Health & Wellness
The brain is an organ we need to nurture, support, and appreciate. But sometimes the brain steers us in the wrong direction and if you’re like me, when that happens your well-being can get out of wack.
That’s when I end up having a love-hate relationship with my brain. Bear with me while I explain.
Let’s face it, that most sophisticated computer that rests within the skull that rests on top of the shoulders, doesn’t always get it right, like when the following scenarios occur:
- Insomnia because your brain wants you to figure out absolutely everything needed in order to cure the ills of the world – or at the very least, the ills of the small portion of the world in which you reside. Such future-focused attention doesn’t provide much present comfort, does it?
- Anxiety that doubles in intensity because anxiety is always fueled by fear – a fear that the brain expertly releases because of its innate fight or flight behavior that is simply trying to keep you safe but really overdoes it a bit…or a lot, if you’re me.
- Distraction gets in the way of full-functioning because too much input floods the brain so its ability to compartmentalize, eliminate surplus, and operate properly, stumbles a bit out of the starting blocks.
That’s just a few of the computer malfunctions that can take place within this wonderful mass of gray matter that no living being can do without.
But speaking personally, when I examine each of the bullet points above, I can willingly acknowledge that I might have more control over those anomalies than not.
- INSOMNIA: Instead of obsessing about the future – over which I have no control whatsoever while lying on my bed prepped for sleep – I can do my level best to be in the present where the future has no bearing whatsoever. Breathe. Read a book to sideline the brain’s worrisome thoughts about tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day. One thing I know for sure, just lying there being frustrated about my sleepless state won’t do me any good so at the very least it’s a good idea to get out of bed and do something soothing to sidetrack the future-focused craziness going on inside my head.
- ANXIETY: If I address the current state of my being and realistically assess what is and what is not happening – shifting my focus from hyper-alertness broad spectrum attention to in-the-moment reality – my fear of the “what if” has no place in my day. I’ve learned that what I pay attention to magnifies in intensity. If I’m just focusing on that lower back pain twinge, that’s all that exists. You and I both know that isn’t the case but if you’re me, that little twinge may as well be a life threatening stabbing knife.
- DISTRACTION: Understanding that multi-tasking is not productive and is a myth that has been perpetuated over the centuries, challenges me to do one thing at a time so my brain does its level best on one task and then moves onto the next one. The more multi-tasking that occurs, the more chances to make mistakes – some of which can be dangerous; multi-tasking while driving, or taking care of a child come to mind.
Of this I am certain, however: I am grateful for my brain that most of the time serves me very well. You see, my father died from Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 89 so I’m well aware of what can go awry in the brain’s circuitry, and there are so many other anomalies and abnormalities that can affect the brain, but I’ll try not to lose sleep over them!!! Although my brain isn’t perfectly normal, I will celebrate that it’s not all that abnormal so I will do my level best to not sweat the small stuff.
And although I don’t believe that it’s ALL small stuff, I can admit that a heck of a lot of it is.
Being whole and experiencing wholeness is something I need to figure out for myself so I consulted the Oxford dictionary that defines wholeness as follows:
- the state of forming a complete and harmonious whole;
- the state of being unbroken or undamaged;
- good physical or mental health.
Okay, so I’m not whole, but I absolutely know I want to be.
Being whole, for me, is a healthy balance of mind, body, and spirit.
This brings to mind another definition – cooperation:
- the process of working together to the same end.
That works for me because if mind, body, and spirit – however that may be defined – work together toward a goal of wholeness, that is what appears to be needed in order to attain that state. Let me tell you, at this point in my existence I am VERY willing to cooperate.
And I think it’s important to understand that those three elements – mind, body, spirit – are not separate. They all work in tandem to bring about the best outcome for our well-being.
When we work on one, we’re working on all three elements:
- Exercising to work on the body, and maintaining a healthier diet, affect the mind and spirit.
- Choosing to have some sort of meditative time – however that may look for each of us – nourishes the body and mind.
- Learning something new and being exposed to new experiences no doubt will benefit spirit and body.
There is no separation because all three are attached, right? Yeah, you can’t touch one without affecting the others. And that’s a good thing because we only have so much time in each day to improve on matters so it’s a good thing that even one effort addresses all three aspects of our being.
May you figure out what works for you to attain WHOLENESS in 2022.
I’m looking forward to hearing all about it!
Several years ago a friend of mine introduced me to the concept of setting a New Year word – not a resolution. My 2021 word was:
EQUANIMITY: mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.
For what may seem obvious to many is the fact that that single word – or way of being – really resonated with me leading into 2021. But did I always succeed at upholding that word? Absolutely not, but having that as my daily, or hourly, goal certainly benefited me more than not.
My word for 2022 is more or less from the same word family but some may argue it is the antithesis of equanimity:
HOPE: a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.
It’s far easier to abandon all hope – yet more difficult – than it is to cling to it. I decided to raise a banner of hope for me, my loved ones, and the world at large, regardless of what that action entails. Doing something with an eye to a redeeming new year is that to which I am committed. As I said in my post Hope + Action = Winning Combination, just wishing something to be true doesn’t quite take care of the hope function; we have to do something while hoisting hope onto our backs.
