It couldn’t have been the women’s retreat over a month ago. It probably wasn’t the day trip over Spring Break. Or the hours of tutoring. Or teaching two classes. Or two recent back-to-back road trips. Or the fact that I haven’t found a free hour in the past month to do any blogging. No, not one of those things slammed me to the floor. In fact I was standing up straight and moving around freely even through this weekend’s musical that went way past my bedtime and through the day-long festivities yesterday at our church. Not only that, I woke up today, planned two classes, graded some papers, taught on my feet for two hours and then gave a private lesson before coming home at 5 and making a double-batch of caramel corn. I had two loads of laundry folded and the ironing board set out when I finally admitted that I could do no more. I grabbed an ice pack and found my way to the floor.
I stayed there icing through the news, Wheel of Fortune, and Jeopardy. Then, I switched to heat for The Voice. The ache was deep in my hips, sacrum, and sacroiliac joints. Nothing was dulling the edge. Glass of wine? Tried it. No help. Then, although I have been committed for over a year to no NSAIDS or other pain meds, I finally caved around 8:30 and took 400 mg of Ibuprofen. An hour later I took 400 mg more.
I put myself in bed and willed myself to sleep. No chance. It’s been a while since my pain, which usually fluctuates between and 3 and a 6 out of 10, has climbed the scale up to what I would call an 8. I’m calling it an 8 because I can still move — slowly and with audible involuntary groans — from standing to sitting to lying, but I can’t stay in any of those positions for very long before I determine to try yet another strategy.
Around 11:45pm, I climbed into the tried and true epsom salt and baking soda bath. The deep ache persisted. I stayed there for more than 30 minutes, trying to give the magic a chance to work. Finally, I admitted one more defeat, crawled out of the tub less than gracefully, dressed, ate a banana, and thought to myself, “Have you found a limit, then?”
Just yesterday, a good friend said to me, “You need to find some time to rest.” My husband, bless his heart, also gently reminds me and then lets me figure it out. He knows that I want to seem ‘normal’, even if temporarily. The longer stretches I have of doing well, the more I question the validity of my limitations. When I begin to doubt my limitations, I attempt to accomplish even more. It’s a vicious cycle.
Anyone with a vague diagnosis or an invisible illness will tell you that we are our biggest skeptics. Although we may have very difficult days, characterized by extreme fatigue, insistent pain, or a rash that erupts (right on my face, thank you very much), we also have days, weeks, and sometimes up to a month or more, when the symptoms seem not so noticeable. We begin to question ourselves, “Surely, you aren’t really as sick as you think; certainly you can see one more student and sit through a play on a Saturday night. Toughen up a little.” It’s as though our worst symptom is amnesia — the forgetting of the consequences that come from forgetting.
When I forget to pace myself, I may do alright for a few days, or a week or a month. However, if I keep forgetting, I will eventually get a reminder. I’ve had many over the last month. When I sleep for over 10 hours in a row, that’s a reminder that I’m depleted and I probably need to take a few slow days. When I get a psoriasis or eczema breakout, that’s a reminder. I call it the ‘slow simmer’. The symptoms are beginning to bubble up, and if I don’t turn down the heat, they are going to reach a full boil. When I notice that I have to take stairs one foot at a time, I’m probably too far down the path to avoid the crash. Yesterday, when my friend, who has noticed my pace, gently nudged my memory, I said, “Yes, if I don’t willingly take a break, it will be thrust upon me.” And in a very speedy fulfillment of prophecy, here I am.
It’s been over four years now that I’ve been living in this strange reality — the reality that was named, and then unnamed,… That’s part of the struggle, too. I don’t know what to call this ‘thing’ that I have. People ask me. Often. And I give some kind of mumbled reply about autoimmunity blah blah arthritis blah blah eyes blah blah skin blah blah. By then they are more confused then I am. They don’t understand, because neither do I, why I choose not to eat gluten or dairy if I don’t really notice a difference when I do. If I try to explain that no, I don’t drink coffee because it cancels my homeopathic medicines, again, I just hear myself sounding like the teacher in the old “Peanuts” cartoons. Blah, blah, blah.
So, why am I writing about this at 1 o’clock in the morning? Because that’s what I have. Writing continues to be the way that I think through all of this and try to find the meaning. And yes, I realize, I just have to go back a post or two to the last time I wrote about how blessed I am that God has provided this season of slowness, that He has allowed me time and space to be aware, to be available, to just be. But just like every other gift I’ve been given, sometimes I don’t appreciate fully it. I want to take it back to the store and see what I can exchange it for. I think I’m going to find something better, you know?
If I go just a few posts further back, I will be reminded of the drawbacks of soldiering. Just typing that word calls me out, doesn’t it? I don’t even want to go back to the first paragraph I wrote here today, because that’s what I’ve been trying to do — go back to my soldiering ways.
If I don’t stop writing here, I’ll start drawing parallels to the ancient Israelites…and it’s already 1:15 am and I’m already at over a thousand words. So, go ahead and draw your own conclusions. By now, I’m sure you’re way ahead of me.
As for me, I repent. I’ll try to get some rest. And then I’ll probably cancel my tutoring for tomorrow. Because sometimes even retired soldiers need a little R ‘n’ R.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.