Better Be Good To Me

Breathe. Let go. And remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure. ~ Oprah Winfrey

I love Oprah. She is practical, frank and honest. With herself and with other people. She’s ending her talkshow — the final season of Oprah has just begun on US television — because times have changed, ratings are down, viewers are looking for something fresh.

When I worked at Vanilla, we had to find quotes for every “opening page” in the sections of the magazine. This was both a great and painful task. However there were two sources that never failed me: Eleanor Roosevelt and Oprah.

This quote from Oprah reminds me of the first time I read O magazine. It was such a new concept — this is Oprah in print and she is on the cover of the magazine every single month! (Unheard of in women’s magazines!) But it was the content that did it for me — she gave out wisdom on how to be good to yourself so that you are in shape to be good to others. If you can’t love yourself, there’s no way you can love others.

I always believed I looked after myself, but when my breast cancer happened, one of the most mind-blowing revelations I received was that I didn’t know how to be good to myself any more.

I didn’t know how to stop and do nothing, and simply rest.
I didn’t know how to say no to somebody asking for help.
I didn’t know where to draw the line in doing things for other people.
I didn’t know how not to give to others, mostly at my own expense.
I didn’t know how to express my feelings, for fear of hurting someone else.
I didn’t know how to write creatively anymore, because my mind was full of criticisms, comments, and the most famous retort of all “DON’T YOU HAVE ANYTHING BETTER TO DO???” Like work for money, make more money so you have more money to give away to other people?

I had grown so fearful of being selfish that I was becoming one big blob of “selflessness”. I lost myself. I didn’t care about “stuff” — because “I’m a kind and generous person and that’s the only thing that counts.” The last time I went shopping for clothes was out of sheer necessity — I needed elastic-banded pants after surgery. I think manicures and pedicures are a waste of money. I used to cut my hair once a year and do home-colour — I reckon I saved at least $5000 in the last 7 years doing that. I used to think massages were the most wicked luxury (but now I need back and neck massages purely to ease the pain).

But being home after surgery, I faced a body that said to me, “STOP! I’m not going anywhere anymore. You. Have. To. Stop.”

And so, I was forced to stop. And consider my life. Yes, I had helped people for many years in a row. I had given most of my savings away and I’m not even Warren Buffett. Looking back the last 7 years, my bank account has dropped by 80%. Most of it had gone to a “bigger cause”. I don’t regret any of it, but it was quite stunning to do the sums. I can only pray I’ve “invested” in good ground, and that the people I put my faith and money in are now living better lives.

This year, because I had committed a certain amount to a project that is very dear to my heart, I told my husband we should forego our annual holiday. My kids need an increasing number of tuition classes and therapy, and our cost of living has escalated in the last two years due to growing children and aging parents. What we make, disappears before we get a chance to carve off a bit for saving.

Then the cancer happened. And I found myself regretting that I did not go on that holiday. I also came to realise I had put my self — my body, my mind, my personality — on hold for everybody else. I can’t bring myself to buy a designer item anymore: I was faced with a gorgeous Fendi snakeskin bag two years ago. It was a sample sale and it was going for a fraction of its original cost — a mere $1000 for a Fendi oversized hobo bag made from treated snakeskin that was iridescent in colour. It had my heart. I still can’t believe it but I walked away from that bag because I could use that $1000 for a shower head that my husband liked.

Practical Me won again. “I have too many bags already”, “How many shoulders do I have? Why do I need another bag?”, “It’s cruel to kill snakes for their skin.” i think I came up with 1000 excuses not to buy it.

I know how frivolous it sounds, but you’re looking at a girl who used to spend $3000 on clothes, shoes and bags every month. Being editor of ELLE meant I got discounts for everything – but it also meant I had to go shopping every month to make use of this privilege.

But while I am proud that I am no longer addicted to my Previously-Must-Haves — my YSLs, my Hermes, my Gucci — I didn’t realise I had swung the other direction and become Poverty Patsy.

Cancer has a way of waking people up. It may not be the most pleasant “wake up call” but it does make you stop and take stock.

• I have probably passed the mid-point of my life. I have less than half my life to go. And the hard truth is, cancer a second time is a very real possibility.
• I am going to be 43 — what legacy have I left for my kids (scary one, this one)?
• God gave me XYZ talents — what have I used them for (this one threw me into an abysmal depression and I am still feeling its effects). Am I living someone else’s dream instead of the one God gave me?
• Have I been a faithful steward and built lasting treasures (spiritual and physical) for my children and my children’s children? (A big NOT YET here. Terrifying. If I had died from this cancer, I would never have the chance!)
• If I had died from this cancer – would I regret not going on the holiday earlier this year? The answer is yes.