What you do to activate and maintain hope and what I do are individual efforts and may not look at all similar to each other, but that’s the beauty of the hope commitment: what I do supplements you and what you do augments me.
BE WELL AND STAY WELL IN 2022 MY FRIENDS.
CELEBRATE EVERY GOOD THING THAT COMES YOUR WAY, REGARDLESS OF HOW SMALL, BECAUSE EVERY LITTLE BIT COUNTS – DON’T YOU THINK?
A recent AARP magazine post spotlighting Michael J. Fox, star of Family Ties, Back to the Future, and of other popular, noteworthy fame, answered a reporter’s question about how he had managed to pull himself out of a dark place where he landed after recovering from a 2018 spinal surgery to remove a benign tumor wrapped around his spine; having to learn how to walk all over again as a result of that surgery; and falling at home four months later, shattering his arm in the process. Keep in mind, for over thirty years Mr. Fox has suffered from what is currently an incurable disease. He knows there will be no cure for Parkinson’s in his lifetime, but remarkably, he was able to admirably respond to the AARP reporter’s question.
I started to notice things I was grateful for and the way other people would respond to difficulty with gratitude. I concluded that gratitude makes optimism sustainable.
And if you don’t think you have anything to be grateful for, keep looking. Because you don’t just receive optimism.
You can’t wait for things to be great and then be grateful for that. You’ve got to behave in a way that promotes that.
For this, my last blog post of the year – also my 1,166th post – I will simply say that I am inspired by the above words; I am humbled by them; and I accept the challenge these words have presented.
That’s all, but it’s enough. See you in 2022.
Are you tired? Yeah, me too. Tired tired – due to lack of sleep. Emotionally tired – due to the day to day personal challenges we all face. And sick and tired of the status quo in a world that just doesn’t seem to want to get better. My intent with this post is not to single out any causes for the mess we’re in – that would not be a popular post and quite frankly, I just don’t have the energy to address that mess.
Rather, I simply want to state that all of us need to do better at the art of living and how that living affects others. One way in which to do better is to shift from a hopeless base to a hopeful one. Doing so may not be what it takes for you to have a positive mind shift, but it has worked for me in the past so it’s a tool that I am drawing on now.
Please accept the following sentiments as nourishment for your own journey of hope. These are quotes from the book, The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times, by Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams:
Hope does not deny all the difficulty and all the danger that exists, but it is not stopped by them. There is a lot of darkness, but our actions create the light. Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.
Hope is what enables us to keep going in the face of adversity. It is what we desire to happen, but we must be prepared to work hard to make it so.
Hope without action dies on the vine; it needs nourishment in the form of constant feeding and forward motion. None of us need to be scientists, psychologists, or world changers in order to be effective, but all of us need to do something positive within the limited real estate of our little corner of the world. Is it easier to just give up and let others take the lead? Yes…and no. Giving up means you have no control and if you’re like me, you don’t want to surrender the reins to just anyone!
I need to pick up this tool – this hope tool – every day and treat it as though it just might be the answer to my well-being and yours. If you and I employ it starting with our own household and then to that which exists within our control, we’ll all be better off as a result. A little bit goes a long way, especially if more people than not opt to disembark from the train of desperation and climb on board the far more promising hope train.
ALL ABOARD! LET’S GO.
I wrote Choosing to Celebrate to point out how rewarding it is to celebrate even the most mundane positive occurrences in our lives. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did writing it.
Maybe I’m the only person among us who has perfected the art of worrying. Although I don’t do anything perfectly, I do a really grand job of worrying – thereby inviting the existence of fear – quite well.
Many profound statements have been made about the futility of this practice – scripture, poetry, self-help books and the like – but we still seem to settle quite comfortably into this practice, don’t we? And we usually kick ourselves after a particular stressful situation has passed as we acknowledge that the level of worry and fear regarding said stress did nothing to lessen our mental load.
Each and every time I have lost sleep over something, I experienced the futility of doing so.
I’ve also come to understand that when I worry, I have left the present and jumped into the deep end of yesterday and tomorrow – locations I had no right to be in.
- When I fret over what transpired yesterday, losing sleep over words said or not said, actions taken or not taken, I abandon the only place I need to be – the present.
- When I worry about tomorrow (or even when I worry about something occurring a brief hour from now) I am wrenched away from the present – a wasted practice because when I leave the present, I’ve missed out on what was right in front of me. What a shame!
It’s a frustrating cycle of behavior I’ve practiced time and again in my many decades of adult life. You would think I’d have learned by now that worrying adds nothing to my life so I should abandon any such behavior posthaste, but last time I checked, I’m still human so perfection will continue to elude me time and again.
But I’m still learning. I’m still sussing out the fine art of living day to day.
As long as I keep recognizing the times when such worry rears its ugly head, I guess I can celebrate that at the very least, I’m aware of how I might do better the next time.
And I’m okay with that.
I came to the realization the other day, how many places my sixty-eight year old feet have taken me.
AND JUST THINK ABOUT WHERE YOUR FEET HAVE TAKEN YOU!
