Thursday, September 24, 2009

Something's Gotta Give

I've been away from the blog for a little bit. Did you notice? Eight days with no blogging. There's a good reason for that. I think my late-blooming epiphany hit. And it hit kinda hard. But being thick-headed as I am, I suppose it had to hit me hard or I may not have noticed. So I've spent this last week on a sort of auto-pilot but also with spikes of what can only be described as rage. My apologies to anyone who may have gotten in the way of one of them (I don't mean Chris although that is him in the photo, exhausted on our friends boat during a writers group meeting. He's one of the only people on the planet who rarely annoys me and and even more rarely pisses me off. So I haven't been raging at him directly-- he has however had to listen to my raging about other people, things and abstractions. Thank god he has a fantastic sense of humor. And is also brave. Very, very brave. As in 'he's still coming home every night' brave.)

Basically, I have exhausted myself. And a tired, burned-out Teresa is a wicked, impatient, intolerant Teresa (oh my god I hate stupid people. No, really. Wait, I hate arrogance more. No, stupidity. No, it's definitely arrogant stupid people...that's the worst.). After launching into back to back tirades over certain aspects in my "volunteer" life, I realized that I was indeed burned out, exhausted and, um...not happy. And here was the kicker--I missed being in chemo!!! Okay, not the chemo itself, but the way I was able to run my life then. I, for once, gave myself permission to say "NO." "No, I can't do that right now--I have cancer!" and "NO, I will not be attending that event. I have cancer!" and "No, I can't solve that problem for you right now, I have cancer!" Oh, and just "NO. I have cancer." It's the perfect excuse. Nobody says, "Right, I know. You have cancer but I still need you to give me advice on x, solve y, and attend z for me." Nobody does that. So it was a huge relief. I decided right after I was diagnosed that I would have to just reduce my life down to "Fighting cancer and keeping my law practice going." This seemed like it would keep me busy enough. And everyone understood when I took a leave of absence from the 3 non-profit boards I serve on and the one civic organization, no one expected me to attend fundraisers; I didn't have a single "obligatory" event (family or otherwise), and basically, I had peace and quiet. Me, Chris, Seamus and, well, cancer. And I didn't feel guilty about it in the least. Please, it's cancer! I think when I say "it wasn't as bad as you would think" when I talk about the cancer experience--that's in part what I mean. My life was simplified and uncomplicated. Work. Heal. Repeat.

My first clue to my eventual epiphany should have been when I was looking forward to the chemo weekends. Again, not the chemo itself, but I can distinctly recall  thinking on the Wednesday before chemo would start, "Fantastic! 4 days off where I can just stay in bed if I want to." Now, it never worked out that way--Thursday chemo days took all day and on 3 out of 4 rounds I actually went into work on Sunday, but I did like the idea of it. My second clue should have been when I was at my therapy appointment and said "Luckily, cancer is a great excuse so I'm not going" when I was only just starting to feel tinges of guilt for not doing something I probably may have possibly had the energy for but didn't want to do. My therapist (yes, of course I have a therapist...have you not been reading carefully??) said "Why do you need an excuse?" I believe I ran screaming from the room at this point (note to self: make another appointment).

So this week I looked at what I'd done to myself. I finished cancer treatment (okay, so let's be clear, I no longer have cancer) on July 14th. A little more than two months ago. And then I promptly, immediately, swiftly and with no questions asked, resumed my life. Full speed ahead. Cancer's not getting me down, no sirree. I even stopped wearing wigs, hats, scarves, etc. on July 19th. And between then and now here's what my schedule has included:

4 Non-profit board meetings
1 all day strategic planning retreat
4 doctors appointments
1 veterinarian oncology appointment (which takes a 1/2 day because of where the specialist's office is)
6 fundraisers attended
7 non-profit committee meetings
3 wine tasting events (for Chris's growing biz)
1 wedding
4 parties
1 giant Survivor party
4 Writer's group meetings
2 days of jury duty
1 family visit to Missouri
1 trip to Chicago for a 3 day conference
4 speaking engagements/ seminars
1 new associate hired and training commenced
2 books read
30 blog posts (counting this one)
39 pages of a really shitty first draft memoir written
1 Breast Cancer Resource center advisory committee started and many events planned.
60+ days of practicing law full time.

And that was in the summer. You know, the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer? Right. Yeah. I'm a moron. And the thing is, I'm pretty sure I didn't do any of those things well.

When I throttled back  my life to "fighting cancer and continuing my law practice" I managed to read 12 books, write 150 blog posts, still visit with friends, spend lots of time with Chris, and actually sleep. Oh, and I was never in a rage at being pulled in too many directions at once (okay, sure, there was the rage over the whole chemo-stein thing, but that passed...eventually).

So my epiphany? It's a kind of simple, stupid one...I really need to prioritize my life better. Just because I can solve a problem, doesn't mean it's mine to solve. Just because I have a blank spot on my calendar when someone asks me to do something doesn't mean I have to say yes. Just because I once upon a time said yes I'd do something doesn't mean I have to do it for the rest of my life. Just because life has been unfair to someone doesn't mean I have to step in and try to make it more fair (um, hello?).  I'm allowed time for me and hey, I might actually like that! I could read more! I could write more! I could sleep more! I could spend more time with Chris (doing all of the aforementioned)! And guess what? The world will continue to go on! Just like it did when I had cancer (and hey, that kind of hurt my feelings at first but, now I actually know  the world--and the non-profits--will continue on just fine without me! This is awesome. Thanks world, for letting me know that! How very stupid of me to think otherwise. Stupid and arrogant. And we all know how I feel about that!).

