I was struck recently by a social media post by someone I know who works in a demanding healthcare specialty. She had treated herself to a fantastic day trip to a nearby natural wonder and a gorgeous splurge of a breakfast.
What struck me most was the sense this was something, perhaps, to apologize for.
That taking —- making — time to care for herself and her soul was somehow suspect or self-indulgent.
I think being consistently kind to ourselves is essential and something too often overlooked or dismissed as silly, by others and worse, by ourselves. Women are so heavily socialized to take care of everyone else’s needs first and foremost that, when there’s a lack of time or money — and there often is — we get the short end of the stick.
I’m not someone who advocates self-indulgence or hedonism, (and who draws the line?) but I’m absolutely committed to what is now called self care.
For me that’s everything from playing my beloved vinyl on a Sunday morning to making home-made meals I can enjoy during the week, with my husband and on my own.
I spend real money at our local florist, sometimes as much as $25 a week, to fill our apartment with blooms and greenery, whether fragrant eucalyptus or bright gerbera or the tiny purple orchids that come all the way from Thailand. To me, it’s an investment in daily joy and beauty.
I go to a spin class at the gym to burn calories, manage stress, to enjoy the music and see familiar faces. It offers me a low-key social life and human contact when I work alone at home, now 11 years into that isolating workstyle.
I make play dates with friends, meeting them face to face for a coffee or lunch or a concert or ballet performance, creating memories we can share years later. I went to a fantastic Iron & Wine concert this week at Town Hall with a dear pal and made her spit with laughter over Manhattans at the bar in Grand Central. Priceless!
I love to travel, so am always looking a few weeks and months ahead at where we might be able to afford to go, and for how long. It refreshes me, whether seeing old friends back in Toronto or meeting new ones, as I did this summer in Berlin and Zagreb.
I commit a few hours each week to my favorite television shows. (Poldark!)
And this year — for the first time in my life — I’m driving a brand-new car, a luxury vehicle we’ve leased. Despite my initial trepidation, it is sheer bliss: quiet, beautifully designed, with intelligent and helpful technology. Our other vehicle is 16 years old, dented and scraped and, no matter how much money we drop at the mechanic, always has the check engine light on; freedom from that anxiety alone is a form of self care for me now.
It can feel weird, even guilt-inducing, to put yourself first, to say no, firmly (and mean it!) to others’ demands on your limited time and energy.
But without adding even the smallest pleasures to our days, and to our lives, we can end up stewing in resentment and self-denial.
If my European journey taught me anything — or reminded me more powerfully than ever before — it’s to live, and savor, an unmediated life.
By which I mean, one experienced firsthand, feet-first, immersed in all of it.
Not, as has become normal/affordable/easy for me — and so many of us — a world and its wonders seen and heard only through a screen or scrim, whether social media or explained by the traditional mass media of newspapers, magazines, radio and television.
The soft, smooth cobblestones of Rovinj — a small seaside town in Croatia — were silky beneath my bare feet, the light snaking around corners as the sun moved through the sky, every hour offering a different tableau.
I’d have known none of this without my (grateful!) physical presence.
Ironically, I follow several cool, adventurous people on Twitter whose lives are devoted to professional exploration, including aviation and wildlife photographers and three archeologists.
I love seeing what they find, but this is also, I realize, a little weird.
I need to go find this stuff myself!
Sadly, it’s now considered normal — starting in infancy — to spend hours consuming others’ visions and impressions and analysis of the world, instead of gathering every sense impression ourselves. (As I write this on our balcony in the early morning, I hear traffic on the bridge, a passing train and birds in the trees. The air is fresh and cool, the sun gilding the balcony’s outer edge.)
I work alone at home in the suburbs of New York, with no kids or pets to distract me. I work full-time freelance, which means I have no boss or coworkers with whom to share ideas or jokes or talk about our weekends.
Most of my friends here are too busy to actually get together in person, which all combines to create isolation, and so I’ve slipped into the tempting bad habit of feeling connected to the world through consuming social media — instead of socializing face to face.
If I want to actually be with someone, it takes me an hour each way, and up to $25 in train fare or parking fees, to go into Manhattan.
But if I don’t, I’m essentially a self-imposed shut-in, which is — my six supersocial weeks in Europe reminded me — a terrible choice for mental health.