I’ve lived in the following US states: California, Hawaii, Alaska, and Washington. I’ve traveled to the following countries: Canada, Mexico, France, Scotland, and the British Isles. (I know, that’s not a lot of places but just the same, my feet took me there and back!)
Sometimes our feet take us to geographical places; other times they take us to and through life experiences – not all of which are easy or pleasing. But those gnarled toes and fallen arches managed to carry us where we needed to be and will continue to do so until they can’t.
About two years ago, I came to a place of acceptance of my current body resulting in gratitude for everything it has endured and managed to survive. That may not seem like a monumental achievement to some, but for me, it most definitely has been. My body’s challenges and your body’s challenges may not be identical but there isn’t a person around that doesn’t have them – bodies or challenges – and we’re still here!
I HAVE SURVIVED THE LESS THAN ENJOYABLE BODY FOIBLES 100% OF THE TIME AND HAVE LIVED TO WRITE ABOUT IT!
Wow! And because I have evidence that such successes have occurred, when I’m in the midst of seemingly insurmountable medical, physical, or emotional challenges, I can look forward to getting to the other side of them to add yet another success to my growing evidentiary list.
And my feet will take me there.
This post ties in with my previous post about vulnerability. Why?
Because vulnerability is a strength.
In that previous post, I said that life isn’t a competition, and I stand by that statement. When I ask for help, I am admitting that I can’t do something on my own and when someone answers my call for help, she/he is supplementing what I have, providing what I do not have. That sends a signal to the helper that when she needs help some day, she should feel at ease to ask for it. What a healthy cycle that creates!
In the workplace, an employee may feel that if he admits a need, he may be considered less than and therefore not as valuable as the fellow employee providing assistance. Nothing could be further from the truth, and an employer who faults that need for collaboration isn’t worthy of a person’s service.
And what about friends? True friends won’t harshly judge when a call for help goes out. True friends understand that a person can’t be 100%, 365, 24/7, so they affirmatively respond and both are better off as a result. One person has what the other person needs – it’s as simple as that.
And that’s pretty much all I have to say.
In the past several years I have come to understand that being vulnerable is a strength, not a weakness.
Synonyms for the word vulnerable, found in the Merriam Webster dictionary are: endangered, exposed, liable, open, sensitive, susceptible.
l believe that vulnerability is a worthwhile and honorable trait in which to indulge, especially as my life experience involves the last three synonyms: open, sensitive, susceptible. Recently, however, I felt vulnerable and I didn’t like the feeling at all as it gave me a feeling of being endangered and exposed.
Several days ago I had skin cancer surgery on my nose, and although vanity is not a prominent characteristic in my modus operandi, the fact that my visage was going to be messed with sent me into a tailspin of unease, bordering on depression. It’s not the surgery itself that was of a concern to me; I had hip replacement surgery four years ago that was far more invasive and brutal and I don’t recall feeling as emotionally affected as I did for my nose surgery.
Perhaps what was at issue was the fact that the affected body part is face forward – so to speak – and therefore more noticeable than a joint replacement could ever be. The very good news is that the surgery was minimally invasive, not even needing stitches, so the same face I’ve had for sixty-eight years remains intact.
I’ve had this same face – more or less – for sixty-eight years! Fortunately the alteration leaves it just slightly different from how it used to be.
I know, my sixty-eight year old body isn’t the same as it used to be either, because aging is a privilege and with that privilege comes pain, body sags, and wrinkles rivaling an intricate interstate highway. But the face? It’s somehow a different entity all together. Fortunately, my concerns turned out to be much ado about nothing.
Let me clarify, however, that the unease/depression I felt wasn’t a function of how I’ll look once everything is healed. No. It’s related to the vulnerability I felt leading up to the surgery, and the time during the surgery when I was fully awake, that really messed with my mind and my emotions. A surgeon who knows absolutely nothing about who I am, whom I only met once prior to the procedure, was in charge of ridding my nose of cancer. Once patient number 1234 was out the door, the surgeon would move onto patient number 5678, and so on and so forth, committed to her surgical training but not necessarily committed to Irene Frances Olson, born in Southern California, the youngest of three siblings, who couldn’t have asked for better parents, who eventually wrote two novels to first document her family’s struggle with Alzheimer’s and then to document society’s struggles with tolerance, acceptance, and human kindness.
Was it my outward appearance or my inward identity that was at issue?
The latter, to be sure, and since beauty is only skin deep, I will fall back on the inner beauty that I’ve worked on throughout my life. With age comes wisdom, and for me at least, without the aging, wisdom would still be on the sidelines waiting to make an appearance. So maybe this whole surgical experience has taught me something new that without the unease and depression I experienced, this new nugget of wisdom would not have been birthed:
My inner beauty will always outlast my outer trappings, and those who truly know me see that first and love me for it.
WHAT A BLESSED WOMAN I AM!!!
Instead of wallowing in habits we’d prefer to discard, we can create new ones – breaking old ones – that benefit us greatly!
That’s Breaking Good News, isn’t it?
I’m not going to get into the proven science about how long it takes to break one habit and adopt another – you know how to Google that information and find it out for yourself. Rather, I just want to mention how exhilarating it is to switch things up a bit in ones’ life. And I’m not going to address vices that double as habits. Nope! Just the routine behaviors that so many of us fall into.
