Warning Labels

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I’m so badass I come with a warning label like a Gremlin. You know, those cute furry things that you are not supposed to get wet or be fed after midnight. By the way, at what point in the morning is it no longer considered “after midnight?” I come with directions also. It’s called a medical alert bracelet. It lists all my food allergies plus my autoimmune disorder, so you know what not to feed me (or touch me with) a la Gremlin style. Unlike Gizmo, I do not sing pretty songs and look at you with soulful eyes.

Now that my autoimmune disorder has a diagnosis, I have a new, updated warning label. My warning label is still in my Boston Marathon colors and is made of military paracord instead of metal so that it can withstand the active lifestyle I lead when not being knocked down by my autoimmune condition. When I’m surfing, salt water is rough on jewelry. The metal IDs just don’t stand up to all the salt I put it through from salt water (surfing) to sweat (running) to tears (when I’m in pain at night).

Warning labels are interesting in that in order for there to be a warning, someone probably did the action, and there was probably a lawsuit about it. Think back to the huge McDonald’s coffee lawsuit, and now all coffee cups have a “Hot!” warning on them. What completely baffles me is that some warning labels seem to be common sense. Apparently, sense is not so common if it has to be on a label.

For example, “do not iron shirt while wearing.” Duh. Yet, for this warning label to exist, I am sure that means someone did actually iron a shirt while they were wearing it. There was probably a lawsuit following the event. Who did they sue? The company who made the shirt or the company who made the iron? Was it a one-person event where someone attempted to iron part of his or her own shirt while wearing it, or was it a two-person event where someone ironed a shirt while it was being worn by another person? Who on this planet thought this scenario was a good idea? Were you sober when you were operating the iron?

On a child’s superman costume: “wearing this garment does not enable you to fly.” This partially makes sense. Children engage in magical thinking. I can see how a child would either believe or pretend that the Superman costume could make them fly. I mean, come on, haven’t you played the game as a child where you would jump from one piece of furniture to another trying to avoid the “lava” on the floor? If you did not play this game as a child, you may want to rethink the epic-ness of your childhood. Hopefully the child wearing the Superman costume has an adult with common sense nearby who can explain that the costume does not make you fly so that the child does not get hurt. If you are an adult that thinks that you can fly while wearing a Superman costume, then I hope you live in a single floor dwelling, and can you please let me know what you are smoking? If an adult thinks they can fly, then you are on some pretty good stuff, or you need professional help so that they can give you some good stuff to correct your thinking.

Liquid plumber: “do not reuse bottle to store beverages.” Flashback to Grandma’s house where every time you open the refrigerator it was either like Christmas where every container is a surprise or some sort of Price is Right game where you had to guess the contents that are in butter tub # 1. Butter tubs, Cool Whip containers, these were the original Tupperware pieces minus the cool sucking sound. If your grandparents were alive during the Depression, they probably reused every container possible. You just never knew if that butter tub really held butter or some really yummy Thanksgiving leftovers. You did not need Cracker Jacks to get a surprise in every box when you could just open the refrigerator box and get a surprise butter tub. Yes, I do believe that “I can’t believe its not butter” holds the mashed potatoes, Bob.

Back to the liquid plumber warning label – who in their right mind would reuse this container for a beverage? Haven’t we established the Mason jar as the ubiquitous holder of all liquids from milk to beer to juice to wine? I mean, seriously, if this warning label is on the bottle, then someone must have actually reused a liquid plumber bottle to hold a beverage. Then, they must have sued liquid plumber due to the effect of reusing the bottle for a beverage. I’m sure there was bodily harm involved in this event. Really, what frame of mind was one in to do this in the first place? I know the feeling that sometimes we “don’t have a pot to piss in,” but that is a euphemism. It is not meant as truth. There was no other vessel of any kind any where for a beverage other than the liquid plumber container? Hmmmm.

My warning label gives a list of items that may potentially kill me. They are mostly food items. This is, of course, an oxymoron. Food is supposed to keep us alive, not kill us. This is a special kind of hell I live in. Of course, there are a lot of other things that could kill me too like tornadoes, or airplanes, or cancer. No one gets out of this world alive. At least it’s not like the old pea-green Oregon Trail screen where someone dies of dysentery or something weird like that. We’ve been able to eradicate quite a few diseases. Plus, I don’t have a covered wagon, so I have to come up with some other way to die.

I wear my warning label everywhere except when I am inside my house. My home is the only place where I can be that I am certain does not contain any of my allergens. It is the only environment over which I have total control. I don’t live in a bubble, but my house is probably as close to the bubble lifestyle as it gets. Too bad it doesn’t come with an airlock like some cool NASA spaceship. “Please stand clear for detox from top 8 allergens.”

