Monday, January 13, 2014

The Deliberate Life

A couple of my friends have posted this article on their Facebook timelines.

Please take a moment of your day and read this article. It rang so true to me that I wanted to share it with you.

I don’t have cancer. I know my health issues are nowhere near as difficult or scary as those for people that do have cancer. But, I’ve certainly been swimming in the thoughts, doubts, and fears in (and because of) my Swiss-cheese brain. I was diagnosed with MS this last April. In many ways, nothing in my world has changed. In some ways, everything has changed.

That is why this article captured my imagination. It was written by physician Lissa Rankin, who interviewed women battling breast cancer. The thing she discovered is that people who have overcome cancer made a deliberate decision to live each day like it’s their last.

Here are the ten lessons she learned and the way in which they spoke to me:

1. Be unapologetically you.
I’m sarcastic. Opinionated. Thick skinned. Tender hearted. I have a sharp, dry sense of humor. I’m smart and nerdy. I like tattoos. I like people who like tattoos. I don’t censor my thoughts very often. But I know the right time to hold back my opinions (usually).

I wrote a couple posts back about how I need to quit apologizing. I think this fits into that plan. I am trying to stop vocalizing apologies. But I also need to stop feeling them. I need to not only stop being anything less than authentic, but I need to surround myself with people who love the authentic me.

I’m not sorry. (Except to you, Dad. Sorry about the tattoos.)

2. Don’t take crap from people.
I wouldn’t say I’m a people-pleaser in the Oprah sense of the term. I don’t care if the PTA president doesn’t approve that I have better things to do than bake for a fundraiser.

But I think I do take more than my share of crap. I don’t often or loudly defend myself when I am experiencing pain or injustice. I can’t explain that contradiction in my life. How I will fight to the death for the people I love. How I will, without caring what people think, call a stranger out on their shit. But I let some people stomp on me over and over. I have to quit doing that. And I’m not sure I know how to do that. But I need to figure it out.

3. Learn to say no.
I actually think I am pretty good at this one. I will say no to going out to lunch with slightly annoying acquaintances. I can turn down a dinner date for no other reason other than I just don’t want to put on a bra. I don’t often get talked into something I don’t want to do. It happens sometimes. But more often than not, the more someone tries to talk me into something, the more I dig in my heels.

4. Get angry. Then get over it.
But this one is harder for me. I tend to hold a grudge. And the more I care about someone, the longer it takes for me to put away something when I feel wronged. I really try to put these things behind me. I don’t really stay angry. Forgiveness is easy for me. Forgetting is near impossible.

Maybe that will be a MS silver lining someday. Maybe this ridiculous disease could eat through some of these hurtful memories and leave my vision alone.

5. Don’t obsess about beauty.
Here is another one I think I have down. I really don’t worry much about how I look most of the time. Sure, I sometimes wish I was a beautiful girl with size six hips and green eyes. But most of the time, I really don’t care. And some of the time, I am happy with the way I look. I have been told at derby practice that I should never lose my magnificent Blocker Booty.

I never really feel beautiful. I certainly never obsess about it. I am vain about some things. I used to love getting eyelash extensions. I had to give those up both because of the cost and the risk of infection. I like wearing stylish sunglasses.  I even enjoy a manicure every once in a while. But I never obsess. So I can check this one off as done.

6. Do it now.
I understand this one completely.  Dr. Rankin says it best, I think: Stop deferring happiness. I’m going to make sure I stop saying “someday.” I need to find things that make me happy today. This minute. Right now. I need to fix the parts of my life that are diminishing my happiness. Ain’t nobody got time for that.  All of our clocks are ticking.

Prioritize joy, says the good Dr. Rankin.

7. Say “I love you” often.
I tell my son I love him at least once a day. I have certain wonderful friends that I not only show that I love them, I tell them so.  I have to do better telling my family that I love them. I grew up in a very loving home, but the “I love you”s didn’t flow very freely. At least, that’s how I remember it. I knew my parents loved me. But we were not and are not the type of family to end a phone call with the word love.

The more life experience I get, the harder it is for me to say “I love you.” Actually, that isn’t quite right. Saying "I love you" is the easy part. Feeling loving is what gets more and more difficult.

I guess I really am a cynic.

8. Take care of your body.
This one is a new one for me. I’ve never really treated my body well. I smoked. I couch-potatoed. I ate poorly. But when Dr. Sister sat me down and told me that I needed to get my body healthy and strong, I took her seriously. She said I needed to do it in preparation for the day that I will need all the health and strength I can get.

So, I am trying really hard to change my habits. I think this is a pretty big deal for me, since I am still a little mad at my body for betraying me. Oh wait. I am supposed to get angry and get over it. OK, body. I’m over it (mostly).

Added bonus: I found Derby.

9. Prioritize freedom and live like you mean it.
We all have a finite amount of time left. I want to spend my remaining days—no matter how many there may be—living the best, happiest life I can.

10. Take risks.
It’s a cliché for a reason. Life is for the living. Do the thing that you always wanted to. Try the thing that you were always to scared to try. Learn to make one incredible dessert that you are known for. Find your favorite drink. Taste the frog legs. See the pyramids. Explore by yourself. And find someone who you know will explore with you.

Sometime the risk is in not doing something. Sometimes, it feels risky to stop doing something. Try that too.

The people Dr. Rankin interviewed may hold the key to a happy life. They know how to capture the beach ball. Here is the difference between these brave people and the oft-unbrave me. I keep waiting for the beach ball to find its way over to my side of the pool. These incredible women said, “Fuck that. I’m jumping in the pool.”

And really, we should all be living like that? Life is short. Jump in the pool.

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