singer says “frustrated” in the way that my roommate did. One of those songs was, notably, by Avril Lavigne, and called “Complicated.” I think Avril Lavigne is Canadian. Just saying. There are plenty of lessons in that story – right and wrong is subjective, there isn’t always just one way to say something, college freshmen are shits – but my main take away was that some people said frustrated differently than I did.

Anyway, as lovely as that was for me, I’m not just using this as an opportunity to reminisce. I do want to talk about the feeling of frustration, because I think it’s at the heart of most of the things I’m feeling lately.

Frustration can lead to anger or sadness. It’s usually temporary and we can see a way out of it, like being stuck in traffic (you aren’t stuck in traffic, you ARE traffic). Traffic can be frustrating but there’s an end, somewhere. Either traffic clears up or you arrive (often late) to wherever you were going. I guess you could just give up all together and get out of your car and walk, but barring an apocalyptic situation, I would really hope that traffic is never THAT bad.

A small story. It includes more reminiscing, but not really of the sweet kind. I don’t remember much from my childhood, and it’s hard to know which memories are real and which are based on photos or stories. I do know that I had a very caring childhood, filled with love. Ask most people and they’ll use words like “carefree” and “joyful” to describe how they remember childhood, but not me. I definitely felt those things as a kid, but the strongest emotion I remember from my childhood is frustration.

For start, I lived in a house with a brother who was 9 years older than I and a mother who gave birth to me when she was nearly 43. I always wanted to hang with the big kids. Plus, I was pretty smart, so I always wanted my ideas to be taken seriously. But I was a kid and sometimes my ideas were a kid’s ideas and sometimes (probably most of the time) they were just bad. So I ended up feeling frustrated, because I just wanted to be taken seriously and in charge!

Now, this says a lot about my own control issues, but if we fast forward to my life today, it’s eerily similar to the life of my childhood: I’m in my mind a lot which can make me feel left out of the conversation, I have lots of things to say without a good way to say them, and when it comes to decisions about where to go or what to do, I’m completely limited in those decisions.

When you’re stuck in traffic, you can see an end. When you’re a kid, you grow up. There is not really a “this will all go away” for me to look forward to.

So yeah. Sometimes I feel frustrated.

I’m working on finding productive outlets to channel that frustration so I don’t just feel sad and angry all of the time, but this is a warning that if you find yourself on the receiving end of that sadness or anger, I’m likely not frustrated with you.

Unless you say “fustration.” Then it’s definitely you.

Toolbox

Recently, I wasn’t on top of it and let my prescription for Ritalin lapse. It’s considered addictive and you have to get a new prescription every month so you really have to be on top of it. And I wasn’t. This meant that my mood was pretty low. I don’t have ADD, I take Ritalin to give me an energy boost and a mood boost, because anyone who knows me at all knows that my life is pretty hard.

I’m not a stranger to anti-depressants and I don’t think anyone should be ashamed of taking them, poor physical health or not, because life is hard and sometimes our chemistry isn’t exactly right to deal with it. That said, I don’t like to be on a pill to not feel depressed. I said to Will today “if you need a pill to feel okay about your life, that’s not a good sign.” When I took anti-depressants before, I wanted to get off of them as quickly as I could, because it felt like a false sense of happiness. I wanted to build up my own toolbox to fight off my demons.

So I did. I wrote in a journal. I exercised a lot. I did yoga. I ate well. I read and did things that nourished me. And it worked. Sure, we all have our ups and downs, but overall, when I was unnaturally down, I could turn to my toolbox.

Nowadays, not only is my life a lot harder, but my toolbox is pretty empty. I’m trying to fill it up with new hobbies and new exercise and new ways to elevate me when I feel deflated, but the tools I have don’t always work.

In regards to my Ritalin need, Will said “you know, some of us just need a little extra help.” and I thought that was sweet. I thought about it in terms of the toolbox. The medicine is just another tool since some of the other tools aren’t in there right now. It’s kinda like being handed a Phillips-head screw, turning to your toolbox and seeing you only have a Flathead screwdriver.

Ritalin is my Phillips-head screwdriver.

The Little Things

The little things

We’ve all heard that expression “it’s about the little things” but it truly is. When I think about some of the things I miss the most, they are so small. Sure, I miss many of the big things – driving, my hair, a career – but in many ways, those things seem obvious. It is the smaller things that we don’t think about that we long to do again. For me, it is taking my favorite pair of boots to the cobbler to be re-soled or re-heeled. Or picking out the perfect mug for my hot coffee. Or standing in the shampoo aisle at the drugstore for far too long, just smelling all of the bottles of shampoo. So silly. So trivial. Yet so important.

I often don’t realize I miss a little thing until I hear someone else talking about it like it’s no big thing. And it’s NOT. That’s the point. I once heard that when the country is in a recession, sales of expensive nail polish go up because people need a way to treat themselves without spending TOO much money. This, to me, is paying attention to the little things: spending more money than you would normally but still only spending like $8, because it brings you joy, if even for a moment.

Big stuff doesn’t come around that much so we need the little things to keep us going, because sometimes, the little things are all we have.