Monday, January 3, 2011

Just Say Yes--and Happy New Year

A funny thing happened to me on the way to Christmas.

Not exactly—funny. But certainly unusual, unpredicted and, in my experience so far, unprecedented.

I got really, really sick. It’s all fine now, so you can read the rest without worrying one bit.

But it started with kind of a weirdly-bad headache. Should I take Advil, I thought? But it didn’t seem like that would help. So I decided to ignore it. My fingers felt tingly, but I decided that was my beginning arthritis, sigh, and ignored it. I was so tired! But that’s a constant sate of being, so I , um, ignored it.

Now you have to know that my schedule—and this is the point--like yours, is pret-ty crazy. I love my life, and I’m grateful every day. I have a dear husband. I have a wonderful full-time job as a TV reporter, which is basically 24-7. I’m working on my fifth mystery-suspense novel, and am now on page 267. (Some days, I’m thrilled about it, some days, it stinks. But that’s another blog.) I’m scheduled for speeches, seminars, conventions, appearances, signings, blurbings, contest-judgings, MWA board activities, and if I keep on with this list, it’ll just take up too much room. But imagine red-eye flights, early morning speeches, late night writing.

All of your lives are like this, right? In whatever configuration of responsibilities, activities, events, and work-related and personal-related and fun-related and book-related stuff we’re all juggling at every moment.

The arrival of the holidays ramped it up to even more crazy…I was getting ready to send holiday cards, getting ready to do my holiday shopping, had parties to go to, places to go, people to see, stuff to do. Pages to write every day. Three articles due. Blogs to keep up. New Years plans.

And then, Tuesday night before the week before Christmas, I got really sick. So sick I had to go to the doctor, who sent me to get IV fluids for six hours. I couldn’t lift my head. I had to sleep.

“Can you sit up and tell me about it?” the doctor asked.

“I’d prefer not to,” I remember saying. “I need to stay lying down.”

They asked me all kinds of questions, and almost decided I had noro-virus, a pretty awful thing that’s like what all those people get on cruise ships that keeps you in the bathroom for a week. But I didn’t have those symptoms, so they were baffled.

And then the doctor finally said: you don’t have a rash, do you?

And I said, well, not really..but I have three weird little dots on my lower back.

Her eyes widened. “Are you under a lot of stress? Have you been working really hard?”

If I hadn’t felt so awful, it would have been funny.

I had shingles. And it was horrible.

I slugged down medicine, lived on nothing but ginger ale for about a week. Had a horrible headache. Slept, slept, slept, slept, slept. Finally, finally, my brain stared working again, and now, about two and a half weeks later, I’m, knock on wood fine.

But here’s the point. Nothing got done. NOTHING. Nothing I had planned to do, nothing I had told myself was absolutely necessary to do, none of it got done.

“Sick,” I’d email, trying to type while lying down. “More later.”

No one got Christmas cards, emails didn’t get answered for a week, Christmas presents were last-minute gift cards.

And no one cared. It was ALL FINE.

Yes, I made my article deadlines, made them fine, instead of worrying about them for two weeks and then writing them, I just wrote them. Luckly, by some amazing luck, I had no appearances scheduled so I didn't have to cancel and ruin anyone else's plans. . 

Being so sick took away my choices. And when I was lucky enough to reenter the world, it was all fine.

So now I’m thinking—hmmm. What if I spend too much time trying to be perfect? Trying to do everything?

And what if, suddenly, the universe sent me a message saying: “Guess what, girl. You’re done for a while.”

The incredible Wally Lamb once told me he keeps an index card by his telephone. On the index card, he’s printed one word. NO. He’s the most charming, most generous, most giving, most loving—but even he, sometimes, has to remember to protect himself.

So here we all are, girlfriends. Celebrating our lives and loves and successes and challenges and facing a new year. I’m not saying “just say no.” I’m saying—just say yes. Say yes to a little peace, and a little time for yourself, a little less total-perfection-at-all-times, and a little more smelling the roses. Counting blessings that we’re healthy.

Happy New Year. It’ll all be fine.

(And just for fun--Three copies of DRIVE TIME are up for grapbs! I'll choose winners from the comments...and Happy New Year!)


  1. Hi :)
    Thank you for having Hank Phillippi Ryan here today and thanks to Hank for the great guest post!
    Here's to a magical & magnificent 2011!

  2. Oh, my, Hank, I'm so glad you're on the mend. And how great that you came out of such a lousy time you with such a lovely new perspective:

    "Say yes to a little peace, and a little time for yourself, a little less total-perfection-at-all-times, and a little more smelling the roses."

    You have no idea how much I needed o hear this. I'm in!

  3. Love you, Hank! This hit home so hard it made my eyes tear.

    Thanks for this most excellent reminder ... and so glad you're okay.


  4. That was therapeutic. Just reading it makes me feel less stressed. I think I'll keep your post around where I can reread it when I get all wound up.

