Home from the hospital after a four-day stay to clear up some lung yukkiness. Easing back into a routine that is unfamiliar but necessary. I took a week off of work as a psychotherapist who offers telehealth sessions, to rest my voice. Pockets of silence, punctuated by the occasional phone call with family and friends, or chatting with neighbors who came to check on me. Breathing in steamy summer air is challenging and believe it or not, wearing a mask outside helped. Indoor air conditioning is a necessary part of my recovery. Blessedly, in a follow-up session with the Physician Assistant from my PCP’s office, it turns out that I won’t need oxygen at home, just the meds and supplements they recommended at discharge. Looking at my arms now, with residual bruises from IVs and when in the shower, scrubbing off the sticky glue that held the heart monitor leads on, I wonder when they will be just a faded memory, leaving with them lessons that I have to heed.
I get messages often and place them in my heart and mind for safekeeping and use them to look at life through a different lens. This morning’s shower-inspired reframe was that COPD also stands for Clear Open Pulmonary Delight or Deliciousness. I went outside to enjoy breathing in delightful and delicious morning air…..ahhhh….
Yesterday I received a sweet surprise phone call from Cali as I heard my friend Gary Salyer’s voice on the other end of the line. He was checking up on me to see how I was faring post-hospital stay. Like me, he is a transformational coach and author. Like me, he is a genuine and vulnerable human being. Like me, he faces his own gremlins and uses the lessons gleaned to help himself and others. Our phone call gave me fodder to do both. His book is called Safe to Love Again and puts his spin on the concept of attachment theory. It references the idea that the ways in which we attach/or not, to our early caregivers can dramatically impact our relationships as we mature. He breaks them down into these categories:
- Welcomed with Joy
- Worthy and Nourished
- Cherished and Protected
- Empowered by Choice
As I look at them, I can truly say that I felt I was treated that way by my family and by my extended community of friends. I believed I had an ideal childhood, with devoted parents who wanted the best for me and offered it generously in word and action. Then, encouraged by Gary, I started digging a little deeper.
When I had a heart attack in 2014, my lifestyle had to change (I would say that the woman I was died that day to give birth to the one who is writing this now and she had to die because she was killing me), or I wouldn’t be around to question my mortality. It would be a fait accompli. My fear wasn’t of dying. It was of being incapacitated and needing people to take care of me indefinitely.
The demon had shown up again in the form of the COPD diagnosis. I worried that my activities would be severely limited. Add to that, the reasonable concern about COVID, (I tested negative in the hospital, thankfully) and I had a sense of despair. People asked what they could do for me. Grocery shopping, cooking, errands… at each turn, initially, I politely declined. Enter two-year-old Edie who stomped her foot and said, “Do it MYSELF!” At least in my head. When my neighbor asked if I wanted her to pick anything up at the store while she was there, I told her that I needed trash bags. She also picked up the weekly haul of fruits and veggies from our local CSA.
My next door neighbors and a friend surprised me with pretty posies that now adorn my kitchen.
A definition of incapacitated is ‘deprived of strength or power; debilitated.’ I was not about to be either of those things. I am woman, hear me roar! Well, for the time being, hear me squeak since I am not at full volume and projection. As someone who speaks for a living, it is more than a little frustrating. I am resting my voice as best as I can and then will start seeing clients again on Monday.
Gary then asked me if I thought I had the right to take. My head was spinning. Take? What do you mean, take? Even receiving is a struggle at times. But taking implied demanding, grasping, neediness. When I was a kid, I was taught not to take anything that didn’t belong to me. When we were in stores, our parents reminded us to put our hands behind our backs. I wonder if they thought my sister and I would be tempted to steal. Likely it was more that they didn’t want us to inadvertently knock something over. To this day, when I am in stores where there are breakable objects, my hands reflexively go behind my back…and I’m 62!
We were taught by our parents that we had a responsibility to give back for all the blessings we had. They modeled it with their volunteerism and donation of money when they had it to spare. My dad would intone, “Charity begins at home,” since he wanted to be sure our needs were met. There always seemed to be enough to share.
As a child with asthma that would flare up at unpredictable times, I felt high maintenance, although my parents assured me that I wasn’t. As I think about it now, I wondered if they feared I would die. Sometimes I wondered when I would breathe my last in the throes of asthma attacks. They trusted our family doctor, they trusted themselves and they trusted God to get me through it. I wonder if they trusted me. I wanted to reassure them that they could, so I became an overachiever, goody two shoes, Type A+ workaholic.
I felt I had no right to ‘take up space’ without earning my keep. Again, it wasn’t anything they expected from me. It was all internal. I found ways to be indispensable, or as a friend puts in, ‘essential’. Who am I if I’m not useful to the people in my life? I needed to be reliable to family, friends, co-workers, and clients.
The conversation meandered into romantic relationships and my pattern of feeling I had to be the caregiver and the only time I would allow partners to take care of me was when I was under the weather. It may or not have been an expectation on their part that I be on call for their needs, but it was certainly mine. What would it be like, I wonder, to allow a partner to be what my friend Yvonne Kaye calls being a ‘caresharer’? She and her husband John had been that for each other, even as she was the ‘well spouse’ before he passed.
I am planning on heading out to the grocery store in a bit. I know what I want. I have the money to pay for it. I can’t just stand in an aisle and wish it into my cart. I have to reach out and take it off the shelf. It is transactional, but I still have the right to want it.
Last week, the day before I was admitted to the hospital I did a photoshoot from which this image emerged. Gary encouraged me to commune with her and ask what she needs. As I look into her eyes, I feel a blended sense of love, compassion and sadness for all the time she felt she couldn’t take what she needed in order to thrive. There were times that she was emotional gasping for air even as her lungs were heaving.
Taking in. Taking on. Taking time. Taking pause. Taking medicine. Taking charge. Taking care.
When I contemplate the idea of taking, I ask myself what it is I am taking. In the case of this human existence, I need to take in energy, oxygen, nutrients, and love. I wholeheartedly claim them all.
This post is republished on Medium.
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Photo credit: The Moment Photography