Archives for category: Marriage

I am more comfortable giving than receiving emotional support. Nonetheless, I have found my self being “a friend in need” more than not recently. I have also been working a lot, trying to keep my head down, and keeping myself busy. It worked to a certain extent then it didn’t.

I had also planned a busy summer with lots of fun activities, spending time with friends, spending time with family, and spending time in nature. I was very much looking forward to spending three days with friends from out of town. I knew that it would be fun, they would have fun, and there would be some light and easy times.

And then it happened. I lost track of myself, my fatigue, and my anxiety. The beginning of the visit was marked by my anxiety and the bags under my eyes. I wasn’t fooling anyone. I was tired. I have slept solidly through the night once in the last two months and sometimes I am awake for a number of hours. Not sleeping well takes a major toll on me. I took on more than I could handle comfortably and then life gave me much much more. And I didn’t ask for enough help and when I didn’t do it in the way that solicits a whole lot of empathy.

Lo and behold, after a brief but intense temper tantrum, I got my shit together and focused on having a break from my daily grind, spending time with dear friends and with my husband. I had a wonderful three days. I went to mountains and islands. We talked and laughed. The tight worry in my chest and the cotton in my brain eased. I remembered what it is like to have relaxed joy.

Then I came back to my regularly scheduled program of life. I immediately picked up on the stress and anxiety in my household. Initially, I felt disappointment that I was getting wound up again so quickly. Then I remembered that I have skills. I have things to try. I started using paced breathing, a technique to strong emotions quickly. It worked. Today, I am feeling the anxiety again. And now I am writing, another strategy that helps. My heart is slowing and I am finding myself more and more in the present moment as I type these words.

I am a friend in need and I got the support I needed from both other people and from my own internal resources.

Today, I am grateful for my family.

Today, I am grateful for my friends.

Today, I am grateful for nature.

Today, I am grateful for my tenacity.

 

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My husband and I are on vacation on the Oregon Coast, just the two of us. We are having a marvelous time. We’ve hiked on the beach, in the forest, and along cliffs above the coastline. It is just the break we needed. An ideal vacation in an idyllic location.
It only makes sense that 100 percent of every moment of the vacation should be positively perfect, right?

If you’ve ever traveled or even lived for more than one minute, you know this is untrue.

It seems that during nearly everyone of our vacations, I am irritated with someone in my family, including myself.  Yesterday, I had hiked seven miles along the coast. We drove to little towns and through amazing farmland. I was tired and in need of getting out of the sun. We got back to our hotel on the beach. If we hadn’t already made plans to eat on the picnic table overlooking the beach near our room, I would have changed into my nightgown. My husband said, “Hey, let’s go fly a kite!”

I am a person of inertia. Once I am at rest, I have trouble changing gears. The day before, John had convinced me to go out at night to see the sunset after I’d already collapsed for the day. I got myself going and was so glad that I did. So in the spirit of being a good sport, I said, “Okay”, put on my shoes, and followed him to the beach. My husband asked me to hold the kite while he walked away, un-spooling the kite string. As he was getting farther and farther away, drowned out by the sound of the ocean, I thought, “What does he want me to do? What is HE doing?”

I have flown kites in my day. He was doing it “wrong”. The first attempt failed. Then I asked him, “What do you want me to do?” He explained the game plan. Communication, yes! Now we had a plan. I was game, so I thought, despite the fact that he was doing it “wrong”. I’m not unreasonable. The kite flying was his idea. That made him in charge and me, the helper.

We made our second attempt and it failed. Then I did something I rarely do. I accepted that I was too cranky. I didn’t tell myself, “You are being silly. It’s just a kite. You have no reason to be annoyed.” I told my husband, “Honey, I’m tired. I’m going to go rest for awhile.”

I rested for about a half hour and then we started to make a beautiful fresh seafood dinner. When I brought the food outside, I saw the kite flying, tied to the arm of a patio chair. We had a wonderful dinner. I don’t think John even knew that I was getting cranky. I let me be me, I didn’t invalidate my feelings, and gave myself the space I needed to return to being an excellent traveling companion.

This may seem like a small thing but I know that small irritations can turn into a bad day and bad behavior on my part. Invalidation, makes emotion bigger, rather than smaller. All emotions are understandable even if we don’t like them.

I know that my life is going to contain upsets, big and small. Sometimes I will make things better, sometimes I will  make them worse, and sometimes, nothing I do will change anything. But I am grateful that yesterday, I was able to take a step away from my expectation of perfection and just gave my imperfect self what I needed.

