The Year Of Me

In retrospect, I think I would have to declare 2018 to be the Year of Terri.  I know it is more than a bit self-absorbed, but I’m afraid that is sort of the nature of this blog.  After all, isn’t it found at www.terrilabonte.com?  The website address should give it away.  Surely, you must be used to reading my endless angsting over the trials and tribulations of my life by now? 

What makes this blog post different is that I am actually celebrating something about my life this time.  In 2018, I gave myself permission to make things all about me.  I have to say I am quite pleased with the results. 

Everyone always tells you that you need to take care of yourself, especially when you are going through a rough time or are immersed in caring for someone else.  They tell you that it will help you be a better caretaker.  They tell you it will refresh you for whatever difficulties you must bear.  They tell you that you deserve it. 

While I understand the benefits of taking care of oneself, I always seem to have practical reasons for not actually doing it. Time is a finite quality and life sometimes seems to have a way of using up that finite quality on more pressing matters than me. 

There is also a stronger, more sinister, and uglier reason for not taking care of myself.  It isn’t that I’m a saint.  I’m not that selfless person who is so committed to the welfare of others that she doesn’t even want to take the time and energy to do something for herself.  It is quite the reverse.  I really, really like to do things to make myself happy.  In fact, the dirty little secret about why I avoid taking care of myself is that I am afraid it would be all too easy for me to slide down that slippery slope of selfishness and become one of those horrible, self-involved, spoiled people who lives for their own perceived entitlements.  I cringe at the thought of that happening to me.  I honestly don’t think I could live with myself if I allowed me to be as selfish as I think I am probably inclined to be. 

When my mother was ill, I was doubly afraid that doing anything for myself would drive me right over the precipice of selfishness.  It was often so hard to be with her and watch her decline, I knew it was taking all my discipline and archived love to journey with her.  I was afraid that, if I stopped for a second, I would never have the strength to be able to start again.

After a year of listening to everyone telling me that I needed to take time off and take care of myself, I finally decided to try living a little differently after my mother’s death.  I decided to give myself some time to indulge my selfishness… to do things I wanted to do, buy things I wanted to buy, behave as I wanted to behave.  To guard against my fear of transforming into an intolerable, worthless human being, I gave myself a deadline of a year. At the end of the year, I vowed, I would make a concerted effort to rejoin the world community and become a better, holier person. 

Then the miracle happened.  I didn’t need to make a concerted effort.

In 2018, I converted to the Episcopal Church.  I went to California on my own to scatter my mom’s ashes and see loved ones. I continued writing my blog.  I published my book.  I hosted three parties, including cooking Thanksgiving dinner. I joined Facebook.   I participated in several fun activities around my community.  I bought two sets of Lennox flatware just because I wanted them.   I took a trip to Texas to see a dear friend of mine from Hawaii who was working there.  I’ve ordered a number of purchases from QVC that weren’t hugely expensive but were more than I would usually spend for such items. I went to Discovery Cove, my “once in a lifetime” experience, for the second time. I spent ten beautiful autumn days in New England.  I got tinkified at Disney World.  I bought a $100 fake fur coverlet because I’d always wanted a good quality faux snow leopard blanket.  These are just the indulgences that I can recall right off the bat.

You can see I had a rather madcap year of pleasing myself.  It is exactly the kind of thing I feared would turn me into a ranting, self-serving, horrible megalomaniac.  It didn’t.

It turns out that “they” are right when they say taking care of yourself helps you do a better job of taking care of others.  Nearly all of these activities that I thought were so selfish actually opened the door to me being a much better, more connected, more empathetic, and more effectual person.  They also, strangely enough, strengthened my Christian walk.

In converting to the Episcopal Church, I really thought I was doing it because I wanted to feel more alive in my faith.  I wanted a livelier faith experience and a stronger feeling of God’s presence in my life.  When I read that now, I can see that my motivations were initially pretty me-oriented.  I wasn’t thinking about how I could serve God and His family better.  I was thinking about how I wanted to feel. 

Despite this initial motivation, my walk towards conversion led me to a much deeper, more intimate, and more service-minded connection with God and His people.  By allowing myself to go down this path in the way I did, I allowed God to bless me with an extra helping of grace.  Also, it opened my heart to becoming involved in ministries.  Without having to “discipline” myself to volunteer after my year of self-indulgence, I organically began to participate.  I deliver meals to the homebound.  I presented a discussion program at a women’s group meeting.  I am slated to help launch a faith enrichment program at my church in 2019. 

Joining more activities in my community has also led me to projects to help others.  One of my new activities raises money for books to support a local early learning and literacy center. 

My walk into the Episcopal Church and joining more activities in my community also helped me be a more secure, comfortable person.  That may sound, again, like a benefit to me.  It was, but it also helped open that closed door inside me that keeps me from doing things that I am naturally inclined to do.  I think I am a fairly empathetic, thoughtful person. However, in the past, I often didn’t act on those feelings for fear of being intrusive or being rejected.  In my new, self-centered persona, I am more able to reach out to others and let them feel my heart. Writing and publishing my book has also helped me grow in that way.

Facebook helped me connect with old and new friends.  I have also been able to use Facebook to reinvigorate my Thankful Thursday project from my working days.  By sowing thankfulness each Thursday on the Facebook field, I think I am brightening life a little tiny bit.  I am also able to spread the love of God in that endeavor.  The whole project seems to be getting a little traction, so maybe the internet winds are blowing the thankful seeds further than I realize. 

In pursuing my fun, friends, and travel activities, I find I am regaining some of the spirit that was always me before sadness quelled it.  I feel better and, as a result, I am a better companion for everyone who loves me.  I love better and, therefore, I am easier to love.

