Stop Telling Me to Put On My Own Oxygen Mask First

Stop Telling Me to Put On My Own Oxygen Mask First

Disclaimer: I know this is not uplifting or positive, but sometimes I don’t feel uplifting or positive. Sometimes, this shit is hard. I would be bullshitting you if I picked and chose the pretty, uplifting stuff, and left out all the ugliness and even occasional bitterness. I appreciate how often people reach out and tell me how I handle all of this with so much grace, but I don’t. Sometimes, it’s ugly, and that’s all there is to it. And sometimes I need to write about that, too.


The list of things to do is longer every day and “self-care” is never on it.

Schedule in at-home PT and OT. Clean the dishes. Make dinner. Help with homework. Wash the basketball jerseys. Plan the Girl Scout meeting. Fold the laundry. At least wash the laundry. Get the clean laundry out of the kitchen. Log the symptoms. Track the prescriptions. Take the kid to Urgent Care for her ear infection. Buy groceries. Fill the pillboxes. Make the kids clean their rooms. Make dinner. Make breakfast. Pack lunches. Help with homework.

Somewhere in there, I’m supposed to do the “me” things, too, right? At the beginning of July, my therapist asked me to write a letter to my inner child. I haven’t done that. Instead, Mike went to the doctor, and we started the long waiting game for surgery. “Me things” are on hold.

I’m the only one in the family who hasn’t had a flu shot. I need to go get my flu shot.
I have work to do for my agent, because I want to sell my goddamn book. I need to sit down and get it done.
I still haven’t unpacked my new studio, and dear lord I want to paint something. I want to paint so many things. I want to get the art out of me. It’s like it’s drowning me on the inside. I need to get it out.

But when do I do those things? When do I take a hot bath? When do I do my own laundry?

I know, I know, you put on your own oxygen mask before helping anyone else with theirs, but I don’t know what my oxygen mask even looks like right now. I can’t distinguish between what I have to do so survive and what I WANT to do. Other people’s needs are easier. Other people’s needs are obvious. Mike needs his medication, his appointments, his symptoms logged and side effects treated and he needs to do his exercises. The kids need to do their homework, brush their teeth, bring a jacket with them. They need Halloween costumes. They need healthy food and steady bedtimes, or at least the illusion of steady bedtimes. They need me not to be curled up in the corner of the couch, eyes glassy, trying to figure out if I have time to shower this week.

If I don’t have time to breathe, what’s the point of putting on my oxygen mask, anyway?

It’s almost two months since surgery, and the dust is beginning to settle. It’s not settled, but we’re getting closer. We’re a week away from that next MRI, from finding out whether all of this was for something or for nothing.

And it’s always something else, isn’t it? The refrigerator died. Water poured into the kitchen. Woodpeckers drilled holes into the house. It’s always goddamn something, but isn’t there enough already?

Do you need to put on your oxygen mask if the plane has already crashed? Can you suffocate on the settling dust?

I’m tired, readers. I’m so tired it astounds me when my fingers fly across the keyboard. They’re stiff and they crack, but they’re doing it.

I ate a donut yesterday, and then some french fries. Today I’ve had a glass of milk. I know I need to do better. I know I need to do a better job of taking care of myself because I have to keep taking care of everything else. I know that.

But I keep hoping, if I can just keep going, if I can just push through another week, maybe on the other side the air is clear.

I’m okay. It’s a mantra, but it’s probably also true. I’m okay, I’m okay, I’m okay.

I am okay. Really. I’m okay. Tired, but yeah, I’m okay.

We’re getting through this. Also true.

It doesn’t matter if the plants die. It doesn’t matter if the laws goes to weeds. It doesn’t matter if the cats figure out how to summit the high shelves in the pantry and tear apart bags of spaghetti. It doesn’t matter if there’s shredded paper all over the kid’s bedroom floor. It doesn’t matter if the calendar on my office wall still says “August.” I haven’t been in since then anyway.

The only empty belly is mine. The only missed appointments are mine. The only unfinished work is mine. The only flu shot missing is mine. Do I *need* to make myself food, or can I just grab a snack from the cabinet as I run out the door? Do I *need* to see the chiropractor this week, or can I just stretch a little better in the mornings? Do I *need* to get these essays out? Do I *need* to write? They all seem like such luxuries when the prescriptions need to be filled, and the school fees need to be paid, and Mike’s incision needs to be monitored. They seem so optional when the crap that materializes all over the floor needs to be picked up and put away, or Mike could end up with a serious fall. Do I *need* to go to the gym? No. I can survive without any of that. It’s not oxygen.

Do I *need* to sleep? Yes, I guess, but it felt so unfair when I got by so well without it twenty years ago. Of course, I was suicidal back then. So yes, it’s safe to say I need to sleep. I can at least identify that.

Somehow I have to do it all, but I can’t. I have to let go of doing it all. I got a shower today, at least. Everything is easier, better, after a shower. I ate an Oatmeal Creme Pie for breakfast. It has the word “oatmeal” in it. I cleaned up the exploded noodles. I got the kids on the bus. I got Mike to PT. The homework is done, for now. The slow cooker is started. Tonight everyone will eat soup and bread and salad, at least.

So long as Mike and the kids have their oxygen masks on, I can let the rest go.

The dust is still settling, and I can make it through another week.



Read about caregiving through glioblastoma here: This is the Hardest Part of Getting Treatment for Brain Cancer

Read my most recent post here: My Twins are Ten Years Old

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