Vanities: usefulness

(Part three of four musings on vanity’s role in my life.) I have always enjoyed being a person who is useful, who gets things done, who follows through on details, who is handy, who helps others more than needs help herself.  I can still be that person in some realms, but not others.  I am riding out some big changes in what I do with my life energy and trying not to let them get me down or make me feel less of a valuable person than before.

But. I am a Certified Professional Midwife but no longer attend births.  That is big.  I gave up being the primary midwife for homebirth clients just a few months after my diagnosis; I had one pregnant client when I was diagnosed and was committed to seeing that through, but I could tell I would not have the space in my new life to keep that up.  I assisted at a few births here and there after that, but the last one was in January.  Now I am not healthy enough to get up and go to a birth in the middle of the night.  And whether I would have the energy and focus to be someone’s midwife, even for a prenatal visit, is not predictable from day to day. But it’s not just on that level that I can’t practice midwifery right now; being someone’s midwife means taking responsibility for someone’s care and prioritizing their needs sometimes over one’s own.  Being seriously ill means I can’t hold that space for someone else; to do it with full intent and generosity requires emotional and practical and what I think I have to call spiritual dedication that I just can’t afford.

So I am no longer serving women and families in the way I planned to do.

For the last 10 years I have worked with Eric as project manager of our shared Web projects and also as a junior programmer (learning as I went along from him).  But the stretches of time when I feel able to dig in and write code, or debug code, are pretty few these days.  When I had chemo in 2006, it took me 8 months afterwards before my brain was clear enough to really start programming again.  So maybe some of the same thing is going on, or maybe it just takes a level of focus that is hard to attain in between appointments, taking medication, various self-care tasks, and feeling too bad sometimes to concentrate on anything much.  So in the realm of programming I am not useful right now (even for my favorite project, the MANA Stats Project).

I’m unsteady on the stairs so I can’t carry a laundry basket up or down, and right now I’m too weak and out of breath to carry our big salad bowl to potluck.  I am no longer the person who carries a visitor’s suitcase up the stairs.  In fact, I seldom carry my own backpack.

I am always looking out for things I can still do, like empty the dish rack or dishwasher, pay the bills, make calls, deal with the junk mail, and fold the laundry (while seated on the couch).  I like to find favors to do for people with the skills and abilities and time that I have–like fix an earring, or superglue a mug back together, or do the paperwork to sign a friend up for EZ-Pass.  It’s important to me to still be useful–somehow. I am vain about, or overly attached to, being that person in the lives of others.  When I can’t be useful, and the flow of help is even more one-way than it is now, will I still be as accepted and as loved?

P.S. Friends say that having the opportunity to help me and love me is the favor I am doing them, the gift I am giving them now.  I hear that, but I think I am maybe not big-hearted enough to really understand it yet.

Last Modified on December 7, 2015
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4 thoughts on “Vanities: usefulness

  1. Shelly

    Re your p.s.: It’s true, but it’s even more true that all your friends and loved ones would trade that “favor” for your health in a heartbeat. I think the knowledge of that may be what makes it hard to wrap your brain around the idea that helping you in this situation also helps THEM.

    As for “usefulness,” ever since I met you years ago, I appreciated your incredible competence in so many areas of your life, as well as your generosity of spirit that kept you volunteering that competence for others. But if asked “Why are you friends with Ellen?” I never would have said, “Because she’s useful.” I’m pretty sure no one else would have said that, either. My answer: Because she’s funny and smart and interesting and generous and caring. Because spending time with her makes me laugh and feel appreciated and want to use my own brain to its full potential.

    Hopefully your well-written and thoughtful cancer blog will be useful to others suffering through cancer and other illnesses. Don’t forget that usefulness. You are generously putting your experiences and feelings about it out in the public for anyone to see, so that someone searching online for hope or help or understanding will find your thoughts and add them to their own experience. THAT is useful.

  2. ekhb

    You’re right about the blog. Another breast-cancer blog writer played that role for me last year (someone I didn’t know). As for me, ok, new plan: stay funny.

  3. Dorian

    Every time I read one of your Vanities entries I muse about whether “vanity” is actually this issue. I wonder if “Identities” is really at the heart of all of it. It doesn’t change the reality, but having one’s lifelong *identities* (physical, work, etc) be taken away feels so understandably huge and life-altering. The word “vanity” feels more judgmental and dismissive, as if, “If I were a more evolved person I wouldn’t feel so vain.”

  4. camille

    E- i think you know this but i wanna say it (because, yes, it makes ME feel a teeny bit better to speak truth)– you are loved, respected and appreciated even if you are not feeling funny. or “useful” in that way that you mean. love -C

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