My time in Europe, literally, exposed me to hundreds of strangers, some of whom became new friends, like an archeologist and travel blogger and translator, all of whom live in Berlin, all of whom had only been Twitter and blog pals before they became real, corporeal human beings sharing space with me, laughing and joking and hugging hello.
I was also struck by people’s gentleness with me, like the man on the busy, crowded Tube stairs in London, watching me slowly and painfully climb beside him, who asked: “Are you OK?”
People can be perfectly nice on social media, but they’re not beside you.
They’re not — as two young men did — ready to carry your heavy suitcase up (!) three flights of stairs.
In Croatia, I sat for hours in a cafe with three new friends, talking and talking and talking.
No one stared into their phones.
No one stared into their laptop.
No one was rushing off to something more important.
What we were doing — just being together, enjoying one another’s company and conversation — was more important.
If you move to the United States from any nation with single-payer government-run healthcare, you might be gobsmacked by what you encounter here.
You’ll learn new words and phrases like:
“pre-existing condition”, “co-pay”, “annual deductible” and “usual and customary.”
If you get a full-time job with benefits, you will be mostly preoccupied with how much medical coverage it offers you and your family, at what cost, and with what amount of deductible — i.e. how much more money you have to shell out after already paying a monthly premium for what is supposed to be full coverage.
It’s a bizarre, byzantine way to handle healthcare, because it puts millions at risk, as anyone following the current, bitter political debates over repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, (aka Obamacare), well knows.
If you work full-time for an employer who can afford to offer it, you’ll get health insurance through them, often heavily subsidized.
If not, welcome to free market capitalism!
My husband worked 31 years at The New York Times, as a photographer and photo editor. He retired from there, although we’re both still working. As a retired former staffer, he pays $400 a month for his health insurance. That, we can easily handle.
The company decided to save money by refusing this same subsidy to retirees’ spouses — so I pay $1,400 a month for the same plan. That’s $20,000 pre-tax I have to earn just to avoid medical bankruptcy — the single greatest cause of personal fiscal disaster in the U.S.
I’m a reporter, so as I debated choosing a much cheaper plan I queried the billing managers for two of our physicians. Both said: “Hell, no! If you like what you’ve got, keep it.”
They know better than anyone what a crazy and costly mess you can face if your cheap-o plan doesn’t cover something like — oh, you know –— the anesthesia for your four-hour surgery.
That surprise bill could be high enough to knock you out cold once more.
My first steps with my new left hip, February 2012.
As an aging jock with orthopedic issues that have required multiple surgeries and a lot of physical therapy — the co-pays alone costing up to $60 a week — not having excellent coverage is a gamble I’m not willing to make.
As more and more Americans are forced into the “gig ecomomy”, i.e. self-employment or precarious, poorly-paid contract work, we’re forced into free-market pricing for our most precious possession — our health.
When Representative Mo Brooks said it was unfair that healthy “people who lead good lives” should have to subsidize the insurance of unhealthier ones who presumably don’t, he bluntly raised an often unspoken question that runs through policy debates in Washington: Who deserves government aid and who does not?
Such proposals can be — and often are — couched in the language of economics, with advocates and critics calculating the efficacy of incentives, returns on investment and long-run savings. As Ben Carson, the Trump administration’s housing secretary, commented last week while touring publicly subsidized housing in Columbus, Ohio, “We are talking about incentivizing those who help themselves.”
But the judgment of who is deserving — as opposed to what is most effective — is at heart a moral one.
In pushing for repeal of the Affordable Care Act last week, Mr. Brooks, an Alabama Republican, suggested that people with pre-existing conditions deserved to pay higher premiums, because they had not “done things the right way.” That could include a cigarette smoker’s lung cancer — or a newborn’s congenital heart disease.
Couching this as “government aid” completely distorts the larger issue — are you really happy living in a country where you’re just fine — but millions of others aren’t?
This kind of self-righteous garbage, the “deserving”, makes me so angry.
Yes, those who live in a single-payer system do pay the costs of treating other people’s cancer (some are smokers!) and diabetes (some are obese!) and people who injure themselves while high or drunk or are torn to pieces by a dangerous, distracted driver.
No one admires or wants to support stupid, careless behavioral choices.
But I’d rather know that everyone can get good care quickly than smugly snuggle into my personal bubble, knowing for certain that others live in terror of losing their insurance or access to the drugs and care they need.
