When I was a little girl, my Grandpa Avalos doted on my Grandma. It hadn’t always been that way. He’d admitted to many mistakes in the type of husband & father he was when he was younger. At some point in his life, he made many changes. His faith became his foundation. He made up for lost time. He was so sweet to her. Even though he still had his Mexican way of being rough – he was a man that loved God, his church, and his wife and family.
While he did things for her before he retired, after he retired – every weekend, he went to mass on Saturday and Sunday – early – long before anyone was awake. Ever the social butterfly, he’d talk to friends after mass and then go to McDonald’s. Why? Because my Grandma had a thing for McDonald’s pancakes and coffee. He would bring in the food as we were waking. He’d get out her coffee, doctor it just right, get her food (pancakes with butter – no syrup), and the Orange County Register, and take it to her. Only after she was situated, did he get us up and settled with breakfast (when we were little and needed more help). She always came first.
She was a night owl. I take after her in that and in many other ways. She didn’t like getting up early. But she really milked it (as she should have – haha) after Grandpa retired. He did this, without fail – over and over and over again. It was decades of his life that he kept this tradition. It’s not the only sweet thing he did for her. He did other things – chocolates and flowers and trips to her favorite places (like Borrego Springs in the desert). He would cut gardenias (and sometimes roses) from their garden and make tiny bouquets for me. He was a special man.
I’ve known love. I have loved. But I’ve never quite found the man who would bring me my form of coffee in bed. I guessed those relationships lacked in many ways – including maturity. It doesn’t matter anymore. I do know that I will always hope this is possible, even if I end up alone. Every woman has her things. We all have our love languages. For me, as a words person, words of affirmation are my numero uno. A letter – a note that I find before my day begins – are a gift that would follow me all day. These, like thoughtful things my grandpa did for my grandma, are little gifts that fill you up – giving you confidence in your love as you also seek to love him in the way he best receives and understands love.
I was thinking about my grandparents recently while I re-read my novel, A Thousand Years. Though very different than my grandparents, there are personality traits of Birdie’s grandparents that are similar to mine. My grandma could be a real stinker. And even though she worried and stressed and did crazy things*, he adored her. And she knew it. Everyone knew it. What a gift it was to witness this as a child.
I may still end up alone. Who really knows what the future holds? But I do know that because of men like my grandpa and a couple other special people to come across my path, I know what I’m looking for. And if I’m so blessed to have this man show up on my doorstep, I can’t wait to spoil him. But no matter what lies ahead, I treasure the gift that seeing this kind of love, in my grandparents, was to me.
*like flipping off her grandchildren when we pissed her off & teaching us how to cuss without our parent/aunt knowing we were cussing (our own words).
The great thing about getting older is that you start to hone in on what really matters. If you’re seeking answers and determine to live authentically, that is. Because you could definitely chase poop that doesn’t matter, right on until your last days. But if you are truly seeking to live out your best life, I think you find with time, that some things just don’t matter anymore. And sometimes that means you’re okay looking like a fool to everyone else – while doing, saying, and living as you feel compelled to.
The older I get, the more certain I become about what I do & don’t want to give my time to anymore. I also know that I can’t stomach regret. Through therapy and some tough knocks the last couple of years, that is becoming even more clear. I’ve promised myself to live a life without regrets.
Recently, I went down a rabbit hole of regret when I was second guessing sharing my heart openly, with someone I cared about. I shared my heart with him and there was no response, (which is a response). It sucked. That’s the thing though, I don’t want to make space in my heart or mind for regret. I told him because I promised myself I wouldn’t live with regrets. I didn’t want to figure out what came next for me, without telling him how I felt. And while that didn’t really work out for me, what’s worse is always wondering. I have my answer through his silence.
We can trick ourselves, when things don’t work out the way we’d hoped, that maybe we’ve made the wrong call. But the truth is, sometimes the gift is in the practice of trying, stepping out onto the limb, or trying something we’re terribly afraid to try. The more we exercise this muscle, the stronger it becomes, and the easier it is – when those moments of self-doubt pop up – to squash them. We only have this one life to live. I can’t fill it with regret. You can’t fill it with regret. None of us should.
At 45, I’ve spent the better part of 20 years around a young crowd. I haven’t had kids of my own. And something about those two things, has kept me feeling pretty young in many ways. But where I am happily feeling my age is in figuring out what matters and where to focus my energy and time. Now more than ever, that means to live and love without regret.
