What are the risks?” I tremulously asked the surgeon at 1.30am as he explained to me I was going to have to go under the knife in a matter of hours to address an acute intestinal issue.
“Of what?” came his reply.
“Of dying.” Because when all was said and done, and I found myself staring reality in the face, staying alive was all I really cared about. Being there for Monkey was, and is, the only thing that matters to me.
“Well, the biggest risk is probably the general anesthetic,” came his accented reply. Apparently the surgery itself was going to be fairly straightforward. Much worse for my prognosis would have been staying at home and not coming to the Emergency Room for a diagnosis.
This exchange occurred just a couple of weeks ago, and I’m happy to say I am slowly on the mend. My body is healing and that in itself is an entirely tiring endeavor, but I have no complaints. I’ve taken a ‘silver linings’ approach to the whole experience. I feel lucky to be alive, and even more lucky to have experienced this intensely focusing moment in my life.
Here’s seven things I discovered when you cut out the background noise. When you really, really get tunnel vision on what truly matters in life. When you take a breath and realize how blessed we are to be able-bodied, healthy and alive. (Hint: it’s not doing the laundry, or work frustrations, or even how much money you make.)
1. Figure out who you love the most
And I don’t mean do you have a favorite kid, parent or sibling, I just mean if you had to pick the people you want to stay alive for, who are they?
I don’t know about you, but I’ve wasted too much energy throughout my life worrying about a whole bunch of people who—at the end of they day—really have no significant bearing on my being able to live a full life. Whether it’s the person who stole your parking spot, being treated unfairly at work, or a friend or partner who doesn’t appreciate you. When you ask yourself the question ‘who do I want to live for?‘ these people won’t be on the list.
Now you’ve answered that question, make it abundantly clear how much these treasured individuals mean to you. Leave them in no doubt of your passion for them.
2. And then figure out who loves you back the most
These type of relationships need to be reciprocal and mostly unconditional. These people aren’t going to judge you or dismiss you because you said or did something silly, or perhaps you even made them feel uncomfortable here and there. No, they are going to see right through all of that and be there for you, come what may.
And look, maybe this really only boils down to one, two or three people in your life, but if you’re clear that they are on your ‘who do I want to stay alive for?‘ list – then you better make darn sure you’re on their list too.
I only say this because I’ve spent plenty of time and emotional energy trying to make a few people care about me as much as I think I care about them. And at the end of the day, that’s just a waste. Of course, that doesn’t mean don’t work on your relationships. It just means getting smart about when to say when gently extracting yourself and focusing on the mutually giving relationships.
3. Can you honestly say you love what you do?
As a single parent, I have a lot of responsibilities: financial, emotional and logistical, to name but a few. I’ve taken those responsibilities seriously and as a person with a certain amount of drive, I’ve probably taken them to an extreme point on occasion. Especially when it comes to providing for my family.
I’ve taken jobs because I’ve felt “I ought to prove that I can” when perhaps there were warning signs that I should have paid more attention to. I’ve taken jobs for the money. And I’ve given up time with people I love, doing things I love, because of work.
I am not going to do that anymore. Because, really what is the point? If you are doing anything because you “ought” to, chances are it’s taking from you, and not giving to you. That means there’s less of you to give to the people you love, including yourself.
I love working for myself and helping young companies or new ideas establish themselves. So that’s what I am going to be doing moving forward. I also love to write, here on Alice Dishes, and in other venues, so I’m going to be doing more of that. I love being active and outdoors, so I’m going to make sure that I get to do that beyond just the weekends.
And I HATE spending up to 10 hours a week in my car commuting, as I have for the best part of the last two years, so I am NOT going to be doing that anymore.
4. Be grateful
My dear old Tank showed me what pure, unadulterated gratitude looks like. And in this crazy fast-paced world we call life in the 21st century, it’s all too easy to focus on what we don’t have, don’t like and don’t want to do.
Instead, focus on what you do have, what you love and enjoy doing. Be grateful you get to do those things. Appreciate the people who make your life easier. It could be as simple as remembering a nurse’s name (my nurse Kelli couldn’t believe I recalled her name, but how could I not when she was so dedicated to my care?). Or just feel gratitude that the sun’s shining. Pausing to reflect and take it in, can really shift your mood.
5. Take care of yourself
It’s not uncommon for folks, many of them women, to put themselves last on their list of priorities. Family, jobs, and other commitments come first. But if you don’t replenish yourself with whatever fills you up, you’re going to be depleted and not able to give as much as you’d like.
A while ago, I figured out that a big part of my self-care involves writing. It satisfies a deep need I have to create and express myself. And while I am grateful for every single reader I have, I actually don’t care about the size of my audience. When I don’t write for an extended period of time, probably because work has taken over, I don’t feel good. It’s as simple as that.
Do you know how to take care of yourself? If you’re not sure, think back to a time when you felt on top of the world and recall what you were doing then. Nine times out of ten, you’ll find there was a pursuit or endeavor that filled your tank.
6. Be your own advocate
Especially when it comes to your health, but just as true for your career, make sure you are informed, and clear about where you’re headed. No-one is ever going to advocate for you as well and passionately as you can for yourself.
If you have a nagging back pain, or some other persistent issue, go figure out what’s causing it and take care of yourself. If you know you shouldn’t eat junk food or need to cut out gluten, then do it. If there’s a project you’d really like to get involved in at work, speak up. Because not doing so means you don’t care about yourself all that much, and if you don’t care about yourself why should anyone else?
I don’t mean to be harsh here by any means, but make it your job to stay healthy and be clear about what you want out of life, and if you have kids, this alone will make you a great role model, and if you don’t, you’re simply going to enjoy a better quality of life.
7. Be clear about who’s on your team
Who do you turn to when the shit hits the fan? And better still, which group of people do you lean on when the going gets tough? These could be health professionals, friends, family, neighbors, work coaches, or a therapist. Along with points 1 and 2, we all need to know who’s there for us and make sure we’re there for them too.
I was barely three hours out of surgery when a lovely friend, someone whose company I really enjoy and yet we see each other sporadically, showed up in my hospital room. She brought flowers, magazines, and other goodies. I was blown away and truly thrilled. She stopped at my house, picked up my stuff and even got my mum from the airporter the next day. I couldn’t have predicted she would be the one to do all those things, but knowing it means a ton.
In large part, I am writing all this down so I have a place to remind myself of these mini revelations when work and real life starts back up, and I have to quit napping in between Transparent episodes and writing blog posts.
I hope there’s something here for you, but if not, no matter. Just revel in life and remember how short and sweet our time is here.