I feel like I am conducting an experiment.
Just three years ago I was entering the home stretch of the school year, assigning literary analyses, grading stacks of papers, preparing students for finals, and organizing thoughts for the end of year faculty meetings. I easily worked fifty hours a week between teaching, preparing, grading, and other responsibilities. My husband was pastoring an inner city campus ministry church; he easily worked sixty to seventy hours each week. Two our children were in college; one of them had just enlisted in the Army and was preparing to leave. The youngest was entering her junior year and all the craziness that that holds.
I burned the candle at both ends and sometimes in the middle; I had no reason to expect that that would change.
I closed out the school year, cleaned out my classroom, inventoried department materials, attended meetings, and started my summer projects — reading, gardening, lesson planning for the next year, etc. My pace was slower, but definitely still purposeful.
I’d been doing Zumba a couple of nights a week and running three to five miles, three to five days each week. I was in decent shape for a fortysomething and anticipated running 5Ks for the foreseeable future. I used to joke that I would keep running until I won my age group — even if that meant into my eighties.
Somewhere in the middle of all that summer activity, my elbows started to ache — both of them. I already routinely saw a sports medicine doc because of pain I’d had in my hip since my twenties. He said I probably had tennis elbow. Tennis elbow? I don’t play tennis, but ok. Maybe it’s from all the time I spend playing games on my iPad. No big deal. I kept stepping.
Later that fall I went to see my general practitioner. I was tired. So tired. Maybe I had mono? Or was anemic? I was just dragging! She ran blood work and reported that I was just perfect — nothing wrong with me at all.
So, why was I still dragging? And, you know, it wasn’t just my elbows, my hips were really bothering me. And my back. And, now that you mention it, my eyes.
The doctor said I was tired, maybe depressed. And that, my friends, will cost you $35.
That whole fall I felt pretty crappy, so finally, on a hunch, I called the rheumatologist that had treated my daughter for a bizarre, but related, health issue the year before. I described to him my symptoms and he shared my concern. To make this story a little bit shorter, let me just say that six weeks later I was in his partner’s office.
I’ve written about this a lot in this blog, I know. If you’ve been following, you know that I’ve had a variety of diagnoses, none of which I am fully comfortable with. What I tell most people who ask is that I have ‘autoimmune disease’. I think my doctors say I have psoriasis, fibromyalgia, arthritis, and who knows what else. Whatever. The story is that I get tired — really tired. I ache most of the time. My eyes and skin periodically ‘flare’ up and make life a little more irritating than usual.
And that, my friends is how I got to this stage in my life of conducting an experiment. After ten years of working at full throttle, I stopped everything. I took several months off from everything and have been slowly adding things back in. My family and I are like a bunch of scientists observing ‘the subject’ — me — and noting changes. “You seem more tired today; do you think it’s because you took those three extra students last week?” “I’m having a flare; I think I will need to spend the afternoon in bed.” “You’re walking like you are in pain; have you been exercising?”
This week I am pushing the limits a bit. I am clocking twenty-four hours at the agency and an additional ten hours of tutoring. As I add each appointment I brace myself a bit. Thirty-four hours of direct instruction followed by a whirlwind Friday night trip could put me in bed for all of Sunday, but it might not. I might be ok. I might actually enjoy it! I’ve gotta take the risk. I have to know what my new normal is.
For the next two months I will clock over forty hours each week. Each hour will be spent working one-on-one with a student. By the end of those two months I might be exhausted, and I may have a better handle on what kind of pace will work best for me and my family. I hope so, but for now I gotta get back to my test.
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord, and not men.