I grew up in Canada, to the age of 30, never once seeing or paying a medical bill. Nor have my parents, who still live there, in two different provinces, despite multiple surgeries and, for one, months of big-city hospital care.
I’m no fan of endless taxation. But a vast percentage of the U.S. federal budget goes to defense, waging endless wars against often undefeatable enemies.
And the outrageous rates I pay are giving health insurance executives’ massive salaries. I find that disgusting.
I believe healthcare is a right, not a rare privilege only granted to those who someone decides is “deserving.”
Jeff is the man wearing the blue checked shirt and vest.
It happened on a suburban September Saturday afternoon.
Our co-ed softball team, who’ve been playing together for 16 years, was in the middle of a game when Jeff, a 61-year-old teacher, ran to first base — and collapsed.
“Don’t be so dramatic!” scoffed Paul, the first-base coach.
He was having a heart attack, in the middle of a ball field.
Luckily, one of our team-mates, a physician, was there and immediately knew — and knew how — to start chest compressions.
Police came, and EMTs and a paramedic and took Jeff to a local hospital, where he was placed in a medically induced coma.
He’s fine now.
He’s back to teaching.
He’s back to playing softball.
I wasn’t there that day, but it terrified everyone who witnessed it, helplessly, fearful that our friend would die in front of them.
He could have.
So, wanting to be sure we’re prepared should it ever happen again, 28 of us paid $35 apiece to take a two-hour Saturday morning class last weekend to learn how we, too, might be able to save a life if needed.
It was deeply sobering — you have barely four to six minutes to get someone’s heart pumping again before their brain is damaged.
There’s no time to waste!
You can’t panic.
You can’t want someone else to fix it.
You have to do it, and do it quickly and do it with strength and speed — 120 compressions per minute. You’re mimicking a heartbeat for someone who doesn’t have one.
We each practiced on plastic dummies, both child and adult-sized.
We also learned how to do the Heimlich maneuver, on adults, children, infants and (worst case) even ourselves if we’re ever alone and choking. (Lean hard against a chair back and push down on your diaphragm.)
We also learned how to use and apply the two pads of a defibrillator and how to do so safely.
It was a lot to absorb, physically, intellectually and emotionally.
“No matter what happens, you tried your best,” the instructor cautioned.
Not everyone will survive even the best rescue attempt — unlike a recent local save who needed 25 minutes of CPR to return, literally, from the dead.
After the class, there was a lovely, moving ceremony in the town’s volunteer ambulance garage, with the town mayor and the nine people: EMTs, two police officers and a paramedic whose quick action and excellent skills saved our friend’s life.
Jeff gave a quick, graceful speech and served us a lemon cake at lunch to celebrate his second life.
If you’ve never learned CPR, I’d urge you to consider doing so.
It’s not as complicated as you’d think and there’s nothing worse than feeling helpless in a life-threatening situation.
Forget (!) the U.S. election and how weary some now are of constant comment, opinion, raging, crying, etc.
Some families are withdrawing from one another over the holidays to avoid (further) estrangement.
The next six weeks also mean a lot of rushing around, to parties, (for work, for fun, with family), to buy gifts, to attend professional events.
Maybe, on top of all that, you’re looking for work or a new job, or coping with illness or injury.
This time of year can also mean new, fresh heartache; we have friends who recently lost both parents (to a drunk driver); a friend whose husband died this summer; a friend whose husband of many decades died a month ago…each of them facing their first Christmas and New Years as an orphan, a widower and a widow.
Taking consistent care of ourselves is crucial to our ability to help nourish and sustain others, whether children, parents, friends, spouses, neighbors.
A few ways to nurture yourself:
Keep fresh flowers or plants in your home
As I’ve written here many times, especially as the trees lose their leaves and color here, every week I buy fresh flowers and keep our houseplants thriving. Even $15 worth of grocery store mums can fill multiple vases and jugs around our apartment.
Flowers are everywhere in our home: bedside, bathroom, dining table, side tables. I recently splurged $27 for three plants at a local nursery, including a pale purple cyclamen and a deep purple African violet.
We live, most of us, in such a noisy world! Traffic, airplanes overhead, other people’s music and conversations, our children, our pets.
Silence is deeply restorative. Find a place, at home or out in nature, to be alone, silent and still every day.
Talking to, hanging out with, patting your cat/dog/guinea pig.
