In the Weeds

I have a pretty small purse. It’s got room for a pen, a small notebook, my Epipen, the collapsible stick I use to push elevator buttons and a few other doodads. It’s got a wallet attached at the front for bills, coins and the plethora of cards handed out everywhere (why does every store need me to have a card?). Over time, other things get added – grocery lists, receipts, restaurant mints that go linty in the bottom, lottery tickets that I mean to check but somehow never do and the general detritus of life. At some point, someone will help me put it on a couch when I visit and upon hefting my deceptively small-looking purse, ask me if I’m carrying around bricks and in the same breath inquire why I don’t get a bigger purse. To which I always reply that no, no bricks and that I don’t get a bigger one because no matter how large or small your purse is, it gets filled up.

Life’s a lot like that, too.

In the past year, after starting Humira, I've gained in strength and stamina and as I've become more able to do things, new activities and responsibilities have been added to my life. I get a lot done now and it makes me happy. I like being busy, I like accomplishing things, I like being useful. Having a disability makes everything take more time and energy and sometimes, it makes you incapable of doing anything but barely getting through the day. It's a soul killer, the not being useful. It makes you question your worth as a human being. And so, when I got stronger, I kept putting more things into my life until it was full to bursting, until all my energy was used up by the busy. And lately, my momentum shifted from a controlled, efficient path to careening wildly downhill, bits flying off as I leapt over obstacles, tripped and flipped, kicking up a cloud of dust as I barely avoided falling arse over teakettle down the hill.

In the past month, I've spent three weekends sitting very still because of illness or to avoid an injury. Or rather, I've needed to sit very still to heal, but it never quite ended up that way, because there was always something that needed to be done. I was officially in the weeds, too busy to do anything but react, too busy to think, to take a step back and get perspective.

And then one day, I whimpered my way to the park for 20 minutes of regeneration and I brought reading material (because just sitting, doing nothing would apparently be wrong). I read something about habits and addictions and it smacked me upside the head so hard I saw stars and things started rattling into place. A day or two later, when I was staying away from the computer to prevent my shoulder injury from coming back and I found myself cleaning up my horizontal filing area (a.k.a. my dining room table) because I had to, because without doing something, I was twitchy and uncomfortable, it all came together.

My momentum had become momentum for its own sake and I'd developed a habit that was as destructive to my health as an addiction. Being busy took up so much of my life that I had no time to be the kind of friend I wanted to be, hadn't stopped to be lost in the wonder of a green leaf for quite some time, my priorities were screwed up and the bank account that represents my physical and emotional health was heavily overdrawn. When something had to be taken out of my life to make room for something else, something absolutely crucial, I had taken out what sustains me. I had taken out the very things that fill up that bank account, recharge my emotional batteries and feed my soul.

You can't do it all and for a time, I’d heard that as a challenge, trying to prove that I could indeed do it all. That despite having probably a third of the energy of 'normal' people (and that on a good day), I had expected myself to perform almost like a 'normal' person. Because it fed my self-worth, it made me feel like a contributing member of society, it made me feel less unable. The seductive siren song of being busy had made me believe that all of it was essential, that I was the only one who could do it and that I didn't have time for the rest of life.

We say we don't have time and usually when we use that excuse, what falls by the wayside, what gets taken out of the purse/life, are the things that make our lives worth living. We answer work e-mail at 11 p.m., put off a phone call to a friend, get irritated at the older woman ahead of us at the checkout for delaying the clerk with a chat, fly through an intersection in the second between yellow and red because to stop and wait for a green light would bring our blood pressure beyond boiling. We cut corners, give the minimum, stop listening, stop seeing, stop feeling. And it's all bullshit, because the extra minute or two at the grocery store or the intersection might actually reduce our blood pressure, our friends feed our soul and work? Work usually doesn't pay us to write e-mail at bedtime.

It's all about priorities. For a while, my priorities have been to be ‘normal’, forgetting that I’m not. For awhile, I forgot that past a certain level of busy, I am not useful to anyone and past that level, I begin to destroy my health. I forgot to feed my soul and I became more and more empty. Because although I may have quantity of life, the quality has slowly seeped out.

I'm cleaning out both my purse and my life, getting rid of unnecessary detritus, making room for what is important. But before I do that, I'm going grocery shopping and plan to strike up a conversation with the cashier. On my way home, I'm going to find something green and look at it, really look at it until I can feel my mind go still.

Life is not about busy. Life is about living.

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