June 13, 2014 at 5:15 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

Yesterday I felt as though I had wasps in my brain. I had at least dozen tasks on my mental to-do list, buzzing around and crashing into each other, each one a goal for my day—and my life. Work on book. Celebrate Andrew’s first day of summer vacation. Write a blog post. Write in journal. Rehab my healing broken ankles. Clean out Andrew’s room. Make Andrew clean out Andrew’s room. Wait, that doesn’t fit with celebrating his first day of summer vacation. Fold laundry. Plan dinner.

I forced myself to choose a single task. In reality, right now I have only the health and energy to accomplish one or two things each day. I decided I’d work on my book and let Andrew gorge himself on video games—his choice for how he wanted to launch his summer vacation. I sat, and the wasps revved their engines. The mounds of clutter in Andrew’s room thrummed at me, as did the undone stretches and exercises for my feet. I also had calls to make, friends I hadn’t talked to in weeks. It took all the self-will I could muster to sit in the damn chair and write a couple of hundred words (mediocre ones at that). I literally trembled from wanting to get up and throw myself at another task—and then another.

This wasn’t solely my writer’s procrastination, though I’d wager some of that was going on too. (Jay used to tease me that the house was never cleaner than when I was on deadline for a magazine piece.) No, the wasps were especially busy because I was trying to live a week’s worth of life in a day. Yesterday I was beginning to creep back to “normal” life after my monthly round of three days of infusions, two of which are chemotherapy medications. These treatments beat the hell out of me. I’m sick and tired after them. All I can do for about a week is hole up in bed, sleeping 16 hours a day. And then I emerge, a little more each day, back to my “good” days when I can bite off one or two tasks.

But it’s hard to creep back into life when there is so much living missed in a week. Here’s where the wasps come into play. They urge to me take on at once everything I had to put down for my week’s absence. They assure me that if I buzz loudly as I flit from task to task that somehow I can reconfigure the inalterable algebra of time, that by sheer willpower I can compress four weeks of book writing, parenting, laundry, and everything else into three weeks of consciousness.

One of the pitfalls of living in Chronic Town—of being afflicted with a serious, chronic illness—is to assume that everything hard or bitter in life stems from the illness. And it’s true that sarcoidosis has brought me its share of unique difficulties. But I don’t think the wasps fly and sting only in Chronic Town. My guess is that my overwhelmed sense of having too much to accomplish in too little time is universal, especially for those of us entering the middle years of our live, when we become increasingly acutely aware that possibilities, like time, aren’t limitless. Anxiety becomes a steadfast companion. With every item we check off our to-do list, four more rear up, undone. We want to do it all. We so desperately want to give our children, our husbands, our homes, our careers, the care and attention they deserve, and yet we cannot.

I think all we can do is to try our best, as trite as that sounds. There’s nothing to be done but to have faith in the choice we’ve made for where to fix our limited attention for this minute and devote ourselves to living it out. It’s impossibly hard, but it’s all we can do. That and tell the wasps to be quiet.

What do you do when the wasps start buzzing?


  1. Nan said,

    The wasps in the head is a great description – over stimulated synapses? That’s a lot of chemicals doing some good things, there has to be some
    some chemicals that bump and bruise you. I was just saying to myself how, on a good day, the sense of achievement is so delicious I always do too much! Nothing wrong with the first day off being a glutton of video gaming – the timing works well for you both. Sending you good energy – n

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      Hi Nancy,

      I hadn’t thought of the wasps as being chemical in origin. But now that I think about it, it makes total sense. I am (over)loaded with different medications, and who knows what the disease has done to my brain chemistry (it’s in my brain, after all). For whatever reason, thinking about it as physiological response (instead of just a psychological one) is comforting. Thanks for this new perspective.

      Hope you are feeling as well as possible. As always, it is great to hear from you.


  2. Randy Bekkedahl said,

    Hi Rebecca. It’s great to see my favorite blog with another post! Sorry I’m so late responding, I just got my mother home from the hospital. She’s fine now, but I did spend 3 days up there with her. Father’s day in the hospital—yipee! My wife Rebecca (yes, same as you!) had to do Father’s day activities all by herself. It went well, but I worry about her because she has MS and Lupus and has to be careful not to overexert herself or she can trigger a flare. But everyone had fun (except me)

    I have to admit, I don’t get wasps in my brain—just the voices of the committee telling me I can’t do it, what’s the use I’m just going to die soon, etc.. Nasty little bastards. I fight them regularly. I’m fighting them right now as they tell me it doesn’t matter what I write because no one will read it anyway. Did I mention they were nasty little creatures?

    I like your advice, that for those of us in Chronic Town, the best we can do is to strive a day at a time and do the best we can. And be content with the results. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best we can do. No more superman trying to rescue the world. Just Clark Kent writing away at his typewriter.

    Take care, and have a good spring and summer!


    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      Hi Randy,

      I’m sorry to hear about your Mother’s recent health problems and that you missed Father’s Day. I’m glad she is home from the hospital.

      Wow did you capture brilliantly the voices within us that tell us to give up–the committee. Brilliantly put. I have a similar set of bastards keeping up a steady diatribe about all I can’t do and all I suck at. I’ve been really struggling with my committee as it pertains to my writing lately, especially my book. I can make it through an essay before the chatter escalates into a din, but as I try and force my ass into a chair to work on my book, it becomes unbearable. “You can’t write a book.” “Why did you think you could do this?” “This sucks.” And on and on. I’m ashamed to say that I’ve given into the voices lately and have been letting my book languish. But your words have re-inspired me to give it another shot today. I’m going to set my timer for 30 minutes and just write, take a 10 minute break and do it again. (I seem to do better when I break up a seemingly infinite project to manageable time increments.)

      Send my best to your Rebecca. You guys are amazing.

      Keep on being Clark Kent at his typewriter!


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