That's my epiphany. It's not the greatest one, but it's all mine. It still remains to be seen what I'll do with it. Just right after I stop thinking "hey, my epiphany is going to turn me into a quitter." 


  1. In a crazy kind of way I understand. Since early February of this year for me it has been "I must finish my book" and then it was revisions and agent-shopping and then book deal. And then, well, I flopped. I had been able to block everything out (except dogs and a few other things) and just concentrate on the book. And then with book done (with just a few revisions needed, and not due until October) I didn't know how to leap back into real life. You plunged back in and instead I just stared in dismay at all the things I'd neglected and didn't really know where to start.

    OK, I started trying to paint my office, but we know how that went!

    I finally realized it's going to take a while to adjust to "new" life (as full-time novelist) and a while to catch up on all the things I neglected while I was concentrating on the novel. And it take a while to figure out how I want to live this new life.

    As it will take you a while to reform your "new life." Because it is a new life and you have to take care of Teresa first. And that's gonna mean saying no sometimes.

    Great epiphany. (And I certainly don't mean to trivialize your cancer experience by comparing it to writing a book - but both are in a way life changing, and we shuffled things to accommodate them.)

  2. In my less cynical moments, I try to think everything happens for a reason--and when we're ready, we get the lesson. Being the smart woman you are, I'm sure your epiphany included this thought: the universe just gave you your a-ha moment.

    I love your writing and the fact that you have been able to take a difficult topic, give it humor, and not make it sappy.

  3. Sara--hey, cancer was easy compared to trying to write a novel. I know--my novel had taken me six years; cancer only took a few months! ;-) I think easing back into a new life is a better approach. Take the time to create what you actually want. (I'm repeating this to myself actually).

    Melissa--thank you for your words. I hope I am ready for this lesson. And that I actually learn something! and oh yeah, I hope I'm never sappy!

  4. I struggle with saying "no," probably in different venues than you do (I don't have your reputation and ability to get things done), so I understand how we get all caught up in doing all things for all people.

    I personally don't think it has anything to do with stupidity or arrogance, Teresa. You can be proud that you are a "doer," about issues you care about, and you can be just as happy and satisfied being a slightly "less doer," over issues that you care about. No one is counting your contributions but you.

  5. I could so relate to everything you said. Been there (well, not the cancer part). I do agree with Lisa C's comments. You will always be a doer but you don't have to do it all or over do. Balance! Also, I think a long weekend every couple of months, if not monthly, is healthy. Also, you clearly need a vacation.

  6. I can help you with that "no" thing.

  7. Been there, done that and I get you 100%. It does seem odd that organizations and boards etc can survive when one takes an absence but they do--life goes on. The king is dead, long live the king--its eye opening--but again, it is also very liberating. You can get better at saying "no". Keep practicing and reserving your own space and time and empty spots on the calender. You are still healing for petes sake--pace yourself and do the things that make you happy and fulfilled as much as possible. That is not selfish, it is survival. I dont think anything you write would be bad, you have a gift. Go with it---

  8. You're so right. Cancer makes you take care of yourself.... and by rowing back on your activities that's what you're doing. Taking care of yourself. Not quitting.

    My T-shirt arrived yesterday! Thank you!

  9. Ah, the overachiever personality is confronted! I am only guessing. I have the OCD problem which means I hate empty days. I have chased my own tail so to speak trying to be always productive. Now in my 50’s I have made it a point in the last year to have “no plans”. I had massive withdrawals. My son helped keep me grounded which I am forever grateful since no other human could stand me. Now I am one year into no plans and no commitments…other than work. I am finding out new things about myself each day. Please join me in making up the day as we live it. Good job Teresa!

  10. T,
    I learned after burning out at my former job that it's ok to say no and even to work 40 hours a week. It was hard to adjust, took at least a year, but I've learned. Unfortunately, now I've gone the other way and say No far too often. You've done more since July than I've done in the last two years! Hmm, I think I just had an epiphany too. Thanks for that! May we both find balance in the next year!

  11. Thank you for your blog. I love your writing style and completely relate to your pet peeves regarding stupid people. I love the layout of your blog, and your sense of humor. I keep one, a blog that is, that's mostly just whining. I had breast cancer in 2006, with positive lymph nodes, and on July 31, 2009, was diagnosed with metastasis on my bones. My favorite excuse / catch phrase is "hey, I could by dying here". I love saying it, and it's catching on with my friends. Seems like everytime I find a blog I like, I find a comment saying that person has since passed away. Thanks for still being here. Keep up the good fight! And congrats on being finished with all your treatments!

  12. Darn it, I meant to say that I can't believe all the things you do!! You are amazing. I worked all through my chemo and radiation first time around, with only a few days off, and two weeks off for surgery. I'm not pushing myself this time and I've been home, struggling with stressful things that need to be done, being a single person now not working, etc. But hey, I could be dying here...


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