Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Smaller Life, Part 2

When my daughter, Alexis, was about three, she rode a variation of a merry-go-round. As she came towards where I was sitting, I would wave at her. "Are you going to wave every time?" my husband, Ralph, asked. "Yes," I said and I did. There are many things I can't do for my child, but I can always be her audience: watching for and acknowledging her accomplishments.

I've been thinking about my role as audience as I've been moving towards a smaller life. Since I last wrote, I've resigned from two volunteer activities. Both of them involved Saturday morning meetings. I take my Avonex shot on Friday nights, which means I often feel lousy on Saturdays. I don't trust myself to drive when I feel weak and muzzy, so Ralph and Alexis have been driving me to the meetings. They've been gracious about the whole thing, but I've been longing for some slow-moving Saturdays.

The first time I worked through Step 3 of the Twelve Steps, I was in my mid-twenties and obsessed with "what God wants me to do with my life." I hadn't been in the program too much longer before I decided that God cares much more about who I am than what I do. I need a God who will nudge me away from my unhealthy attachment to accomplishment.

When I consider what I mean by "a smaller life," my fear is that I will become a useless couch potato. What I'm trying to move away from is a level of activity that might work for some people, but has been leaving me exhausted, resentful (from whence I go easily to guilt-ridden) and frequently in tears. There has to be some middle ground.

It seems to me it's about setting priorities. Googling "setting personal priorities" was dangerous because it led me to many goal-setting, success-oriented sites. Those easily suck me into heroic models that don't fit my life.

So I return to the idea of myself as audience. Suppose I made it my mission to watch for and acknowledge the accomplishments of those around me? Rather than pretending I can give up my focus on Doing, it tweaks it a bit. I don't have to give up my natural tendency to admire accomplishment, I just have to give myself permission not to be the doer. That sounds like it's worth an experiment.

P.S. The insurance company has approved a wheelchair.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Moving Towards a Smaller Life: Strategic Withdrawal and Yieldedness

It's a hard time of year and a hard year.

In Minnesota, the below-zero wind chills (and temperatures) are over-staying their welcome. I can look out my window and see a snow pile five feet high. I'm ready for the return of warmth. I'm ready to be rid of these layers of clothing that make it harder to move. I'm ready for less effort.

Some of my exhaustion IS about the time of year and some of it is about the way I've been living my life. I recently got a fortune cookie that advised me (in words more poetic than I can recall) to spend my energy in ways that give me more energy. It sounded like good advice, under the circumstances.

My life is full of balancing acts and this is one of them. On one hand, I want to be active and involved. I want to be LIVING life. This desire is made stronger by the knowledge I have—a body-knowledge deeper than head-knowledge—that next year I will be able to do less than I can this year. This idea of my being in decline is rejected by many people around me. They imagine it is pessimistic or, worse, that it will be self-fulfilling prophecy. My experience, in this body, is that it is a realistic expectation.

This is not a post about the power of positive thinking though, that, too, is one of my balancing acts. This is about the tides of activity level and how to surf them.

In the last few years, I have been increasing my activity level. We returned to Minnesota and I wanted to get back to some groups I had missed. New opportunities (including a part-time job) presented themselves. My "strike-while-the-iron-is-hot" attitude was in ascendance.

Now I find myself over-extended and tired. I need to decrease my activity level and that isn't easy. I feel like I'm letting people down. The pop-psychology idea that I'm "not saying no to others, I'm saying yes to myself" seems like selfish drivel.

The phrase in my mind this morning (I grew up in the waning days of the Vietnam conflict) was "strategic withdrawal." "One of the reasons for withdrawing," (says someone who has some connection with the "military classroom") "is that the terrain cannot be defended, and thus we withdraw to terrain that can be defended."

In my personal life, it's about deciding what I want to "defend." That's where it gets sticky because my withdrawal from something is saying it's not important to me and I worry about hurting people's feelings.

I bumped into another word this morning: yieldedness. In my reading, the context was Amish thought (Amish Grace) and surrender to God's will. In my life, I saw it as an invitation to accept the realities of living with chronic illness.

A friend of mine recently died after a couple years of wrestling with pancreatic cancer. In her eighties, she opted for surgery and chemo and fought more aggressively than I would have. She bemoaned the fact that all she could do some days was sit on the couch. She hoped to return to a more active life.

Visiting with her was a gift to me because she was a gift to me...even as she sat on the couch. Her life took place in a very small space and yet she continued to teach and give even when she was not aware of it.

I have been imagining that doing and being active is somehow a measure of my worth. I have thought that "living large" is somehow a virtue.
i exhausting, one that does not have to be defended. I am feeling called to yield.

[This feels like part 1 of something longer...we'll find out.]