So – as I look toward my future, there is freedom in choosing each day to live my one, wild and precious life. If I’m focused on living fully – no matter where it takes me (even if it’s in the city I least want to be in), I’m able to see the beauty in each day. Life is not some far out thing that happens “someday.” It’s now. I refuse to look back someday with the realization that life was happening all around me and I missed it. I just won’t do it. The older I get the more certain I am that our opportunities for the life we want are in the every day choices we make now.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” —Mary Oliver
It’s easy to buy into a lie, when we’re missing something in our lives that we think we should have had, that we aren’t quite enough. Or maybe that our life is void of meaning, without this thing. Or maybe not void of meaning but less meaningful. I have fallen into this trap. I’ve been hanging out there for the last few years. I’ve been buried under it, truthfully.
The thing about me is, I hate photos of myself. I hate selfies too. I’m confident. Very confident. Maybe too confident. But not about this particular thing. All I can see are the things I wish I could change (wish my teeth were straighter, my eyebrows being whacked in this photo, I need to lose a lot of weight, and why oh why does my hair have to be this half-curly/frizz thing and eek…so much grey now).
Yesterday, I walked the beach at North Topsail Island. There were quite a few women who were having a blast – without a care in the world – wearing bikinis or swimsuits that I wouldn’t be caught dead in. It got me thinking. They were 100% having fun & gave zero f$?!/. They were dressed as they wanted to be and that was that. They were fully enjoying the 83 degree water, their friends, families, and being in the water.
Life is short. And to add to the clichés, we simply don’t know how much time we have left. Why would I (why would any of us) waste it worrying about what other people think? We just don’t know the hour or day when we leave this earth. For years of my life I held myself back. I held back from talking about, being about, & doing what I most wanted. Which is probably partly how I ended up childless, when I’ve wanted to be a mom…for basically forever.
But I digress. I go to therapy and it was much needed after saying goodbye to my kiddo (for those new here I expected to adopt him and everything fell apart). My therapist challenged me this week to (not in these exact words), see myself as enough. I am enough. If that man doesn’t tell me he can’t live without me. If I will never be a mom (or adoptive mom or stepmom or whatever), I am enough. I add value to my world without being a mom – without being the woman he can’t live without. I add value to this world simply because I exist. There’s something very freeing about that thought.
Which brings me back around to selfies and women being comfortable in their own skin. Life is here now – to revel in, to breathe deeply, to love passionately, and to live as we are meant to – without worrying what others think.
Do I think I’ll wear a bikini the next time I go to the beach? That’s highly unlikely. 😂 But I do think it’s time to live fully in the present – with the full knowledge that I am enough today – even if life looks different than the plan I thought would make me whole. The truth is, that already happened. I am and always was – whole. I am and always was, enough.
To this day, just as it was when I was in my twenties and thirties, the one consistent thing that female friends have to say to me, or about men in general, regardless of age, is various versions of, “if he wanted to be with you, he would.” Or, the ever popular, “He’s just not that into you.” That phrase, coined originally in the television show Sex in the City, became a wildly popular “self-help” book and then later became a movie by the same title.
It wasn’t that long ago I got advice that sounded an awful lot like that. I’m not saying the advice is wrong, but we seem to be in a very weird place in the dating world these days (it gets weirder and weirder) so here I am. First, the people who wrote that book aren’t therapists or relationship experts. Greg Behrendt is a comedian. Liz Tuccillo is a writer and producer (Sex in the City). Does that mean that they have nothing to contribute to the world of dating and relationships? Of course not. In fact, sometimes it can be refreshing to read “self-help” books by non-experts because there are times when the experts don’t seem to know much about real life at all.
But I don’t particularly want to build my entire worldview on relationships around a comedian and tv producer (let alone ancient texts that aren’t talking about dating, antiquated belief systems, and sexism). That seems wonky. Nonetheless, that is what we have done. We are taught from a young age what it means to be “ladylike” and to not be the pursuer. The “he’s just not that into you” perspective fits neatly into that women are pursued, mindset. Which therefore means – if you’re not pursued, he’s . . . well, you know.
But is that the case, gents? I’m really asking. Because I’m around a lot of dudes. A lot of them. They have been my primary colleagues for the past eleven years. I’ve been around very few women (I could name them all, but not come close to remembering all of the dudes) in this environment. And consistently, I hear something different from them when they’re asking for a female perspective on dating & relationships. So which is it?
