Archives for posts with tag: life balance

As described in my last post, the first step in pottery throwing is centering the clay on the wheel. My pottery teacher says that it takes students typically four weeks just to learn how to get the clay to stick to the wheel head, to mix the clay by coning it up and down for structural integrity, and to keep it centered.

The next major step is opening up the form. First, a thumb or sponge is used to make a small opening straight down into the clay. This is much harder than it sounds or looks. For most of my pieces, this has resulted in losing center and turning my clay into a wobbly mess. I typically end up taking a wire tool and removing the clay off of the wheel. Unfortunately, the clay has to dry out for awhile and be rewedged to remove air bubbles, before being re-used.

One of the reasons that I have focused more on plate-making is that they do not have to be opened. Yesterday, I arrived at class still not having independently made a decent cylinder, a basic form. I had, however, watched a number of pottery teachers on the Internet over last weekend. What they were doing didn`t look any different than watching my instructor. A lot of pottery is learned through feel and I was just not getting it.

I came into the studio and tried throwing a plate, which ended up going off center in the last step. It was not worth trying to save so I took it off of the wheel, balled it up, and put it back into my clay bag to be used in a couple of weeks. Then I tried to throw a cylinder, which turned into a saucer sized plate. I liked the looks of it so I was not too bothered by the fact that the clay had a mind of its own. Then it collapsed and I wired it off, discovering that the bottom was so thin that it was not viable, anyway. Counting the two plates I tried to throw last week, I had now made four wet clay blobs in a row. I was feeling a little frustrated.

Mikki, our instructor, had other things in mind. She wanted us to learn to make mugs. A mug is a cylinder. We were also adding curves to the form to make it easier to make a handle that would accommodate fingers. I centered my clay, mixed it up and down three times, took a deep breath and poked my thumb into the top of the clay to make my opening. To my surprise, it worked. Then I took my thumb and pulled it across the bottom of the form to widen the cylinder. I had a couple of close calls but there was nothing that I was not able to repair. I had successfully opened up the form without collapsing it.

Then it was time to “pull” the form. Basically, that is when most of the vertical growth occurs in the form. I carefully followed the steps but my form went awry. I asked my instructor for help. She put her fingers in my piece and said, “Oh, you didn’t make your hole deep enough.”

When I opened up, I had not gone deeply enough. I have also ruined forms by going too deep. I have also ruined forms by not having the wheel spin fast enough. I have ruined them by going too slow. As for this form, I was able to fix it and had a break through about what “pulling” a form actually meant and I moved my hands, slowly at the speed of the wheel, just as I had been instructed to.

By the end of the night, I had made two nice looking mugs. No, they didn’t match. I was actually kind of happy for that. I like variety. Next week, we’ll learn how to make and apply the handles.

By going deeply enough at the right speed and by trying over and over, I will have made a vessel from which I can derive sustenance. Opening up leads to many outcomes. Fortunately, life gives us many many do-overs.

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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Today is Sunday. It is half past noon. There’s bluegrass playing on the radio and my husband is in the kitchen doing dishes. The kittens are wrestling happily on the floor. It’s a pleasant scene. I am completely exhausted.

John and I used to have frequent dinner parties. We entertained a lot. It is one of the things we had to give up for awhile after my cancer diagnosis.

In time, I was energetic enough to host family gatherings, first our daughter’s 15th birthday and later, Thanksgiving. Then we had a party for John’s co-workers.

This morning I realized that I have cooked a major meal every weekend for the past three weekends. First was Father’s Day, then hosting our friends Kurt, Linda, and their kids. Last night our friend, Robin and her son’s Michael and Nate visited from North Carolina. Robin is our daughter’s godmother. Michael, who is almost 22 years old, is our god son. We haven’t seen them in about 8 years. The visit was a big deal.

No wonder I’m exhausted! It was not so long ago that I was having trouble having enough stamina to track conversations with people. It was even less long ago that I was needed 12 hours of sleep per night.

I am pretty mindful of my stamina and energy levels. I honor my need for sleep better than most. But I still overdo it and today I need extra rest.