Since the election, I’m sleeping 9 to 9.5 hours every night, an escape from fear and stress. Self-employment from home allows me to nap as needed. Few escapes are as consistently accessible, free and comforting as a nap or a refreshing night’s sleep.
Meditation or prayer
Making time to intentionally focus on your spiritual health is sustaining. A friend living in another state recently started an on-line group of us to meet for meditation together. It sounds odd, but we were all grateful she thought of it.
Face to face or on the phone or using FaceTime or Skype only. We really need to see our dearest friends’ faces and hear their laughter (or sighs). None of this online silliness! Get a hug. Give a hug. (In times of stress, ditch/avoid faux friends and competitive types, emotional vampires and frenemies. You need backup!)
Especially with those you’ve known for decades, reminisce about all the great times you’ve had together — and plot some adventures for 2017 to look forward to.
I keep a scented candle on my bedside table and it’s a soothing, calming final sight before I blow it out at night. It creates a ritual. We also light candles every evening when we eat dinner together ,(no TV blaring, no phones) and that, too, is a ritual that gently slows us down and moves into the evening.
I step onto a cozy bedside sheepskin rug every morning and treasure our woolen throws and blankets to nap under. Whether you wear a silk scarf or a cashmere muffler, or snuggly socks or slippers, keep your body as coddled and comfortable as you can.
We have a large collection of art, design and decorative arts books (all of which can be borrowed from your local library.) Few things are as pleasant as leafing through inspiring bits of beauty. Thanks to the Internet, virtually every museum in the world is now available for browsing.
Even better, get out to a museum or art gallery, sit on a bench and really, really savor a few pieces — sculpture, paintings, pastels, a mask or chariot — slowly and carefully.
Get out there! No matter the weather, fresh air and light are a great way to detach from grim thoughts, social media and yet another bloody screen.
Avoid all social media
This is one of my favorites, whether listening to the Sixth Brandenburg Concerto or Erik Satie or the Stones or…Crank up the stereo and sing along as loudly as you dare.
If you’re a musician, what a great way to lose yourself! I so envy — and have been fortunate enough to know several talented amateur musicians — those who can just pick up a flute or violin or harmonica or guitar and delight themselves. (I need to get my guitar out of the basement and start building up my calluses again.)
Attending a concert is a great way to destress. Jose and I recently attended an evening choral performance, all in Finnish, at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, in upper Manhattan. It was sublime! The echoes!
Play a game
Anything! Gin rummy, Scrabble, Bananagrams, cribbage, bridge, mah jongg. Do a jigsaw puzzle. Borrow your kids’ or grandkids’ Legos and have at it.
Yay, endorphins. This has been my preferred method of stress management for decades, whether dance class, spin class, a long walk or playing softball. Especially this time of year, as we all start eating and drinking too much, burning off some of those calories will help.
Some people hate being touched by strangers. But for some of us, a massage and/or manicure and/or pedicure and/or facial (yes, costly!) can be a great stress-buster. We’re lucky enough to live next door to a very good hotel spa, so I have incentive to work and and save hard for another visit.
Only if you enjoy it! Creating something delicious is both focusing and distracting — a stack of muffins, a savory soup or stew, a pile of roast vegetables fills your home with great smells and gives you instant, possibly healthy, gratification.
There’s a woman in my spin class — our spin class — who rarely smiles. Her face is usually set in a mien of unsettling intensity, her eyes always agog at..something.
She is as lean as a whippet, her muscles shorn of all excess fat, all softening curves. She carries a large bottle water with ice cubes in it.
She’s in her 50s, maybe retired or self-employed or doesn’t have to work. She appears to live at the gym, working out for hours.
Culturally, as someone who needs to shed at least 30 pounds, if not more, I should envy her, despising my own excess adipose tissue — a tummy whose additional flesh I can still grab (OMG!), despite three months now of two-day-a-week calorie restriction (750 per day), no alcohol until Friday evening and two to three spin classes a week plus lifting weights.
(I do see a difference in my shape and size now, as do my husband and friends. It’s just sloooooow. This morning in the mirror I saw…shadows in my cheeks. Definition?!)
I’m working it.
She’s working it.
The day after my left hip replacement….Feb. 2012
Another friend of the blog, a fellow journalist named Caitlin, writes Fit and Feminist — and is now doing (gulp) triathlons.