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We all know people who are hard to contact. They don’t return phone calls, emails, or texts on a consistent basis. My husband is one of those people. It’s kind of a joke in our extended network of family and friends. He’s not mean or thoughtless. He just gets wrapped up in what he is doing at the time and has trouble shifting gears. To be fair, he has gotten much more reliable about returning text messages, though it is not unusual for him to text me a question, my immediately answer it, and then my not hear from him again for quite some time.

Consequently, I don’t communicate with him as much as I’d like to when he’s not home. It’s not particularly effective or satisfying. But I do know that if I REALLY need to contact him at work, if the situation is urgent, I can do it. We have a system. I text him, call his cell phone, and call his office desk phone, one right after the other. Then he knows that he needs to drop what he is doing and to contact me. I don’t do this often, in fact, it’s been years and I don’t even remember the reason I last engaged the Bat phone/text/land line sequence.

John is in southern Utah with his step-dad, camping and backpacking. They’ve been planning the trip for a long time. It is a 10 day long trip, which is slightly longer than our family vacations. They on Saturday of last week. They will return on Tuesday of next week. They are seeing incredible country. John is texting photos to me every day as well as “I miss you” and “I love you” texts. I’ve spoken to him twice by phone. It’s not as if we are not communicating and in fact, this is much more frequent technology-supported communication than we typically exchange. But I can’t rely on being able to contact him at any time. Phone reception is spotty.

I don’t know exactly why but since the day he has left, our daughter has been having a very hard time, and shall we say, she is not suffering in silence. I feel like I am alone in some kind of parenting Hell. We did have a brief texting conversation this morning. He’d spoken to her yesterday and was worried about her, based on the conversation they’d had. I’ve been in a tricky position of wanting him to enjoy his trip but at the same time, I need support and he is my husband. I tried to need less than I did and as usually is the case, this strategy does not work well and I end up getting needier than I was in the first place. This morning, in a texting conversation I told him that I would not agree to him being way and unreachable for so long again. It was not my plan to tell him this. That’s just going to make him worry and detract from his trip. People, I am a work in progress. I will keep trying.

Sometimes being alone is a beautiful and peaceful place. Sometimes it’s just lonely.

Photo of John by Don Girvin, 5/2/15

Photo of John by Don Girvin, 5/2/15

When I was a little girl, we made May baskets at school, which were usually a cone made out of construction paper with a paper strip looped on the back as a hanger. Each year, I took them home, filled them with flowers from the yard, and carefully walked to the neighbor’s house. As I recall, I mostly walked to the same neighbor’s house, Myrtle Anderson’s, hung the basket on her door knob, knocked, and then ran away. They were not so random acts of kindness.

I have long enjoyed giving gifts to people. I notice the things that people like over the course of the year and file it away in my mind for future gift reference. Sometimes I give people gifts “just because”. When I was in college, I had a boyfriend who was often awkward about accepting gifts from me. They were small things, really. I knew that he liked to play cards so when I took a ceramics class and made him a mug decorated with a heart, a club, a spade, and a diamond. It was just one of the things that I made. The rest I kept for myself. When I asked him when his birthday was, he wouldn’t tell me. It was one of many arguments that he and I had over seemingly really silly things. He actually told me that I didn’t argue enough. Anyone who knew me when I was in my early adulthood would appreciate the uniqueness of this characterization. He was not comfortable with affection or gifts. When he told me that he thought we should break up, I didn’t argue. I agreed.

The following fall, I met the man who would become my husband. As I’ve written in the past, John was dating someone else at the time and in the process of a somewhat messy break up due to the fact that his girlfriend was out of the country for two years, on a religious mission. They communicated by letter. Their relationship had been in poor shape when she left.

John and I started dating the following spring. Our first kiss was on April 25th, 1988. I decided to make a May Day basket for him. I went to the University Bookstore and bought two colors of paper. (Hubby tells me now that he thought I used blue and green. I don’t remember.) I carefully measured and drew lines on the paper as a guide for cutting. I wove the strips into a basket; I remember it being surprisingly large. I made a handle for it and filled it with tulips.

I was excited when I made the gift as I often am when I am making something for someone I love. There is an enthusiasm full of hope and energy. But I was also nervous that he wouldn’t like the gift or would feel that it was “too much”, that I was “too much”.

