I woke up this morning. That was a good start, and it got even better. It was early- 5:24am to be exact. No alarm, my sweet puppy Stevie Nicks lying peacefully by my side. I feel blessed, excited and dare I say it… content?
It’s a good feeling. One I haven’t felt in a while. Welcome back, old friend.
In March of 2020 I closed my optical shoppe for 9 weeks. It was unexpected, both mentally and emotionally crushing, and physically isolating.
For the last 2.5 years I had worked in the downstairs portion of my historic building and lived upstairs in a super cute remodeled historic apartment. I was technically living alone, but not a lonely person. In 2019, I treated the apartment like a condo and basically left almost every weekend to travel both near and far. It was fantastic and I was on a roll. The practice was thriving, and I was thriving. Full stop.
Covid hit. Office closed. I wanted to be part of the solution and not part of the problem, so I stayed home. Alone. I went to the grocery store once a month. I watched CNN constantly. I tried doing the 9 jigsaw puzzles I had sent over from the game store across the street. I think I managed to complete two puzzles in 9 weeks. I had no energy, no creativity.
The one thing I did manage to do was cook and bake out of my pantry. I made some good stuff, ate it, and gained 8 pounds in 9 weeks. Uh oh. Looking back on it now, I was doing a dance with a bad date called depression. I had no idea.
Luckily, a dear friend noticed I was losing it. She insisted I visit her. She was in a COVID bubble, I was in a COVID bubble… we should be COVID bubbles together. I fretted about it and finally gave in. I visited and we cooked and laughed, and I managed to find a few pieces of her jigsaw puzzle. We walked her rural road. I went to visit her several times over the next month or two. Depression started to lift. Thank you, dear friend.
The office was closed, but we started to get some orders for contact lenses. My staff took turns meeting me at the office every few days to send off orders. We masked and stayed apart. It was a saving grace for me. We shared stories about lockdown. It gave me perspective. I realized that being alone during a lockdown can be easier than being in lockdown with others. There are two sides to every coin.
The office opened 9 weeks later. It was a beautiful thing and still is. My team and I did everything we could to maintain safer standards. Patients did their part- they came in and were willing to do the COVID shuffle. My schedule was full. I have since seen over a thousand patients, and I can count on one hand the number of issues we had regarding COVID policy. Of course, I remember those incidents. When I do the math- statistically it was a minute percentage. This helps me to remember… most people are fundamentally good, kind, and willing to help.
For me, the hardest part is accepting help. It’s a flaw. I blame it on my upbringing, which is what I do whenever I face issues about myself that I don’t like. The problem with blaming everything on your upbringing is that somewhere around age 30 it gets old and worn out and your friends and family get sick and tired of it. Around age 50, the people you like to blame for your issues are dead. Your excuse is gone for good. Time to take a good look in the mirror and figure some stuff out.
I am learning. I am learning how to ask for help, accept help and be thankful for it.
Fast forward 3 months. I’m working hard now. Busier than ever. Still a little lonely as things are not back to ok with COVID. No vaccination yet. I’m starting to have COVID envy. I have a few friends and family that got COVID and recovered and are going out to dinner. Son of a bitch.
I would love to go out to dinner and be served. I don’t care what it is. If someone were to ask me, “Ma’am would you like another?” I would respond immediately, “Yes, please.” I don’t care what it is. I just want to be pampered and waited on. If I had my choose-it’s I would prefer an VO press Old Fashioned with pickled mushrooms, but I would settle for a cold Bud Light. Envy. Envy- the green-eyed girl. Wanting what other people have is usually a recipe for disaster. This includes medical conditions, choice of spouse and children, and bank accounts.
Fast forward another 6-7 months. I’ve now acquired a darling black lab puppy named Stevie Nicks. She is my new best friend and is living up to her name. She is beautiful, independent, maybe a little wild and very loving. She was an unexpected addition to my life, and I will be forever grateful. Stevie and I had some crazy times living upstairs and trying to get potty trained in the middle of winter in Wisconsin.
Stevie and I went downstairs every two hours and walked around the little park next to my office. In my work clothes, in my yoga pants, in my pjs and robe! The neighborhood folks got used to it and we made friends.
I had been looking for a little house to buy for some time. If you have been paying attention to the real estate market, you will know that it’s a real challenge to find a house. I looked, looked, and looked some more. Just when I gave up… yep, my dream house found me. I bought it. Stevie has a yard and I have a kitchen. We are happy clams. It’s perfect, and I didn’t change a thing. Timing is everything.
The tricky part is how to handle life when life’s timing isn’t in sync with my timing. There are many books and memes and prayers that address this very issue. A friend sent me a little meme during the pandemic. I can’t remember the whole thing… but it basically said, “You are Loved.” There was some other stuff I can’t remember, and “You are Enough.” Those two things I remember. I hope you remember them too.
