Sunday, November 21, 2010

Depleted - redux

I want to expand on a thought I expressed in an earlier post, "Depleted."  I wrote of feeling as though I need to be perfect, but I don't know that I fleshed out completely what I mean. I wrote:
If I could be perfect--perfectly organized, perfectly disciplined, I would feel better and be able to do so much more. But I'm far from perfect, and getting there requires that I overcome what the perfection would solve--in order to acquire my panacea, I must solve all the problems it will fix. 
I am almost never sick in the traditional sense. (I feel a winter of plague about to descend upon me... ;-)) What happens to me is that I get worn down--exhausted in epic proportions, I feel crumpled, depleted to the core, emotionally fragile, mentally compromised, functionally deficient. (This article from BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders gives a good picture of exhaustion in fibromyalgia.) What I need is a "reset" day. I need to sleep 10-11 hours and just do nothing--hang about in my jammies, let my brain sink to the back of my skull, relax, not stress, and recharge.

In my head, I can do the math:  1 reset day > 7-10 half-functional, crappy days where I'm grouchy, mean, stressed, want to cry, in pain, and functionally worthless. This does not, however, seem to make it any easier to take this time. Even with a reasonably supportive work environment, I feel guilty if I call off and I'm not hugging my toilet bowl or incapable of standing up for more than 10 minutes. But why? Why, despite knowing that I just need the day to replenish my energy supply, is it so dang hard to give myself permission to do it? Why does it kick up so much guilt, shame, anger...??

Because I'm not perfect, and in my damaged little head--I should be. If I were perfect, if I could manage this condition perfectly (and on my own, of course), and I wouldn't have this problem. I wouldn't collapse anymore, I'd be somehow almost cured, and able to pretend like this doesn't exist. If I could manage my sleep and exercise and diet and stress and workload perfectly, I would be fine. I would be able to crawl into my protective shell of denial and you all would never know that anything was wrong, right? Then, if for some inexplicable reason, I had a bad day, I'd be able to take the day off because it wouldn't be my fault.

That, there, is the real twisted little crux of this problem.

Somehow, I've decided that, unless I do EVERYTHING 100% perfectly, my suffering is my fault, and, as such, I do not deserve any sort of break. Which is really screwed up. How many diabetics or people with heart conditions take lousy care of themselves? Yet we somehow still do not blame them for their conditions (even if we admonish them to not eat that Primanti's sandwich and box of donuts and to get some exercise), or for the corresponding issues they suffer from not caring for themselves. I don't completely ignore what I am supposed to do, I am trying to figure out what works. I do try to take care of myself--my problem is that doing so is one. more. thing. that I have to do. One. More. Thing. to add to everything else. More time, more energy--that I don't goddamn well have.

It requires giving things up--I can't give up the job that feeds me and gives me money to spend on caring for myself. I can't, at the moment, give up school which I hope to be the ticket to a career I find meaningful. I could drag that process out, making it suck even longer, or give up and resign myself to spending 40 hours a week doing something I dislike. So what then? Give up the things that make my life feel meaningful? The things that keep me from going crazy? Give up caring for my friends and spending time with them? Or, you know, if I could just be more efficient at everything--cut out all the slack, all the time wasted on account of being too mentally or physically tired to do anything actually productive (solve the problem for which perfection is the panacea...)--I could get everything done. If everyday was scheduled and regulated, meals planned, time blocked off for everything that needs to be done--work, school, exercise, PT, mediation, assignments, community service, 8 hours of sleep--and executed with no deviation--if I could be perfect, I could make it all work.

Unfortunately, I left my cape and "S" on the bus, I think.

Mind you, I know darn well that a) perfection is not possible, and b) that there is no proof that, even if I were able to discern what it is that I need to function and could give it to myself, I would not still have bad days or struggle in spite of it all.

I have a hard time reconciling what I know with what I do. Being of a cerebral nature, I feel like there should be an automatic connection between knowledge and action--that is, the simple act of possessing knowledge should spontaneously result in the corresponding right action. We all know, however, that to create new habits, we have to practice things. We can study skiing for a year, but until we put the sticks on our feet (well, you crazy people can--I know enough to know that I'm not doing it... ;) ) and hurtle ourselves down a hillside, you don't know how to ski. I have a lot of information, but weaving it into the fabric of my life is a lot more complicated than reading a book or a journal article. Regardless, it is this failure to do so for which I hold myself accountable to an inappropriate degree.

I'm not entirely sure how to fix this, so I've taken an approach that I find to be fairly effective, if a bit inelegant. Even when it cuts against my inclination, even when I know that I haven't worked it all out, even when I know that it will throw me off balance and make me uncomfortable--I just stop. The anecdote to a brain filled with crap is action. I work with my body in yoga, and it helps to heal my heart and my mind. So it is also with this--and I do it OH SO very imperfectly, but my plan, my hope, is that with repeated action will come habituation. If I just say "$#%& it" and give myself a break, despite what "people will think," despite whatever narrative I have running inside my skull, perhaps I'll get better at it, more graceful, more at ease in my own skin. And, perhaps, if I cut myself some slack it will become easier to deal with the lead-filled bones inside that skin, and that will ease the tension in my chest, which will make my heart softer and my thoughts more calm.

So often, to get what we want we have to act counter-intuitively. If you want abundance, practice generosity. If you are angry, practice forgiveness and patience. If you want to act with more ease and grace, do what knocks you off balance and makes you struggle. If you want to be perfect, be imperfect and at some point, new habits will form and (it is my hope anyway) perfection will no longer be (perceived as) necessary.

Why is this place called Rough Branch?

Rough Branch is a reference to Wendell Berry's "mad farmer" poems. Berry is an agrarian populist poet, and advocate for sustainable agricultural practices. I don't agree with every position he takes, but his reverence for the beauty and balance of the natural world, for the preciousness of the life that runs through it (including our own), and of the community that sustains both the land and each other, speaks to my heart.

Over the past few years, I have sunk myself into the soil in my back yard, and into the community of neighbors that surrounds it, and it has begun to restore me. My garden is not just a plot of dirt providing vegetables for the salad bowl, it is an act of love, a place of profundity and awe. If you knew about the ecosystem that lives in but one gram of good earth, you would be humbled, literally, to the ground.

Berry's poems are passionate calls to live--deeply, profoundly, fearlessly. To step out of narrow-minded egotism, to secede "[f]rom the union of self-gratification and self-annihilation, [to] secede into care for one another, and for the good gifts of Heaven and Earth."

And so I have made my own nation small enough to walk across. I have named the small corner of the earth I steward Rough Branch. I have declared myself free of ignorant love, and I secede...

From the union of power and money,
from the union of power and secrecy,
from the union of government and art,
from the union of science and money,
from the union of ambition and ignorance,
from the union of genius and war,
from the union of outer space and inner vacuity,
the Mad Farmer walks quietly away.

There is only one of him, but he goes.
He returns to the small country he calls home,
his own nation small enough to walk across.
(From "The Mad Farmer, Flying the Flag of Rough Branch, Secedes from the Union")
The Mad Farmer challenges us to reconnect, to resurrect our land, our communities, and our souls.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion -- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
(From "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front")
All quotes from Wendell Berry.