I walked into his apartment with it. I greeted him with, “Happy May Day!” He smiled, “Thank you, those are beautiful.” Then he gave me a kiss. In short, he acted as if I had given him a somewhat random act of kindness that he very much appreciated. He acted like giving a gift to your boyfriend was a normal and healthy thing to do. This is when I learned that he could accept my love. I hoped that it would last for a long long time.

John is leaving tomorrow for an eagerly awaited ten day trip to the canyon lands of Utah. He is traveling with his stepfather, Don. They will have a marvelous time and I am very happy for him. They have not taken a trip, just the two of them, since 1993 when they went to Tanzania together.

I woke up this morning, missing him even though he hasn’t yet left. When I noticed that it is May 1st, I thought back to the basket and the flowers. So as part of my walk, I stopped at the Thriftway and picked up six bunches of locally grown tulips. When I gave them to him, he thanked me and remembered our first May Day together.

May 1st means a lot of things. To some it is just the first day of May. To others, it marks the day of a birth or a death. To others, it is a time to advocate for workers. All of these things are true. To me, it marks the newness of spring and the joyful discovery of love given freely and freely returned.

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It’s spring.

I have wonderful family and friends.

I am thankful.

DSC04736Salmonberry blossom at Fauntleroy Creek, Seattle.

 

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DSC04998 (1)Dogwood from the neighborhood.

 

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Bloedel Reserve, Bainbridge Island, WA

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DSC04444 (1)Neighborhood cherry blossoms.

DSC05031Pileated woodpecker at the Bloedel Reserve.
She flew from this tree to her nest, located in a hollow in a nearby tree.

My husband and I host Thanksgiving every year and although not at Martha Stewart’s standard, I like to make the dinner tables pretty. Sometimes, John sets the table with our day to day plates and I say, “No, use the good plates.” The “good” plates consists of the full set of Franciscan dinnerware that my mother-in-law generously gave to me years ago. They match. There’s a gravy boat. There are enough for our extended family crew of 16-24 people, depending on the year. Matching, rarely used plates for fancy occasions.

Today I had a mammogram. I scheduled it many months ago. I remember telling my oncologist’s scheduler that I needed a diagnostic mammogram. She called over to the breast imaging center and told me that I didn’t need a diagnostic mammogram. I was due for a screening mammogram. I said, politely with a tinge of anxiety, “But I’ve had breast cancer.” She talked to the imaging center again and verified that a screening mammogram was what my oncologist had ordered.

I walked into the imaging center. It is in a building that adjoins my cancer institute, where I typically have my appointments. The cancer institute also does mammography. This time, I was sent to the building that is part of the same medical center but not part of the cancer center. Even though I’ve been there before, I was disoriented, even in the parking garage. I don’t have the best sense of direction on a good day but when I am nervous AND underground, it is much worse. The parking garage was packed and although I thought I was following the signs, I knew that I was anxious and distracted when I saw the sign, “Alligator” to show me that it was floor A, for the third time. I was driving in circles. I snapped out of it and worked my way down to “Camel” where I got a parking spot, wrote directions to finding my car after my appointment was finished, and went on my way.

As I walked into the waiting room, I had a sense of unreality bordering on derealization, a dissociative state experienced by individuals with PTSD. The waiting room felt unfamiliar but I knew I’d been there. Then I say myself there, in my mind’s eye. This is where I had the diagnostic mammogram, the ultrasound, and the core biopsy that would establish my breast cancer diagnosis and refer me to the cancer center, nearly three years ago. “Hello, trauma cue!” Once I recognized the cue for what it was, I could at least stop wondering and start coping.

The funny thing about this is that one reason I felt uncomfortable and scared was because I had been “demoted” to a screening mammogram and to add insult to injury, had to leave the safe and familiar nest of the cancer center, to do so. Mammography involves compression of the breast tissue between plates. I’ve had all kinds of mammography, screening, diagnostic, and PEM the latter being the fanciest and as it was in Phase II trials back in 2012, was not covered by insurance costing $2000 out of pocket. PEM took three hours following a 24 hour no-sugar diet and radioactive dye injection. Oh, and did I mention that each picture takes 7 minutes, all 7 of which the plates are compressed? Oh yeah, I just remembered that the PEM tech is seated right across from your eyeballs.  But I digress.

