Posted in #Confessions, Fears and Worries

Vulnerable

           

Story and Photography by Nancy Malcolm

Walking to the car, I was afraid I would not make it safely locked inside before the tears came.  The car was stifling, and as the engine came alive, I sat with my face in my hands crying big, hot tears of shame, and then something else. 

            I had just come from one of my last sessions of physical therapy.  Last November I had my first total knee replacement and this July I had the second knee done.  It has been an arduous year of pain, healing, and regaining strength and balance.  And after all of that, here I am reduced to tears in the parking lot of my physical therapist, right next to a Bed Bath and Beyond and a Party Pig. 

            If I am to tell the truth, which, by the way is a very vulnerable place to be, this is my first bout of tears since I started this transformational journey.  I have not cried since I made my resolve to complete the surgeries.  I could not waiver,  I had to stay the course and commit to the nineteen-month-long process.  There would be no turning back.

            In my mid-thirties I began to feel pain in my knees that was unexplained.  I was told to do strengthening exercises, and possibly have arthroscopic knee surgery to remove cartilage fragments.  But, as my thirties gave way to my fifties and sixties the x-rays showed osteoarthritis in the kneecap.  One doctor said, “You have the knees of a thirty-year-old and the kneecaps of an eighty-year-old.  Someday you’ll have to get your knees totally replaced.”  I have taken Rooster Comb (Hyaluronic acid) shots in my knees, cortisone shots, Celebrex and Aleve in large doses, and I’ve rubbed on every kind of ointment, even purchasing ‘Blue Emu’ cream, heralded as a miracle cure by my little Auntie Sue. 

            But, finally what made me ready for surgery was the excruciating pain and the even more excruciating embarrassment of not being able to walk down a flight of stairs, or go on hikes, or play on the floor with my grandkids. I felt like an imposter as I waited in line for the elevator with those who obviously needed it more than me.  I was ashamed of my disability.

            I want to be able to climb the bleachers of my grandson’s ballgames and dance with Boo at our 50th wedding anniversary.  I want to play chase with my grandkids and ride bikes until our heart’s content.  I want to enjoy what’s left of my time here on earth and if possible, if I am granted the blessings I may not deserve,  to do all of that without pain.  So, when my orthopedic doctor said, “I think you’re ready.”  I mentally prepared myself for the road ahead.

            Arthritis is a cruel disease that affects your joints causing inflammation or degeneration of your joints, creating great pain.  Sometimes, Osteoarthritis of the fingers, knees, or hips follows an injury.  I badly injured my knee while in college, by falling down a flight of stairs, but who can know for sure if that was the beginning culprit, only that it happened. 

            All of these things were not in my thoughts as I sat in my car after physical therapy.  Only minutes before I had been standing on a 3-inch-high wooden block, shaking like a leaf.  It had been two and a half months since my surgery, but it was time to tackle the stairs.  “I’m scared to bend my knee, I’m afraid it won’t hold me,”  I said.

            The fresh-faced, twenty-something-year-old physical therapist stood in front of me saying, “I’m right here, I won’t let you fall.”  And as silly as this might sound to you, I knew I had a choice.  I could try and keep trying or I could cower away in fear and settle for less. After all, I am a grown woman and if I say I’m not ready, I’m not ready.  If I don’t want to put myself through the pain and soreness, I don’t have to.

            My choice, though, was not to waste my pain.  I’d come this far and the thing I wanted most was right in front of me.  But, I was afraid, and I was ashamed that this young girl was having to help me when I should have been able to do it myself. I felt like a whiney baby, a scaredy-cat afraid of a 3-inch step when there are so many people who would be happy to be in my place.  My journey of pain and rehabilitation was finally coming towards a pivotal point, and I knew I had to find a way to push through.

            Sitting in my car, I was feeling months of hard work, pain, and the shame I have carried for a long time.  The shame surrounding what I should be able to do, shame at something that was not even my fault.  I am not a crier by nature, but I am tenderhearted, and sometimes that can serve me well. At that exact moment, I needed a little compassion.  I wanted to say, “It’s ok to be afraid, you can do it.  Give yourself some time.”  But all I heard in my head was negative. “You’ll never be able to do this.  Just give up.”

            The walk to the car was like a walk of shame until I sat down, and the tears fell. My tears cleansed a part of my heart that had been overgrown with fear and anxiety.  My tears were a release of the gratitude I feel towards my God and my surgeon, my family, and my friends.  My heart overflows with thankfulness that I am healing well, getting stronger, and relearning to climb stairs.  I am grateful to have less pain.  I am grateful for insurance and Medicare.  I am grateful for all of the kind, compassionate people who have been put in my path during this medical odyssey.

            It is not easy to let yourself be vulnerable.  You must first accept your truth, without judgment, and without comparing yourself to how you think others would behave.  Brene’ Brown, a famous professor, lecturer, and author actually wrote a book about vulnerability, Daring Greatly.  In that book, she says that “Vulnerability sounds like truth but feels like courage.”  And that is exactly how I felt.

            After the tears slowed, I drove home debating whether to tell Boo about my ‘meltdown.’  I was already trying to make light of my feelings by using that derogatory term.  But, right before bed, I told him everything and to my surprise, I cried all over again.  He listened, almost like he has never done before, and held me tight like a little child.  It seems Brene’ Brown was absolutely right.  My vulnerability to share my truth felt so courageous and Boo could feel the truth and openness as it went from my heart to his.  My willingness to be open transformed everything. The gratitude I feel for health and healing allows me to be afraid and do it anyway. The willingness to be vulnerable gave way to gratitude and that has made all of the difference.

