The end of May gave me pneumonia. The end of June gave me raspberries, stuff growing from the ground we could actually eat, ducklings, and a broody hen. Everything that happened in between? Let’s just put it behind us and move on.
I came across this blessed gift of an article this morning and wanted to share it with anyone (everyone) wrestling with sadness. It reminded me immediately of that list of Life Rules I scribbled down a while ago and made me curious if I have been faithful in following them.
Please do read the article (here’s the link again), as it’s far more eloquent, comprehensive, and smart than my list, because…well…it’s written by a saint. But here’s what resonated with me the most, especially in light of everything this blog — and my whole life — has ever been about:
Our bodies, brains and hands and eyes and stomachs and quads and intervertebral discs, are essential to the purpose of our lives. They are not in the way of our spirits, some temporary torture chamber from which we must be liberated or some hideous distraction that we are tasked to ignore.
When I was coaching, I would always ask, “If your body were not an obstacle, what would you do with it?” The answers that would come on the first day were typically harsh. There was this view that being fat, sick, depressed, exhausted or broken in any way disqualified the body from serving any purpose. The body needed to be punished, pushed out of the way, so that the “real person” could finally break out and grab hold of their true destiny. But every single time, without fail, as I saw people care for their bodies (often through the the sneaky trick of calling it a “challenge”, discipline words) — feed them good food, give them good rest, soak them in sunshine, expose them to beauty — their answers changed.
The question was never, “If your body (pain, weakness, depression) didn’t exist, what would you do with your ‘real life’?” It was always, “If your body were not an obstacle, but an integral part of the story, an asset, what would you do?”
I still set my body up as an enemy all the time. I shout at my body, curse my brain, slap myself with rules and challenges and strict discipline. Sometimes, a little discipline is what I need, but more often than not, I just need a shower or a poem or a very long time in the garden. Maybe a pot roast?
And all of it is prayer. All of it is setting my face like flint before the Lord.
Today is a doctor day. A day I march boldly into the oddly lit waiting room and arrange the chairs and magazines as a service to all the other psychiatric patients. I have done this with great love in my heart ever since the day a dear man brought his daughter in, and with such confidence, comfort, and familiarity, reached up to a high shelf to turn on a lamp that had always been switched off. I over-thanked him, but he seemed to understand the impact of a small change in such an important place.
I will carry my ownership of the space right in to the office, on to the black leather couch, where I will, without wavering, tell my doctor I am discontinuing another medication. She will push me, but I will not not be moved.
I confess that I am nervous about this one, an anti-anxiety medication, because it is probably helping with irritability and depression, and the withdrawal is known to be brutal, but it is requiring me to sleep 10-12 hours a day and feel like I’ve never had enough (that’s from the moment the baby falls asleep at night, until the minute she insists I get out of bed in the morning, plus her afternoon nap). AAAAAND it made me eat a cookie sheet full of nachos. Twice.
Now, I am the first to say, “You are responsible for your own choices,” but I am telling you, this medication has caused more cravings and insatiable hunger than anything I have ever experienced before in my life. It is worse than pregnancy, worse than mania. It feels like the urge to binge in emotional eating, but without the emotion. I am constantly white knuckling it through overwhelming distraction and anxiety about FOOD. As a woman with a history of morbid obesity, a present of need for nutritional therapy for pain and mental health management, and future of required weight control for spinal stability, food is the very last thing I need haunting me.
A medication that consumes all of the time and energy I have to write, exercise, bathe, and engage in conscious solitude, while crowding my waking hours with thoughts of inhaling bricks of cheese and bars of chocolate, spending every ounce of my self-control (which I desperately need to keep my tongue in check while raising three small children) makes me really anxious. Therefore, I have decided I would no longer like to take it to combat anxiety.
But nachos taste good.
The last week of #powerrehab, everything was a total disaster. The contents of my house were tossed in heaps, the red head was infested with lice, people were vomiting and urinating on all the freshly sanitized bedding, and we were trapped at home by threat of rain and the rules of good citizenship.
This rite of passage followed several weeks of undoing and disruption to our schedule with house guests, growth spurts, teething, changing sleep schedules, and unending allergies. All of this is added up to the inevitable, fiercely resisted Change of Season. (That should be printed in the blood dripping, horror movie type face.)
I had been panicking off and on over the last few weeks, grabbing at the remains of #powerrehab as they slipped through my fingers. The once vast expanse of my 5am writing time disappeared into the needy full body embrace of my almost 15 month old. My long trail walks dissolved into the pounding, relentless rain. The babysitting hours were spent in long, luxurious waits at the doctor’s office.
The rhythms and routines we so meticulously crafted to support my mental and physical healing were crushed, every system broken down beyond repair.
And yet, here I am.
All good training programs end with a week that exposes the strength they have been systematically building. If the program was worth anything and you have put in the work, when you step up to the bar in that last week, loaded with more weight than you have ever picked up before, you will pick it up. Just like that. Though thoroughly unplanned, it is fitting that #powerrehab end with such a test.
Last week, as I stood under the bright lights in my kitchen, on the third hour of combing through tiny sections of wild, curly hair, carefully examining each wiry strand, it occurred to me that I did not hurt. I scanned my body looking for pain and found only the outline of sensation around my sciatic nerve. My back was strong and straight, my spine and shoulders right where they should be. My body, which could not even put on a backpack 56 days ago, tackled ten loads of laundry, eight bedding changes, vacuumed a two story house, all the furniture, beds, and the car seats, and successfully stood up and deloused three little girls all in 24 hours.