Anyways, my updated warning label arrived the other day. This is one of those moments where sometimes you just need to laugh so that you don’t cry. Laugh now, cry later, right? At this point, I would just like to comfortably sleep through the night and be able to function at a more optimal level during the day. Beggars can’t be choosers.

What warning label do you come with?

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There Goes My To-Do List

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Oops. No more list. It’s all good. I can get everything done.

Back in the day when I was working 2-3 jobs 60-70 hours a week and going to school full-time pulling a 3.9 GPA, my to-do list was massive. I even had to schedule laundry, cooking, and cleaning. My life was so overscheduled that if I did not purposefully plan every single activity, it would not get done due to sheer lack of time. I was not living. I was surviving. I was working to pay the bills and trying to get through school to hopefully build a better life that I could enjoy at a much slower pace.

Last summer, as I was writing my thesis and finishing grad school, I had successfully minimized and downsized my life enough that my to-do list consisted of three items per day. I did this in order to prioritize my activities and to try to regain a sense of control over my time. It was quite effective. While the goal was three items per day, there were some days when my to-do list had five items, and others when it simply had one, but it was way better than what I had previously been facing.

My to-do list was so overscheduled that at one point I was a participant in a research study for Cornell on time management, and the researcher was so overwhelmed with my process that they even photographed my planner. Not only did I have a 5×7 size planner, but also it was color coded and notated with various tabs and small post-it notes with additional information that would simply not fit in the box. No one seemed to be able to understand how I was able to accomplish it all. Quite frankly, I have no idea either. Lately, my autoimmune disorder has been taking pretty much everything out of me, and I honestly cannot fathom how, just a few years ago, I was able to achieve everything in one day that I completed. Yet, somehow, I did.

I have been out of school for a few months now, and not only have I been able to better keep to my three items on the to-do list per day rule, but often, my to-do list has nothing on it. Nothing.

How does this happen?

Well, first of all, now that my life has significantly slowed from its breakneck pace, I no longer have to schedule, list, or plan for activities that need to be completed to sustain every day life. When the laundry basket fills, I wash clothes. When I run out of food, I cook more. I actually have time to do these necessities on a daily and as-needed basis without having to schedule every minute detail.

This means that my to-do list now only has occasional items on it such as doctor appointments, my book and writing clubs, and major home projects that need to be done as part of my KonMari plan. I have leisure time now that I never had before. Retired college student, indeed.

No longer having a to-do list is very freeing. It is freeing to the point where I actually feel lazy. I have been able to slow my life down to the point where not only am I able to effortlessly perform the duties required to maintain everyday life like laundry and cooking without having them scheduled, but I also have time to do pretty much whatever I want to do with my non-work hours. I have plenty of activities to fill my time, yet I do not feel overwhelmed in the slightest.

If you do not have the luxury as I do to throw your to-do list out the window, can you minimize it? Once we get past the point where we are scheduling survival activities on the to-do list, the list should only consist of those additional activities that are an addendum to everyday life, and not a necessity.

Another thing that has helped this process immensely is identifying my priorities. I have three priorities in life, and now that I have identified what they are, I am able to be sure that everything I do is aimed at achieving those goals. Everything in life that is not a priority, I have let go. Everything else is simply extraneous activity and background noise to what is truly important in life.

I still have a planner. My planner has gone from 5×7 size down to a more 3 ½ x 5 size. I no longer fill the boxes completely, and gone are the highlighting, tabbing, color coding, and additional post-it notes that I used to have. I use the square provided to me, and it is not full on any given day.

There is great freedom that comes when we have the privilege to be able to slow down our lives. When we have employment we enjoy that pays our bills and allows us time for recreation, we have time to do what we truly want to do without having to engage in the never-ending rat race that steals souls.

While my to-do list has gone out the window, I am in fact accomplishing more than I was completing before and I am so much happier doing it. Life is much more manageable when we slow down the pace to be able to focus on our priorities and goals to achieve that which is truly important.

If you do not have the luxury of sending your to-do list out the window, what can you prioritize to make it more manageable? How can you slow down today?

Maximum Effort

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Deadpool has now made itself one of my top three favorite movies of all time. I saw the movie for the second time in the theatre this weekend, which is only the second time I have ever paid to see a movie in the theatre more than once. One of the main mantras that Deadpool uses throughout the movie is Maximum Effort. Maximum Effort usually comes into play when Deadpool faces a particularly challenging situation and not only is it a rough situation, but is usually made even more complicated by some sort of unforeseen setback.