I found myself in the waiting room thinking, “I want the good plates. I want the diagnostic mammogram.” Yes, I know, the difference between mammogram machines is not the plates. But do you blame me for thinking about the plates? (Ladies who do mammograms understand.) When I checked in, the receptionist asked, “Who do you want us to send the report to?” I provided her with the names of my physicians. Then I anxiously asked, “But I am getting a verbal report from the diagnostic radiologist during my visit today, right?” She verified that I was. Deep breaths, Elizabeth.

I changed into a gown and waited for the mammography technician. She soon greeted me and led me to the exam room. She was a very small woman, under 5 feet. As she was positioning the plates, I noted that she was about the exact right height for the job. She would not have to bend over at all to get a view of breast level for most women. I thought to myself, “Why do I notice things like this?”

She was skilled and efficient. I was lead back to the waiting room near the changing room. I waited. I was distracted for awhile talking to other women, waiting for their results. I answered some email. A woman called my name, a different woman than the mammography technician. I didn’t like this. She led me into an ultrasound room and asked me to partially disrobe, lie down, and wait for the diagnostic radiologist, Dr. Bang. She said, “He will give you the results and discharge you.”

“Uh-oh, there’s something suspicious on the mammogram.” Dr. Bang soon came into the room and introduced himself. He was a young Asian American physician with a nice smile and a professional demeanor. One of the first things he said was, “I see a 2mm mass in your left breast. It is probably a non-malignant cyst.”

My thought, “Yay, he’s being straight with me. He told me what was going on as soon as he could without being cold and abrupt. Hmm, but he also told me that he thought it was likely just a cyst. I hope he’s not one of those physicians who is afraid to tell the bad news. I hope this does not affect his judgment.”

He was very thorough, I must say. I looked at the images from the mammography. Besides thoughts to myself like, “recurrence”, I busied myself by noting how much less dense my breast tissue looked in the images than they had in 2012. As many of you know, having particularly dense breasts makes most of the imaging techniques difficult to interpret because water (the source of density) shows up as white, which is also the color that tumors look on the images. Density is reduced with age, as breasts take on more fatty tissue. I could see this change in myself, likely accelerated by my cancer treatment induced menopause through Lupron and over two years of taking Tamoxifen, which I will likely continue to take for nearly a decade.

I am a geek and a healthcare provider. I am very happy for this when I am getting a stressful medical examination. I can distract myself with wonder and fascination. I also joke with healthcare providers. This lot were pleasant but business like. Joking would not be a comfortable option. So I continued to practice paced breathing to keep myself calmer and to geek out on medical technology and to reflect on the the marvel that is the human body, post-mastectomy and all.

Dr. Bang was having trouble finding the 2mm mass on the ultrasound. I asked him if it was located in the part of my breast tissue that is still very dense. He said that it wasn’t and was in fact very close to the surface. Then I thought, “Oh, if the cancer is near the surface of my breast, maybe I can get a small lumpectomy. That won’t be so bad.”

I was also thinking about what the next step would be. Biopsy? Then I remembered that I had gotten a screening mammogram and that the next step is usually a diagnostic mammogram. However, in this case, I was given an ultrasound. Hmm. A memory flooded back to me. Cancer treatment is like giving birth. They tell you what is going to happen like they are invariable steps. But it’s not. There are rules of thumb that I can understand but the course of assessment and treatment can change. I’m not complaining. If I were cookie dough, the medical team could use cookie cutters to do their job.

Another part of my brain was planning who and how to inform people that I would need follow up assessment. Before, I was pretty sure that I didn’t have cancer. After all, only 20% of biopsies are malignant. Mammography has a notoriously high false positive rate. That is one reason that it is so widely criticized. Actually, the prime reason is that we keep getting the message in our culture that it is far more accurate than it really is.

After what seemed to be 500 years, Dr. Bang told me that the cyst had been present on my last mammogram but it seemed to have grown since then. “I don’t think it’s cancer.” He told me that he wanted to “watch it” and that meant having another mammogram in six months. In the past, I would have been hesitant to ask my “worry questions” but I asked away. “Will this be a diagnostic mammogram?” (“Yes”.). “Will it be a 3D mammogram?” (“Yes”.)

There is no cure for breast cancer. I have had a status of “No Evidence of Disease” since my mastectomy on 8/8/12, which was proceeded by two failed lumpectomies performed by a marvelous and kind surgeon. Three of my four invasive tumors could only be revealed after surgery. None of the imaging technologies, MRI, ultrasound, and three types of mammography that were used, found them.