You and I have adopted habits that are so ingrained in our day-to-day existence, we don’t even recognize them because they just are. Lately for me, I’ve benefited from changing up my routines, finding that doing so puts a fresh coating of delight on the mundane.
- Maybe your favorite mug isn’t all that any more and another mug would serve to better float your boat; or
- Exercising a little later – or earlier – in the day feels better than what you’ve been doing; or
- Meditating at a different time of day than you’ve done for years on end actually provides more Zen moments when you switch it up now and then; or
- Tacos are just as gratifying on Thursday as they are on Tuesday. Can you say, Taco Thursdays anyone?
You get the idea: just because you’re accustomed to and comfortable with your daily routine doesn’t mean that getting out of your comfort zone wouldn’t be better. For me, it was a matter of being so entrenched in the same-o same-o that I became brain-lazy. Life became so droll and ho-hum that I dreaded getting out of bed in the morning. Oh crap, another day just like yesterday? Ugh!
There are countless ways to add novelty to a day. I don’t know about you, but I have a few daily outfits I wear over and over again while my closet is close to bursting with colorful t-shirts, pants I forgot I even owned, and let’s not forget to mention the sock drawer that rivals that of a sock-owning addict…oops! Time to clean all those clothing storage areas of the house and donate a good portion to charities whose clients could really use what I didn’t even realize I had.
Wow…not only do I get to switch up my wardrobe but others benefit from the slight clothing hoarding I failed to acknowledge!
ANYWAY, I think you can come up with your own changes that will perhaps provide freshness to your day and increase your joie de vivre! Whatever you decide to do, do it soon. Take it from someone who knows of which she speaks – breaking habits and adding new ones does not have to be difficult, but it really and truly needs to happen if you’re looking to change things up a bit.
I’m looking forward to hearing about the changes you’ve decided to implement in your own life. They don’t have to be HUGE, just worthwhile and meaningful to you!
When referring to identification in this post, I am talking about human characteristics – specifically, emotional and mental states.
For example, I tend to be anxious – allowing anxiety to rob me of my peace, and oftentimes, rob me of my sleep. But being anxious is not my identity. I get anxious but that is not who I am.
Being labeled (pigeonholed) by others is one thing, and it’s harmful, but even more so, labeling ourselves does each of us a huge disservice.
I may have anxiety, but I am not anxiety. Someone else may have ADHD, but that person is not ADHD, they have ADHD tendencies. If someone suffers from depression, their identity is not depressed person, rather, she/he is a person who gets depressed. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, to put someone in a pigeonhole is to, unfairly think of or describe someone or something as belonging to a particular group, only having a particular skill, etc. For example, actors don’t want to be pigeonholed as only having comedic skills; a talented actor wants to be thought of as having more range than that. Similarly, a lawyer is also a parent, a spouse, a friend – not just a mediator or adjudicator. My gastroenterologist’s whole identity isn’t wrapped up in her specific field of medical expertise – thank the good Lord – she is also a hiker, a mommy, and an accomplished baker.
If I place myself inside the box of anxiety, I may have the tendency to remain there longer than is healthy. If I live outside of that box and only end up there from time to time, I have more range as a human being and can branch out and experience calm and peace as a natural state. I am not anxious person Irene, I am Irene the mother, spouse, grandmother, sister, friend, and as luck would have it, published author.
ANOTHER WAY IN WHICH WE LABEL PEOPLE IS BY THEIR DISEASE.
When my father suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, he wasn’t his disease, he was everything he was before the disease and even everything he became after diagnosis. He had limitations, don’t get me wrong, but those limitations didn’t define who he was: an extraordinary human being. When my sister-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer, that was one horrible aspect of her life but that didn’t define who she was before she died. She was a wife, a mother, a sister, a friend; she was a caring person with a keen sense of humor; she was the goddess of her wonderful household who kept it running like a fine-tuned engine.
Labeling limits our perception of who someone is in their essence.
There are so many directions this post could have gone – physical characteristics, gender identity, race, ethnicity – instead, I decreased the scope because emotional, mental, and medical matters have been weighing upon me as of late, so that’s where I went with this 500 word post. That was enough for me, I hope it was enough for you.
Be well, y’all.
I love Autumn. I know it signals the end of summertime fun and weather, but there are years when such characteristics are best left behind.
I always welcome the possibilities inherent with a new season, a new calendar year, or simply a new year of life. Having survived my 68th birthday earlier this year, I came to the realization that aging truly is a privilege, and the longer we live, the more opportunities abound for the taking.
Whether you are 28, 48, 68, or 88-and-counting, you rarely don’t have the choice of whether to try something new – or leave something behind. Sometimes our chosen career path or passion loses its shine. Other times, relationships that in the past were nurturing to both individuals lose their nourishment and become like a slow-acting poison that nonetheless harms or kills the spirt.
Walking away from what we’re accustomed to is difficult, but oftentimes extremely necessary.
You don’t live long on this earth before said walking away becomes a reality, and it’s those first steps that are the most difficult. I’ve embarked on that path in my professional life and in my personal life, knowing I was doing the right thing but nevertheless grieving the separation.
