Learning My Limits (Still)

I was sitting in the exam room with my family doctor, Mary Reeves, last Thursday morning, when she said, “You know I read your blog.”

“I do,” I looked away, a little embarrassed.

“I always chuckle when you write another post that says, ’I’m re-learning how to work less.’”

Mary, who has been my family physician and friend for the better part of 18 years, has a long memory and knows me too well. She’s also brilliant at pinpointing when I go off the track with my health.

Like the acute attack last Monday night of what felt like appendicitis. I was so sick by Tuesday morning that I couldn’t even stand. I crawled to the bathroom, not an experience I’m eager to repeat. (Good thing my house is small.)

To make a long health story short, I didn’t have to have my appendix removed; however, the flare-up in my abdomen may be chronic, and was most likely aggravated by stress.

After my wonderful doctor talked about what it isn’t and what it might be, she gave me a come-to-Jesus talk that boils down to (I’m paraphrasing):

  1. You’re grounded. Stay home and rest up until you reach these specific recovery milestones.
  2. Work on lowering the level of stress in your life.
  3. Your health comes first. You have to make changes or this will get worse.

So here I go again, working on learning my limits, again, for the I-don’t-know-how-manyth-time.

You’d think I’d have limits down by now. I’ve lived with an autoimmune disease for most of my adult life.

Drugs are not my friends (I am the poster child for pharmaceutical side-effects, even for weak drugs like aspirin), so I manage my health with what western medicine calls “lifestyle remedies”—adjusting my work, diet, activity, sleep, and that kind of thing, plus taking time to deliberately nurture body, mind, and spirit.

That’s generally worked well for me, but for nearly 29 years I had a partner and love-of-my-life who helped out with those adjustments, who picked up the slack when I needed it (sometimes even before I asked him to).

Richard in a wildflower meadow near Crested Butte

Now I don’t. And in the two years before Richard died of brain cancer in 2011, I became his caregiver. I also oversaw my mother’s care during that time—Mom died in February of the year Richard died in November.

For the first two years after Richard died, I was my dad’s primary support, while I scrambled—scrabbled is more like it—to finish the big house and his studio, sell that property, and oversee building my little place.

And I worked for the Be A Habitat Hero project, which involved a lot of travel, while also working nights and weekends on my own writing.

Stress? What stress? Bad habits? What bad habits?

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the stress is catching up with me, and the habits I formed during those years of pushing through one crisis to dive into the next are still with me.

I am not surprised; I am chagrined. And after last week’s experience, I am resolved (again) to figure out a more sustainable pace for work and life.

I was explaining my dilemma to my friend Kerry, a former lawyer who owns Ploughboy Local Foods here in Salida and who is notorious for going at life full-tilt boogie.

“I have to figure out how to leave time for the things I love but which don’t necessarily pay the bills,” I said, frustrated.

She looked at me for a moment, her head cocked as if I was particularly slow. “No,” she said, “you’re going about it wrong. You have to do those things first.”

Oh. As if they’re more important. As if what restores me (and my troubled appendix region) has priority over the stuff I do to pay the bills.

Kerry’s right, and so is Mary. I’ve had my priorities wrong. What that means exactly, I'll have to figure out.

But I'll have time, because of this week's good news: I finished my revision of the memoir I call Bless the Birds and sent it to my agent. (Fingers crossed!)