It’s official. I’ve totally lost control of my life.
I get up each morning to email in two places and a browser filled with open tabs – love the wee buggers, but if you start the day with that much work lurking, it’s hard not to feel like Sisyphus. The last couple of weeks before my injury, I constantly felt as if I was running so fast that I was always on the verge of tipping over and falling while reaching my hands out to catch the balls I'd been juggling as they started to fall, sure there were many more balls that I'd forgotten. When you're that busy, things like having a disability, being aware of your pain levels or managing your energy don't even register.
Perhaps it's not surprising I didn't notice I was getting injured.
When I wrote about my usual bogeyman when it comes to wrecking myself in this week's post for MyRACentral - use it while I have it because tomorrow I might not, all or nothing personality, meeting other people's needs before my own - I also touched on how important that job is to me. As a symbol of being better, as an actual job after so many years of not being able to work. And there's another big one for me. Because it's so much more than a job – it’s a place where I can be useful again and for me, and many others with this damn disease, it is the inability to be of use that brings you to your knees. So much of our identity and sense of self-worth is tied into being productive and being of use and once you're not, once your disease or disability progresses to the point where you can't, what good are you?
This job I have is not full-time by any means, but it is a job, one that doesn't just allow me to work, but also to be helpful, to be truly useful. And to me, being of use is my drug.
I've begun to think that it really is like an addiction for me, that perhaps looking at it this way will help me manage this thing that takes over and gets to make the decisions about how much I do in a day. I've come to realize that there's something deep underneath the usual reasons and if I don't figure out what that something is, I will work myself into the ground, wrecking myself on a permanent basis in a very short time. And if I'm trying to think long-term, finding enough hope within me to believe that I'll have another five years, 10 years, 30 years - who knew optimism could be this terrifying - then I need to start thinking long-term, because if I don't change how I work, I will destroy myself.
Which brings me to mindfulness.
Part Buddhist, part psychology, there are all kinds of fancy definition, but essentially it's about paying attention to what you're doing, whether it is eating, working or walking down the street. Pay attention. And whirling around like a dervish in your everyday life, doing 17 things at the same time means you pay attention to none of them. In her book The Not So Big Life: Making Room for What Really Matters, Sarah Susanka, talks about our "hyperactive, multitasking minds" and boy, did that ever hit the mark. When I move that fast, my brain is never still and as my fibro tends to flare when I move that fast, my already zippy mind feeds on the hyperactivity of fibro and before I know it, my mind runs at 200 miles an hour and it never slows down. Never. It took me a week of (allegedly) sitting still to click out of the insanity and I began to feel centered again.
And once that happened, I began to wonder about something. Had I been practicing mindfulness, would I have noticed how bad things were getting before they got as bad as they did? Maybe if I started singletasking, there would be enough room for me to go through my day as a whole person instead of one whose body doesn't get a vote.
And sure, the long-term goal is to find out what is underneath all of this, but while I poke around in my psychological innards I need to change the way I work and I've found some tools that might derail me from the urge to multitask. To help me say no to myself.
I put a monthly planner on my wall and write down deadlines and such because then they don't have to be in my head or take up room on my to-do list until the day that's assigned to work on a specific project. David found a timer program that he set to 30 minutes and once the alarm goes off, I'm supposed to step away from the computer for a while (it also keeps track of how far over the 30 minutes I go and he's in the process of figuring out a way where it will report this number to him. I tell him he has trust issues). I'm going to start meditating again even though it'll take a whole 20 minutes away from my work day - how crazy is it to think that you can't afford to lose 20 minutes? I'll also try to get ruthless with my to-do list, remembering something a friend once told me: if I never get to do everything that's on my list, perhaps the list is too long. In the long run, slow and steady gets way more done than tearing through my life like I've got a rocket up my arse.
In Mindfulness for Beginners, Jon Kabat-Zinn says something that to me is incredibly profound: "we have an infinite number of moments between now and when we die. The more we miss, the faster the trip". Because part of this problem of moving so fast is that I lose time. I have no idea how we got halfway through the year, feel as if time is moving too fast for me to appreciate the journey and on one hand, I'm grateful than I am now well enough to have this problem - seriously, take a minute to think about where I've come from - but on the other, it's no way of honoring your second chance.
Because it all comes back to that. I got my life back and I swore not to waste it. And that means paying attention to what's important, whether that the state of my body, the cat wanting a cuddle, writing The Book, a phone call from someone I haven't spoken to in a while or the way the sun shines through a leaf. And when I think about it, really think about it, that's the important way of being of use.