If new endings and beginnings beckon you as you approach the new season’s landing, my wish for you is that doing so strengthens your reserve to celebrate the one life you’ve been granted. And please always remember, even the smallest of victories warrant a celebration.
SO PARTY ON!
We’ve all read about the effectiveness of vaccines, most recently the vaccines to prevent Covid-19 virus infection. My post today is a brief one in which I am not offering my opinion, but I am offering data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, Yale Medicine, and WebMD.
I’ve heard people state – whether directly to me or through social media – that getting the Covid vaccine doesn’t guarantee we won’t acquire Covid-19 so why bother getting it? The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are not 100% effective toward warding off the virus, but they are in the mid-90s percentile of effectiveness. Click this Yale Medicine link to see how successful they can be at warding off the virus and therefore preventing its spread.
The flu vaccine is nowhere near as effective as Covid vaccines but it is a vaccine many acquire each and every year as new flu vaccines are developed to fight the upcoming flu season – the vaccine changes each year to keep up with flu virus variants. This CDC link outlines the 2019-2020 flu vaccine efficacy to be between 25% and 55% depending on a person’s age.
Another bit of data I find extraordinarily helpful is this WEB MD link that spotlights how effective our Covid preventative measures have been toward making the current flu season almost non-existent, compared to previous years’ infection rates. Let’s face it, wearing masks, being diligent about hand washing, and limiting exposure to others seems to illustrate how the same measures we’re employing to prevent Covid transmission have had an amazing side effect: very limited flu virus transmission. That’s not my opinion, thus far 2020-2021 flu is a non-issue.
“But Covid is still an issue and people are still dying from it.” True. Covid is a virus, but it is not the flu. Covid has proven to be far more transmissible and deadly than the flu with which we’re familiar. Because of that fact, in the United States, bothering to get the Covid vaccine is an inconvenience 81 million fully vaccinated people have chosen to experience, with 202 million doses given nationwide as of April 15, 2021. There have been some rare cases of breakthrough Covid infection post vaccination, but viral loads are low, and the transmission rate to others is greatly reduced. Given the data provided, we all should be able to decide whether risking infection is something with which we are comfortable, and whether vaccination to reduce infection is an option to consider.
This final novel excerpt before A Jagged Journey is released on April 15th, introduces you to a key character, psychologist Gretchen Marks, and her unlikely friend, Amit Singh, an Uber driver who comes to her aid when no one else is available. Gretchen’s life has taken a cruel detour, in part because of her way of being, in part because life is oftentimes no respecter of persons.
“Are we going to the same place today, Doctor, where you have previously visited?”
“Yes, please.” Gretchen glanced at Amit and then out the side window. “Unfortunately, it will be a place I visit every day for a few weeks. If I had my choice, I’d rather have a root canal, but it appears God has chosen to punish me so I get to have these treatments instead.”
“I do not know what this root canal is of which you speak. Is that something to do with the hair on the top of one’s head?”
A smile broke out on Gretchen’s face at the innocence projected by her driver. “That’s a good one, Amit. Thank you for making my day.”
“A good one you say?”
“A root canal involves the teeth, not the scalp. It’s when a really bad tooth needs a lot of work, and it’s not enjoyable at all. But given how my treatments make me feel, I think the dental work would seem like child’s play…it would seem like something far easier than what I’m doing.”
“I see, yes, my splendid wife, Faria, had something similar to that soon after we arrived in this country – there was a cavity in one of her teeth. And you indicated that these treatments you are enduring are a punishment from God?”
Gretchen thought it was just like a foreigner to take idioms literally, but she had to admit his way of thinking was somewhat refreshing. “It’s just an expression people sometimes use when things aren’t going well for them. And a contrary statement might apply if, when we arrive at our destination, there’s a parking space available at the front where you can pull in and let me out. If that were to happen, I might say, “Well, I must have done something right in my life and now God is rewarding me.”
“Thank you, Dr. Gretchen Marks, for your very thorough explanation about expressions Americans use in their speaking.”
Amit and Gretchen arrived at their destination, Amit pulled into an open space right in front of the building. “I see, Dr. Marks, that you must have done something right because God has graced us with this parking space.”
He parked the car and stepped out to assist Gretchen. He guided her out of her seat by her elbow and helped her step over the curb. “There you are, Dr. Marks.”
“You know, you can call me Gretchen.”
“Oh no, Doctor, you have attained a very important status in life that accords great respect. Unless it offends you, I will continue to address you as Doctor.”
“That’s fine, Amit, and regarding this parking space?”
“Yes, Dr. Marks?”
“It was because of your good works that God arranged for this space to be available. I’m quite certain my past works didn’t warrant such a benefit.”
“Either way, it is good that we are able to claim it, yes?”
Gretchen fumbled with her purse for a tip. “Yes, it is very good. I’ll see you after my appointment later today and I will call you a half hour before I am done.”
Gretchen’s appointment did not go well as she received some devastating news – said news put Gretchen on the defense when her Uber driver picked her up later that day.
Amit picked up Gretchen at the appointed time and although he tried to engage the doctor in conversation, he wasn’t entirely successful. At one point, Gretchen lashed out at him.
