A Smack Upside the Head

"How do you know when you're stressed?" Marianna asked this in her most recent giveaway (g’ahead, click and enter, it's open until May 19).

It turns out that my answer is I don't.

It's been pretty obvious — even to me — that things have been very busy for a long time around here. My level of activity was already fairly up there and then the book came out. Which lead to a blog tour - exciting, fun and wonderful, but also a fair amount of work. There was getting the manuscript ready for the paperback version, the opportunity to write for CreakyJoints — also exciting and wonderful — planning for May’s Arthritis Awareness Month on RAHealthCentral, exciting and interesting planning going on at Show Us Your Hands!, several community projects that were also very interesting, I started writing Book Two in the Your Life with RA series and I could go on. Won't, though. It's stressing me out just to think about it again. Suffice it to say that it all became just a series of tasks that had to be done, instead of projects that gave me joy.

It's funny how when the stress reaches a certain level, you don't notice it's there. Well, you notice that your life has become pretty miserable, but you don't associate it with burning through your energy at the speed of light. All I knew was that I woke up tired every day and by the time the day was over, I was so exhausted I wouldn’t as much fall as plummet into sleep. The biweekly B12 shots that used to turn me into an energizer bunny only enabled me to maintain, pain levels were increasing to the point that my right shoulder was starting to show signs of the kind of flare that would bench me for weeks. I have plans to take some time off in August and was making jokes about "if I make it that far," only it wasn't really a joke. Everything felt urgent, every day I was convinced that if I didn't get my work done, the world would end. And worst of all, although I was doing a lot of writing, I wasn't having fun. In fact, I was downright crabby. And still, somehow, I didn't clue in.

Thankfully, others noticed.

A week ago, I was having a chat with RA Guy about something else entirely. Before I knew it, it had turned into a very loving, gentle and effective smack upside the head. My head, to be specific. He reminded me that there is no rush with producing the next book. That in fact I haven't taken time to really enjoy having a book. 

Let me rephrase that: Having! A! Book! Here I am, my lifelong dream has been realized and I'm too busy to appreciate it. Too busy to let it bloom. Too busy focusing on what happens next to pay attention to what's happening in the present. And in the process, I was being pummeled by my self-induced pace.

I just finished David Sedaris’ latest book and something he mentioned in one of the essays stuck in my head. Someone had been to a seminar on becoming successful, during which the participants were asked to imagine a stove with four burners, representing family, friends, health and work. They were then told that in order to be successful at any one of these aspects in life, you have to turn off one of the others. In order to be very successful, you have to turn off two. That’s fairly thought-provoking. 

In the last year or two, as my work load has increased, I’ve turned off the friend burner. Not entirely — perhaps it's more accurate to say that I turned it down — but there's only so much of me to go around. Blessedly, many of my friends have been in the same situation, so the shrinking of the friend space wasn't always only on my end. Sometimes it was, though. More recently, I seem to have turned off the health burner. And that's very definitely a no-no when you have RA. In retrospect, I wonder if my months-long simmering flare might be connected to this.

As Eduardo was talking, I started crying. Not out of frustration or hurt feelings, but from relief. With every word he said, it was like he removed another set of blinders from my eyes and I could see the insanity that my life had become. I could see how far from grounded I was and how far I'd come from honouring the gift of my second go at life. Sure, busy is good. But the kind of busy that stops you from feeling joy? That's not the point of living, is it?

There is no rush. This is my journey, not someone else's. It is up to me to make it something uniquely mine, something that respects and reflects all of who I am, not just the part that thinks I'm invincible.

So I've stepped away from writing Book Two. It needs to percolate some more and I need to rediscover writing for the joy of it. I need to create some mental space to think, to reconnect with my friends, with who I am and what I believe. To remember that yes, the work is important, but I can't lose the other things that make my life joyful in the process.

A week ago, a good friend gave me the gift of perspective. And I'm grateful.

I am exactly where I'm supposed to be.


Marietta said…
I bought book one the day it came out, and still have not even come close to being even halfway through...I've been too busy (not good for my disease state either!). My point is, please remember that those of us on the receiving end of your wonderful book have not had time to digest all the information, and there is NO RUSH to get another out. The first is so chock full of information. Too much too soon and our heads might explode! :)
So take it easy and take your time.
Annette said…
Ah, I see why you made the comment that you did.
The four burners idea makes perfect sense but it's a hard choice. If you work you can't turn that one off, and you can't really stop taking care of your health, so family and friends suffer. And all of your burners can't be on 'high' either.
RAGuy is right. You worked so hard to write the book you deserve to bask for a while and appreciate your accomplishment - in fact all of your accomplishments. You're a dynamo.
Diana Troldahl said…
As Annette said, bask.
Basking is VERY good for the soul, and for refilling the well so hat book two, when its time comes, is the best it can be.
Life is too short to be all work, all the time.
You have a great life, I am glad you are honoring it, by savoring it.
Gentle hugs,
AlisonH said…
You get to stand tall with the first one done and in your hands, accomplished. Fair-in-height 451 book-burning won't do. Not to be Kurt, but I'm Vonna go with my Gut on this one and encourage you to turn the page and take your good time.

Anonymous said…
Thank you for this post. Stress is like that. It's sort of using your toothbrush every day and all of a sudden you look down and see how worn down it is. That's what stress does and sometimes you just have to take a step back and realize it. Be good to yourself. We'll all be here ready to read the book whenever it's ready for us.


You are exactly where you need to be, which is where you may have needed to be in order to learn this invaluable lesson.

It's often easy to say "No, thanks," to the not-so-fun/interesting stuff; it's much harder to say it to the good stuff - especially when the good stuff makes your heart sing.

But even the best singers need to take care of their voices, and everything else!

Stress can jump in and bonk you on the head, harder than that imaginary slap from RA Guy. Or, it can be much more insidious - like a slow leak from an air mattress. Soon that soft landing is no more. You plunk down and you hit hard.

In case people are wondering, here is a list of some of the physical symptoms of stress - http://auntiestress.com/2013/04/05/physical-cliff/. Then there's the emotional, mental and spiritual effects, which I've also written about on my blog.

The "auntie-dote" includes all your a-ha's, which will help your heart rate variability (HRV) - the way in which the heart sends signals to the brain. Those signals then triger the flight/fight response or balance and perform.

P.S. I was thrilled to see your signing off for the weekend tweet.