I watched Queen Latifah in the hilarious Last Holiday (2006). She plays a department store worker who is diagnosed with a terminal illness. She decides to cash out everything and “go out with a bang” — on her final holiday. It seems like a cliche — but right now, I can identify with that feeling. Finally, I deserve to be nice to myself, for once. (I still can’t say that without twinges of guilt, but hey at least I’m saying it.)

So I am going on that holiday at the end of the year. I know my money can be “better spent” helping others but … this time, the “needy person” is me. I just helped raise $600 monthly for a widow and her sons (it’s a 2 year commitment so she’s going to get at least $14,400 from the Women Make A Difference campaign we started) — and I’ve made sure I am one of the donors too. (Wanna join in our campaign for Madam Rokiah Bte Atnen? She lost her husband in a freak bus accident, and she has four sons to care for, one of whom has kidney failure. Click here to find out more.)

So, I think, spending $350 on a ticket to watch U2 — yes, for ME ME ME — is a small reward I can give myself for staying alive. I have put it off over and over again because it just seemed too much money to make myself happy. Well, TOUGH. I’m really doing it this time.

I'm going to watch U2 live! I'm going to watch U2 live!

I refuse to feel guilty about treating myself reasonably any more. I won’t have it. I don’t want to pretend that I am so selfless that everything I have is meant to be given away. I don’t hoard it, but I’m not going to kill myself for spending some of it on me and my own family for once.

The Bible says “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” (Galatians 6:9).

I’ve always read this passage as “doing good to others”. But “well-doing” is not just being good to others: it is being faithful to God, it is being consistent with my daily spiritual disciplines, it is to keep hoping when doubts come rushing in, it is keeping myself in a place where I will not be weary to keep doing what God wants me to do. I am weary — and it is because I am not taking care of myself so that I can run a long race. I am running on fumes, and that’s not how God wants me to run. I must be prepared to run the full race — I must be in good shape spiritually, physically, prospering in every way even as my soul prospers.

So why am I writing all this? Probably I am feeling guilty about doing something for myself, and need to justify it to myself. (I have to be honest, right?) But it’s a done deal. The tickets are booked. I am leaving on that jet plane and I am going to enjoy that U2 concert if it’s the last thing I do.

And I hope it is not!

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23 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sandra
    Sep 19, 2010 @ 06:20:59

    Watch U2 live?! AWESOME! You so deserve a treat, and if anyone should treat themselves well, it for sure is you, for all your great work!

    Reply

    • threezframe
      Sep 20, 2010 @ 04:03:24

      Thank you San – you know (just between you and me) I am fighting guilty feelings about not ploughing through CN with the rest of the team weekly. But I shall return! 🙂

      Reply

  2. Kelvin
    Sep 19, 2010 @ 07:15:52

    And I can promise you, that will be one of the best $350 you would have ever spent, like, in your life.

    Again – envious!

    Reply

  3. Kelvin
    Sep 19, 2010 @ 07:21:44

    …but well-deserved, I forgot to add!

    Reply

  4. Elvin
    Sep 19, 2010 @ 10:33:18

    Power to you! And your choice of indulgence? BIG THUMBS UP! 😀 Time for you to say to yourself “Me2”! :p (sorry i couldn’t resist…)

    I want details when you get back! And I mean details! 😀

    Reply

  5. gary unsworth
    Sep 19, 2010 @ 15:27:55

    Never feel guilty about doing something for yourself, we all deserve something nice from time to time.

    Reply

  6. Charissa
    Sep 19, 2010 @ 18:24:37

    Aunty Threez – Enjoy U2. You won’t regret it :). Between now til U2, I have a book recommendation for you that will give you perspective – “Supernatural Way of Royalty” by Kris Vallotton. You can find his books at SKS Bookstore. Let me know if you can’t find it, I’ll get you one from my church bookstore.

