Friday Five, I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up Edition
The RevGals meme this week is about the down times in our lives.
"For today’s FF, share with us five things you learned about coping with such a situation. These can be practical tips from the perspective of one needing care or one giving care, or maybe some personal insights gleaned from the experience. Or, anything related, like a humorous situation that resulted."
Well, this one is easy for me. About six years ago, I dealt with breast cancer (see the tag "It's Nothing" here). My experiences with recovering from surgery and then surviving chemotherapy and radiation treatment give me a lot of fodder!
So here we go--
1. Healing takes energy, including mental/spiritual energy. I knew I would be tired a lot, and be spending a lot of time on the couch/in bed. I had ideas of using all that down time for catching up on my professional reading, maybe working on a book idea I had, reading all the books in my To Be Read pile, walks by the river for exercise... Yeah, so none of that happened. I read, but it was either light fiction (mysteries and chick lit) or books I had read before (comfort reads, like Jane Eyre and Emma and King Hereafter), or watching moveis. I simply could not focus on anything that required me to follow a logical argument for more than five minutes. Same with writing--I had no focus. As for walking--the energy just was not there. There were days it was a triumph to get downstairs and spend the day there, rather than in bed. I continued to lead the congregation, but gave myself the Sunday after my chemo infusions off from the sermon. Also, for health reasons, I stopped consecrating and serving Communion and sharing individual prayers after Communion (too much close physical contact with people for my oncologist's comfort). So my spiritual energy was channelled into my sermons, which worked well. I did miss being part of Communion, though.
2. It's OK to say "No." Before and after my diagnosis and treatment, I was very involved in the community. But I just did not have the energy (see above) or the time during it to be as involved. I was astonished to find out how much of my time was taken up with appointments and treatments and various sorts of therapy and tests. So I had to take a break from everything but the church. And guess what? Not one board or organization fell apart because I was not there! I was apparently missed, but they got along fine without me. Humbling and also good to know.
3. It's OK to say "Yes." To help, that is. I've mentioned my personal catering service here before (a friend who called every Friday afternoon to get my dinner order--from Chinese to sushi to macaroni salad--whatever I was in the mood for and could eat--and she would then drop it off on her way home from work). The deacon in the congregation took over Communion for me; clergy colleagues preached for me when I could not; our lay leader took over presiding at Board meetings. When my mother came to stay for a week or so, I felt guilty that she was doing the cleaning and cooking (including running laundry up and down the rickety basement steps), but she reminded me that I was the one who needed her help at that moment--and she could give it, so I should just accept that gift. I did say yes to two events some people thought I could have turned down or cancelled--a wedding and a committal of ashes. But the wedding was a small quiet one, and the committal was for the parent of a couple I had married a few years before, and who had become friends. Sometimes it is OK to say "yes" to things others think you are not ready for. Listen to your own body and spirit.
4. Be gentle on yourself. Don't pretend to be superwoman, and don't feel guilty for needing more support and assistance from the people in your life. You are not operating at your usual capacity or speed, and your energy is necessarily going to different things. You should not apologise or minimise this. Healing is your job, for this period of time, whether it is a weekend getting over a cold or six months worth of chemo and radiation. (This is the one I had the most trouble with; I really thought I should be able to carry on through everything)
5. Preparation is key! The week or two between my diagnosis and my surgery was spent doing things like setting up automatic payments for utilities, re-arranging my living room for comfort, getting the oven fixed, and laying in a stock of tapioca and ginger ale. I also spent a lot of time off-loading duties, tasks and offices to other people, clearing my decks of everything but the most basic functions at church and the house. I also spent a lot of time doing research and joined a couple of online forums. I like to have an idea what might be going to happen, so that research was self-care. Fore-warned is fore-armed and all that.
I think it all boils down to taking care of yourself. For those of us whose life work involves caring for others, that can be hard--our instinct is to give, not to take. But this is a time above all others when you should allow others to minister to you--which is a ministry in itself.