Reckoning With My Limits (Again)

I'm just emerging from a nasty bout of the flu that had me so sick, I didn't even eat for several days. (I like food. It takes a lot to kill my appetite!) While I was lying on the couch shivering and miserable, I had an epiphany that I am still thinking about: 

When I am sick, I can see my limits, and I heed them. As soon as I feel better, I act as if I have no limitations at all. And then I get sick. I behave as if my physical and emotion energy are endless, and I can do anything I want–work until late, go to the gym and exercise hard, do errands, and come back and continue working as if I had all the energy in the world the draw on.  

Only I don't. I know that intellectually. I know that my daily energy budget is a slender one, and when I overdraw it, I pay in all sorts of ways: I get feverish and alternate between shivering and broiling, my hands and feet swell and my joints turn acutely painful, I like awake exhausted with my mind buzzing but can't sleep… It goes on.

This is nothing new. These are the symptoms of the autoimmune condition I've had my whole life. For long periods of time, I've kept them at a minimum by simply staying aware of and respecting my limitations. By picking and choosing what I want to accomplish in any given day. Not pushing myself to cram everything on my to-do list into 24 hours. Honoring what I know I can accomplish in a healthy way, and calling that very good indeed. 

So why am I now struggling to remember to pace myself? Why do I have such hard time integrating what my head knows is a healthy, sustainable pace into my expectations of what I will accomplish every day? 

Or, to turn the question around, what is different when I am sick?

Ah. That's the key: when I am sick, I can see my limits not just because they're obvious. But because my attention is focused inward, and I am listening to my body for clues to what the ecosystem of me–me plus those billions of microbes that are part of the community of my body–needs to get well. 

When I'm sick, my motivation is to pay attention because paying attention and heeding what I hear is the path to feeling better. 

But when I am not sick, I see no urgent need to pay attention to my body. I cruise on auto-pilot. Everything is working, so there is no need to listen within. Until I crash, and have to correct. 

Ah again. So the question becomes not why am I not paying attention, but how do I motivate myself to pay attention? Or perhaps, how do I align my expectations of what I will accomplish in a day with what I know I can do sustainably? 

And that is the heart of the epiphany I had while gripped in the misery of flu and fever: It's not that I'm not listening to myself. I'm not honoring what I hear. I want to value who I am, limitations and all. 

I want to live every day remembering that what's most important is not how much I accomplish in a day, but that what I do, I do as well as I possibly can, from my heart and spirit, from as healthy a "me" as I can bring to the world. 

Ah. Hah. The being thing and the doing thing are inseparably intertwined. If I am being a healthy me, I am doing what I do best. Not perfectly, but with all I can bring to the working, living, and doing what I can to make the world a better place. 

All of which brings me to some very practical realizations, including this one: I'm going to practice cutting myself some slack in the expectations portion of my life. I'll let you know how it goes!

News Flash: My agent loved the new version of Bless the Birds. Last week, she submitted it to half a dozen editors at big New York publishing houses. Fingers crossed….