Life has slowly returned to almost normal. I’ve been socializing a bit and seeing friends. I am one of the youngest people in my group. Some of the others are a bit older and starting to retire. I’ve been around when the talk turns to retirement and money. I was feeling bad about it. I am late to that game. I spent most of my youth and adolescence screwing around. I did what I was told by my parents, went to the same college as Dad and The Sisters. I stayed in the same dormitory, I took the same classes, went to the same underage bars. Haha! I was young, naïve, and not particularly driven. I mostly liked to have fun. I was pretty good at it, but that doesn’t really show well on a resume or add to the retirement account.
Somehow it all worked out and now I am structured and have a roof over my head and a decent job, so I won’t go stick my head in the oven. That being said, let’s spend a moment to think about life. It does require a certain amount of intention, or things tend to go haywire. Mom used to say, “The road to Heaven is paved with good intentions.” To be honest, I never gave it much thought. That has apparently gotten me to my current state of being.
Heaven and Hell. Decision, decisions decisions…I always thought the sinners had more fun and it might be worth it. I also think the road to Hell might be paved by kombucha! What?? Seriously, I was just at the new co-op and tried some and there is no amount of Tito’s that can fix it. I promptly made a nice cup of French press coffee to go with my Thunderbird Bakery pain au chocolat and life improved dramatically. I digress. Where was I? Oh yes. Intention. Intention deserves a bit more thought.
I spent some time thinking about it and determined that for me- I want to work. For one thing, Anderson’s live a long time. Mom made it to 90 and Grandma A made it to 103! That’s a lot of years to finance. I didn’t do so hot when I wasn’t working during the shut-down. It only takes an hour or two to work out and clean your house and then what? There are a lot of hours in the day. So, I need to figure how I want to work. I’ve given it some thought.
I don’t want to work like a crazy person and be stressed out. I want to work and have a balanced personal life. I want to like my patients and staff. I want to feel valued. I want to be interested in what I do. That’s a lot of wants. I will need to make a few changes.
There is never a good time to change. I’m looking at it as a positive because I am choosing to change instead of having change forced on me. There is a difference. Let me provide an example.
About 15 years ago I worked for a doctor in his practice. I was miserable. The terms weren’t as we discussed. I tried to communicate and negotiate for a tolerable and fair situation. No go. I finally quit. Then, and only then did the doctor want to communicate and negotiate. Too late, pal. “Freedom’s just a word for nothing left to lose.” Thank you, Bobby McGee. It was a hard change. It cost me in many ways… the only thing I regret is not leaving sooner.
Good change is what I am trying to achieve. I have changed my work schedule and I am entertaining the idea of adding a sub-specialty to my practice that I find interesting. There will be some short-term pain. I am doing my due diligence and not jumping into anything without a plan. This is progress, friends. In the past I would have jumped both feet forward off the cliff with no plan. I still plan to jump, but I will be wearing a parachute, just in case. Progress.
I have a friend who is very strong mentally. He’s got a good relationship with his wife and children, works hard, is physically fit, and likes to have fun. Overall, a balanced person. One time when I was complaining about something he said, “There are facts, and there are excuses.” That shut me up.
Don’t complain about being fat if you haven’t done anything to not be fat. Don’t complain about not having enough money if all you’ve done is go out and spend money. Don’t complain about being bored it you made no effort to connect with people and make plans. Don’t complain about your house being dirty if you haven’t done your part to keep it clean.
I now use that statement in my head to help me control my actions and emotions. I used it two days ago. I turned my apartment into an Airbnb. It took a bit longer than expected to get ready, but it has turned out great. I had it booked out months ago for the big summer event in town, EAA Airventure. Every hotel is booked solid for 30 miles. It’s a money maker. Two days ago, my renter cancelled at the last minute because her teenage son and adult daughter contracted COVID. The show starts in two days. I’m screwed. I was bummed out. Then I applied my new thinking. There are facts, and there are excuses. The fact is, I did my part. The apartment is clean and ready to go. I kept my end of the bargain. Done. Stuff happens, whether it’s COVID or something else. It doesn’t matter what happened to change the trip. It’s out of my control. It’s done. Once I got my head around the situation, I felt better. It’s a disappointment, but in the grand scheme of things not a deal breaker. Mental fitness. It’s a game changer.
The other night I went on a boat ride across Lake Winnebago. The water was smooth as glass. It was a beautiful evening. We ate at a tiny restaurant by the water. This spot is known for it’s beautiful sunsets and we were expecting a treat.
The restaurant was struggling to serve the patrons. There was very little staffing. We were served by children- literally- age 10 if not younger. Nothing came out as ordered. But, it was okay because you can’t expect children to know how to be servers at restaurants. Clouds were coming in and the wind was picking up. There was no sunset. I paid the bill and left a huge tip.
We had jackets and foul weather gear. The ride home was bumpy. I stood up the whole way, holding onto the railing and using my knees as shock absorbers. It wasn’t exactly a fun ride home, but it was exhilarating. I’ve got a good grip. We were all laughing and shrieking as we hit the big waves. It’s good to be with people who can laugh when things get dicey. The boat and captain were solid. I had faith we would get home in one piece. Ironically, we aim for the lights of the insane asylum to find our way home. That also seems appropriate for my life. It’s the journey, not the destination.