“What makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful.”  Brene’ Brown

Posted in Friendship, Reality, Sittin Ugly

Sittin’ Ugly

 

     In the early morning hours, before anyone else is up, while the cat is still stretching languidly in her chair, I begin my day.  In this quiet early hour, I can hear the thud of the newspaper being thrown on the sidewalks, the coffeemaker finishing the last few drops and I hear the solid, steady tick of our clock on the mantle. This is my selfish hour.  This is my cherished solitude. I must have it!!  This is my time to drink coffee and absolutely, unequivocally “sit ugly.”

     Sittin’ Ugly is a family tradition passed on by my 88-year-old Auntie Sue.  Her mother did it, she does it and now I do it.  I’m sure lots of other people on earth are doing it, but to do it correctly is an art.  The skill of sittin’ ugly is learned and perfected through years of practice. There are rules of course, and above all, one must respect another’s right to sit ugly.  There should be no judgment, the fact is, one just simply does…..sit ugly.

     Everyone has their own way to sit ugly. But there are guidelines that I find very comforting and helpful to follow. Anyone that is new to the art will surely want to comply. The rules are as follows:

1. There must be coffee. Preferably freshly brewed with everything extra that you need, (cream, sugar, etc.) and of course the favorite mug.  I’ve never known a tea drinker to sit ugly, but I suppose it could be done.

2. No talking!! No one speaks to you-you speak to no one. Sometimes it may be necessary to point or grunt especially if you have small children and they absolutely must encroach on your time. But, the only talking truly allowed is to yourself.

3. You must sit. My favorite spot is an oversized chair by the window. Above all else, you must pick a comfortable, familiar place to sit. It is always good to be able to put up your feet and have a little table nearby. Your sittin’ area should be away from anyone else who might be awake.

4. You may be asking yourself, now what?  I have the coffee.  I’m sitting quietly. Now what? The “what” to do part is really up to you.  Sometimes I just sit and stare while sipping my coffee. Staring is perfectly allowable and even encouraged.  I also read my daily devotionals and have long conversations with God.  I contemplate my day and my life.  I think.  I don’t think and then I may stare some more, all the while continuing to drink my coffee.  This part may go on for as long as necessary.  One hour is perfect for me.

5. Lastly, about this “ugly” part.  Sittin ugly simply means that you come as you are, straight from bed.  No primping allowed!  One must be ones’ self.  Tattered nighty? That’s ok!  Acne medicine dotted on your face?  Beautiful!  Scruffy old favorite robe and slippers?  The older the better!  Sittin’ ugly is actually a super-natural phenomenon that makes you more good-looking.  The longer you have time to sit, the better you will look and feel. Try it and see!

     Sittin’ ugly is my personal time.  It is my favorite time of the day.  Sometimes I can hardly wait to get up in the morning just to sit ugly.  I am always at my best while sittin’ ugly, mainly because no one is speaking to me or me to them.  What a joyous, peaceful time!  What a perfect way to start your day, in fact for me, it is a necessity.

     Some mornings my little Auntie will call me and ask, “Honey, are you sittin’ ugly or can you talk?”  It is always good manners to ask first, in case one is not ready for conversation.  Attempting dialogue before ready may result in hurt feelings, premature agreements, or regret, so approach your morning chitchats with caution.

     My friend, here’s to “Sittin’ Ugly”, to having this special time each and every day and to the millions of us who find it necessary for the sustainment of sanity.  And, here’s to my precious Auntie Sue and all the beautiful ones who “sit ugly”.

My little Auntie Sue passed away after her 90th birthday.  She always had a kind word to say about everyone; she always looked for humor in every situation; she was always grateful and she always sat ugly…every morning and claimed it was the reason for her good health and good fortune.  I miss her every day.  RIP Auntie Sue!

Posted in Friendship

Happy Birthday, Sue!

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Dear Auntie Sue,

I miss you something fierce!  Hardly a day goes by that I don’t think of you or see something that reminds me of you.  I think of you every time I go to Walgreens and remember how you loved to get out and just look around.  How you always bought a new Farmer’s Almanac and a Revlon lipstick, Wine With Everything, even though you had two in your purse.  “Just in case, “ you would say.

 

I think of you every time I go into my closet and see the Rhinestone pins and necklaces you gave me from your overflowing jewelry box

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I hear your voice when the weatherman flashes Oklahoma City on the map.  You would call and ask, “Are you having any weather down in Austin?” And then proceed to say, “It’s so windy here it would blow the hair off a dog!”

 

I think of you every time I don’t want to go for a walk, because you braved the elements every day, even using your walker.  You had a path inside and out at your retirement home, where you would walk one mile in the morning and one in the afternoon.  “I’ve got to walk or die,” you’d say.

 

I miss the way we would laugh, especially at ourselves and tell the same stories over and over again, each of us acting as if it were the first time!

 

I miss you telling me how much I look like my mother; how much you love me and can’t wait to see me again.

 

I tried to come for a visit every few months or so.  At the end of our time together, you would ask me when I was coming back.  You didn’t like to say goodbye and didn’t want any long farewells, tears or fuss.  As I would make my way to my car, I would turn around and look for your face in the window and you were always there waving back.  We would stand there and look at each other for those few seconds and my heart would ache, already longing to return.

 

I like to think that maybe on your walks upon the streets of gold, you might pause in front of a big picture window looking down on us all.  I like to think you are smiling and waving, your hand pressed to the pane and you hear me say, “I miss you something fierce.”

 

My dear Auntie Sue was the Original Sittin Ugly Sistah!  She was funny, sweet, loving and true to herself.  She loved God, her family, eating a good steak and Bob Wills!

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