Applying this concept to the everyday, I came to the realization that the only times I have been able to apply Maximum Effort to anything in my own life has been recently, as I have been slowing down.

I spent more than a decade working multiple jobs 60-70 hours a week, going to school full-time, and trying to take care of myself mainly alone. When our plates are that full, we are unable to put Maximum Effort into anything. When we are too busy, too cluttered, overscheduled, we have all we can do just to survive. Clutter, stress, and debt are compounded when we live life at the rate at which it is easier to just buy a new thing than it is to find the thing we already have in the house. You know what I mean – when I was working 70 hours a week, if I could not find, say, the can opener, it was just easier to buy a new one than to find the one that I had and this is how stuff accumulates. This increases our stress levels and the debt we incur necessitating more working hours, and the cycle continues.

Granted, the biggest reason why I was working so many hours back in the day was that I was earning low wages. It is hard to make ends meet when you are making $9 (or less) an hour, which is what I was at before my current employment. Being so overwhelmed literally made it impossible for me to put maximum effort into any aspect of my life other than survival. Nothing received my full attention, not my job, not my schoolwork, not my friends, nothing.

As I have been rewinding real slow and minimizing my life to make time and space for what is truly important to me, I realize that I am now able to put Maximum Effort into things in my life. My job gets Maximum Effort. My home gets Maximum Effort. The activities in which I have decided to engage since retiring from college have received Maximum Effort. When I do have the opportunity to spend time with people, they receive my full attention. My relationships now receive Maximum Effort.

This has been a huge learning curve. Here are a few things I have learned about being able to apply Maximum Effort to my life since I have slowed down:

  • Focus on what’s important. We cannot give maximum effort to anything when we are being pulled in multiple directions. When we prioritize what is important in life, we can focus our energy into giving maximum effort to those people and events that truly give life meaning. What are your priorities? What is important to you? Make a list. Is your everyday life congruent with that list? If not, then you may need to do some rearranging to be sure that you can give maximum effort to that which you truly value. My priority list has three items on it. When I realized that one of those items was not receiving maximum effort, I made a conscious effort to rearrange my daily routine to focus on that item. Not only does this bring me joy, but also it helps to keep me centered.
  • Let go of perfection. This probably sounds like a contradiction in terms. I’m saying to give maximum effort but let go of perfection. If you are perfect, then you can just skip right over this section. I am not perfect, but I am also not in any way advocating for shoddy work. Perfection is a set of unrealistic expectations. Do not get so focused on having the perfect moment, the perfect dinner, the perfect relationship that you fail to enjoy what you do have. Life does not have to be perfect to be beautiful. We can settle for good. We can settle for great. We do not have to have perfect. If you can achieve perfection, wonderful, but often, perfection is a recipe for failure. If we are so focused on achieving this goal called perfection, we often miss the beauty of what is right in front of us.
  • Start where you are and start small. Maximum effort is exhausting, As tiresome as it was to be pulled in multiple directions giving 10% to this and 30% to that, having the sums add up to way more than 100%, it is just as trying to give 100% to one thing. If you are currently being pulled in four different directions and are unable to reduce your obligations, then try to focus on just one area to give maximum effort. You are not a superhero and cannot be all things to all people. Start small.

Being able to give maximum effort to that which is important to me has led me to feel more fulfilled. When we slow down our lives and only focus on what is important, then we have the opportunity to be consciously present in every moment. Sometimes, this moment is the only one we have. Tomorrow is not promised. Today is a gift; that is why it is called the present.

Maximum effort may not have been caught by most moviegoers viewing Deadpool, or if it was, probably not given a second thought. Besides being a great action packed superhero love story that had me in stitches the entire film, Deadpool gives us something to think about, if we can stop laughing long enough to see. This movie was definitely even better the second time around.

My (Super) Hero

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Birthday flowers above.

This weekend, I totally splurged in honor of my birthday and did something epic three days in a row. It kind of helped that the weather finally warmed up. I have counted less than 20 days since October 24, 2015 that I woke up and did NOT find snow on the ground, so the fact that we have been snow-less for almost a week now has really brightened my mood.

Perhaps the best thing I did over the past three days was to take myself to the movies to see Deadpool.

I have a new favorite super hero.