We’re all headed to the same place eventually, some much faster and more heart-breakingly so, than others.
I live in an apartment building where we own our homes, so I’ve stayed for decades and have gotten to know our neighbors.
It’s also a building with many — most — residents in their 70s, 80s and 90s.
Death stalks our hallways.
But in the past decade, we’ve also lost two lovely men, both mid-life, to brain tumors. One man on our floor died of cancer, at least three women in our building, (those that I know personally), are dealing with it.
It’s deeply sobering — (a fact I spend a lot of time denying!) — to stop and realize how fragile our bodies are, prey to genetic shit-shows we didn’t choose and must face nonetheless; my mother has survived at least four forms of cancer so I’m hyper-vigilant with mammograms, skin checks, Pap smears. I smoked once, for about four months, when I was 14 and am very careful about much alcohol I consume.
The weight I’m working so hard to shed is less for cosmetic reasons than for health.
And yet, life also offers tremendous sensual, shared pleasure in the form of delicious foods and drinks, which (yes, I admit) also include alcohol and sweets.
Some people dismiss this idea — sucking back juice or Soylent — treating food as mere fuel.
Not I. Not ever.
I was in great shape in fall 2014…then spent three weeks in Paris. Ooooohlala.
I look at young women, and men, in shorts and tank tops on the summer streets, carelessly luxuriating in their unlined, unscathed beauty, and wonder if they’ll look back in a few decades with rue or remorse, or happy memories of having savored it all while it was theirs to savor.
It’s a fine balance, this, between the mortification of the flesh, the discipline and self-denial to keep (or regain) a lean physique — and the slothful joys of long naps, a slice of chocolate cake or pie, hours on the sofa watching terrible television or playing video games instead of lifting weights or running or yoga.
Having worked non-stop to meet a magazine deadline, (the story for Chatelaine, a major Canadian magazine, which I’m really proud of, a medical one of course, is here), I ended up in the hospital, in March 2007, with pneumonia, and spent three days there on an IV, coughing so hard I could barely sleep. Drenched with fever sweat, I staggered into the ward shower, and — out loud, alone — apologized to my poor, aching, weary, worn-out body.
It was not, I finally and belatedly realized, a machine to be run until it smoked for lack of grease in the wheels.
Our bodies are the greatest of gifts, to be cherished and held and adored.
The backstory, for those of you who don’t use or need one, is the staggering price increase for the EpiPen, an injectable device that pumps epinephrine into your system to address anaphylactic shock, an allergic reaction to nuts, shellfish, fish or any number of substances.
If someone goes into that shock, they need the injection within 30 minutes or they can die.
In the U.S. — whose entire healthcare “system” is run to wring the maximum profit from our inevitable physical needs — there’s only one company making them right now, Mylan, whose female CEO, Heather Bresch, the daughter of a Senator, no less, might be the most loathed individual in the country right now.
Knowing she has the market cornered, (as other competitors left the field), she spiked the price of EpiPens to $600 — a huge jump, and one that makes a lifesaving device unaffordable to many people.
(The company, now under tremendous public fire, is offering a $300 coupon.)
Imagine needing, (as some people do), three sets for each child: school, home and your vehicle, a cool $1,800 to start.
I’ve been following this story, not because anyone I know uses an EpiPen but because I’m so sickened by corporate greed.
I also grew up, to the age of 30, in a nation with strict government oversight and regulation of drugs, medications and device prices — so no one gets gouged.
I decided to pursue this story on Friday morning, and started at 10:00 a.m.
I put out calls and urgent emails to sources in the U.S. and Canada, racing the clock to get the story reported and written quickly; as a “trending topic”, I needed to get it posted as soon as I could, yet make sure I was producing a smart, well-written and well-sourced piece.
Social media saved my bacon — a request to a writers’ group I belong to on Facebook prompted a fast reply from someone who knew a physicians (!) who personally relies on EpiPens and who emailed me back quickly and in detail.
Working behind the scenes with my editor who, as usual and of course, I haven’t met, we discussed how to best present the story, an angle I hadn’t read anywhere else — yet.
We posted the finished story, about 1,200 words, by 5pm. (Good thing I’ve worked as a daily newspaper reporter. That kind of speed is normal for me.)
If you have time to read it, please share it widely; Forbes is a pay per view model, and this story offers an important way for people who need affordable access to get it.
