Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Letting Go

I’ve written in the past about incidents that occurred with people in my life that have held me in a state of angst… some silly, and some that have caused quite a moral dilemma.

Although none of these situations have occurred between me and a close, personal friend or family member, they have weighed on my mind and caused me to behave in ways that actually bother me even more than the issue itself – like not returning phone calls of those who have upset me and talking negatively about someone.  How do you just let go of these things and move on?

When I was a kid, my mother had an aunt who apparently was a bit of a trouble maker. We called her the professional mourner because no one ever heard from her, but when someone died, she would show up at the funeral and cry, loudly. Apparently she and her daughter did not speak for years. There was some rumor that the mother was after the daughter’s husband (although I couldn’t see that happening), but I never really learned what it was that caused this mother and daughter to go without speaking for so long. I do remember wondering at the time what would ever be so bad that it could keep a family apart and how incredibly sad the whole situation was.

I often wonder about how a person can carry a grudge against a family member, or what used to be an old dear friend, for so many years. As I think about people that I know who have had falling-outs with others that I have also known, you can see the affect it causes among the immediate social network. I find myself trying to accommodate one friend to the exclusion of another – leaving me feeling bad. I can only imagine what that does to families where one member doesn’t speak to the other.

Eckart Tolle in his book, “The New Earth”, says it is the ego that keeps us trapped in thoughts and emotions that propagate these long term grievances. He theorizes about how the ego strengthens itself through complaining, name-calling, resentment and sometimes violence. While charged with these emotions, we tend to become reactive, looking for opportunities to reinforce our opinions, or resentment, our need to be right. Imagine how long term grievances or grudges can change and manifest over time, given the opportunity for us to revisit the subject and apply new issues and resentments on top of the old – do we even really know why we were offended or put off in the first place?

The story must eventually become so diluted, our story being reinforced by years of negative reinforcement – our ego being strengthened – by us being right, the other being so wrong. When do we stop defending the truth and start defending ourselves? When does the offense become so ingrained that it becomes part of our identity, adding a weird sense of value (and drama) to what might be seen as an otherwise humdrum existence?

The fear is that we become creatures of our conflicts, identifying with our rightness in situations, looking for sympathy and validation rather than being whole, pro-active beings, living and enjoying each day for what it brings. (Ok, a little melodramatic here - but it sure does zap a whole lot of energy!)

I am starting to re-evaluate a few of those things that have been weighing on my mind  – trying to break them down to identify what really caused me angst in the first place – and to understand the emotions and personal needs that caused me to make certain decisions or take offense in the first place. We all have stories, but rather than try to create one for someone else, I’m working on flushing out the root cause of my own actions.

It’s been another good week. I’ve been taking steroids over a period of four days after my treatments and they are keeping me in good spirits and make me feel much better physically. I go for my scans tomorrow, and then Thierry and I leave for South Miami Beach on Thursday (yeah!), and are looking forward to some fun in the sun!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Meal Time

There was an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer on January 14th giving step-by-step instructions on how to break into the habit of having family dinners – at home (pathetic). I don’t really remember a time not having family dinners at home – regardless of who made up our family and where we were living. Okay, maybe for a period when I was single and childless I may have eaten out more than a few nights a week – but more than likely I was content with a bag of potato chips and cream cheese and chive dip, and a scotch and soda.

Mom always cooked dinner. Eating out when we were growing up was a major treat; almost like a vacation (which we never really went on). When I started high school and was getting home early, I had to cook. Got to the point where the family would gripe that I always cooked the same things all the time. After my divorce, and Lauren and I had moved to our own place, we always ate together, in the kitchen, at the table. On weekends we would have fun meals in the living room in front of the TV (other evenings the TV was off limits).

When Doug and I married, we still ate a home cooked meal together every evening. Friday was fun meal night (tacos, pizza, in front of the TV), Saturday may have included friends (or was our night out), and Sundays were extended family days. I worked full-time and Lauren needed to be picked up from daycare, so our evenings were usually rushed. Often the trains were late and I was the last mother at daycare. For almost five years I went to night school, and worked, and cooked. Occasionally Doug would make a meal, and when she got older, Lauren began to learn to cook - and she is a great cook today.

I really believe those dinners had a lot to do with our closeness as a family. It provided a great time for everyone to decompress and express what was going on in their day-to-day lives. We told stories, debated issues, argued sometimes and I am sure cried.

