kitchen-tips-and-hacksMany years ago…

I was fired from the first “grown up” job I had. It’s not something I am either proud of or talk about often. The reality is that I just didn’t know what I was doing. Life circumstances prevented me from working at McDonald’s as soon as I turned sixteen. Consequently, I didn’t learn the same skills at the same time or at the same rate that my peers did. So when I started that job fresh out of grad school, I knew nothing about office politics or strategies to get along with my coworkers.

Part of the problem was that my psychiatric issues were present in my life, but I did not have a clue how to work to make them better at that point. My emotions were erratic, and I had horribly negative reactions to stress. All of those things cost me my employment. And some self-esteem.

Just a few months later, I was home alone on a weekend afternoon, and I started getting hungry. The thought crossed my mind to wait for a caregiver to arrive to help me make some food, but I quickly dismissed it. What could possibly go wrong? I knew my way around the kitchen. Assessing the contents of my refrigerator, the most appetizing thing to me was some seasoned beans that were leftover from dinner a few nights before. I knew there was some rice in my pantry and it seemed like the perfect lunch. I decided I would make the rice first.

But I couldn’t reach a pot to cook the rice in. No problem. The box of rice had microwave directions and I could easily reach the Tupperware. So I mixed up the water, rice, and salt in a microwave-safe bowl. I put the whole thing in the microwave and I pushed the start button. All was going according to plan. The microwave signaled that it was done cooking the rice, and it had stopped in such a way that the bowl of rice was in the back of the microwave, a little beyond my reach.

I thought I could do it without incident. I was wrong.

When I reached into the microwave to get the rice, the bowl tipped forward, spilling nearly boiling water all over my lap. The severe second-degree burns had to be redressed every day and took several months to heal.


I work from home at a job that I love. Whenever I have a new writing assignment, I check in with my boss to see the kind of angle he is interested in and if there are specific things he wants me to do. Over the years I have learned that asking all kinds of questions up front leads to less overwhelm in the midst of a project. And the more I feel like I know what I am supposed to accomplish, the easier it is to get the story done.

Several days before I interview anyone, I come up with a list of questions specific to them and what they do. There are also some questions I ask everyone. At the time of the interview, I bring the list as a “cheat sheet” so that I never feel like I am unprepared like I routinely did at my first job out of grad school. That is my employment “hack.”

When I get overwhelmed, I utilize breathing and tapping techniques that I have learned through the years with the goal of my emotions staying on a pretty even keel. I like to call the techniques that I use my “emotional hacks.”

I make pasta about once a week. Usually the corkscrew kind, and that is by design. If I don’t want to wait for a caregiver to help me, I wait the allotted time for whatever I am cooking to be done. Then, instead of using a colander, I use a slotted spoon to get the pasta into another bowl. If there are still a few pieces at the bottom of the pot, I do pretty well getting them with a fork, because they are corkscrew and not hard to handle like spaghetti would be. I don’t empty the pot of water until the water has completely cooled down. That way, I am not even remotely in danger of burning myself.

When some food that I put in the microwave is done, I look to see if I can reach it. These days my microwave has one of those glass turntables in it.  If the food happens to be way far in the back, I close the microwave door and press the button for 30 more seconds of time. It usually takes about ten seconds for the food to come to me. Those are some of what I affectionately call my “disability hacks.”

Some days, because of the things I can’t do for myself, my life can be pretty frustrating.

In the grand scheme of things, though, I can usually”hack” it.