Setting a pretty table to share with friends? That’s a soothing activity for me…
There’s a phrase I see and hear a lot, and one I never heard decades ago — self-care.
It’s often aimed at women, especially mothers of small/multiple children, typically run off their feet caring for everyone but themselves.
The simplest of pleasures, reading a book or magazine uninterrupted, owning lovely clothing not covered with various bodily excretions, disappear in a whirlwind of attending to everyone else’s needs all the time.
It also happens when you’re overwhelmed by anything: a crazily demanding job and/or boss; trying to juggle work/school/family; wearyingly long commutes that consume hours; a medical crisis; care-giving someone ill and/or elderly.
Your own needs come second or third or fourth.
Or, it seems, never.
It becomes a matter of survival, of self-preservation.
Music, art, culture…feed your soul!
Of preserving, even a little, your identity, your hunger for silence and solitude, for time spent with friends or your pet or in nature.
It’s often reduced, for women, to consumptive choices like getting a manicure or massage, (and I do enjoy both, while some women loathe being touched by a stranger.)
But our needs are deeper, subtler and more complicated.
Caring for yourself isn’t always something you just buy, a product or service that keeps the economy humming — and can make you feel passive, resentful, a chump.
There’s no price tag on staring at a sunset or admiring the night sky or listening to your cat purr nearby.
There’s no “value” to sitting still, phone off, computer off, to say a silent prayer.
It’s one reason women who choose not to have children — as I did and millions do — are so often labeled “selfish”, as if caring for a spouse or friends or the world or, (gasp) your own needs, is lesser than, shameful, worthy of disapproval.
When it’s no one’s business.
We all need to preserve:
— Our souls, whether through prayer or meditation or labyrinth walking or a long hike or canoe paddle.
— Our bodies, which shrink and soften, literally, as we age, so we need to keep them strong and fit and flexible, not just thin and pretty.
— Our finances. Women, especially, can face a terrifyingly impoverished old age, thanks to earning less for fewer years, and/or putting others’ needs first, (those of children, aging parents, spouse, siblings), and hence a reduced payout from Social Security. It’s a really ugly payback for years of being emotionally generous.
— Our solitude. Yes, we each need daily time alone in silence, uninterrupted by the phone or texts or just the incessant demands of anyone else. We all need time to think, ponder, muse, reflect. Silence is deeply healing.
— Our mental health. That can mean severing toxic relationships with family, neighbors, bosses, clients or friends who drain us dry with their neediness, rage or anxiety. It might mean committing the time and money needed to do therapy, often not fun at all. It might mean using anti-depression or anti-anxiety medication.
— Our friendships. These are the people we often neglect in our rush to make money or attain some higher form of social status. It can take time, energy and commitment to keep a friendship thriving.
— Our planet. Crucial. Without clean air and water, without a way to flee flood, famine, war and fire — or prevent them — we’re all at risk.
–– Our sexuality. At any age, in whatever physical condition we find ourselves in.
— Our rightful gender. I recently met someone now transitioning from being born into a female body into the male one he now prefers. What an extraordinary decision and journey he’s now on. For some, it’s a matter of the most primal preservation.
— Our identities. Whatever yours is focused on, it’s possibly, if you live in North America, primarily centered on your work and the status and income it provides. Which is fine, until you’re fired or laid off. Then what?
Or on that of being a parent, (the empty nest can feel very disorienting.)
I think it’s essential to claim, and nurture, and savor lifelong multiple strong identities, whether athletic, artistic, a spirit of generosity or philanthropy, creative pleasures. You can be a cellist and a great cook and a loving son/daughter and love mystery novels and love playing hockey and love singing hymns.
We’re all diamonds, with multiple gleaming facets.
Maybe you just walked to work or enjoyed a bike ride or went dancing last night.
Maybe you’re training for a marathon or triathlon — or happy to race with your dog(s) along a trail.
Today’s the day I celebrate my body’s rebirth to full mobility – on Feb. 6, 2012, I was wheeled into an operating room to have my left hip replaced.
I was young for the surgery, as most people have it in their 60s or beyond; my 86 year old father only had his hip done in May of 2015.
I was very fearful, (I’d already had 3 prior orthopedic surgeries, [both knees, right shoulder] within the decade, all of which had gone well), and had put the operation off for more than two years. I was sick to death of surgeries and rehab and doctors and the whole thing.
