After I healed from radiation, I had enormous amounts of energy and a desire to give back to everyone who helped me through my relapse. The day after my last radiation treatment, I chaperoned a two-mile walking field trip for my son's class. That was the level I was jumping in at. During the summer heat waves, I found this happy place on the Clackamas River, it was an easy 30-minute drive from home, a short trail walk, a shaded area near a cold, uncrowded bend in the river. There I sat, thinking of a family friend who had been diagnosed with liver cancer in May, right around when I was seeing rapid results from radiation. I felt so good in that spot on the river that I thought it would be very healing for our friend too. Thus began a journey from which I am now needing to restore myself.
Somehow our friend did pack himself and his little Chihuahua up in the car and drive from Arizona to Oregon. I dove right in to setting him up with my oncology team and attending all of his appointments with him. It was the typical newly-diagnosed whirlwind of scans, tests, consultations, etc. At the exact same time all of this was going on, school started and my role on the Board of Directors there became a high priority as we were in the process of hiring a new Executive Director. For five weeks, from Labor Day through mid-October, I gave everyone my all. If I was not at the oncologist's office as a caregiver, I was in interviews with candidates. One evening, we managed to take our friend on an evening picnic to the very spot in the bend in the river where I had the idea for him to move to Oregon.
And then, it all ended. Our friend died unexpectedly two days before he was scheduled for his first treatment on October 16th. The Board finished up the all the rounds of interviews and made a decision on October 22nd. Then we went on a quick weekend trip to California for a family birthday on October 24th. Last week, I started saying no to almost every request made of me. An empty cup quenches no one's thirst is a phrase that has been ringing in my ear for years, but especially now. I am not sure how long it will take me to come back to neutral. I'm not there yet because even simple requests for information around home make me edgy. I want to screech every time someone speaks to me* but instead I go for walks, I buy a ridiculous number of beautiful pumpkins, I go to pretty cafes, I take baths with tons of lavender essential oil. Yesterday, I even got a spontaneous massage when by 11 am, I just couldn't even do Monday, you know? I just couldn't do it.
I possibly derailed my recovery by signing up for NaNoWriMo, I'm not sure yet whether that was brilliant or idiotic. I've longed to do more writing for many years. I was a writer long before I was a photographer or an artist. I'm revisiting a magical trip to Italy with my grandmother in 1999, two years before she died. I've got the photo album on my desk. It's hard work, but I've dreamed of writing the story of that trip for years. I've got three books I want to read right now too: Overcoming Underearning, Daring Greatly and Rework. My paintings have not been touched since September. I have squeezed in some new work when I could.
I do not regret all that I gave of myself. I felt absolutely compelled to help our family friend, although my naturopath gave me quite a look when I went in for a checkup. Her look said, "You were a caregiver for a cancer patient four months after finishing cancer treatment? What?" In addition to the caregiving and the Board work, I signed up for every meal train that was needed since I was the lucky recipient of a meal train earlier this year. I also help with the middle school art program every Friday at my son's school.
I'll be honest, there were some costs for all this giving I did. My house is a wreck. Well this weekend, I got the main level in shape and I felt so much better. My office upstairs is still a mess but I don't have it in me yet to fix it up. I cleaned out the fridge last week and found stuff from Labor Day weekend still in there. Ewww, that's not my style. When I'm giving that much to others, I have to protect myself and cleaning and cooking fell to the bottom of my priorities. But the biggest cost has been needing to be alone while I restore myself. Some things stayed high on my priorities, like going to sleep by 10:30 p.m. almost every single day. I also did some things for myself like attend the Hello Sessions and start physical therapy for some aches and pains leftover from the months spent in bed this spring.
It's so sad that despite all I have given, there is still a voice in my head criticizing me for all that I haven't managed to do, especially when it comes to my work. It takes what little reserves of energy I've got left to shush that voice. But I'm never giving up on me, so hopefully no one else will either. That mean voice in my head can suck it, that's for sure. When I follow my heart and my intuition, I don't go wrong.
* Probably I am not succeeding at not screeching as often as I hope.