I was thinking that I need to be mindful of these things because I am more limited than I was in the past. However, after seeing a series of old photos of myself over the years taken in the past 15 years, I am starting to wonder.  When I compare them to recent photos I realize that I currently look a lot less tired and that I actually look healthier than I did in my 30’s and early 40’s.

I have some things to think about. I don’t want to go back to the years when I pushed myself to work harder at the sacrifice of my own self-care.

At this point, it’s not so much that I CAN’T do what I used to be able to do.

It’s that I WON’T do it.

 

In some ways I am very sensitive, squeamish even. I hate scary movies so much that I just won’t see them. When I was young, it felt like I was the only one who refused to see these movies or to go on amusement park rides. I don’t like visual gore. I don’t like to watch violence.

Perhaps surprisingly, this squeamishness does not translate to physical health issues. I used to find watching surgeries on television fascinating as long as there weren’t “sound effects”. As I recall, I often turned the sound off. I used to work in a medical lab at a hospital where they did dissection. It was not my favorite thing to view, but I handled it okay and I liked the job.

I know that some people have a hard time handling their surgical drains, looking at their surgical incisions, or the aftereffects of a mastectomy. I am not one of those people. My natural curiosity about the human body as well as how surgeons work to help fight disease and sculpt the body distracted me from any revulsion I might otherwise feel.

A week ago I had a set of surgical procedures as part of my breast reconstruction. Part of it was the liposuction of small amounts of fat from my hips and thighs, which were injected into my natural breast to improve symmetry. It was something I had planned to do after my TRAM but had held off for a year because I needed a break from surgery.

As I’ve previously written, I was actually kind of looking forward to this surgery in an odd way, because it would take me off of the treadmill that was tiring me. The treadmill of responsibility to others and of expectation.

Who was I kidding? That surgery was no break. One of my friends told me recently that she was having a major surgery. Being the multiple surgery veteran that I am I said, “Surgery was not that bad until I’d done a lot of the healing and I realized how much it sucks. But by then, I felt a lot better.”

When I’ve had surgery, I’ve taken it day by day. I’ve discovered that I have a somewhat high pain tolerance.The worst pain I’ve ever had was as a teen and a young adult. It was menstrual pain and it could knock my onto the bathroom floor into the fetal position. That is probably the reason why when in labor, I asked for an epidural early and often. As it turned out, even childbirth did not replicate those years of pain that I had. I was wrong about my pain tolerance. The truth was that I had crazy painful and bad periods.

So here I am after my last surgeries, with a high pain tolerance and being low on the squeamish factor, at least when it comes to real life blood and gore. I was told that the liposuction would create bruising. There wasn’t much right afterwards but then they bloomed like creepy black lagoons on my body. They were tender but didn’t hurt as much as a bruise caused by an injury. But they were big, they grew for a couple of days, and they were just ugly and nasty.

Think I’m exaggerating? Here’s the biggest one, located on my inner right thigh. It has actually healed considerably in the last few days.

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Looking at these bruises has been like being knocked upside my head. This one is like an emblem of cancer. It’s big and ugly and crept up on me. Looking at it, I know that I am done with reconstruction. So unless there is a complication that needs to be addressed or new disease, I am done.

The fact that not long ago I was in part, looking forward to these surgeries gives me great pause. I am typically very self aware and deliberate in my decisions as long as I am reasonably calm. Surgery sucks. It really does. At this point, it is not worth it to me to do more but because I had kind of forgotten this recently, I have begun asking friends to remind me of how bad surgery is in the event that I start toying with the idea of more reconstruction. I can already see that I would need at least another couple of surgeries to be fairly symmetrical. I look fine in clothes but my breasts are not only of different sizes but they are also of different shape. It is less so since the surgery last week but they still look mismatched. Today, I think that is just fine and I want to keep being satisfied with this and not do any more to my body.

I am not sorry I had these surgeries. I’m just a little shaken up because I’d forgotten what a disruption that they are to my energy, my concentration, and my ability to take care of myself, even if only feeling out of it for a few days. I have people in my life who I want to be present for. I have things I want to do and feel and say.

I have my post-surgery appointment tomorrow. I think I am healing well. I don’t expect any surprises. I am at peace with where I am going to be when these bruises heal.