“Amit, are you a United States citizen?”
He looked at her in the rear-view mirror. “Not currently, but that is my goal, Dr. Marks.”
“How long have you lived in this country?”
“Four years, Doctor.”
“What’s taking you so long to become a citizen?”
Amit drove a couple blocks then asked Gretchen a question. “How many amendments does the Constitution have?”
“What? What has that to do with anything?”
“Amendments. Name one of the writers of the Federalist Papers that were written in support of the Constitution of the United States.”
“I have no idea. I’m not sure I’m even familiar with those papers.”
“I am. James Madison and Alexander Hamilton were two of the writers.”
“Good for you, you’ve memorized the answers on the civics exam for citizenship, that doesn’t make you a US citizen.”
“In this country it does.” Amit pulled up in front of Gretchen’s condo. Looking straight ahead, he had one more question for her. “Who lived in America before the Europeans arrived?”
Gretchen looked at her lap, then out her side window. “You win, Amit, and I’m sorry for being such a horrible person today. My doctor gave me some bad news and it’s made me angry at the world.”
Amit got out of the vehicle, opened Gretchen’s door, and helped her out. “This bad news, is it something you want to talk about with Amit?”
She patted the hand that rested gently on her forearm. “Maybe tomorrow, Amit. Will I see you at eleven?”
“It would be my extreme pleasure, Dr. Marks, thank you.”
There are many characters that are a part of the lives of those with whom you have already met: Charlie Brooks, the high school teacher and his fellow teacher Jamila Sanders. Single mother, Hannah Palmer and her engaging son, Sammy. And now, Dr. Gretchen Marks, and her Uber pal, Amit Singh. The cast of characters you will meet in A Jagged Journey are varied in age, life experience, and intent. I hope to see you soon, within Journey’s pages.
A year after the Covid spread became a verifiable pandemic, I received my 1st dose of the vaccine that will open up the possibility of arriving at herd immunity…depending on the percentage of people who agree to voluntarily submit themselves to the needle.
The global community has been immersed and drowning in a disaster that will become future school students’ history lessons on what can happen when a not-detectable-by-eye virus travels the world on the backs of unsuspecting travelers.
I’ve lived sixty-seven years and therefore have already lived through news events and disasters that are currently a part of history books everywhere. Trust me when I say, I would rather have a boring life experience than be able to recount the tragedies that have befallen my country and our world over the past six decades. The current pandemic is just one of many, but it’s currently front and center in my life, and in the lives of many.
On Thursday, February 25, 2021, after weeks and weeks of concerted effort, I submitted myself to the vaccine needle. I didn’t make finding a vaccine appointment a full-time job, but my dedication to doing so was sincere and robust. The day before I received my shot, my husband and I were preparing to go outside to enjoy the beautiful Pacific Northwest weather. “I’ll join you in a few minutes…I just want to check the vaccine websites one more time before I go out and play.”
And lo’ and behold, when I checked the 4th of as many appointment sites, a 1 pm appointment the very next day just a few blocks from my house showed as being available and I signed up for it as fast as I could, not wanting it to slip out of my hands.
THE VACCINE EXPERIENCE – GLORIOUS!!!!!
Three other similarly aged people stood behind me in line as I checked in – early! – for the privilege of moving forward in a vaccinated world. For me, the price of admission into that world is a sore arm, and that is all. But even if more uncomfortable side effects were guaranteed as a result of acquiring the vaccine, my husband and I were committed to getting vaccinated because a couple days of discomfort beat any day of having Covid. (My husband will acquire the vaccine when his age makes him eligible.)
Before I left the neighborhood pharmacy where I acquired my 1st dose, the pharmacy tech scheduled me for my 2nd dose, which will occur a few weeks later. I walked out of that pharmacy floating on air – and not because I was experiencing delirious or detrimental vaccine side effects. Nope! I was merely feeling what it’s like to be moving toward the other side of Covid, and closer and closer to once again being able to spend time gathering with loved ones with a greatly reduced chance of acquiring or spreading the virus that could make us severely ill, or even usher us into the great beyond.
Many express their desire to get back to normal, but I don’t think normal will ever return, nor should it. Just as after 9/11 we all adjusted our normals to accommodate our present experience, so too will we adjust our normal as a result of this virus experience that as of today’s date has killed 508,000 US people, and 2.5 million people world-wide.
BUSINESS AS USUAL WON’T AGAIN BE OUR NORMAL, BUT OUR RESILIENT ABILITY TO RESPONSIBLY MOVE FORWARD WILL SERVE US WELL.
For many of us, our 2020 outlook was dingy at times and full of sharp edges at other times. It’s now a new year, and boy did it arrive in an explosive way. Last year, and its current new year counterpart, have kind of felt like we’ve experienced an entire lifetime of uncertainty tempered by acute feelings of fear and anxiety with no relief!
Who of us want that to be our 2021 way of being?