I was diagnosed nearly three years ago. I have thought about cancer every single day since I was informed of the diagnosis. That is over 1000 days. I don’t want “the good plates”.  I wanted the black and white plates. I want the plates of definite “I don’t have cancer” answers.

Cancer has provided me with a daily lesson that bad things, really bad things can happen. And I have learned to live a happy and satisfying life in the last three years despite all that my family has been through, a significant amount that has nothing to do with my cancer. Something that a pathologist looks for in examining an excised tumor and the surrounding tissue is for “clear margins”. A clear margin is the amount of healthy tissue that surrounds the tumor. Larger margins are better than small ones and if they are too small, as was the case with my first two surgeries, more surgery is recommended.

The “clear margin” is not magical or 100% accurate but it is meaningful. It is more than a good sign. There is always the possibility of disaster or hurt at the center of our hearts. I try very hard to live in the present and at present my margins are clear.

During one of my recent mind adventures, my memory took me back to the old 1960’s television show, The Flying Nun. It starred Sally Field as Sister Bertrille and took place at a convent on Puerto Rico. Due to her small size, the frequent winds, and her cornette (a particular style of nun hat), she could fly, hence the title of the show. After my mind took me to this show, my fingers took me to Wikipedia.

Sister Bertrille could be relied upon to solve any problem that came her way by her ability to catch a passing breeze and fly.

That sentence gave me a good chuckle and I thought, “How could the show’s writers sustain this premise?”

Plot 1: The convent eagerly awaits a visit from the Bishop. After an albatross makes off with the his miter, Sister Bertrille hitches a ride on a gust and saves the day by retrieving it.

Plot 2: Fire breaks out in the convent campanile. After accidentally breaking the tallest ladder in town, Sister Bertrille uses her flying power to reach the fire and put out the blaze.

Plot 3: A little girl’s kitten is stuck in a tree! The fire ladder is still broken. Sister Bertrille flies to the top and saves the day!

Plot 4: Run away kite!

See, not sustainable. Nonetheless, the series lasted two seasons. How did they do it? Also, how did her cornette stay on?

A fictional life needs substance to sustain itself. It can’t be utterly ridiculous.

A real life needs so much more.

Once upon a time, my blog was often humorous. Once upon a time, my blog was mostly about cancer. My blog has changed and my needs have evolved. My husband asked me yesterday, “Do you still think about cancer every day?” I told him, “yes” and I have thought about it every day since May 25th 2012. I mean this literally. Every day.

But thinking about cancer and being actively treated for cancer are different. I think back to what I needed to do during my active treatment and I can’t believe it. The extra work I had to cram into my schedule in order to take time off for surgeries, the number of surgeries, the telling people or not telling people about my health. The changing landscape of my body. The changing energy levels. The changing brain. The major unknowns about even the near future. One of the ways I dealt with the stress and fear with laughing at the ridiculousness of it. That is a coping strategy that is useful to me, it sustains me.

I think about sustainability and capacity a great deal. I want to be a healthy person. It is too easy for an active person such as myself to work too hard and to get my life out of balance.

But sometimes we just have to work really hard. Cancer treatment is one of those times. One of the hardest thing about this time as well as during other unpredictable and serious stressors in my life is that I don’t know how long I will have to work super hard in crisis mode. In the past, I used to tell myself that I would slow down once the stressor passed, for example, once I finished my Ph.D., once I got my career settled, once my daughter was older, once we bought a house, etc.

Those stressors never stop. Life is hard and complicated. Fortunately, I appear to be in good physical health and my mental health is strong. I have a safe place to live, a loving family, lots of friends, and a wonderful job. But it is easy to get caught up in moving too fast, worrying too much, and creating needless suffering for myself even in a life that in most respects is an embarrassment of riches.

As I’ve mentioned recently, right now I am focusing on having more fun with my husband. We do something, just the two of us, at least a couple of times a week. We went on a trip. We went to grown up prom. I have also started having more fun with my daughter. I think that the fact that I am more relaxed has had some positive impact on her among other things. Just last weekend she told me, ‘Mom, have you noticed that I am out of my “I hate my mom” teen phase?’ I have learned to accept these lavish gifts with understatement. “Hmm, I guess yes, I’ve noticed. Why do you think that is?” She replied, “I don’t know. I guess I just got older.”

I take these beautiful moments for what they are, moments. And they seem to be threading together into increased maturity. But her growth is not linear; it has peaks and valleys and plateaus. All of our lives are like this, even the most stable of us because there are so many aspects of life that are out of our control.

