Limits – Or the Lack Thereof

May 18, 2006 at 1:03 pm (Uncategorized)

I’ve never been much of a believer in physical limitations. Perhaps I should be more specific. I’ve never been much of a believer in physical limitations when it comes to myself. I’m all for other people taking it easy when they’re sick. For instance, yesterday, when I bumped into an old friend who is struggling with maintaining her full-time job while undergoing chemotherapy, I lectured her on the importance of rest.

However, I have a hard time resting. When Andrew lays down for his afternoon nap, I feel absurdly lazy when I try to sleep at the same time. As I toss and turn and tangle myself up in my sheets, I think, “I should be getting some exercise” or “I should be writing something important”or “I should be excavating the kitchen table from its crushing load of junk mail and old magazines” or, my all-time favorite, “I should do laundry.” (As a side note, how is it within the natural laws of the universe for three people–one of whom is only three feet tall–to generate so many dirty clothes?) If I do drift off to sleep, I feel as if I’ve done something morally suspect

The problem is that I really do need to rest. The main symptom of both sarcoidosis and motherhood is crushing fatigue. I get so tired that my bones ache and the process of keeping my eyes propped open feels overwhelming. Plus, the prednisone compromises my immune system, so I’m always sick with something.

This new reality is really hard for me. I’m the type of person who likes doing things–and doing them intensely. I don’t usually let anything or anyone (especially my own body rebelling against the commands I give it) tell me I can’t. I’ve always been this way. When I was slimmer and younger, I was a competitive cyclist. I was pretty good, mostly because I was ridiculously stubborn. I would ride until I puked. One time I rode until I passed out. I leg pressed 900 pounds when I was still in a full leg cast a few weeks after having my ankle reconstructed. I distinctly remember feeling lame that I couldn’t do squats because of the cast.

When I was finished with cycling and decided to rebel against my old squeaky-clean self, I took up smoking. And let me tell you, I was quite a smoker. I got myself up to a pack a day habit in no time, and nothing would make me stop–not chest colds, not bronchitis, not pneumonia. God help me if I ever decide that heroin is in my future.

I gave up smoking and most of insane behavior with help from Jay. But I still liked to push myself. A significant aspect of the equation was being hard on myself. If I made it to the gym only four days in a week, I lectured myself. Publishing an article in a third-tier magazine wasn’t good enough, I told myself. Better work harder and get in the New Yorker. When Jay and I went to live abroad, I didn’t cut myself a whole lot slack. We arrived in Palau, an island nation in the middle of the Pacific, with no contacts. Three months later, I had two writing jobs and was teaching part-time at the college. I still think I should have produced a book from those experiences.

I have a sense that this mind set is partially genetic. Without compromising anyone’s privacy too much, I will say that I recently had an interaction with my mother involving her torn Achilles tendon, her standing for three hours on the injury and organizing my closet, and the phrase “push through the pain.” Clearly I come by this honestly. I was raised by parents that got (and get) things done. When the shit hits the fan, they don’t spend much time analyzing the trajectory of the mess or wringing their hands or “processing” the whole experience. They get to work and try to clean up and move forward. I admire this outlook.

The only problem is that now, when I push myself, I only get more tired. I have levels of fatigue I never knew existed. And the harder I flog myself to do more, more, MORE, the more tired and dejected I get, the more I feel like I really have been flogged. I physically collapse. If I make it to the gym five days a week, do my work, take care of Andrew, cook dinner, and stay up late enough to see my husband after work, I will literally break down in about a week. I’ll get a kidney infection or a sinus infection or a flu. I’ve become like an unreliable car. I run just fine most of the time, unless you drive me up a hill, try to make me go faster than fifty miles an hour, or take me out in the heat.

Someone suggested that I try to cultivate the belief that resting and getting well are my full-time job. Her thinking was that I would then push myself to take more naps and generally just chill out. Needless to say, my neuroses are too highly developed for parlor tricks like these. My new approach is to try this weird thing I’ve heard about called moderation. I go to the gym, but I don’t go all out. I lay down for an hour a day. If I can’t sleep, I read. I don’t berate myself for more than a half an hour a day for needing to have a babysitter to help me take care of my own son. We’ll see how it goes. I’m sure I can do better with this moderation thing.

1 Comment

  1. Nedra said,

    THIS one was my major source of hilarity this morning. Why is it so funny?! I love the line that your neuroses are too highly developed for mere parlor tricks like changing your job description.

    Oh yeah sure you can do better with this moderation thing, but ya gotta be you. My mom once told me, “how about you try this? REST when you’re tired. It’s great! It works!” Rest when you’re tired, rest when you’re tired. Okay, I’ll put that on my list today.

    Somehow that line about god help you if you ever decide to start using heroin reminded me of the New Yorker cartoon in last week’s issue, two men walking through the winery, “oh I still enjoy my winery a lot, but my real passion these days is my meth lab.” But I digress.

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