He’s just not that into you? He’d pursue you if he really wanted to? Or, I don’t know – is it possible that every man is different – just as we are all different? Do any of us really want to say that without a doubt, this is the case for every man that has ever walked the earth? Do we want to pigeonhole ourselves as women into such a tight little corner of the world that we’re never free to take the first step – whether it’s matters of the heart or not?
I don’t know, man. I just don’t know. Listen, my heart has been pretty roughed up in this department. Can I make the first move? Not after this year I can’t. Maybe never again. Does that mean another woman shouldn’t be the one to make the first move? No. Does every single man in all of the world have the same perspective on things? What about the man that himself has been through the relationship wringer? Doesn’t he have the right to feel a little beat up himself – and unsure of taking the first step with a woman?
The thing is, relationships and our pasts – our trauma, our personalities, and everything else that makes us who we are – determine how we view and function in relationships. Why would we build our entire relationship worldview, on people who don’t have our experiences? As a woman, do you feel it’s your right to be heard, hurt, or gun-shy, in the relationship department? Do you want reassurance – especially after being hurt?
If that’s a resounding yes, then why is it that we expect men to take the blows in relationships and not react similarly? Do you want a robot without feelings? Or do you want a man that is open, communicative, and able to demonstrate how they feel? Yes? Then why is it that we can’t allow them to experience the full range of emotions that come from the good and bad in relationships?
We have gotten things so screwed up. Here’s what I think you should do – you do, you. That’s it. That’s the advice. Feel like making the first move, make it. Don’t think you can ever do that again (like me), then don’t. Whatever, dude. Do whatever. We do not get to make decisions about how other people function, feel, respond, or act. We are only in charge of ourselves. What works for you, doesn’t work for me.
Let’s stop expecting ourselves and men to be everything. It’s not possible and it’s not sustainable. Let’s be real. I’d rather fumble my way into something beautiful, than to lose out on the possibility of something great – because I was so dead set on living and functioning in relationships like everyone else.
Tonight was another night I should be working. I did. But I quit way before I should (?) have. Quite honestly, I could work all night. It’s the nature of my job. It requires a lot of administrative work. You can think of me as a spokesperson of sorts. One of the primary functions of my job is to communicate official information and respond to inquiries from those internal and external to the “organization.” That is the priority (always) for me. That is a necessary function of my role. But that often means, particularly at very busy times (like now), that everything else slides. Slide and pile. It slides and piles up.
What that slide used to mean, was working 7 days a week and at times, when there were particularly large “projects” or events, I worked late into the night to make up for the nearly full work day that I was interfacing with “customers.”
What am I saying? I developed some unhealthy habits. I absolutely do care about my job. I was very passionate about it. But, it has come at high price – my health and relationships. I have had a chronic autoimmune disease for many years. It could be several. That may be more clear over time. My first diagnosis was “Mixed Connective Tissue Disease.” The short version explanation for that diagnosis, is that you shows signs and have lab results indicating the possibility of multiple or overlapping autoimmune diseases. My first rheumatologist was leaning toward lupus – with issues related to my lungs. But he also thought rheumatoid arthritis was possibly lurking as well.
He immediately put me on the antimalarial drug, Plaquenil. It was believe to slow the effects of autoimmune disease, particularly for lupus patients. If I remember correctly, the link was discovered after autoimmune patients took the antimalarial for its intended purpose, and their autoimmune disease slowed or went into remission. I took Plaquenil for more than 10 years. I credit it with having a significant positive impact on my life. I believe that it slowed the deterioration of joints and the attack my own body was mounting on itself. But then it stopped working. That began the process of other trying other meds. Eventually, my new rheumatologist (new when I moved back to NC), diagnosed me with rheumatoid arthritis. I personally believe (haha…Dr. Elaina in the house), that there is more than one thing going on. But that’s where we’ve been for quite some time – rheumatoid arthritis.
RA can go into remission. And I can experience flares – or spikes of disease activity. I have experienced few true remissions. Which is why I believe his diagnosis may only be partially correct. I can experience periods of time where I feel much better. But stress, in particular, can not only cause flares, but worsen the path the disease takes, too. Chronic illness requires you to take good care of yourself, prioritize wellness, self-care, etc. I don’t and haven’t, for the past 11 years. Maybe 10 is more like it.