My family life is still full of unknowns. My husband and I still deal with major stressors and challenges both within our immediate family and in our extended family. We are part of what is called “the sandwich generation“. Sometimes I feel like we are the PB&J left on the bottom of a backpack for a week that ended up getting run over by the school bus.

Nonetheless, we are making time for fun. We have trips or fun visits planned for every month from May and September. My passport is being renewed as we speak. We will see two coasts, mountains, and two states. We’ll travel by planes, trains, and automobiles. We’ll be surrounded by friends, by cities, and by nature. And yes, friends, there will be photos, lots of them.

I am discovering that  I need to make time for peace and enjoyment. One of the least sustainable premises in real life is waiting for life to get easier.

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My daughter used to run on a track team every spring. She is naturally fast and coordinated. However, she is also quite independent and back then, difficult to coach. She had her own ideas about technique as well as what distance was best for her. Oh yes, she was also highly distractible. Whenever she ran, you didn’t know what would happen because the range of her performance was wide. One of of the meets had an 8th grade co-ed relay, with each student running 400 meters. Her team was small. They didn’t have two 8th grade boys and two 8th grade girls. So the coach put younger kids on the relay team, three younger girls and one 8th grade boy.

My daughter was one of the younger girls. They had not practiced prior to the meet. As I recall, she was second or third in the relay. The hand off to her was seamless; the hand off to the runner after her was seamless. She was ready to start when it was time to go and she absolutely flew down the track, passing all of the other teams by a rather large margin. The rest of the team ran well and held on to the lead she’d created. They tied the record time for the Archdiocese. The whole thing was really quite marvelous to watch.

In a relay race, speed obviously counts. But the most critical parts of the race are the hand offs. One has to hold on to the baton for exactly the right amount of time, not too long or too short. And the other part of it is taking the baton at just the right moment.

Much is written about painful feelings, especially those associated with grief. How long do we keep them. When do we let them go? When do we take them on. The relay race keeps coming into my mind. We can’t stay out of the race, altogether. We can’t deny or suppress painful feelings. To do so is a recipe for unhappiness and often leaves us alone. It is too hard to connect with others when one is coping by disconnecting with oneself.

Then there is the other problem, hanging on to the painful feelings too long. This is also a recipe for unhappiness and suffering, often alone. It is hard to connect with others if holding on to pain leaves no room in our hands to hold onto positives in our lives.

This all strikes me as rather complex. Sometimes I need to hang on longer than others want me to. Sometimes, I need to move on, at least temporarily to be functional in my life, to be good at my job, to be a good mother, to be a good friend, and to be a good wife. Sometimes I move on just to give myself a break.

It can all seem like one big game of trial and error. I know that practice helps and life provides frequent opportunities for holding on or letting go of painful emotions. I’m not keen on trial and error, though. I am a pattern maker, an observer.

I have taken on more work lately. My concentration and stamina are improved. I am happy to be able to participate more fully in my professional life, especially since my business operating costs have increased due to my new office’s significantly higher monthly rent. But this change has also made it harder for me to go walking everyday. I am still walking regularly, about five times per week.

Over the past few weeks, I have noticed a pattern. Overall, I am much more patient and less irritable with my family. But sometimes I get my feelings hurt, feel anxious, and get a little heated. My reaction is not huge but it is out of scale with the situation. This almost always happens on a day I have not gone for a walk.

Hold on.

Let go.

Put on the walking shoes.

His name was Kurt. We went to high school together. He was a year ahead of me. I think it was my junior year. We took creative writing together one semester. I remember his appearance. He had very fair skin and very light blonde curly hair. I am pretty sure that he wore glasses. I also think he sat kitty corner across the classroom from me (we sat at tables in a “U” formation instead of in rows of desks). I remember his being nice but not really knowing or noticing much about his personality. As I recall, he was fairly quiet. He was one of the boys at school who was into muscle cars and he had some kind of old but “cool” car like a Ford Mustang, or something.

One day, as I was walking in the hallway from one class to another, he stopped me. I don’t recall ever having had a one to one conversation with him previously, but then again, I could have forgotten many. I am and was pretty friendly and talked to many people. Kurt looked assumed a very relaxed stance and with apparent nonchalance, asked me to his senior prom.

You may already know that I never attended a formal dance at school: No prom, no homecoming, and no winter ball. I did not attend any university formal dances; those were mostly for sorority girls. I was not in a sorority and honestly, at that time, would have avoided attending any event like that.

