David Carradine in "Kung Fu"
Sit With Me a Moment, Grasshopper
Sometimes the most valuable lessons are revealed through loss
Eight years ago, I was diagnosed with kidney failure. Don’t worry. It really is related. Keep reading. I have low blood pressure and I’m not diabetic. So what caused the kidney failure and how the heck can I keep from getting it? you ask. One in ten people has kidney disease, and the most common causes are diabetes and high blood pressure. Unfortunately, it’s not always caused by those things though. What I want to share with you today is probably one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned along this journey – the importance of destressing with “me time.”
First in my family to ever have kidney problems of any kind, doctors diagnosed me with Focal Segmental Glomerosclerosis (FSGS). FSGS has been linked to childhood Rheumatoid disorders and resulting illnesses that attack the body’s immune system and allow infections to damage vital organs. Whew! That’s a mouthful. There’s probably not much I could have done to avoid kidney failure since I was born with a heart murmur and developed Rheumatic Heart at five years old, but I said all that to say this: most illnesses are exacerbated by stress, so take time to nurture yourself right now. If you’re predisposed to a particular illness, don’t give it ammunition by allowing unnecessary stress to fester in your life.
Before the life-altering diagnosis, I worked 70-80 hours a week. Over the years, I’ve worked as a band director, choral director, substance abuse counselor, mental health therapist, college counselor and career counselor. In my pursuit of success I probably spent 70% of my life working and going to school. In fact, when I was diagnosed with kidney failure I’d nearly finished doctoral coursework. Still on autopilot and so out of touch with actually living, all I could see was the proverbial finish line. I completed my final courses and passed comprehensives, a grueling endeavor considering I was just starting the grieving process that accompanies any chronic, degenerative, life-altering illness, and my brain was still foggy from the surgical anesthesia to boot.
It wasn’t until I was at work one day (at that time I was doing dialysis at home) emailing my dissertation advisor (who was notoriously difficult to reach, BTW) that I had an epiphany: “I’m not enjoying this and I don’t want to do it anymore.” The next step was to just stop. Now don’t get me wrong; I’m a major advocate for education, and I’m happy and proud for anyone pursuing more of it, but it’s important to pursue things that give us joy and fulfillment. It took me a long time to face it, but no matter how many “A’s” I made, I realized school didn’t make me happy.
Wish I’d realized it sooner, but oh well, c’est la vie! I’m just grateful I realized it when I did, and in many ways the diagnosis with kidney failure made it crystal clear. I no longer had the luxury of making lofty plans for the distant future – I had to start living for right now. Once I did finally figure it out, it gave me time to get down to what’s really important. Most of us spend the majority of our time working inside and outside the home, running errands, paying bills, and 60% or more of our time doing “busy work.” Finding “me time” can be a challenge for any adult, especially women because we’re too often expected to be everything for everybody.
I suppose it’s human nature to keep saying “one day” I’ll take the time to go on vacation, or take that trip to Italy, or spend more time with family, but too often, “one day” never comes, and other things happen to make our goals unattainable. I could write a book about this (and I’m still considering it), but just for today, make time for yourself, enjoy your family, make a list (you should have known there would be a list somewhere) of things you’d like to do, accomplish, or experience - a bucket list, if you will, and destress and declutter (things, people, and ideas) your life as much as possible.
The general principle is to spend more of your limited time enjoying life and less engaging in the necessary drudgery that comes along with the package. Living by this principle means you’ll never have to say “I wish I had.” Each of us lives several lives, so to speak. In the course of a short period of time – months, years, sometimes even days, the still frame of your life can be changed completely. The only constant is you. I know – sounds daunting, right? It’s not. Really.
In this particular still frame, I’m a Minister of Music, author, and algebra and statistics tutor, and I fight everyday to keep kidney failure and dialysis from taking over my life. It’s challenging, but I can’t help thinking that if it weren’t for being diagnosed with this terrible disease, I’d still be plodding along the misguided path I was on, thinking, “one day I'll make time to do more things I enjoy.” So, Grasshopper, what’s stealing your time? Your joy? What would you really like to be doing with your life? Any recent epiphanies?