I haven’t, because I have put all I’ve had available, to my career. It has come with a price. And I’m not exactly saying I shouldn’t have been so dedicated. But I had no balance. DO NOT BE LIKE ME. DO NOT. I am begging you Interwebs pal, don’t do it. Don’t look back at 45 (as I am) and see your health slipping further down the crapper (haha), with your greatest hopes and dreams for yourself – so far out of your reach. Notice I didn’t say impossible? But man, they’re gonna be tough to get to.
But I digress. I am not well right now. I haven’t felt this bad in some time. Very few people – okay it’s just the doctors and Mom (and probably my insane dog), know this. Because I don’t talk about it. I was terribly sick today. Sick to my stomach. I take immune suppressing drugs and they can have side effects like this, sometimes. I have run out of nausea medication. For some reason, this nausea and sickness has been hanging on for the last two weeks. This week, I’ve had few actual meals. Yesterday, I was in so much pain, in my muscles and joints, I wondered how I’d make it through the day. But guess what? The show must go on.
I am single. I have one income. I have no dependents. I don’t own property. The government, though I work for it and would like a freaking break (haha), takes a ton of money from me in the form of taxes. Lol. I can’t stop. I gots to pay the bills. I take home a pittance every two weeks. I. Can’t. Stop. There is no other option. The problem is, how do you find balance? If I push, people think I’m fine. They have no idea how sick I am or how much pain I’m in. I don’t take pain meds – unless it’s over the counter.
So I keep pressing. And I’ve hit a wall. I’ve hit the wall, very hard. I honestly have felt, at several turns this year, that I was drawing closer and closer to being hospitalized if I didn’t make changes. I’ve made some. I’ve been working hard at those changes. But there are times – like right now, that I’m truly uncertain how to make it another day. This morning, I was awake at 5:00 AM with my to-do list, rolling through my mind. But then I started getting sick. I didn’t want to go to work or any meetings either. But that just was not one of my options for today.
What does one do, in my position, with these big events coming and serving as the public face of an “organization” to its customers, but no physical energy to sustain? I come home and try to eek out more work. But it’s too much, friends. I will not fail this event or the people involved. But it comes at a heavy price for me personally.
What’s the answer? It’s not an easy one to discern. I know people think they can simplify things for you, into bite size, five bullet point articles and “life hacks” – but that is just not how it works for most of us. Finding balance is also hard work. If you are gearing up for this reality of making hard choices in the face of illness, let me tell you – don’t buy into the lie that you’re going to figure it all out right away. You might. But, if you don’t – you are not alone. It’s so hard. Especially when you must do it on your own.
This is life with chronic illness. I know there are countless others all across the world in these same shoes. I think there is power in sharing our stories. It is through story, that I believe we learn and grow and come to accept great truths. When we share “first” it gives others the gift of going second – to say, “Yeah, me too. Thank you for sharing this. I’ve felt so alone.”
The inner battles people face, the physical struggles they may endure, and any other number of things that impact their lives (our lives), feel very isolating sometimes. I have shared some of these things on my blog in past years. But I’ve often removed them, because of my awareness of what I do in my professional life. I’ve never felt comfortable switching between these two things. And yet, I’m a writer with a calling to be vulnerable in that. My day job and my calling often seem very much at odds. I’m not going to shrink back anymore though.
I’m here to say, I’m faltering. It’s hard. And I’ve hit a wall like never before. I don’t have the luxury of stopping. I know so many of you are in the same boat. If you’re feeling the strain and wondering how to keep pressing, please reach out. We can figure it out together.
Life with chronic illness is not easy. I’ve shared on the blog things I work on, to be well. Sometimes that looks like the podcasts I listen to. It’s therapy. It’s meditation. It’s prayer. It’s buying flowers at Trader Joe’s. I’m not getting it (fully) right, yet. But I’m closer to getting it right than I ever have been before. I’m working on it.
As I sign off, I wanted to mention the image above. The Spoon Theory, originally created by Christine Miserandino, has perfectly explained the choices a person with chronic illness makes, in order to get through an average day, and into the next. That is summarized above. But her website, “But You Don’t Look Sick” is a great resource and goes into greater detail.
I know people don’t like to talk about these things at times, but if you would be open to it, I’d love to hear from you about the ways you manage your own chronic illness. What do you feel like you’re really good at balancing? What do you find you still struggle with?