Daylight savings time this week has totally screwed with me, so I admit to being more sleepy and confused than normal; it took me awhile to realize the satire in the opening credits of the film (I won’t spoil it by giving you particulars). Not to mention, my autoimmune disorder that completely wrecks havoc with my sleep schedule has made it so that I am now awake at 4 am every day. I suppose this is an improvement from being awake from 2 am to 6 am, but still. If I’m awake at 4 am, I better be running a marathon, and in the case of the past week, I have been awake at 4 for health reasons having nothing to do with running.

In fact, my current sleep deprived and grumpy disposition is one of the reasons why I am singing the praises of the movie Deadpool like a hysterical teenager who has had too much Mountain Dew and Pop Rocks.

This flick mirrors my life and it does so in the most hilarious way.

I often try to make light of or joke about things because I am a big proponent of laughing and not crying. Sure, there are times to be serious. I am not a complete jerk. But we have to realize that sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself. Do not take life too seriously. No one gets out alive. Sometimes you need to laugh so that you do not cry. Laughing reminds us we are alive. It helps spread hope.

I am a Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma survivor, and now I have multiple food allergies, multiple medication allergies, and an autoimmune disorder. This is all adult-onset. When I first went into anaphylactic shock in my mid-20s, no one had any idea to what I was having a reaction, as I had no known allergies. I was not one of those kids who grew up with a food allergy. In the 80s? Food allergy? What’s that?

To make the situation even better, my allergies are so severe that I react by touch. A few years ago, when I was teaching pre-school, one of the students spilled their milk on me. Not only did I go into anaphylactic shock, but also I had multiple organs that started to fail and quite literally almost died. They may say, “don’t cry over spilled milk,” and in general, I would agree. I do not cry over spilled milk. I writhe in pain over it.

So the basic plot for Deadpool hit really close to home for me. Here is a man dying of cancer, and the cure leaves him with this awesome mutation that gives him all these super powers, but also results in this really horrible skin condition. He beats cancer (check), gets a skin condition (check), and has super powers in the form of healing (the reverse of my autoimmune disorder, but close enough, so check).

Deadpool spends most of the movie searching for Francis to “cure” him of the superpowers and skin condition much in the way I visit various specialists such as immunologists and dieticians to try to deal with my food allergies and autoimmune disorder. I have got to admit, that Deadpool does all this with a lot more style than I do. No wonder he has his own movie and I don’t.

I have a new favorite (super) hero. I wanna be, I wanna be, I wanna be like Deadpool.

This man’s sense of humor is incredible. If there was ever a person who can laugh over something instead of cry over it, then Deadpool is IT. In the super hero universe, Deadpool is refreshing. Each super hero has their own hard luck story that they have overcome to be this incredible person. Superman’s planet blows up, Batman’s parents get killed, and Spiderman gets bit by this freaky-ass spider, Deadpool gets cancer. Superman is mysterious, Batman is broody, and Spiderman is a little ADHD for me. Deadpool is a breath of fresh air.

The man tells it like it is. When you have some major disease or chronic disorder, people whisper about it. It is not “appropriate” to talk about. Deadpool has no filters. The movie had me in stitches the entire time so much so that I completely forgot I have an autoimmune disorder making my life hell for the 2 hours I was in the theatre. That is no small feat. Like the movie, my autoimmune disorder involves a skin disorder also, so I see my disease every day. Until I am healed and done with this episode I am having, it is continuously in my face, for me, and the rest of the world, to see.

I enjoyed this movie so much that I want to see it again. For the record, there has only been one movie in my lifetime that I have actually paid to see twice in the movie theatre. That movie was the Beatles musical Across The Universe. If Deadpool is still around on my next day off, then this flick could be the second film I pay to see twice in a theatre. We will see how much longer it plays.

I have a new (super) hero.

 

Enjoy the Ride

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One of my favorite well wishes is the reflection that a birthday is the start of another 365-day journey around the sun. Enjoy the ride! Birthdays are my favorite holiday. Not only are they a celebration of life, but also recognition of those people who are important in our lives. I always say that every time I get a birthday, it is like a giant middle finger to the world that I was able to survive another year of whatever life threw at me.

My birthday is coming up soon, so it is that time of reflection upon the prior year and also goals and wishes for the year forthcoming. My wish for 36 was for a quiet year. Ages 34 and 35 were quite tumultuous with negative life changes and health crises. I had wanted 36 to be quiet after all the excitement. I got my wish. Not only was age 36 a quiet year, but also it was quiet with a sweet sort of joy I have never before experienced.