I am bruised but not broken.

I am humble but not humiliated.

I am strong but not invincible.

I love to socialize. My kindergarten report card read, “has trouble staying quiet during rest time.” People, I was chatting up the other kid on the carpet square beside me. Never mind that I was 6 years old for most of kindergarten and therefore too old to be napping. Subsequent evidence in my life has suggested that I have trouble stopping when it comes to socializing. I pretty much did not get into trouble in school. But my trigonometry teacher did make me sit by myself away from other students for awhile. And it wasn’t that I didn’t like math. I was actually very good at it. My guess is that I was sitting next to a friend or two and perhaps a really cute boy. So sorry to have disturbed the learning environment, Mr. Wickstrom.

When I was a researcher, I often worked with my door closed so that I would be less likely to start a conversation with someone who walked by my door. If I could orient my desk with my back to the door, that worked even better. I also used email communication when I could so that a simple question and answer would not turn into an extended conversation. I managed to be a productive worker who also had friends at the office. I worked out a balance.

I left research in 2007 and since that time I have been working full-time in private practice. There are two other psychologists that work out of the office. Sometimes our hours overlap and sometimes they do not. And even when they overlap, we are with patients with our doors closed. There is little time for socializing. I can go an entire day without even saying “hi” to one of my office mates because there is no chance to do so. We just don’t have breaks at the same time. I just hear them in the next room for the whole day and vice versa. Now when we need to consult with one another, we can set that up. It’s not like I work somewhere without professional support but consultations typically need to be scheduled.

I have used the Internet for many years now for professional, entertainment, and social purposes. What a medium. I have to say that in seven surgeries, it was a lifesaver during recuperation. And I’ve made so many wonderful friends through this blog, other blogs, and via Facebook. However, my laptop is rarely put away any more. When I am home, it hangs out on my coffee table. I used to keep it in my home office. And if my computer is somehow out of reach, my smartphone can be at my side.

And wow, Facebook allows for real time conversation sometimes with multiple people at once! How exciting is that? On top of that, now that my life is less ridiculous, my blog posts are no longer as humorous as they once were. But Facebook is a different medium and I usually have several humorous thoughts that pop into my head throughout the day that are just right for a little FB post. And over time, there are a number of people who comment on them and tell me that they enjoy my FB humor. I get a lot of attention and guess what, I kind of like it.

Meanwhile, my workplace had no fast Internet connection for the nine years I have worked here. We are old school, that is, until July when a new psychologist came to share space with us. She was the head of a couple of centers at the University of Washington and was used to living in the current decade. So Julie found a sweet deal on high speed Internet and now I am plugged in at all times. This makes many aspects of my job easier, for example, being able to submit and look up insurance claims online whether it’s a clinic day for me or not. (In the past, I saved these tasks for when I was at home.) But just like in kindergarten, I have also found myself talking too much to the kid on the carpet square next to me. And I don’t have to worry about the teacher yelling at me because I am self-employed. At home, I can even have my smartphone on the side of my bed so I don’t miss anything.

As I’ve written in the past, I am frequently reassessing and recalibrating my life according to what my responsibilities are and what I am capable of doing. I don’t regret the fun I’ve had on Facebook. And I will continue to have fun on Facebook as well as continue to write this blog. My life feels more interrupted than I would like. I typically don’t multi-task well. This was one of the bigger hurdles (another being social isolation) for me in adjusting to private practice. I see a lot of kids a year. I have no administrative support, no housekeeping staff, etc. But I had worked out a balance. I am a pretty organized person and a good planner. I can do the mundane as well as the exciting.

Last week I de-installed Facebook from my smartphone. I know better than to be on the Internet and playing with my phone when I’m in bed. I am a psychologist, for goodness sakes. Our treatments for sleep disorders have the best research support of any and that includes Ambien, people! (And if you are happy with your sleep improving strategies, I am not suggesting you change them. I am happy for you.) I know that using electronics in bed is a MAJOR NO-NO. And I have been having trouble sleeping due to stupid menopause and stress.

I miss my frequent Facebook instant gratification but guess what? I have started sleeping well again.

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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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