So, if I was asked to prom and didn’t go, I must have told Kurt, “no”, right?

Strictly speaking, that’s the truth. But the part that still embarrasses me and makes me feel guilty is that I told him, “yes” when he asked me and then changed my mind and cancelled on him the next day. I was afraid. I didn’t really know him. He wasn’t one of the boys who I was wanting to ask me out, either. And he drove a hot rod! I was afraid that he would be one of those boys who would pressure me for sex on prom night or try to get me drunk!   I backed out in as nice of a way as possible. I later got to know him a little better and he probably would have been a good date. I could have been able to attend a major high school “coming of age” social event and NOT hurt a boy’s feelings. Oh yeah, I may have even had a good time.

About four weeks ago I was reading my neighborhood’s community blog. I saw that a “Second Chance Prom” was to be held as a charity benefit, at the golf course down the street from me. The tickets were very reasonably priced and it looked like a small, low key affair. So I bought two tickets and made an additional donation to the charity. Then I told John that he was taking me and as I had hoped, he readily and enthusiastically accepted.

I spent more time choosing clothing and accessories for my Second Chance Prom than I did for my wedding. I got my hair and make up done professionally. For my own wedding, I cut my own hair, styled it, and did my own make up using drug store cosmetics. But this is grown up prom! I wanted to get the best out of it and enjoy the process leading up to the event as much as I could. I trusted that I would not go crazy. After all, I will always be a discount shopper.

I tried on a lot of dresses. The one I ultimately chose was not my favorite based on photos. But it fit almost perfectly, required no uncomfortable foundation garments, was comfortable, and fit the James Bond theme of the prom. Also, it had an open back, which I knew John would like, and I looked about as good as I could.

Yesterday started as “glam day”. After my walk, I spent about 45 minutes online looking at photos to inspire hair and make-up ideas. If I were going to look like a Bond Girl, I wanted to go retro. I started getting a few ideas from photos of actresses from James Bond films from the late 60’s and early 70’s. Then I just started thinking about actresses from that time period and I thought, “What about Ann-Margaret?” Ding, ding, ding! I found an old photo of her with glam hair and make-up well suited to the time period as well as my hair.

My husband did not want to see my dress so I wore a coat over it, though he could see the bottom of it since it was a full length gown. He had still not picked out his outfit. Most of his button-down shirts are Hawaiian shirts. Knowing how overheated he gets, I even told him that I didn’t mind if he wanted to wear one. My only request was, “Please, no sneakers.”

He drove me to the salon with the plan that he would pick me up later and take me to dinner. This would be his way of picking me up for prom. I thought that was really sweet. I have gone to this salon for many years, so people know me there. They loved the idea of my going to prom and were excited to see John pick me up. I was seeing a different stylist for my make up and hair, Candace, who was recommended by my regular hair stylist, Megan.

I showed Candace the photo. She immediately understood what I wanted. Megan also came over during one of her breaks and said, “Good choice!” Candace was funny and sweet. I had arrived with a clean face and clean, frizzy hair. She styled my hair first and then did my make up. At one point, she said, “You are looking really glamorous, Dude. You clean up well.” When she was finished, I could tell that she was proud of her work. She said, “Let me parade you around the salon.” I followed her to the other side of the salon, where Megan was working. She also approved.

I was very pleased. Candace took a couple of photos of me for her portfolio and sweetly gave me a hug before she left to work with her next client. My husband arrived and responded in a positive but slightly stunned way. Then we got our photo taken together. John then kept asking me to pose for photos. And by “pose” I mean he instructed me on how to pose, a good thing because I have one pose and that is it. I think he said, “Wow” about five times. We had a great dinner.

We knew no one at the dance. But we were both ready to have a good prom. We danced when we wanted to even if we were the only couple on the dance floor. John sat down when he needed to. (It was hot and his back is still bothering him.) I danced even if he wasn’t dancing.

I danced even when I was the only one on the dance floor. I just enjoyed myself. I enjoyed the experience of dancing, which is something I love to do. I’m sure that I raised a few eyebrows. When I “get into the zone” with dancing, there is a certain level of abandon that people typically associate with um, intoxication. If this had been high school, there would have been mean gossip. As I keep saying, age has its benefits. After about 1 1/2 hours of dancing, I took off my shoes and went barefoot because I could tell that my feet were going to hurt, if I didn’t. After another 1 1/2 hours, we called it quits. My hip was hurting and John was drenched with sweat.