And, as someone who’s wholly self-employed with a fluctuating income, I also had to fund a month off and the cost of co-pays for physical therapy rehab.
Those two years of avoidance, though, were crazy.
The arthritis in my left hip had required a course of steroids — whose side effects, (called avascular necrosis), instead destroyed my hip bone.
The resulting pain was 24/7 and exhausting. It made every step I took painful; even crossing a room was tiring.
Buying groceries in the enormous stores here in the suburbs of New York was a misery. Museum visits became marathons and I carried painkillers with me everywhere.
By the fall of 2010, in desperation, I went on crutches for three months just for a brief respite from pain. I bought a pair off the Internet, the short kind typically associated with long-term disability (think of FDR photos). Heaven!
With renewed energy and the ability to move more safely, painlessly and quickly, I went to the movies and theater, (scooching sideways across those narrow aisles), and even flew to Las Vegas to address a conference there.
By December of 2011, I was just too worn out from pain and booked the operation.
Three days before it, I was a featured speaker at — of all things — a conference of liquor store retailers in New Orleans, wandering that city’s streets with a limp so pronounced I walked like a drunken sailor. I’d been invited as a result of my book “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” to share my research into low-wage labor.
Sheer luck brought me that gig — and earned me $6,500, enough to take time off to just rest, rehab and recover.
A highly active person — I walk, cycle, dance, play softball, ice skate, ski and do a variety of other sports — I feared that a poor surgical result would mean the end to my athletic life. Or that my doctor would utter the dreaded word “moderate”, as a verb.
Not in my vocabulary!
Here’s my cover story from Arthritis Today about that life pre-surgery. I like the photos they took, but you can how heavy I got because it hurt so much to exercise.
Today I take jazz dance class twice a week, one of them so vigorous I leave sweat puddles on the floor, and enjoy full range of motion. (OK, I don’t do the splits anymore.)
I also live in an apartment building filled with people in their 70s, 80s and 90s, many of whom can now only ambulate safely using a cane or walker.
It’s sobering and instructive to see what aging, (and/or a poorly done surgery), can do to our blessed ability to run, dance, jump and simply enjoy the grace and power of our bodies.
On my last day of work at the American ad agency, something strange happened: I was smiling. A weight had been lifted, and I felt like a prisoner about to be freed. And despite my fear that no one would hire me, I soon found a job in Zurich doing exactly what I had been doing in the United States: copywriting for an ad agency.
My job title was the same, but I worked part time — and for a higher salary than I had received working full time in the United States. When I was politely asked to work additional days beyond the ones specifically mentioned in my contract, the agency paid me for that extra work.
Not only that, but instead of two weeks of vacation, I had five. And I was encouraged to use every single day of it, guilt-free. Once, when I went to Spain for “only” 10 days, my Swiss colleagues chastised me for not going away long enough.
Instead of worrying about working weekends and holidays the way I had in the United States, I planned trips like the rest of my colleagues: Paris. Prague. Zermatt. For the first time in my working life, I was living, too. Because of this, my creativity flourished. I had both time and money, and because I had real time off, I was more productive when I was at work. In my spare time I wrote blogs and essays and I swam in the lake.
I’m firmly and decidedly out of step with American values in this regard.
In 2015, I’ve spent 3 weeks in Europe in January, another three weeks in June in Ireland, 10 days in Maine and 10 days in Ontario.
Because my husband and I are, as of this year, now both full-time freelancers, (he’s a photo editor and photographer, I write for a living), we can work from anywhere there’s wi-fi and can take as much time off as we can afford.
We’re not wealthy and we live a fairly frugal life, with a small apartment and a 14-year-old car. Nor do we have the financial responsibilities of children or other dependents.
We’ve had terrific careers and won awards and the respect of our peers and while we still need to work for income…it’s time for us.
I’m not fond of the word “self-care” but it’s a concept I believe in strongly, especially for women who are socially encouraged to give everyone else their time, energy and attention — but often feel conflicted or guilty when they stop long enough to take equally thoughtful care of themselves.
Self care can take many forms:
— massage, manicures, pedicures, facials
— dressing well
— a barbershop trim or shave
— regular medical and dental checkups
–– cooking or baking something delicious, especially “just” for yourself
— a pot of tea in the afternoon, possibly with a biscuit or two (no sad little teabag in a cup!)
— drawing, painting, taking photos, nurturing your creative self