Finding middle gear

Coast redwood grove at dawn

After several decades of living with a chronic, potentially debilitating illness, you’d think I’d know my limits. (I have either mixed connective tissue disease or lupus, depending the doc and the interpretation. The name doesn’t particularly matter; it doesn’t change the symptoms I experience every day.)

Apparently I don’t. (Know my limits.) Since I returned home from a Mother’s Day weekend trip to California, I’ve been half-sick with various symptoms. Some days my bones ache deep inside like I’m getting the flu (there’s nothing like aching bones to make me feel old); some days I’m feverish all night long and sleep restlessly; some days I wake with a throat so sore it feels like someone’s abraded it with one of the big-toothed files in Richard’s shop, and the glands in my throat are swollen in hard, painful knots.

That’s my body speaking to me. When I fail to pay attention to its more subtle messages—tiredness, forgetting words, losing my balance, struggling to breathe, or dropping things, it speaks louder, raising its “voice” the way we do when we feel like our audience isn’t listening. If speaking louder doesn’t work, we resort to other, more drastic methods, like shouting or throwing things. I’m afraid my body is approaching the throw-things stage.

Banksia and Monterey cypress at the University of California-Santa Cruz arboretum

It’s my own fault. I’ve been in high gear since I got home, trying to catch up, to make progress on my various projects, all of which feel urgent, before I leave again in two weeks to take my dad to Washington state for a family gathering. I’ve been “pushing through” instead of listening within. I’ve been frantically ticking off things on my to-do list. A list which does not, now that I think about it, include resting and refilling the well I draw my energy from, whether physical, emotional, creative, or spiritual.

It occurs to me that part of the problem is that I seem to have only two gears: up and at ’em, and horizontal (as in lying flat-out on the couch). I’m either going full-tilt-boogie or I’m not going at all. That doesn’t sound particularly sustainable, does it?

That’s what I suspect my body is trying to communicate to me. Slow down or else…. I know that “or else,” though it’s been a very long time since I got myself into a bad enough patch that I’ve had to pay really drastic consequences for neglecting my own well-being.

Claret cup cactus blooming in my restored native grassland front yard

How drastic? Oh, just two bouts of mono, one after another, walking pneumonia, plus several serious injuries attributable to severe fatigue and a car crash that could have killed me. How long since my body had to shout that loud? Um, since Richard and I began living together almost thirty years ago.


Could there be a connection between my current inability to find a sustainable middle gear and the loss of the love of my life?

Well, duh.

There’s one of me know, and in my own stubbornly independent way, I’m trying to do what two people did before. Huh.

Rocky Mountain iris, the native iris, growing along our restored block of urban creek

Apparently I need to re-think how I’m approaching this Woman Alone thing. I could start with learning to say “no” more often, and asking for help before I get stuck. (I’m working on both of those.) I could also practice recognizing that grief and exhaustion are part of the process and that they require their own time and space. I could add “rest” and “reflect” to my to-do list.

What it comes down to is that I need find a new life-rhythm. I’m still living as if there are two of us, and the other one is a strong and healthy guy who can do everything I cannot. And more besides.

This coming Sunday will mark six months since Richard’s death. It’s time for me to get serious about finding that middle gear so I can live a healthy life without him.

I’m going to start by heading out to the kitchen garden and picking myself a bowl of fresh salad greens for lunch. Preparing meals from the food I’ve grown with my own hands in our soil takes time, but it’s a wonderful way to slow down and nourish myself, body, mind and spirit.