I missed my first chance at prom because I was afraid. I could have missed my second chance by being self-conscious about my body, my age, or being the only person on the dance floor. But I didn’t miss it and I had the time of my life with the man I love.

DSC04025

Hubby opted not to wear a Hawaiian shirt and his one blue dress shirt perfectly coordinated with my dress. And for those of you who have had breast construction, the little dent under my right underarm would probably be described as a “deficit” from a reconstructive surgery standpoint. Does it bother you? It didn’t bother me, either! And if the appearance of symmetry is important to you, the neckline of this dress is helpful in that regard.

 

The best kind of smile comes from laughing in delight at your husband's insistence on taking a million photos of you.

The best kind of smile comes from laughing in delight at your husband’s insistence on taking a million photos of you.

 

Dinner at "the most romantic table" at Salty's, which has a splendid view of Elliot Bay and the downtown skyline.

Dinner at “the most romantic table” at Salty’s, which has a splendid view of Elliot Bay and the downtown skyline.

 

Corsage and prom bling on display.

Corsage and prom bling on display.

 

 

Last week I had dream that I was in a car accident and ran over four people with my car. I was horror struck. The dream did not last long. It was interrupted, as my nightmares increasingly are, by a lucid though. “You are dreaming. No one is hurt.” I immediately opened my eyes. My heart was pounding very fast. As I looked around the room, I quickly became calm. It was just a bad dream.

It may have just been a dream but my horror was real. And my horror matched my thoughts. But my thoughts did not match actual concrete actions and events. Yes, I had real feelings. Yes, I had real thoughts. But no, the action I was carrying out was sleeping. My location was my bedroom. I had not been driving or hurt anyone.

Feelings and thoughts do not always align with our actions or external realities. We think about thoughts and feelings as being unreal if they do not align in this way. Feelings and thoughts are real. They have some reality. They have meaning.

A tricky part of life is knowing when to take thoughts and feelings at face value and when I need to interpret them as a communication to do something else like eat if I am irritable because I’ve skipped breakfast or to take better care of myself if I am getting my feelings hurt easily because I am working too many hours.

One of the skills we have been learning when emotions and thoughts seem to be out of synch with other realities is called, “Checking the Facts”. Our instructor prefers the name, “Checking Your Thoughts”. I prefer the latter as well.

I have to say, this is one skill in which I excel. I am typically able to come up with alternative explanations for situations when I sense that I have jumped to conclusions or when a situation is upsetting but the pieces just don’t seem to add up.

Sometimes, in my quest to be restrain myself with thoughtfulness and understanding, I have a different problem. I over explain and over understand. I work too hard to find the whole truth.

We never know the whole truth or the full story. I have been working for many years on this, especially when it is a need to master reality to reduce my own anxiety and I just end up creating more anxiety to myself and others by being a know-it-all. My dear husband of 25 years gets the brunt of this, I’m afraid. We will have some kind of minor misunderstanding based on a different recollection of an agreement. Usually, this is an agreement during which I remember him agreeing to do some kind of chore at home. I’ll ask him about it and he says, “That’s not what I agreed to do. I agreed to do _____.” Then I start feeling guilty because I had been annoyed with him. Then I feel anxious because I stress out about forgetting things and dropping the ball. So I start doing an inventory.

“But John, don’t you remember. You said that you’d stop at the store to pick up ice for the party. You were just finishing a phone call with your mom when we talked about it. You said you’d do it as soon as you got your shoes on. I asked you if you were sure that you could do it. You said yes, I asked you to pick up two bags of cubes, not solid ice. Also, I was wearing a blue dress, that one I picked up on our last vacation to the San Juan’s. You know, it was the time we took the ferry that had a public puzzle set up that was so fun.”

Okay, I am exaggerating and that situation is fictional but representative. Is it really necessary for me to go on in this level of detail?

Is it really helpful?

Is it really that big of a problem that I need it to be acknowledged and fixed immediately?

This brings me to the next skill I am practicing. It is called, “the wave”. Basically, it’s allowing oneself to feel uncomfortable feelings in their entirety without trying to fix them. It is a type of exposure in cognitive behavioral terms. All feelings go down if you let them.

Yikes, this is one of those passive skills. I. Am. A. Problem. Solver. This is one of the hardest things for me to do. To sit with my own distress without trying to fix it. To sit with the distress of my loved ones without trying to fix things for them.

But I am getting better. I am accepting, bit by bit.

George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).

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