No More “Shoulding” on Myself

The past few months have been some of the most difficult of my life.

Since July 15, my husband has spent a grand total of 92 days in the hospital and undergone 26 surgeries to repair damage from an episode of diverticulitis. He’s still in the hospital, but the surgery cycle is over. His abdomen is healing and his wound from all of the abdominal washout procedures is finally closed.

I’ve spent most of those days with him except when I left to drive five hours home to take care of the house and teach.

Never in a million years would I have thought that teaching high school students would be such a welcome “break” from anything, but I’ve learned that hospitals, especially ICU units, are stressful places.

Nor did I ever dream that we would be spending these months in the hospital at all. My husband went from hiking with me one day, to the hospital two days later, and fighting for his life six weeks after that.

We had plans for this fall! Big plans!

Our youngest child was leaving the nest for college, and I had finally managed to secure a part-time teaching position.

We looked forward to more time together. I looked forward to having time to devote to writing with lessened work and parenting demands. I also had lists of goals I wanted to accomplish for my teen writing website,

My husband had a business to run, and he’d also drawn a bull elk tag – a BIG deal in our state.

Then, he landed in a hospital bed, and I landed in a hospital chair (which doubled as a bed some nights). Okay, it’ll only be a few days, I thought. We can handle this. Life will get back to normal shortly.

But then the days stretched into weeks, and he still wasn’t getting better.

I sat in the chair while he slept, “shoulding” on myself. Everyday, I had my bag of “stuff to do” next to my chair. Between making sure he was comfortable and all of the doctor visits and surgeries, I had a novel to revise, a website to keep updated, a journal to write in, and medical bills to sort.

I couldn’t do any of it. I couldn’t even read a book. This is not normal for me. I’m always doing something.

The most I could manage was to play solitaire on my phone while he slept, thinking the entire time that I “should be __________.”

It made me feel worse, this constant “shoulding” on myself. I’d argue in my head in the manner that I think most people are familiar (but that if anyone could actually hear us, we’d all be considered worthy of a mental illness diagnosis).

“You’re just sitting here. You should be writing something. Why are you being so lazy.?” I’d yell at myself.

“Hush,” I’d answer back (to myself). “The only thing I should be doing is supporting my husband. Life’s on hold right now. Deal with it.”

“But, you should be doing something.”

“Shut UP!! I can’t focus in here with all the beeping and activity.” Then, I’d feel guilty, sad, and upset, so I’d start another game of solitaire.

The weeks then stretched into months. The surgeries continued, as did the “shoulding.”

It took almost three months from the beginning of this saga for me to realize that I have all the time in the world and the only thing that “shoulding” on myself was doing was making me feel like shit.

Why, with all that was happening in my life, was I working so hard at making myself more miserable?

It made zero sense when I looked at it that way, and guess what, within days of making a conscious effort to completely eradicate the word “should” (and “need to”) from my life, I finally feel like writing.

I’ve learned that, for me, “shoulding” zaps the joy out of any activity.

My big epiphany is that the intentions behind my actions have a huge impact on how I feel about any given situation or activity in any moment. I’ve learned that I’d much rather  approach my life from a place of joy, rather than obligation, even in the midst of a really difficult time.

Even when I’d come home and have to clean the toilet, I tried to eradicate “should.” If I had to do it, “should” do it, it feels yucky. Eeewh, who wants to do that? But if I do it so the bathroom is sparkly and shiny and smells good, it’s easier, not near the chore.

This isn’t easy by any means, and have I completely turned every moment into a more positive one?

Absolutely not – I’ve definitely had my meltdown moments on this journey – but giving it a shot beats getting smothered under a big stinky pile of “should” every day.


  1. Gary on November 11, 2015 at 11:56 am

    I love you Amy!

  2. Sharon Rosse on November 11, 2015 at 3:18 pm

    Thank you for sharing your personal journey. It’s good to learn from your experience and wisdom.
    I love you both,

    • Amy Isaman on November 11, 2015 at 7:25 pm

      Love you too – thank you for all of your support.