In my early 30s, I had read an article quoting an English study regarding happiness across development that claimed that age 33 was the happiest age across the lifespan. In general, I would have to say I agree. I have been saying for the past few years that age 33 was the best year of my life, before it all went to hell with age 34 and 35, but you never get a rainbow without a little rain. Age 33 was a great year. Sure, it had some challenges, as life always does, but there were some major milestones and great moments in my 33rd year. I was able to see my favorite baseball team play in their home stadium for the first time in my life. It is an experience that I know I will think of dearly when my time comes and my life is flashing before my eyes.

However, as age 36 comes to a close, I have to say that in its own unique, unassuming way, age 36 has now usurped age 33 as the happiest year of my life. As with any age, this past year has had it’s own set of challenges, yet the positives of the past year have far outweighed the negatives. This is what has made age 36 my best and most favorite year ever:

  1. I fell in love (again). Anyone who has ever been in love and then somehow lost it, either through death or through the drifting apart that people sometimes do, will tell you that love is that magical feeling that seemingly comes once in a lifetime. We often do not even realize that this is IT: this particular person/relationship/event is love until after it has passed. In general, I would agree. The person with whom I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with passed away 10 years ago now, and I had resigned myself to the fact that I had found the love that you only find once in life, and that the only thing I would be able to find in the future is maybe a comfortable companionship.

This year I fell in love again and I would have to say that not only was it not expected, but it is also the type of love that I realize and understand that this is IT. It is not something fickle or fly-by-night. Rather, this is a person I have known almost all my life, and has grown quietly through the years while I was busy making other plans. If there were ever a pure form of love, I have it, and to experience that type of love is truly a gift. I have learned that love can give you joy and love can bring you pain. Loving someone means being comfortable with and giving them room to be their own person, make their own choices, and find their own happiness, whether or not that includes me. I have learned that I can love someone very deeply, even if it is a person with whom a relationship does not work out. While love is pure, time is of the devil’s making, and true love understands the only way to love is to give yourself so completely that you are vulnerable to the possibility of loss.

  1. I found myself, and I did not experience an existential crisis in the process. I am the Queen of the Existential Crisis. Pretty much everyone around me will attest that I spent most of my 20s in Where’s Waldo mode, only to have matured in my 30s to a more suave Carmen Sandiago persona, complete with brimmed hat and dreams of world travel. I am staring down age 37 and can proudly say “no mid-life crisis for me” (yet)! I completed my final degree after spending 20 years in school and have eased into my retirement from my life as a professional college student more comfortable in my own skin that I have ever been at any point in my life. I have been better able to handle life’s challenges in stride and have surprised myself with my ability to adult.
  1. I have arrived. Life is a journey, and while I agree with that sentiment in general, I have to say that there is some feeling of accomplishment when we cross a finish line and recognize how far we have come, even with so far to go. I am at a good place in life. While I still struggle and face health challenges, I am finally at a position in my life where I am able to take care of myself in the best way possible. After over a decade of working multiple jobs, 60-70 hours per week, with often only holidays as a day off, I now have employment I enjoy. I have employment I enjoy, that pays me well, and gives me days off. This gives me the freedom to have time to spend doing whatever I choose and also time to be able to take care of myself better than I have been able to take care of myself before. While I face many challenges with my multiple food allergies and autoimmune disorder, I can say that especially in the past year, I have finally been able to make the life changes necessary to put me on the path to good health instead of simply being subject to the whim of my disease.

Part of my efforts to rewind real slow is to help me take care of myself better so that I can enjoy life more. Life is short, and I have sacrificed so much in the pursuit of my education. This past year, I have finally arrived at the point where I am able to live instead of simply survive, and I now see how truly sweet life can be. In 35 years, I had never seen this sweetness of life on such a broad scale. I had caught glimpses of happiness at certain times, but this past year has been the first time I have experienced a sustained sort of joy and contentment in life I have never before seen.

Looking forward to age 37, my wishes are that I am able to take everything I have learned in the past year and continue to grow. I am hoping to be able to get my autoimmune disorder and food allergies under control so that I can enjoy parts of life I am sure I have never imagined. I hope that I am able to make good choices and can continue to surprise myself with my ability to adult. In all honesty, I am hoping to be the type of person this year that my cat thinks I am. Out of all the things I have learned in the past year, I have discovered that the most important is love. While it may sound trite, my cats are the only ones who have been constant in my everyday life for 18 years, and I hope to be everything to them that they have been to me, especially as Kitty will probably only be around for a few more years. I want to enjoy this life I have created for myself and utilize the freedom I have to chart my own course.

So while I am unsure of what age 37 has in store, I am at a good place with firm footing to face whatever is coming. I am hoping that after all the storms I have weathered, that this is my time for a rainbow, and that I can truly take my time to enjoy my ride around the sun.