Down The Rabbit Hole Part II

Down the Rabbit Hole, collage, 2017 by Julianna Paradisi

Just over a year ago I had the opportunity to show some of my paintings and speak to a live audience about the challenges of being an artist, healer, and breast cancer survivor. Artists, Healers, and Breast Cancer Survivors: A Window into Their World was also the name of the show.

My talk took listeners through the primary events of my diagnosis, treatment, and  transitioning from cancer survivor to artist and writer. When I completed treatment I was told there was a 32% chance I wouldn’t survive the next ten years. I considered then, if these were the last ten years of my life What was it I wanted to do?

I came up with three things:

  • I wanted to love deeply, and be deeply loved by the same person
  • I wanted to be an artist
  • I wanted people to say nice things about me when I die (this one is the hardest 😀)

And then a funny thing happened on my way home from the medical oncologist’s office: I lived.

In March 2019 I celebrate twenty years since my diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer.

As I heard myself speak to the roomful of other cancer survivors and colleagues, I experienced the sudden realization I have reached my goals. Although all three need continual care and practice, the time has come for me to think about what comes next. What new goals should I set?  How do I become a better version of myself?

After all I’ve been through in my life I should have been better prepared. When you decide to ask the questions, you need to be ready for the answers. Asking life challenging questions with intention is Going Down the Rabbit Hole, Part II. 2018 has been a year of renewed discovery, self-reflection, and a little bit of rocking the boat. It’s been a year of fabulous highs and a few painful lows. Just like surviving cancer, I am stronger for it.

As 2018 comes to an end, I face 2019 with renewed intention and focus.

I’ll be writing more about the process.

 

Learn to Say No

Developing creativity requires personal time. You’ve heard it before: Learn to say no.

I was a new-ish nurse working night shifts on a busy hospital unit. Our census exploded,

The Bride by jparadisiWhat are you married to?

The Bride by jparadisi
What are you married to?

and every evening the nurse manager called all off-duty staff begging until someone accepted the overtime shift. It is difficult to refuse extra shifts when it’s your manager asking. This went on for what seemed an inordinate amount of time. Answering machines were new back then, and I resisted owning one.

One afternoon, my daughter raced to the ringing phone, picking up the call before I could. I overheard my manager asking, “Hello, is your mommy there?” As I reached for the receiver, my daughter blurted out, “You’re not going to make my mommy go to work again, are you?” Embarrassed, I grabbed the phone. On the other end, the manager apologized: “I’m sorry, I guess I’ve been calling too often. Enjoy the evening with your daughter.”

The next day, I bought an answering machine, and learned to screen calls.

Not long afterwards, something unexpected happened: The manager took her overtime-paid hours to administration, along with the record of increased census. They discovered they’d save money by hiring another FTE. The overtime calls became occasional.

Moral of the story: it’s not my personal responsibility to fix my unit’s staffing problem. I’m not advocating nurses refuse shifts during staffing crunches. In nursing, being a team player is essential. However, I found that if I work more than two overtime shifts a pay period, I get a diminishing return on the extra income because of taxes where I live. Therefore, my flexible boundary is to limit overtime to two shifts a pay period. I learned to say, “No,” to more than that.

Recognizing which problems are yours to solve, and which are the responsibility of others is the key to learning to say “no,” to coworkers, patients, children, spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, parents, soccer moms, whomever.

Write this down and tape it to your bathroom mirror:

I am responsible for my own stuff, and that is enough.”

The caveat to this affirmation is:

If you step in it, you’re going to have to clean your shoes.”

Remember:

▪ Avoid drama.

▪ Evaluate commitments carefully.

▪ Protect your personal time.

Our ability to say no is strongly connected to the important relationships in our lives. Nurses in particular are conditioned to believe that saying “No” in order to make time for ourselves is selfish. Add the nurturing nature of a nurse to this training, and saying “No” becomes nearly impossible.

You cannot grow creatively without time to yourself. Recognizing what stuff is yours, and what belongs to others is the first step towards self-care and personal growth.

Do you think nurses have more difficulty saying “No” than other professionals? Do you think this problem is gender related? What experiences have helped you learn to say no?

You Can Change the World 2K11

artist unknown. photo: jparadisi 2K11

Someone placed a sticker on our unit’s grease board. It reads, “You can change the world if you want to.”

Really? I think about how hard it is simply to keep peace among nurses during the course of a shift.

Throughout history, people have tried changing the world. Some accomplished extraordinary transformations through the persistent presentation of their ideas. Many suffered disastrous personal consequences for their efforts.”All we are saying, is give peace a chance” angers the hell out of some people. The list of eloquent, intelligent people who paid with their lives to enlighten the world is daunting, but peace is not promoted through silence.

A while ago, I noticed a patient reading Ken Kesey. The author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Kesey was raised in Eugene, Oregon.  He created the fictional character Nurse Ratched. The irony isn’t lost on me.

The poet John Donne wrote “I am a little world made cunningly of elements.” I wonder if the sticker on our unit’s grease board means by changing ourselves and our interactions with others, we become part of a world-changing collective; a sort of code team for the world? That feels a little more manageable. It beats waiting for the other guy to change, huh?