Monday, May 20, 2019

Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First

Quinn and I spend half an hour or so most nights reading side-by-side in his bed before I tuck him in. He recently suggested I start reading some of his books, and then he'll read them when I'm done. We have our own two-person book club and so far it is one of my favorite things that has happened to me as a parent. Right now, I'm a few chapters into book two of the Book Scavenger series by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman. The series is about a couple of kids who crack literary puzzles and codes to find hidden books and also solve bigger mysteries. The second book, the one I'm on, is called The Unbreakable Code.

I'm one of those people who's always got a handful of books on my nightstand, and right now I'm also reading Creative Trespassing: How to Put the Spark and Joy Back into Your Work and Life by Tania Katan, a local creative genius and also breast cancer survivor. I met Tania through my friend Sandi a couple of years ago at a storytelling event Tania was emceeing. And listening to her engage the crowd with her enthusiasm for story itself, I decided then and there I wanted to be her when I grow up. When her book came out a few months ago, I grabbed a copy, but it has taken me a little bit to dive into it because time does not grow on trees. Or something like that.

As I was reading Creative Trespassing the other night and highlighting and drawing stars next to passages left and right, including, "The moment you choose to let the world see the real you -- messy, imperfect, warts and all -- is the moment you choose to shine too."

A little further down the page, Tania writes, "And then I look on my  refrigerator to see the poem I placed there in case of an existential emergency, "The Summer Day" by Mary Oliver. The last line of poem is "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" Oh, it gets me every time. Because this is it, kids. I don't mean to get all life-or-deathsy here, but regardless of what your beliefs are about death or life or life after death, why would you want to squander a single moment of your one wild and precious life?"

I love that passage, and I have long loved that line by Mary Oliver. But here's where it got super weird for me, you guys. The very NEXT night, as I was reading next to Quinn, the kids in the Unbreakable Code book met with a librarian who has a tattoo sleeve on her arm. One of the tattoos is of an airplane carrying "a banner that read Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" Which gave me goosebumps because what are the chances? Sometimes the universe bonks you on the head with these signs, and if I've learned anything, it's to pay attention to the neon signs in your life -- and also lumps and bumps that aren't typical.

And these signs I'm getting lately, I believe, tie into a conversation I was having with a survivor friend recently about self-care versus selfishness.

In a post-cancer world, we survivors are acutely aware of the value of time and the resources that go into how we choose to spend it. For many of us, side effects linger long after treatment ends. Chemo brain is a very real hindrance in our day-to-day lives. Depending on how far out we are from surgeries or other treatments, we may have physical limitations like the extreme tightness in my right pectoral muscle. Many of us struggle with anxiety and PTSD. Despite all of this, we show up in this life because we have seen the terrifying possibility of an early end to it, up close and personal.

We show up by paying attention to our own needs first. Which might sound backwards to some, but what we've learned is that our health is everything. That without it, we are in hospital beds or on chemo chairs or recovering on the couch, and it's much harder to show up as our best selves when we're not well. We know that we can't take care of our families, or advocate for other patients, or live the fullest out of our one wild and precious life if we don't first take care of ourselves. It just doesn't work that way.

This is why flight attendants tell parents to put their own oxygen masks on first. On a plane that has lost cabin pressure, you can't help your child breathe if you aren't breathing.

It's why the spoon theory about how chronically ill patients choose to spend their spoons each day went viral, because others could concretely visualize why we are so frugal with how we spend our energy.

And because I'm on a Brenè Brown kick lately, it's why this quote makes so much sense: "In a society that says 'Put yourself last,' self-love and self-acceptance are almost revolutionary." If we are to show up for this one wild and precious life, we have to engage in self-care, as revolutionary as that might sound to some. So go to the gym, eat the vegetables, have a mom's night slumber party away from your kids, see your therapist, get the massage, walk more, cuddle with your dog, read with your child, do something creative. I am not just talking to the cancer survivors.

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