We were lucky because Lauren’s sports were right after school. She would get home in time for dinner and then do homework. I do not know how parents with more than one child who are involved with sports do it, nor do I really understand why they want to do it…. put up with all that running around, I mean. Kids are involved in so much – maybe too much, with multiple activities going on at the same time. I wonder if parents think it is easier to run their kids around than having them at home. I believe athletics and the arts are an important part of a child’s growth, but not to the point where they become frenetic, obsessive and all consuming.

It is difficult to have “family” dinners when there is soccer or hockey practice at meal time. It is also difficult to have a family meal of any meaning when the TV or the computer is on, or when someone is texting. More and more I think adults are texting as much as the kids do.  I hate to admit it, but as Thierry and I eat our dinner at our lovely table with the million dollar view of the Ben Franklin Bridge, the TV is sometimes on (ohhhhh!). Maybe I can justify that by stating we spend an awful lot of time together!!!

In our family, a lot of what we do is centered on meal times. Tonight we had 13 around the table, three or four conversations going at the same time, lots of noise, lots of laughter – these are the days we’ll remember. So, maybe its quality not quantity, but family meals are a great way to stay close and share – and there are so few times that we really do share as a family today.

We’ve had a terrific weekend. Dinner and a concert (with great seats) on Friday; movie (Avatar 3D) and dinner with Lauren and Mike on Saturday, a visit from friends this afternoon – and then there was tonight, and a wonderful night it was.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Hemoglobin 12!

Wow, my hemoglobin hasn’t been that high since I started treatment - means I don’t have to have a Procrit shot when I am finished my infusion today. I have a great nurse today, Kevin, that I wish could be assigned to my case – not that Jackie (my regular nurse) isn’t nice and competent, but Kevin is such a jovial, upbeat person (must be because he is Irish). He makes me laugh, is a good conversationalist and makes the day go faster.

I am getting anxious. The neuropathy in my feet is worse and my hands have been tingling this week. It feels like my upper lip is a little numb. My scans have been scheduled for the 27th of January. I have this hope that I will be told I can stop the Taxol (causes neuropathy) and Carboplatin. I have been feeling pretty good, everyone says my test results are great, I look good (so I'm told), I've been sleeping well, and my cancer markers are stable and within the normal range.

With all this good news I can’t seem to calm my thoughts: am I really doing better, will she (the oncologist) stop the chemo drugs once she gets the test results, I need to get off the drugs - but...., how long will the neuropathy last, will the neuropathy lessen, how long can I live on Avastin? HELP, I am out of control!

But, the sun is shining today – temperature is rising into the 40’s, days are getting longer, spring is getting closer – it is a good day!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Turn up the Controls

The word controlling came up at dinner last week at my parent’s house and has been on my mind ever since. I’ve been struggling with the subject in an effort to write about it in this blog.

I was discussing my problem with how to begin the discussion about control with Thierry the other night in the car, and he commented that the word control has a very negative connotation… when used in the context of controlling other people’s lives. A few synonyms for control: dominate, power, be in command of, regulate, rule, govern, master. No attributes you would want in a marriage, friendship, or at work!

So, let’s take a look at a few of its definitions... the verb form:

a : to exercise restraining or directing influence over : REGULATE. I spent a good part of my last marriage trying to control situations that arose at home. My husband was doing the same thing. Instead of trying to work together to come to conclusions and having open and honest discussions we battled, each one trying to win the argument. When the focus of a relationship is on control, passive aggressive or obsessive behaviors take over. Needless to say, we wasted a lot of time and energy on nonsense, when we could have been having fun.

b : to have power over : RULE. I don’t know about you, but I have always had violent negative reactions to individuals who try to rule or dominate me in any way. I left a board because the president was just that type. Oh, she would sometimes go through the motions of discussing the issue, but ultimately things had to go her way. I’m sure you’ve experienced a boss (or even a parent) whose idea of leading was to basically rule.

Another usage for this definition is the ability to control our emotions and reactions in an attempt to deal with situations and reason through a discussion or disagreement. We can control our thought processes by thinking before we act or speak, and we can control our emotions and how we view our life and the people in it. This takes conscious effort, being aware of our own egos and being able to set them aside to understand the other’s point of view. This sounds simplistic. Yes, we can step back and try to find common ground, but ultimately, the other person has to be willing to do the same. We may just have to walk away.

As I sat on my perch in my chemo cube at the oncology center on Thursday, I couldn’t help but think about how little control I had over anything. I was barely able to control my emotions after a conversation with the doctor, even one in which she expressed how thrilled she was at my progress. This juxtaposition is an interesting one. I am in a relationship where the issue of control doesn’t come up at all. Thierry and I just seem to be able to work together, to get things done – with no big debate or discussion. Yet day-to-day, I am constantly working to keep my emotions in check and not let them get the better of me.

