Everything I need to know I learned from having shingles

While sitting in traffic in a parking garage in Salt Lake City a couple of Sundays ago, I had an epiphany of sorts. My husband was driving, and I was doing what I often do while stuck in traffic — making mental patterns using license plate numbers. Feel free to throw in some type of nerd reference. 

To understand my epiphany, we’ll have to back up a bit. For the past four weeks and counting I’ve had shingles. It has been quite possibly the most miserable four weeks of my life. I’ve taken sick days from the Herald for the first time ever. I’ve cried from pain on numerous occasions and viewed my bed as a bitter enemy that somehow brought on the most acute pain every time I tried to sleep. 

My publisher and friend Mark Tesoro, who has also had the misfortune of the absolute hell known as shingles, described the pain as “like a knitting needle being poked through my back and then dipped in hot wax and then dental flossed back and forth.” That is the most accurate description I’ve yet heard. 

Many people have come to the conclusion that my shingles were brought on from stress and simply doing “too much.” 

Too much. 

Those two words — too much — have followed me my entire life. I have been described with an assortment of “too” adjectives for as long as I can remember.

In elementary school I can recall being told I was “too” smart and should really play dumb if I wanted boys to ever like me. 

In high school a friend criticized my “too” loud and distinctive laugh by saying, “Where did you get your laugh? You should really lose it.” 

Most recently, one of my children came home from school upset after a fellow student said something to the effect of, “People pretend to like your mom, but they really think she’s too much.” 

Too much.

I’m not going to lie — that most recent comment stung. It stung because it upset my child, because it came from the child of someone I considered to be a friend and because it’s just one more in a long list of “too” comments. 

I’ve thought a lot about these comments over the past few weeks when I’ve been laid up and spent more time than usual in self-reflection. 

I’ve wondered if I really am “too much,” and, if so, why. There are a lot of reasons I could give you, reasons I believe are perfectly valid. 

Other memories from my youth stick out, like being told in elementary school that kids couldn’t invite me to their birthday parties because I didn’t belong to the dominant religion. Too different. 

I vividly remember a moment when I was a junior in high school. Our ACT scores had just come back and fellow students in our advanced placement classes were discussing them, with some bragging going on about who scored the highest. As it turned out, my score was tied with a male friend of mine for the highest in the school. 

I’ll never forget the look of incredulity on some boys’ faces, one of whom turned to me and said, “You scored that high?” This was one of the same boys who had suggested in our AP history class, they claimed in jest, that the U.S. Constitution should include a provision barring women from the presidency because women were overly emotional and didn’t possess the necessary characteristics to be president. 

A girl couldn’t possibly have gotten the highest ACT score in the school. Too smart. Too female. 

Those things — being too much of an outsider (even though I was born and raised here), too female, too smart, too loud, too opinionated — have resulted in continued battles in my adulthood. 

I work hard at everything I do. It’s a personal motto of mine that anything worth doing is worth doing well. I’d wager that my employers and close friends would attest to that. 

However, I’ve had many metaphorical doors slammed in my face. 

I once spent months working on various projects with a particular organization, in hopes of securing a paid position, only to have my work taken and the position given to a man with none of my qualifications. 

I’ve applied for various jobs in my community, for which I’ve had every single listed qualification and then some, and not even been offered an interview. 

I’ve thought of the irony involved when I’ve spent a lifetime hearing about how people who grow up here are forced to leave when there are no jobs available, yet here I am — a woman who grew up here, put herself through school and obtained a master’s degree, stayed here to raise a family when the vast majority of her peers left, and volunteered at every conceivable opportunity to help her community — but when I’ve sought out certain positions I’ve been completely overlooked. 

My husband has recently been inundated with mail from a car dealership in Utah where we purchased both of our vehicles. They would love for him to trade in one of our cars for a brand new one. Here’s the rub, though. The vehicle they’re writing my husband about, in mail addressed only to him, is mine. It’s registered to me and the loan was entirely in my name. But I guess I couldn’t possibly make the decision to trade in my vehicle. 

I can’t help but think those “too” adjectives are at play in these situations. 

These past few weeks with shingles have taught me a lot. For example, I have friends I didn’t know I had who have offered to help in numerous ways, and my family members, friends and coworkers are simply amazing in their concern, support and help. 

I’ve learned it’s entirely possible, with a little extra down time, to binge watch all 21 movies in the Marvel series leading up to “Avengers: Endgame,” to be completely prepared for that epic three hours of fun my family got in the weekend it opened. 

I’ve learned that creating a cheesewedge-shaped pile of seven pillows actually allows me to get a little bit of sleep and no longer view my bed as an arch nemesis. 

I’ve learned, yet again, that my job at the Herald is awesome and I’m grateful to work here. 

I’ve learned that it’s possible, and necessary, to make time for myself amidst my other responsibilities and commitments. I’ve learned that sometimes it’s OK to say “no.” 

And I’ve learned something else, which brings us back to my epiphany. 

I don’t believe I got shingles from doing too much. I believe I got shingles because I let the doubt creep in that maybe I simply am too much, but somehow that too much still isn’t enough. 

Looking back on all those incidents in my life, I can clearly see that they resulted in me working even harder to prove myself. I have rarely backed down when confronted with them, and it’s when I have backed down, even a little bit, that I’ve been depressed or, now, afflicted with shingles. 

So, in spite of the at times debilitating pain, I guess I’m grateful for shingles, because sitting in a traffic jam lost in my thoughts, I realized that I’m happy to be too much. Indeed, it’s a primary part of my identity that I wouldn’t change for anything, even if it makes some people uncomfortable. 

My “muchness” didn’t give me shingles, but I believe my stress over my self-doubt probably did.

To everyone else out there who has ever been described as “too” anything, I salute you. I’ve learned the hard way lately that sometimes too much is actually just right. In fact, in the eyes of some people, “too much” really means “not enough.”


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