My sister Grace is often the target of our teasing. In fact, our family has even created words based on my sister’s antics:
- Gr-emory: Grace + memory: Grace’s fictional recollection of how an event took place
- Gr-iction: Grace + fiction: What Grace ends up writing after she’s had a conversation with you
- Gr-iagnosis: Grace + diagnosis: what happens when you tell Grace you have a stomach ache and she comes back with “It must be tapeworm.”
“I’m so glad you’re feeling better. We were planning a LizTervention,” she tells me as I sit in my car at the mall eating a Pinkberry frozen yogurt. I had just finished texting Grace that it was the best day ever — my mother-in-law was visiting and staying with the kids, so for the first time in months, I snuck out and bought an ice cream all by myself. The sun was warming the inside of my car, and the tart taste of the frozen yogurt with the sweetness of the strawberries, alone, melted the tension in my body.
My family had plenty of reasons to want to stage a Liz-tervention. My body was physically reacting to stress. Now, if you’ve been reading these blogs for a while, you’re familiar with the fact that I love stress. I do. I thrive in stressful situations. I feel most useful when my to-do list is a mile long. And, I love the adrenaline of juggling 20 different tasks.
But, after nearly 4 months of doing just about everything in my life and the lives of my kids, my body had enough.
Just three weeks ago, I had a surgical procedure to remove a potentially cancerous mole. The procedure left me with a lengthy scar that crossed my already sensitive post-mastectomy breast. My body — already maxed out — began to attack itself.
It started out as an irritation just around the scar. Then, the red scaly dermatitis spread all over my breast, interfering with my already sensitive scar. My chest muscles became like dried out rubberbands, limting my range of motion and causing throbbing pain up through my back and shoulders.
On top of all this, I had major deadlines at school, work, and with the kids. Two of the little ones developed fevers. The oldest one was growing anxious about all the yelling and crying in the house (both from the little ones and from me!). I tried to react the way I usually do — kick it into survival mode and get through it.
But, my body had enough. It had nothing left to kick. No survival mode to switch into. And nowhere to go.
My body began to attack me.
Within a day, I was covered in hives. From my finger tips to my toes. All across my chest, back and stomach. Up and down my legs. And even on my scalp. I was covered in hives. My chest was getting worse, and now I had nothing to give to get better.
One evening, I asked Grace to come over. At 6:00pm, I yelled over the screaming children that I was going to take a nap downstairs. I took Benedryl and went to my bedroom. The next thing I knew, it was 6:00am. The house was quiet and still, and somewhere in there, I had lost 12 hours of my life.
Grace came and went, and I was left to fend for myself again. The hives came back as soon as I started the morning routine. By Friday, I was getting my stitches out and headed home from the doctor with medications to help ease the pain.
“Your hives might feel better,” says the doctor. But the Gr-iagnosis was “Liza, you need to rest. You need to let yourself heal.”
Turns out she was right.
My mother in law came for a week. I slept. Ate some good old home cooked Puerto Rican food. She took care of the kids, made sure they were bathed, fed, played with, and answered all of their questions. She did all of the laundry, took care of the dog, and stayed up late and woke up early with the kids. All I had to do was get out of bed on time, go to work, and come home.
It was an inverse reaction, really: the more sleep I got, the less hives I had.
As I talked through this LizTervention with Grace, I began to realize what I really needed. Contrary to people’s good intentions, I didn’t need to give up things. People often tell me, “You just have to cut things out of your life, Liza. You have to turn invitations down and just say NO.” Frankly, I don’t think that’s what it is. I love what I do. I love my kids. I love our crazy schedules. I love feeling wanted, needed, and admired. I love getting invited to speak at other colleges, to know that I was engaging people in my work, and receive the positive feedback afterwards.
What I don’t have is the opportunity, daily, to just take a time out. I have no opportunity to be alone, to recharge, or to just create a few minutes of distance. From the moment I get up until, well, the next moment I get up, I am serving others.
For me, the solution isn’t cutting back. Rather, it’s finding those few minutes to focus on me.
When our own bodies turn against us, it’s a reminder to slow down and to focus on healing. In some ways, I have been afraid to do that — I’ve known that life is short and unpredictable. But, rather than trying to cram it filled with things-to-do, it’s time I start enjoying it, breathing it, and savoring the more quiet moments.
It’s not going to happen immediately for me. I’ll still love the thrill of working at 100 miles an hour, the adrenaline of facilitating workshops, and the rumble of applause at the end of a good day.
I’ll just also make sure that there is time for me, too.
Peace, love, and interventions,