While I marveled at this ridiculous improvement in strength, it struck me as very silly that my latest PR came not with a steel barbell, but a steel lice comb and I started to giggle. And there it was, more impressive than core strength holding a wounded spine in place, a mind holding itself together. My mind, which could not handle the noise and stress of a single family meal seven weeks ago, was cheerfully nitpicking shrieking baby heads for the second day in a row.
All of my grumbling, the uninspiring work outs and painful, rose-filled walks, the life rules, the tongue biting, pill swallowing, and hashtag regret of the eight weeks of #powerrehab fell away as I stood there, calmly smiling down at hands full of knotted hair, a baby rubbing snot and string cheese from my knees to my ankles, in a kitchen washed in glitter, serenaded by the washer, dryer, and dishwasher all chirping simultaneously, and Frozen blaring through the iPad. Truly a weight I could not pick up two months ago. But there I was, being so insanely hardcore, picking it up.
Today #powerrehab is complete. Every box is checked from Holy Week through Pentecost. Ordinary time begins today, and there is no new notebook set up, no charts or graphs ready to receive gold stars, no fresh system in place to hold up my precious goals as a sane writer/mother person with a functioning spine and reasonably clean home. I do not know what happens next, other than more laundry, more rain, and a very long nap.
I’m wandering into this new season without a plan, or at least not one that I’ve been allowed to see. I trust that there is one, since there are still plenty of good adventures to navigate in the days immediately ahead — moods and medications to wrestle, school years to end and begin, a career change that is still significantly changing us, and the care and maintenance of all of these bodies. Yes, I trust that there is one, and that if I can just stay thankful that I have been given the gift of wandering, on my own two feet, without whimpering in pain, with the freedom to pick real bugs out of my kids hair instead of hallucinating them crawling across my desk, then it is a very, very good plan.
It has been raining all month.
I have been collecting sleep in buckets and pouring them wildly over my head whenever the opportunity has presented itself. Trapping my big kids in their room with audio books and napping with the baby, going to bed at 8pm and waking up well past dawn. I have some kind of otherwise symptomless sleeping disease that is eating away all of my writing time, and you know it’s real because I am just going with it. And I am not one to go with things.
My mother arrives today for a long overdue visit, so I am taking the opportunity to perch the baby on her most welcoming head, and in between the tea parties and fashion shows, to sleep the deep, heavy sleep only children know when their mother is in the house.
On a day you cannot move forward, you do not feel in love, you do not feel proud, you do not feel inspired, you do not want to find the energy, the effort to press, press, push. On a day when the shores are too far gone and you have no choice but to float, to glide, to wait until one or the other becomes an option. On a day that comes right in a string of days that lack reward, that do not fool you into believing you are doing it. When you are not thriving, winning, moving with the current to carve the landscape. On a day when you have not changed.
What do you do?
Do you draw circles on the page in your favorite ink just to feel your hand move on the page like a child rocking themselves to sleep? Like a smoker chewing gum? Not real, but better than nothing.
Better than nothing days. I know better than to think they won’t come, and thankfully I am wise enough to know they will go. They grate on me, the minutes scraping by, every one of them trying to convince me that I am standing still, waiting. Not working. Not blowing anyones mind. Not feeling the electric current of inspiration coursing through my being. Not living up to my expectations.
Yes, that is my expectation. The electric current of the universe coursing through my being.
What do I do on the days that aren’t like that?
First, I throw a fit and panic. I get myself so worked up in the doom of it all that I cannot possibly be a pleasant member of the Saturday morning breakfast table conversation with the tacos and the coloring books and the family I am clearly failing. I sit at my desk, face down in my notebook, begging it to please swallow my head. I very dramatically sob because the universe has very dramatically abandoned me. My husband leaves me to it because after ten years of marriage there is grace and there is wisdom. And because what I do next, often enough that I am still here, still writing these words, still moving this body, still married to this man — I get up.
With no electricity or enthusiasm, I climb onto the rails of the day. I set the table, I chew the food, I admire the exquisite Crayola masterpieces. I clear the table, I find the leotards, I braid the hair. We gymnastic. And the day goes on like this, with me on the train that is moving despite the empty sack of inspiration I’m dragging along behind it. Without fail I make it to bedtime grateful that my doing did not match my feeling.
As a person who regularly lists ZEAL (always all caps) in her top three core values, accepting that my own boredom is not a symptom of failure and irrelevant to others, continues to be one of my most formidable adulthood challenges.
My family does not require zealously scrambled eggs. My daughters do not require zealously applauded cartwheels. The milk flows freely from my breast regardless of how excited I am about it, and when I sit my body down on the couch, my family gathers around its automatically warmed 98.6 degrees and is mostly content just to have me there. Just to have me there.
So I offer this to you today, creator who found no inspiration waiting for them this morning, mother who woke up to mess, noise, and no help, anyone on psychiatric medication, and every other already tired human being who got up anyway: today, your boring, uninspired presence is doing work. You are on the train and the train is moving. You are in the river and the river is flowing. You are all the wonderful mixed metaphors that say breathing today is better than nothing.