5 Lessons Learned From Illness, Moving & Family

The last several months have been a chaotic whirlwind of scary medical diagnoses, home flooding, heartbreaking pet loss, gnarly medical treatments, shitty contractors, an overwhelming sense of loneliness, and thousands of dollars in unexpected expenses.

A few weeks ago, on a particularity rough day, I woke up to a bouquet of flowers and a card from my boyfriend. The note was essentially a reminder that life ebbs and flows; since this year has been particularly hard, it will make me even more grateful for the better days to come–because, surely, better days will come.

I’ve been realizing that this life is the only one I have, so I had better make the most of it. This includes both the exhilarating ups and the devastating downs. So, I’ve been paying closer attention to my day-to-day experiences, trying to discern just what it is my life is trying to teach me. Here are five realizations I made over the weekend.

Give Even the Most Menial Tasks Your Best Effort

On Saturday, I went to lunch at a Mongolian stir-fry restaurant, where you fill a bowl with raw foods and then watch a chef prepare it in front of you. Usually the chefs are a bit careless, clearly just showing up for the paycheck.

However, this particular chef listened to our special requests and made a concerted effort to ensure everything was evenly distributed and cooked through. I tipped the guy $10 for five minutes of doing his simple job exceptionally well.

The experience reminded me that every task we undertake, no matter how simple, is worthy of our best effort. Every interaction we engage in deserves our full and undivided attention.

Learn to Laugh at Yourself

On Sunday, I visited my parents. Within ten minutes of arriving my mother was laughing so hard she was crying, convinced that I had lost the last of my marbles. Apparently, only a seriously crazy person would buy a cat water fountain for someone else’s cats.

The jury is still out as to whether I have meningitis, but my illness has certainly impaired my cognitive function. I think I’ve been far too serious lately, trying so hard to regain optimal brain function and lamenting the fact that I’m having such a hard time. However, I’m learning to laugh at myself within the current context because I’m already doing everything within my power to improve things.

Every situation has an upside, so make an effort to look for kindness, competency, and reasons to playfully laugh at yourself. (Yep, I’m a bat-shit crazy woman who buys bizarre contraptions that absolutely terrify their furry recipients. Guilty as charged.) Happiness and anxiety require the same energy expenditure, so why dwell in negativity when you have the option to seek out the good?

Learn to Ask For & Accept Help

Several of my upcoming medical procedures require I have a ride home. Even though I already know the answer will be yes, it’s hard to ask my boyfriend or parents to carve time out of their days to wait in a hospital lobby and chauffeur me back and forth across town.

I have an immense sense of aversion to inconveniencing others, whether asking for help or simply choosing a restaurant that wasn’t my dinner partner’s top choice. Being in a situation where I need help with some things has really humbled me and forced me to become more comfortable with asking for assistance, and then graciously accepting.

Those who care about us are often more than happy to help and welcome requests for help as opportunities to do good, rather than viewing it as an inconvenience. Just as we are our own biggest critics, we tend to misjudge others’ perceptions. Trust that if someone is unable or unwilling to help you out, they will tell you.

Listen to Your Body & Set Your Own Schedule

On Saturday, I stopped by my aunt’s birthday party at 6 pm and had to leave within 45 minutes because I became so tired that I couldn’t stand up on my own. I am stubbornly persistent and have a deeply-ingrained tendency to push my body to it’s limits; this tenacity is great trait at work and in the gym, but is huge detriment when your health is on the line.

Several years ago, I was very good about checking in with my body and identifying tension, tightness, and discomfort. Somewhere along the line, I began focusing on external indicators, such as how much I lifted or how large of a bonus I received; in turn, neglecting to assess my mental, physical, and emotional state. I think this is contributing factor to my frequent burnouts over the last few years.

Our body is a system that responds to stimulants, whether healthy or unhealthy, and its signs–if we choose to pay attention–can be a great litmus test to our overall health. Create the space and take the time to listen to what your body is trying to tell you, and respond accordingly. If your body is fatigued and fading, don’t feel guilty about leaving a party early or rescheduling plans.

Let Go Of Your Attachment To Things

Our home renovation was completed last week, so we moved back into our home on Friday. As we unloaded belongings that had been packed in plastic tote bins, we realized that paint dust had seeped inside and damaged a majority of our clothing and linens. I was initially upset at the carelessness of the contractors, the HOA for not repairing the old pipe before it burst, and the loss of so much “stuff.”

Then I realized, it’s just that–stuff. Nothing meaningful or sentimental was lost. Clothing, linens, and furniture can be replaced. In fact, being away from home made me realize how little I actually need most of the things that I have, and I’m already in the process of selling and donating the unnecessary.

In the modern world, we are so focused on buying bigger TVs, wearing trendier clothing, and traveling to more exotic destinations. However, in the grand scheme of things, what truly matters is health, companionship, and pleasant memories. If you have good health, friends, and small moments of daily pleasure, you are wealthier than the vast majority of people.

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