Not me. Same-o, same-o just doesn’t work for me. We cannot change what has transpired and have marginal ability to shape what is to come, but I relish the opportunity to control what is within my personal ability to control:
I choose to enter this new year by altering the way I respond to it. When I change my outlook, I have the chance of changing my response. When I change my response, I might be able to paint the way others choose to respond. If that sounds too good to be true, please know it is not. Everything we say and do influences those around us – whether someone living in our own household or the strangers we encounter in the community. We can choose to come from a place of possibilities rather than defeat; from a place of nourishment rather than a viral place of bitterness.
We are all harboring sad and bitter emotions – many of them resultant from the events of 2020. We can’t change the past, but we can create a better present that might turn into a more hopeful future. And let me tell you a secret…sometimes you just have to fake it until you make it. Who knows, you might be so convincing, you’ll be able to drop your efforts at fakery and actually flourish in your new found well-being.
I want that for me, and I want that for you.
Won’t you give it a try with me?
Definition of a barnacle: A marine crustacean with an external shell that attaches itself to a variety of surfaces. One of those surfaces that non-marine barnacles attach to is aging human skin. There, I’ve said it, aging human skin! Mine to be exact! So said my dermatologist at my most recent annual skin cancer screening appointment. But wait, lest you think the only aging attribute one can look forward to is crusty, discolored skin, let me introduce you to one of the sweetest parts of aging in which one can luxuriate: the candy bowl.
My husband and I have put out an easily accessible candy bowl filled with mini chocolates of numerous varieties for the past seven years – there is no mini-sized chocolate we have not tasted. When purchasing provisions at the grocery store the other day, I told the store clerk and bagger, “We’re just trying to keep alive the stigma of old people eating candy. Doing our part to support one of the oldest clichés of our generation.”
I will say, however, that if my husband and I didn’t have the gift of willpower regarding sweets, we would have never started this 365 days of the year tradition. If each of us ate 3 mini-treats a day, I would be surprised. When it comes to candy, we really don’t have a problem stopping at one or two. (Probably can’t say the same for glasses of wine, however.)
Am I thrilled that my skin is old enough to have barnacles? No, but I am thrilled and grateful that I am a woman of a certain age who can boast about barnacles and eating candy in one, celebratory post.
And may I conclude by saying:
I hope to live long enough to keep spotlighting – and celebrating – aging matters for many years to come.
Equanimity describes a way of being with each moment, regardless of that moment’s characteristics, with a sense of the bigger picture in mind.
For me, that equates to understanding the impermanence of everything in life – the good, the bad, the mundane. A gloriously happy moment will eventually fade, but so will a horrific and unbearable moment. It’s more than a this too shall pass way of thinking. Instead, it involves a willingness to simply be with what is.
Standing in the middle of it all. Balanced. Centered.
Those close to our household have taken great measures to be safe in this age of Covid-19. The household with which we have had most contact over the past several months is that of our youngest daughter and her husband, with their son, and as of September 9th, their daughter.
The plan was to add our granddaughter to our current care day schedule, once a week, but now that Covid stats in our state are so ridiculously high – as is the case in too many states in the “United” States – our two households have decided to curtail all further contact for the time being.
This decision was made, not because our personal households have faltered, but because too many households have failed all around us, making avoidance of the virus more problematic. No one enjoys the inconvenience, but because some have rebelled against the inconvenience, we are no closer to containing the virus.
Had civilization as a whole been less selfish, we wouldn’t be dealing with this upsurge in cases…we would be adjusting to a new normal that is FAR better than the ongoing abnormal we are currently experiencing.
I am so f*cking angry right now. As a result of the selfishness of far too many people, my household is currently being robbed of a healthy relationship with the newest addition to our family. Please understand me when I say, I know we are not the only individuals affected by a pandemic that hasn’t been handled correctly from the get-go. My husband and I are healthy and we want for nothing. Millions have been affected far worse than has my household with our seemingly minor personal issue.
But I beg of you, please, to allow me this mini-pity party while I mourn this inconvenient loss.
This post is about anticipatory vs sudden death. I know that doesn’t sound like a very positive post in honor of my sixty-seventh birthday, but this subject matter weighed on my heart the other day so I decided to write about it.
The last time I saw my mother was the 3rd week of August 1994. She died one month later. Mom and Dad visited their adult children during the month of August: my brother and I in the Seattle, WA area, and my sister in Northern California. What a gift that was – the impact of that gift not fully appreciated until Mom was taken from us during her sleep on September 24, 1994 – a life-changing shock to my father who found her, an occasion for us kids to receive the worst news possible by telephone.
The last time I saw my father was October 13, 2007 at his bedside as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease leeched the life from him. When my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s four years earlier, we knew there was no cure; we had time to prepare for the inevitable, an inevitability accelerated by a cancer that was not operable due to my father’s frail condition resultant from the slow deterioration of his body by Alzheimer’s disease.
Which death was more difficult, the fully unexpected one, or the expected one?
There is no comparison, and by that I mean you cannot compare grief in that manner. Grief is grief and although the shock of my mother’s death was a jolt to our emotional systems, so too was the slow death that occurred for my father. The outcome was the same: someone we all loved no longer existed, but more importantly, we became painfully aware that whether a person is seventy-seven years old when they die, as was our mother, or eighty-nine years old as was my father, life is short.