    Reply

  7. Ratna
    Sep 20, 2010 @ 03:43:05

    I think u need to be good to yourself so that you are rejuvenated n can have the energy to be good to others too. It’s tiring doing only good unto others, we must treat ourselves well too, after all God didn’t create us so that we would deprive ourselves! There shd b balance! Enjoy the concert n trip n go get a pedicure! 🙂

    Reply

  8. Chevron
    Sep 20, 2010 @ 05:01:42

    We are all guilty most of the time in this aspect.

    We got our salary and we pay everyone else like the boutique, shoppings, eating out but we forgotten to pay ourself. We tried to take care of everybody else because we were taught to be good to other, but we forgotten to take care of the most impt person – ourself 🙂

    Amidst everything you say, I think to teach your 3 kids the importance of this lesson, should be your biggest legacy for them

    Reply

  9. Reuel Eugene
    Sep 20, 2010 @ 15:50:47

    Have a ball of a time at the U2 Concert, Threez! Indeed we must all learn to splunge on ourselves once in a while because we can’t tend other people’s garden if ours is full of weeds and all!

    Jiayou Chief! I am rooting for you and praying for you all the way!

    Reply

  10. D
    Sep 22, 2010 @ 17:36:56

    your post really woke me up. sometimes i give and give and give to the point where i lose myself (am i making sense?), and this gives me a new perspective. thank you (:

    Reply

  11. D
    Sep 22, 2010 @ 17:42:40

    btw, as a writer and magazine editor, you are my inspiration (:

    Reply

  12. elaine
    Oct 01, 2010 @ 13:01:27

    Dear Theresa, thank you for sharing your journey. I have been encouraged by your experiences, and how you choose to walk (and live) positively. Your first-hand experience about how you “do not have cancer” made me ask more questions about my own insurance coverage as well. I never knew that Stage 0 is not considered cancer.

    Reply

    • threezframe
      Oct 03, 2010 @ 07:31:30

      Dear Elaine, thank you for your comment. I’m glad this blog has made you aware of the pitfalls of our health and insurance systems. It’d be great if nobody had to go through what I’ve been through.

      Reply

  13. PC
    Oct 06, 2010 @ 01:30:22

    Dear Elaine,

    Thank you for your very loud and clear message that we must learn to strike a balance between living for oneself and doing everything prudently and for the common good.

    Although I am from the financial sector – which is as selfish and hardbitten as they get (together with the media sector) – I have always made extra effort and time for people in need, to the extent that friends ask whether I should be in the non-profit sector.

    When I got cancer at 30 and fell from the peak of my career, I went through some very rough times on both the career and personal front, and I was ambivalent about asking for help. Once, at a very low point, I asked a senior professor for help to rebuild the career and life, he asked me why am I not setting up a consultancy to help fellow cancer patients with my expertise. I cried for a few hours on the spot. I hate being defined by this cancer which has taken away everything I worked so hard for, and I’ll be damned if I make a life around cancer and cancer patients only. I am happy to help people and I still help people, but what about myself? And why is my sister asking me to spend my free time at hospices with other cancer patients? She said I needed to learn more patience – hey, I think I am patient enough to sleep in a hospital isolation ward and go for never-ending surgeries for the better part of a year mostly with smiles. And I have tried to spare people the whining and the physical assistance. I dress my own surgical wounds and I don’t expect anyone to accompany me to the never-ending doctors’ visits. But inside myself, I feel numbness and sometimes despair.

    Then I met an enlightened colleague and friend, he said that I am not making time to have fun. How true! Sometimes, we need to live for the now and for ourselves, and cancer does not turn us into saints with superhuman strength and unending patience.

    So, please promise to be good to yourself first.

    Reply

    • threezframe
      Oct 08, 2010 @ 08:56:49

      Dear PC, wow thank you for coming to my blog and sharing your story. I’m very touched by your honest sharing. It is true when you say “Cancer does not turn us into saints.” But that is the common perception, that if we have gone through hard times, we have to become “bleeding hearts” that other people hold up as examples. Well, not everybody is cut out to do that. I met an actress who had two different cancers and one thing she said that stuck with me was that she didn’t want to be anybody’s hero. She didn’t want to be the cancer spokesperson. She just wanted to get rid of her cancer and move on.

      As for me, I don’t mind being the “lesson everybody else learns from” as long as I don’t have to be nun-like and deny myself of some healthy, positive fun once in a while, to keep my spirits up and my mind sane for the sake of my recovery and for the sake of my family.

      I hope you get well soon, and no, you do not have to wear your cancer as a badge of honour! 🙂

      Theresa

      Reply

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