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, www.whereteenswrite.com.

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.