BUT WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO “BE NICE”
Belated thanks to Mom, my 7th grade Home Economics teacher, Emily Post and Miss Manners (some of you may remember those last three). They each modeled, drilled, and cajoled me to learn how to be a gracious hostess. The old “be nice” of the 1950s growing up training included: Welcome someone with varying degrees of warmth, offer a chair or show the guest room where they are to stay, which you have previously stocked with comfortable blankets, pillows, room in the closet to hang clothes, small snacks to munch on. Offer a refreshing beverage, inquire how they are doing, what their plans are while they visit. Share what you had in mind to make the visit smooth and easy. I took to the whole concept whether lunch, dinner, evening or overnight stays.
THE UNINVITED GUEST
But then there came occasions when guests dropped in, rang the bell unannounced, or walked right in. “We’re such good friends I thought I could just “drop by.” I spent too much time being held hostage by unannounced and definitely at the wrong time visitors because I thought I had to continue “being nice.” I soon learned by the uncomfortable sensations in my stomach (anxiety), shoulder tension, headaches ( irritation, annoyance and other feelings moving along the negative feeling spectrum) that I needed to be prepared. I learned how to set boundaries and have a stock of polite phrases to limit time. Being nice to myself sometimes had to come first.
When you decide you have some time for that uninvited guest, here are some tips: Welcome the uninvited visitor with a clear non-negotiable time frame that they will stay. Offering a seat is optional. Just as you might include on a written invitation, there’s a beginning and end, i.e., dinner 6:00-8:30 PM. Set the goal time of freedom from the “guest.”
When you know you have No Time: “Gosh, I wish I could talk but I have someplace I have to be in, oh no, ten minutes!” Do not answer the door. Lock the door. (same for phone calls- that’s why we have answering machines).
MY LATEST UNINVITED GUEST
About two months ago I had an uninvited guest. This guest invaded every part of my life and home. It turned my life upside down. At first I completely lost my bearings. I thought this guest might be here to stay forever.
The unwelcome guest was an ischemic stroke. I lost functioning of my right arm from shoulder to fingertips. (see “A Different Kind of Event” ) This sure was a supremely uninvited guest.
It’s now almost eight weeks and yes, it’s getting better, one day at a time. In the first three weeks it was one hour at a time. I made the decision to use all the gentle and not so gentle hints that there was no room for this uninvited guest.
I set a non-negotiable policy- do nothing to allow this guest to stay. Do everything to encourage space only for vibrant health, patience, positive thoughts.
Provide no food for this stroke- no sugar (one of the Flagstaff doctors talked about a heart-healthy diet- “Strokes love sugar and caffeine because they weaken you and can nestle in to stay in those areas of your body.” So no sugar (not so easy for me), Good proteins, fiber, easy to fix yet tasty vegetable dishes, fresh fruit. No preservatives, No smoking, no alcohol (easy peasy for me – I quit both decades ago). Water water water. Neighbors and family stocked our refrigerator with chicken soup, beef stew, hot meals – thank you Sylvia, Lucy, Kathy, Kari, Eileen, Linda.
My stroke wanted sluggish activity, “poor me” thinking, and accepting a status quo ( “That’s just the way it is.”) Ha! Not here! Our home positively vibrates with good energy- Deva Primal chants, Pema Chödrön talks. Zooming with CSLT meditations and Nancy Leon’s FL Energy Meditation keep me “up” every day. Please never underestimate what a successful Rx positive messages are- a short text from a friend that reminds me I’m a “warrior” nudges self-doubt away.
Friends and stroke survivors/thrivers offered tips on everyday workarounds to save energy and keep my sense of humor- nap, rest, say no when you have to, get sunshine every morning, laugh, learn about strokes, ask questions, ask for help. Between online support groups, Zooming with other stroke survivors, laughing with friends, I am not isolated. The experiences of other people invite compassion for them, and for me. I’ve been a joiner for most of my life. I joined some groups because I like to learn new things, or I need to learn to survive. My path is my path, but I am not unique. So when I might be pulled towards fear I look and listen to others who are in that particular group and get my compass reset. Positive self-talk post-its are up again in my house (See Bumper Sticker Philosophy)
I get daily exercise so this stroke won’t find a cushy place to take up space. My Physical Therapist, the wonderful Geneva Kaplan, personalizes exercises so I am “playing” tennis- well not with a racquet just yet but getting the spatial distance on the court and walking forward, back, side to side. Sometimes it’s “2 steps forward, 1 step back.” Also adaptable for future line dancing.
My stroke is finding out there is NO VACANCY here, and it feels fantastic!!! I don’t have to do this alone. Besides group friends, family and my husband, aka a National Treasure, I have a competent and accessible doctor, a knowledgeable neurology group, and a cardiologist who left me with this Rx the other day- “LIVE LIFE.”
Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a mic.