Two Lists – One Life

November 15, 2011 at 6:32 pm (Uncategorized)

Here is how I would have liked to spend the last week:

• Writing four blog posts
• Writing 16,000 words of my memoir
• Building the first snowman of the season with Andrew
• Walking through the snow at dusk with Jay
• Reading to Andrew
• Talking to my Dad, who wants to ask me a few questions about blogging
• Attending an extremely cool-sounding workshop about teaching creative writing to elementary students

Here is how I actually spent the last week:

• Spending a day at the Cancer Treatment Center getting IV antibiotics in the hope of licking a nasty sinus infection that four courses of antibiotics haven’t cured
• Starting my fifth course of antibiotics
• Shooting saline solution up my nose
• Shooting liquid antibiotics up my nose
• Shooting steroid spray up my nose
• Not opening shades because the light triggers migraine
• Not walking downstairs because my vertigo has gotten a lot worse
• Asking Andrew to shut off the light and close my door
• Asking Jay 5,000 times each day, “Are you sure you’re not feeling overburdened?”
• Telling Jay for 5,000 times each day, “I’m so sorry I can’t help you make dinner/put Andrew to bed/supervise a play date/do the dishes/feed the cats, etc.”
• Feeling sorry for myself
• Feeling overwhelmed
• Wondering what the f#*k is wrong with my sinuses
• Wondering why I have neurosarcoidosis

I caught a cold from Andrew a few weeks ago. The cold quickly became a sinus infection. My doctor prescribed different rounds of antibiotics–Avelox, Cipro, and Ceftin. The sinus infection scoffed at these puny drugs and got worse. It triggered the neurological symptoms that have plagued me since sarcoidosis moved into my brain and cranial nerves in 2007. Migraines, vertigo, and blind spells have flattened me for the last week.

There’s nothing to do but rest, take more antibiotics, and zealously rinse my sinuses. It is frustrating to want to be out in the world—working and playing—and to be stuck in bed.

But, in the words of my husband’s favorite football coach, it is what it is.

As I made my two lists that distinguished what I want from what I have, I realized that we all operate between our hopes and our realities. Whether or not we have a chronic illness, we all have to find a path through what we’d like to be doing and what we must do. Going to work, raising a kid, and tending a marriage require all of us to give up the luxuries of our desires for the longer-term satisfaction that comes with accepting responsibility—even when it requires not doing exactly what we want in each given moment.

Living with two lists is hard. It would be a lot easier to bury our hopes and wishes under so much proper responsibility that we forget (almost, but never quite fully) the taste and texture of our dreams. It would also be easier to put our responsible to-do lists through the shredder of petty self-centeredness.

I admire the people who live with two lists gracefully. They do it with humor, compassion, and joy at what they have. They show up for the life they have, but don’t abandon their dreams.

I am trying to copy them now, even though I feel righteously indignant that my head is throbbing, that my vision has blipped out three times while writing this, that the act of writing is making me feel sea-sick. I could flip out. I could have a meltdown. But I am trying not to.

How about you? Do you live every day with two lists—one of what you really want to be doing and one of what you end up having to do? Who do you know that does a graceful balancing act?


  1. Basil Rene said,

    I do wish you a speedy recovery. It is good to keep a reality list and a “hope” list. Having hope keeps you alive and looking forward to the future. It shows that despite everything, you haven’t given up.

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      Thanks, Basil,

      As you know all too well, sometimes it’s the “little” things, like sinus infections, that tip the balance when you’re chronically ill. I am feeling a little better today. It is wonderful to be out of bed for a couple of hours and not feel so dizzy.

      I hope you are feeling well. Thanks for checking in.

      take care,

  2. Martha Kohl said,

    I think I live life with one list. It is certainly filled with things I have to do, and on those rare occasions that I’ve checked off all my “musts”–when the house is empty and no one wants anything from me–I’m pretty disoriented. It can take a little while to remember what it is I actually would want to do, if only I had time. Even though I only have one list, though I try to interpolate it with treats. I don’t always get to check those things off (I haven’t gotten to have lunch with you)–but I don’t always get to check off my have tos/shoulds, either (I just shoved the pile of clean clothes on my bed over just enough to make a space for myself, and, boy, those toilets sure could use scrubbing.) So it is one, long, mixed list, often ignored (on both the treat side and the chore side).

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      Hi Martha,

      I don’t cross things off my lists either. This can make my to-do list disheartening. Like you, I don’t cross off or give myself credit for taking care of an unpleasant task. I just see all the aspects of that task I haven’t yet done.

      After reading your comment, though, I am wondering about allowing myself to cross off surviving tough stuff that has gotten in the way of doing the things I want. So, for instance, rather than lay in bed, sick, and think, “I’ve gotten absolutely nothing done. I still have 12,000 words to write, etc.” I can say to myself, “Wow, great job getting through a nasty sinus infection and scary neurological symptoms.”

      I find the different ways we cope with what we have to do, what we want to do, and what we end up doing fascinating. It’s interesting to read all the different ways you and the other folks who commented here perceive lists.

      I can’t wait to talk about this–and more–when we finally get to have lunch. No crossing off necessary.


  3. Barbara Barnes said,

    Number one on both lists (a suggestion)
    1. Have mercy on yourself
    The last one on both lists (a suggestion)
    Breathe in, breathe out
    I have lists… and I have the tools of denial.. thank God!
    Hoping that infection leaves much sooner than later!!!

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      Hi Barb,

      Good suggestions. I sometimes forget about the whole breathing and having mercy on myself end of things. But I just took three very deep breaths after reading your comment, and all of the sudden, I felt a little better.

      Have mercy on yourself. Wow. What a great way to think of this. Powerful, succinct, and wonderful

      I strongly feel that we are all too busy and we are all too hard on ourselves. Mercy towards ourselves might make it all less overwhelming.

      Thanks for reading, commenting, and dispelling wisdom.


  4. Leanne Shirtliffe said,

    How freaking horrible is that! I had a sinus infection long before Surrey and it took 10 days of antibiotics and I felt like crap. And I didn’t have all those additional side effects, so you’re getting extra sympathy and sincerest wishes for a speedy recovery.

    Regarding lists. Hmm. Most of the time I don’t live with a list…except after I complete something I mentally check it off. Otherwise, the list of things I didn’t get done overwhelms me.


    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      Thanks, Leanne. Yes, sinus infections deeply suck. It’s like they take over your entire head. Blech. I’m glad you got over yours. I think I am heading towards health myself. I’ve been up for 3 whole hours today! I showered! I changed the bedding! I’m still feeling more vertiginous than I’d like, but I am following Barb’s advice above and trying to breathe.

      A great big to-do list is terribly overwhelming. Sometimes it’s better just not to know what you have planned for yourself.


  5. roz heafitz said,

    Lists help me feel grounded and ripping up the lists at times makes me feel free…when life rips up my lists, I move between anger and curiosity…why is my cheese being moved, what might come or could I bring to its place?
    And then there are those moments when I cross something off the list, sometimes because it is completed but other times because it is no longer the priority I had been sure it was…nothing is very straightforward here.

    Blessings to your healing and much love.

  6. Rebecca Stanfel said,

    Thanks, Mom,

    I love the image of life ripping up our carefully planned lists, and I love that you can feel curiosity along with anger. I’m going to try and cultivate some of that curiosity, instead of stepping up guard duty on my cheese. What might come ir I bring to the place indeed.

    I appreciate your thought-provoking comments.


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