  5. Oh Hank, I'm so sorry you had to suffer through all that! (And so relieved that you're fine now!) But what a wonderful message to share, now that you're on this side of the illness. xx

  6. Wow! I'm so sorry you were sick, but in a way, it was gift, wasn't it? If it taught you that paring down was just fine, it's an important lesson - one I'm going to try my hardest to remember. So glad you are well!

  7. Thank you for the inspirational message! 2010 was a difficult year for me, but I really do need to remember to appreciate what I still have. Time heals all wounds.

  8. So sorry it took such a horrible illness for you to slow down...isn't it terrible that's what it takes sometimes? Glad you're on the mend, and hope you remember to "say yes" more often!

  9. So happy to read that you are on the mend and doing much better. How scary that must have been though. Cheers to you in the New Year and here's to a little more "me time".


  10. Hank, so sorry you were down and out. My grandmother-in-law had shingles and I know what pain she was in. Thank you for the beautiful reminder to say yes to our health and well being.

  11. Glad you are feeling better. Sounds as if your body was sending you a message- slow down! Happy New year

  12. I am so glad your health has improved. I know shingles can be tough. Here's to a less stressful New Year.

  13. SO sweet to hear from you all..thank you! How were YOUR holidays??

  14. Hank, I'm so glad you're feeling better now, but your message is one I really needed to read today -- thank you ;). Here's hoping the New Year will be healthier and calmer than we've grown used to! Wishing you a wonderful 2011!!

  15. Hi Hank, sorry about the shingles... FIL has them and he drives us up the wall when he has flareups. I'm glad you're doing better. I sent out almost 40 cards this year and of course I don't keep a list. So not getting one wouldn't make a blip on my radar.

    Just so you are back 100% and ready to Rock and ROll is all that matters.

    Happy and HEALTHY New Year to you and hubby.

  16. Here's to feeling better and better all the time, Hank, and saying "NO!" when need be.

  17. Hank, I am so happy you are healthy and feeling better!! Thank you for sharing this experience. I know I often take on too much stuff...I wonder if this is just part of being a woman? Believing we can and must 'do it all.' Thank you for the sound advice. Here's to a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2011!

  18. Hank, I'm so glad that you're feeling better. Sometimes it is better to stop and smell the roses and then say "no."

  19. Hank, what a time of the year to be sick! But like you said, it all worked out. I think you're right that we put too much stress on ourselves. Glad to hear you're feeling better:)

  20. Oh, you're all making me feel EVEN better! Thank's amazing to belong to such a wonderful community... (Now I'm trying to figure out how to make an emoticon who is wiping a tear from her eyes...hmm...)

    From what you all are saying though, there's a lot of high-pressure living going on out there...who's guilty? Raise your hand and repeat after me...

  21. Hank, good to hear you are on the mend, and yes sometimes slowing down is good. My sister had an odd fall in November and broke her hip, my sister who was going in 2 days on a trip with my mid 80 year old parents and the other octogenarians from their complex, she was the 60 year old who fell and had to have partial hip replacement. She works too hard, does too much and it was her wake up call to slow down. She took an 8 week leave from work, she healed and re-habed and read, she read a lot! She had to learn the hard way she said.
    Wishing you a healthy 2011!

  22. Oh, you too! I hope we all remember..or even, try to remember..

  23. So glad you are feeling better!

    This post is a great reminder that we all need to slow down sometimes!!

  24. I cared. I was looking for you and worried. However, as a reader/cozy friend, I felt I shouldn't 'intrude' upon your private life. It is a narrow line between being a close friend and a reading friend. Do Not, however, ever think 'No One cared' because you just haven't any idea how much we do care. It is ok to take a break too. I had the universal coffee-break of the Century (to me,) and I learned it is ok to lean on others.

    Love to Hubby too!
    Jeannie and Louis

  25. Hank, Sorry to hear you were sick, shingles are the absolute worst! But your post couldn't have better timing!! Taking your advice as tomorrow looms...

  26. The universe will shut you down when you stretch too thin. I am just glad that it is over now.

    Terri P

  27. Winners! Contact me via my website--just click on contact in the upper left when the little movie resolves..and DRIVE TIME will be on the way!
    Joan Morrett

  28. Oh Hank, I'm so sorry you got so sick right before Christmas! But thank you for sharing your wisdom about slowing down. I could not have read this post at a better time. I'm in deadline crisis and feeling overwhelmed. You reminded me to take a break, so I went outside for a few minutes and hung out with my chickens. Strangely enough, watching chickens is very relaxing! Hope you have a wonderful 2011. I'm looking forward to your next novel!

  29. A friend of mine was hospitalized on Christmas Day and has just been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. Talk about a wake-up call, reminding me how precious and important our time is.

  30. I got shingles a few years ago -- at a yoga retreat.

    Gad, was I mortified. So stressed I got a stress-related condition while I was supposed to be relaxing.

    Sometimes the Universe has to shake us by the shoulders but hard, and tell us all that stuff? Doesn't matter one bit. All the matters is the central vision you hold for your life.

    Glad you're on the mend.

  31. I enjoyed meeting you at LIM. Glad to see that you were able to make it after having this unpleasant experience.

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