Perhaps that is one of the lessons I am supposed to master in this lifetime… one of control, but over myself. So, I’ll try to concentrate on controlling as much of each day that I can to ensure that time isn’t wasted on negative energy and that it is a good one.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Few Acknowledgements

While I am trying to write my next blog, I thought I would take a moment to acknowledge some of the feedback I have received over the last few weeks from my readers.

Many of you have emailed comments on various postings and have shared some wonderful thoughts and moments with me.  I understand it is difficult to post to this site.  Even I have trouble when I try to respond to someone's comment.  I believe Google wants you to open a Google account.  Even then, once you enter that you have a Google account and hit post, it comes up with an error message.  After entering a second time, the comment is generally posted.

We have had some problems with editing recently and have missed some typos, which my sister Jean kindly pointed out.  We review the blog several times before posting, but errors still manage to get through.

My sister Ann found two websites where you can buy eyebrow stencils.  I'd be happy to share this info with anyone who is interested.  I haven't bought any, but.... around the holidays I received a package from my friend Marion.  In it was a complete eyebrow kit which can be used by those with or without brows.  The kit, by Anastasia (distributed by Sephora), includes several stencils with different shapes, powder, marking pencils, and brow brushes.  This really made me laugh.  I actually tried out one of the stencils today.  Not bad!

I'll be wrapping up my blog, hopefully this evening.  Keep your comments coming!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy New Year!

Are you all sitting down to write up your New Year’s resolutions? I will not be making any new year’s resolutions as I don’t believe in them. I believe that we should be checking and evaluating our actions all during the year and adjust them as we go along.

Any conscious adult knows when they are doing something they shouldn’t – because they feel guilt or shame; like after eating that piece of Godiva from the box sitting on the counter just after eating lunch and a bowl of popcorn with cheese sprinkled on top. You can hear that little voice in your head saying “you shouldn’t have done that”. Or pouring that extra glass of wine when you are already a little over the edge. Or telling that little white lie and convincing yourself that no one will be hurt by it.

Some people make lists at the beginning of each year – like lists of to do’s or goals and objectives. I had tried the old goal setting in the past, and I did achieve some of them; however my goals were not always written, they were mental notes or challenges to myself; like being determined to not be afraid to speak at a board meeting when surrounded by a staid group of old, successful Main Line business men. In order to get over my fear I developed a mental plan: become a lector at church - forcing myself to get up in front of a group of people and read; join professional groups and become active on their boards. Eventually I could interject during a discussion at a Board meeting without turning red and shaking.

A public broadcasting news show I heard this morning talked about the “Exhibit of Lists” at the Louvre. They noted that they have found lists in hieroglyphics on ancient pieces of Egyptian art. The speaker commented that lists appear from the very beginning of humanity, as soon as man was able to write. One visitor to the exhibit commented that “lists may help you remember things, but they stifle creativity”. I agree that lists help us remember things. Thierry is great at making lists: of to do’s, things he needs to pack when traveling, things he needs to buy. My problem with lists is that you have to refer to them periodically – which I usually forget to do.

I don’t necessarily agree with the second part of this statement – because again, lists are really to help you remember things – perhaps he is addressing those that set goals, following their “plan” faithfully to the point of obsession and never straying from the path. I have known people like that – planning when they would get married, start having children, when they would buy their first house and how much they would spend for it, and so on. And they are rather dull people.

One idea about making resolutions that resonated with me the most was stated in a column in our local paper by the writer, Lisa Scottolini. She believes in unresolutions. That is doing what makes you happy. In her case it’s washing her hair once a week instead of every day. A simple rule on how best to spend each day. Just as we know when we are doing something we shouldn’t, we know when something makes us feel good. We can have that piece of chocolate as long as we don’t eat the whole box – at least not in one sitting, and savoring the moment.

I have already decided to try and spend my days doing what makes me happy, even though I don’t always feel up to it. I don’t see this as making a resolution, but adopting a philosophy on how to live.

Thierry and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary on New Year ’s Eve by watching two sets of fireworks from our condo and having dinner at our friends’ apartment. We then welcomed the New Year with a small party at our house, with my daughter and son-in-law and some very good friends.

2009 has been a challenging year, but there have been so many wonderful moments that it has also been a very wonderful year to have been alive.

PS:  Thierry took the picture above at this year's Mummer's Parade held in Philadelphia