Last night, I worked on a poetry submission with forty minutes to spare before the deadline. I’d asked and received invaluable feedback from a couple of my highly respected and talented writer friends, and I shaped and revised my poems until I physically could do no more. When finished, I sent them off and went to bed. But the damage to my physical well-being had been done. My back seized up and ached, my head throbbed, and I felt as if I’d been run over by a truck, dragged a mile, and held underwater.
In bed, I lay still, summoning sleep, which wouldn’t come. Electric zaps flooded my body, lighting up every nerve fiber from head to toe, organ to limb. My husband asked why I was so tired since I’d slept in that morning. This is and will always be one of the hardest questions for me to answer. I’ve answered it before, and the answer never changes. Still, I haven’t learned to let go of the shame, the embarrassment, of having to admit that my body doesn’t work like most people’s.
While suffering from a chronic illness is not my fault, I can’t help but feel there must be something I can do to cure it. Doctors and scientists can’t figure this thing out, but I can’t help but feel I should. It’s an enormous pressure. It goes back to that affliction I have had since I was a teenager–the overwhelming need to be perfect, or at least to appear like I’m doing everything possible to try to be as perfect as possible.
It’s time to let that shit go.
I am not perfect, but I am amazing. As I write this, I feel a little urge there to explain myself, which is what I do. I feel like I must try to provide answers, or at least give others the 411 on every aspect of my life–my thoughts, decisions, my successes, and my failures (perceived and real).
Many of us are compelled to seek approval, dedicated to burning the candle at both ends to impress, achieve, and produce. I still do it, too, and as a consequence, my light goes out; my body teaches me again and again, the hard way, that I needed to slow down. When I don’t slow, my body forces me to and then drops an anvil and all the world’s lead on my chest for good measure.
Today, I again woke with a migraine that’s been bullying me for the past week. It had fallen back, ducked under the eaves with its arms crossed, waiting to see what I’d do. Instead of going home, resting, and quitting while I was ahead, I basically threw rocks in its face. So it charged me in retribution, teaching me not to mess around, or else. Perhaps, had I spent only five hours working (preparing meals, doing dishes, writing, revising, drawing, engaging in social calls, showering, walking, etc.) instead of twelve, the day’s end would have brought me a different result.
I am not like most people. I must rest while I still feel good. It’s counterintuitive. Certainly, all our lives, we’ve been encouraged to push through pain. For me, doing that is detrimental to such a degree that I often will not recover after a night’s slumber. It may take days, or weeks, until I am myself again, energized, clear-headed, motivated, and physically capable of resuming typical activities.
If you came into this time of corona with a plate already full–and now that plate has been lifted and chucked at your face, spilling its contents all over your loungewear and injuring your sanity and happiness in the process–I hope you can slow down. Be kind to yourself. Offer yourself some grace. You may not be perfect, but you are amazing.
It’s tempting to want to keep up with everyone else, especially if you suffer from FOMO. We face too many challenges right now. If Coronavirus is going to be of any value to us as we proceed, we owe it to ourselves to slow down. Let success be measured by the quality time we spend with our loved ones and the gentle treatment we give ourselves. Gabriel García Márquez, in his novel Love in the Time of Cholera, shares the morbid thought that “wisdom comes to us when it can no longer do any good.” Maybe we can prove this statement wrong by using the catastrophe of COVID-19 as a catalyst to a better future. Maybe we can become wise, gracious, and resilient.
I hope people will continue to practice more compassion, true understanding, and plenty of grace. I, for one, am going to continue to cut myself some slack. Often, though it may not look like it, we are all doing our best during what will go down in history as an unprecedented pandemic of our modern era. I choose to believe it is enough.