The child who succumbs to an illness, the teenager killed in an automobile accident, the newly married sweethearts starting out on their journey as a couple, the sixty-something-year-old or centenarian whose days come to an end, all those lives are valuable and their ending won’t always be anticipated.
It may be trite to say live each day as though it were your last, but trite or not, that’s what each of us needs to do. I do so without being morbid about it – rather, I have gotten into the habit of living and loving fully, always respecting and honoring those with whom I come in contact, and spreading kindness and truth wherever I go. Because, as I’ve said: life is precious.
Won’t you join me?
What’s in a name? Turns out, quite a bit. We have all been on the receiving end of name misspellings – whether our first name or our surname. Countless times since my 2000 marriage, my surname has been spelled Olsen. Fortunately, when our name appears in print, oftentimes such misprints are easy to correct and life blissfully carries on. But what about after our life has ended?
In my home-based gym, I have been exercising as of late to a Netflix series, Finding God, hosted by Morgan Freeman. What attracted me to the series was the fact that no one religion is spotlighted, rather, many beliefs are presented, and that pleases me to no end.
Today’s episode discussed the topic all of us wish we knew more about:
What happens after we leave this life; is there such a thing as eternal life?
Sorry, I don’t have the answer to that question but what I can offer is the following: our name will live on forever. Morgan Freeman went to Thebes, Egypt and received an educational tour of Ramses’ tomb in the Valley of the Kings. (There were several Ramses, this was one of them.) In this tomb, Ramses tried to preserve the memory of his life by writing on the walls and pillars with both a self-body image (a selfie) and the actual writing of his name in the language of his time. He was well aware that many would outlive him but he was also aware that no one lives forever so he’d better make his mark on history while he could.
What about our mark on history? I already know there are more than one Irene Olsons, which is why when I published my book Requiem for the Status Quo, I wrote out my full name, including my middle name, Frances. No doubt I am not the only Irene Frances Olson who ever existed but to my knowledge, I am the only one who wrote this particular novel to honor her father who died from Alzheimer’s disease; I am the only Irene Frances Olson, née Desaulniers then changed to Desonier by her parents in the hopes of others spelling it correctly; the only Irene Frances Olson who birthed Erin Maureen Li Sai Wong Green; the only woman fortunate enough to be named Irene Frances Olson because of her marriage to Jerry Olson; I am also the only Grammo to her grandson, Lucas…and so on and so forth. Who I am as Irene Frances Olson is different from every other person similarly named because who I am is a result of how I have lived my life and how I continue to live my life.
My name is very important because it is attached to the me who is trying to make a difference everywhere she goes.
No one else is me, so I choose to make sure I inspire memories in others that will carry from one generation to the next. Fortunately, I don’t have to be famous in order for that to happen. All that is necessary is that the me that is attached to my version of Irene Frances Olson is memorable in a positive way.
Since my grandson turned 3 months old, my husband and I have had the delight and privilege of providing child care for him a few days a week. As I’ve said to anyone who will listen, being a grandparent is one of the most cherished roles I have ever taken on.
Before Lucas had a presence in my life, however, I became a mother to a little girl who has become one of the most astonishing, loving, and giving people I have ever known. Other than the normal worries parents adopt while their children are growing up, Erin never caused any drama or heartache from the day she was born. But it’s only since I became a grandmother that I have faced the truth of how beautiful a child’s heart is – how honest and generous are their expressions of love. Don’t get me wrong, when I was a very young mother I appreciated the precious person that was my daughter, I became thrilled at every adorable development in her life, I felt that being a mother was – and is – my highest calling, but now as a considerably older mother and grandmother, I am freshly aware of a young child’s ways of expressing that love.
My husband and I can be playing outside with our 2+ year old grandson when all of a sudden he will stop what he is doing and run to one of us with his arms open wide and launch himself at his Grampa; then he will turn toward me, Grammo, and run and launch himself at me, with the tightest huggies and kissies available on this earth. Or out of nowhere, regardless of where we are or what we are doing, Lucas will walk up to one or both of us and say, “Kiss Grammo, Kiss Grampa” and we do just that. The honesty of a child’s behavior is mind-blowing to me – there is no pretense and no calculated manipulation. Certainly, that will come later as it did for all of us, but right now, that type of behavior does not exist. If one or both of us grandparents do something Lucas deems as funny, he’ll endearingly say, “Oh, Grammo. Oh, Grampa” and the smile on his face when he says that melts my heart over, and over, and over again. What a gift this little 2.9-year-old child is to us.
I am so grateful that I have been freshly exposed to the joy-infusing love of a child’s heart. What an extraordinary Valentine’s Day gift that is to me in my mid-60s of life.
So many in this world suffer unbearable loss; I do not know how such losses are reconciled, or how one survives such a loss without losing one’s soul. A young mother in Wisconsin lost her baby boy, shortly after his birth. The generosity she exhibited after her loss absolutely floored me.
It is so easy to take the comfort of our Home Sweet Home for granted, even when so many, through no fault of their own, have nowhere to live: homeless on the street or living in their vehicle, there are countless numbers of fellow human beings who have no home to call their own. This story about a school bus driver will warm your heart. Let us all be careful not to judge those whose stories we know nothing of.