  3. Tim and Kim on November 11, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    Gary and Amy, Kim and I think of, and talk about the two of you all the time. We wish we could do more to make this difficult time better or easier. Amy, this must be such an emotional, scary, and frustrating experience for you especially at a time that when all your hard work as a parent is paying off with two successful kids moving into the next stage of life. And Gary, knowing you and what you enjoy in life especially this time of year, I can’t even imagine how this has been for you. I try to imagine myself in your situation and all those days in the hospital and all those surgeries and Gary from my perspective you are one tough son-of-a bitch!!! From our limited perspective we assume there have been many up’s and down’s for both of you and your families. But guys we want you to know that all of you have made an incredible impression on Kim and I. How strong you have all been, upbeat, and positive. Don’t doubt for a minute that all the emotions, doubts, and frustrations are not normal and that we all understand and wish we could do more. The two of you have shown the rest of us what a true partnership is all about. Thank you for that! And I’m sure I don’t have to say it, but now that you can see the improvements being made and Gary getting better it has all been worth it. Just think Amy another novel in the works. We are so glad things are starting to turn around, all of you have been an inspiration.

    • Amy Isaman on November 11, 2015 at 7:42 pm

      You’re so great Tim – thank you….again! We are also both so glad things are turning around. As soon as he can get his pain under control we’re outta there and home as soon as the docs say it’s “safe” to return to the Nevada outback.

  4. Lissa on November 11, 2015 at 4:36 pm

    Amy, thanks for writing this post. So many times I’ve said the same thing when really what I needed to do was be gentle with myself. Take care of you!! xx

  5. Geralyn Jones on November 11, 2015 at 5:01 pm

    Awesome! Great writing. Fun to read about you…sorry about your husband!!

    • Amy Isaman on November 11, 2015 at 7:26 pm

      Thank you Geralyn – are you still writing?

  6. debramae on November 11, 2015 at 6:44 pm

    My heart goes out to you Amy. It sounds like you have turned a gut wrenching experience into a learned lesson. Life keeps bringing us back to the present moment and the blessings that surround us even in the eye of the storm. May the angels watch over you as your husbands healing continues.

    • Amy Isaman on November 11, 2015 at 7:45 pm

      Thank you Debra Mae. It’s been a long road, and you make a good point about staying in the present. This whole thing has forced us to stay there. A few weeks ago we thought he was going to be discharged, but then they changed the dressing on his stomach wound. The doc didn’t like how it looked, so instead of going home, he ended up back in the OR. We both cried – a lot. It was a solid lesson in taking each day one at a time, no planning, no looking ahead, just moment by moment or our hopes would get crushed too much and that would sink us down, down, down. Even now, he can leave when he gets the pain under control with oral meds as he finally had the last surgery on Monday, but he’s not saying when he thinks that might be. He knows what it’ll do to me! Thank you for your prayers.

  7. Dad on November 11, 2015 at 9:57 pm

    Wonderful words Amy Author. I told you on the phone today how much Jerri and I have admired the strength shown by you and Gary in the face of one set back after another, both physical and mental. While you and Gary are deserving of all the platitudes, and then some, expressed in the comments here, we would be remiss not to include Patty Isaman, Gary’s mom and your roommate in “Hotel Renown”. Between the two of you Gary was never without at least one of the two most important women in his life (well…maybe three but the third was in SLO). Gary is a very lucky man.

    I like your word, “shoulding”. As you know I’m big on “choice” as opposed to “have to”, which is a prison word. We always have a choice as long as we take responsibility for the consequences of our choices but I think I’ll replace have to with shoulding. Its a little less harsh, kind of rounds off the corners, still maybe a prison word but with a key to the lock. Yep, I’m stealing it.

    I love you guys. Stay strong.


  8. Megan on November 12, 2015 at 11:12 am

    Yes!! You’re taking this experience and instead of choosing judgement, anger, and fear, you’re choosing love, kindness, and forgiveness. As a result, you’re supporting yourself and Gary in the best possible way. So beautiful! I love you!

    • Amy Isaman on November 12, 2015 at 1:48 pm

      Love you too! I’m working on it…

  9. AMY ISAMAN | AUTHOR on December 31, 2015 at 4:48 pm

    […] = number of views on my “No More Shoulding on Myself” post that I wrote just before Gary got released from the hospital. Apparently I’m not the only […]

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