Yes, 2018 was the Year of Terri.  I am hoping 2019 is, as well!

What will you do to make 2019 the year of you? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Happy New Year! Thank you for reading!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

PS Why not start the new year right by ordering a copy of my book, Changing My Mind: Reinventing Myself In Retirement? If you enjoy the blog, you will like the book! It is available in paperback and electronic versions. You can get it at : https://secure.mybookorders.com/orderpage/2076. Use the promo code terri for a 15% discount. You can also order a copy at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, but the discount code will not apply.

Older And Wiser

Now that we have welcomed 2018, it seems a good time to reflect on the old year and think about how I will use those experiences going forward in my life. They say that anything that doesn’t kill us makes us stronger and that, as we age, we gain additional wisdom.  I certainly hope so.  It would be very sad to think that I could go through the joy and grief of fiftysome years of life experience without learning a thing or two. This year, partly because the recent circumstances of my life created an emotional crucible, I think it is worth capturing some of the particular lessons I’ve grown to understand.

Just because someone disagrees with me doesn’t mean I am wrong.

I take my world view pretty seriously.  I spend a lot of time on introspection.  I very rarely form a definite opinion about something unless I have thought about it thirty-three ways to Sunday.  In fact, I usually overthink things.  Still, it doesn’t take much to shake my confidence in my opinion or feeling if someone else questions it.  Something inside me starts to feel vaguely unsettled until I either convince the other person of the rightness of my position or I capitulate to the other point of view.  The truth is, I don’t have to convince anyone of anything in order to justify my own point of view for my own life.  I certainly don’t have to convince anyone of the “correctness” of my own feelings. Despite that “unsettleness” I feel, it is in no way a catastrophe if my take on something is not the same as someone else’s perspective.  The reality is that it is fine- even desirable- for people to have different opinions, feel differently about things, to BE different.  That differentness is not a reflection of a lack of love or respect.  It just makes us who we are and precious.

Everybody can only do what he or she can do in a crisis.

Everyone has different strengths, capabilities, and weaknesses.  For the most part, I think everyone does the best they can.  Dealing with the decline of a parent is incredibly stressful and difficult in so many different ways. All I could do was try to be the best version of myself and make my best effort to do all I could to support my parent. Nobody can do everything.  It is important to be gentle with yourself and others.  It is counter-productive to feel guilty or resent other family members because I wished things were different.  First of all, no matter what, there was nothing anybody could do that was likely to change the outcome of the situation.  Secondly, there are all kinds of valid, true reasons why people just can’t do things.

It can be self-destructive AND selfish not to accept help from people I trust.

I’ve never been good at asking for help or even accepting when other people offer.  I never wanted to impose on anyone or be any trouble to anyone.  It is as if I think that just taking up space and breathing in the air is all I deserve.  Years ago, a colleague was giving me feedback at work.  She invited me to think about how I feel when I do something for someone else.  When I told her how good it made me feel, she nodded.  She told me that I was always doing kind deeds, taking on extra work, and sharing what I had, but I was actually being pretty selfish because I did not allow others to have the same pleasure in giving to me in return.  At the time, I thought it was a pretty profound lesson, but I don’t think it really took.

I still have a hard time not thinking I am being a bother when I ask for or accept help.  This past year, I often hit the point where I could not keep putting one foot in front of the other without the help of wonderful people.  Local friends took me on outings to give me a break from overwhelm.  My faraway friends listened endlessly to me while I aired out the conflicting emotions churning around in that crucible.  Hospice employees shouldered my tears and insecurities over and over again, taking on enough of my pain so that I could bear what I had to bear.  I went to the doctor for my pap smear and left with a prescription for an anti-depressant when I could not stop crying in response to the innocent question, “How are you?”

All of these gifts meant so much to me.  Of course they did.  However, I worried that I was asking too much of people in my neediness.  Honestly, I don’t think the folks who gave them thought of them as a bother.  My friends were happy to be able to help in any way, as I would be happy if I could be of any comfort if the situation was reversed.  The hospice workers told me that my discussions with them made them feel empowered and valuable.  The doctor was simply glad no one had to mop up my tears from the floor on my follow up visit.

I have a partner who will run with me and not from me when things are difficult.

Even though Max and I have been together for over 20 years, some part of me still wondered, deep down, how he would react if something really bad happened to me or in my life.  We are not married.  He has no legal responsibility towards me.  He spent many years on his own, protecting his own lifestyle and protecting himself from the physical and emotional dangers of life. His psyche has always been just sort of fine-tuned to danger.  I wasn’t absolutely sure he would follow me if I ran into dangers in my life.  I liked to think he would, but part of me wasn’t at all sure.

We have been through many things together, of course, but nothing like the trauma of dealing with my mother’s illness and ultimate death.  Max never stopped trying to support me.  He didn’t always hit the right note, of course.  No one could always hit the right note.  I couldn’t even always tell you what the right note would be.  More often than not, though, he did exactly the right thing.  Even more important, it was always obvious to me that he was there with me in the storm and was trying to hold me up even when the wind was in his face.  There are so many small things he has done over the past year that I know were stretches for him- actions that would never be things he would do on his own but he was doing because he thought they might help me.  I was more difficult to be around than I have ever been in my life.  I was needier than I have ever been in my life.  I was less capable in nearly every facet of everyday existence than I have ever been in my life.  It didn’t matter.  Max was still there and still holding me tight, even when I struggled against him.

So, these are my lessons learned from 2017.  My resolution for 2018 is to try to remember them and to apply them when life again pushes my back against the wall.  It might be harder than it seems.  I may be getting wiser as I age, but I’m pretty sure my memory is getting worse!

What are your takeaways from 2017?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Have a wonderfully wise day!

Terri 🙂