Pacing yourself: good advice for chronic illness, and everyone else, too!

It’s been so long since my last post, subscribers and regular readers may have wondered if I fell off the face of the Earth. Fret no more! I’m alive, but I have hosted a major holiday party and traversed a healthy arc around our little blue planet.

Between the trip–which I’ll write about soon–and the annual marathon that is serving Thanksgiving dinner to 19 people, I have been running right at the edge of my available pool of energy.

I have been writing, but I haven’t finished anythin…*

If you can believe it, I have over 50 draft posts in various stages of completion. What I haven’t had is any stamina left at the end of these busy days to polish up a given post for presentation to my readers.

I think I’ve mentioned it before: I’m not a real-time writer. Or, at least, I’m not even attempting to keep up with the pace of life since this blog is a hobby for me. I’m writing about Really Wonderful Things because I enjoy it. I’m trying to keep it that way.

I feel bad when I fail to post regularly. I cherish the sharing aspect of my own blog and those I follow. Slacking off on my posting schedule of a mere two pieces per week leaves me feeling guilty, and even a little anxious.

What if I lose a lot of followers? What if I lose a favorite frequent commenter?

And this is where I have to remind myself of the reality of my situation. I’ve written about accepting my limitations in the context of travel, and I think I give myself plenty of permission to do so when away from home.

What’s much harder is to take my expectations down a notch at home. Real life is a marathon, not a sprint, but there are so few obvious places to let things slide when it comes to parenthood and caring for your family.

The thoughts sound like this:

“If I don’t make this one birthday count, it is gone forever. My child won’t have good memories of turning X years old.”

Or this:

“Extended family and a dozen friends are coming for Thanksgiving. If I don’t make it a good one, I’ve ruined a holiday for 20 people.”

There’s a kernel of truth here, but most of it is anxiety talking. I don’t invite over the kind of “friend” who would blame me for a Thanksgiving catastrophe. If I had family members who actively tried to lay down that kind of guilt trip, I would consciously reject it as nonsense.

Beneath my conscious mind, however, is the deeply ingrained message I’ve been internalizing since infancy that 1) opening my messy house to people as is tells them I don’t care that they’ve come, and 2) any failings in our family’s hospitality belong to me, the wife and mother.

I’ve put a lot of effort into inviting people over “in spite of” the usual state of our home. Life can be so hectic, and it is hard to find a time that works to see good friends; an unwashed load of towels or a project-in-progress in front of the TV can’t be allowed to block a chance to socialize with companionable souls. Those moments are too precious.

And all of that was before an autoimmune condition reduced my available store of energy from less-than-average to downright-low. At this point in my life, there are days where I choose between cleaning up the kitchen at the end of the day or eating dinner; some days, I fail to do either because I’m too tired to accomplish even one “trivial” task.

So when it comes to hosting Thanksgiving, for example, I had to choose between planning the menu and buying ingredients for the dinner (the main point of the event), or preparing a more comfortable guest room for out of town visitors. And did I mention that I was leaving town for an international trip 48 hours after Thanksgiving dinner?

Tidying the great room where we hold the party was such a distant last on my list of priorities, it was hard to even see it at the horizon.

Without a doubt, I get some flak about these failings from people who truly don’t understand how I can be taking a break on the couch when people are coming over within hours and my house “looks like this.” I know that I need that break or I won’t be able to stand on my bad foot to prepare a meal; not everyone can or will understand that point.

Honestly, I hope they never come to a point of realizing how hard simple things can be for someone with chronic illness. It really stinks. I wouldn’t wish is on my worst enemy.

Add to my list of “the hard work” of hosting a large party the effort to reject others’ unrealistic expectations for me. It may be the hardest thing I deal with at some events!

We welcome others into our homes to share time, experiences, and the very real products of our hearts. We cook for each other and care for each other because we can, and because we want to.

When I take whatever energy I have and translate that into action in real terms, it is a gift to those I love. I choose to believe it will be received that way, whether I make a fancy shape of it or hand it over in a messy bundle.

This holiday season, I hope we can all focus on why we invite others to share with us. Spend a little less effort on worrying about how you measure up! If you find yourself leaning toward the latter, back up a step and take a breath.

It’s a privilege to be free to celebrate as we see fit.

It’s an honor to host friends and loved ones in our homes, and to have more than we need to share.

Try not to go down the rabbit hole of should have and could be; be grateful to enjoy what is, here and now, and those who’ve graced you with their presence.

And, if someone makes you feel less than great for what you have to offer, leave them to their negativity and add it to your list of blessings. At least you are glad for what you have, and who you are!

I will try to do a little better about piping up twice a week and staying in touch with my followers. I sincerely wish for a season of peace, abundance, and joy to everyone reading, and everyone else besides.

Cheers!

*Quoting a cute, hand-drawn postcard I had pinned outside my college dorm room. I wonder where that card has gone…

Pain makes me less approachable; pain makes you like me less

When I’m in pain, I am certain that I’m less receptive to the good in the world around me.

A recent study showed that it is possible to diagnose depression remotely by analyzing the photos people post to social media. Depressed people view the world so differently, their acts of self-expression change.

Along similar lines, I’ve noticed that I view people around me in a different light when my chronic pain flares. I’ve caught myself cynically judging the sincerity of a smile on a woman’s face, or angry at a pedestrian for his freedom to walk presumably without pain.

This isn’t my natural personality. I have a sincere love for—and trust in the goodness of—humanity that my darling husband finds charmingly(?) naive.Untitled

I like to joke that I’m a functional misanthrope, but that’s got more to do with my introversion and some social anxiety than any real disdain for humanity. I am overjoyed by the heights of human achievement. I believe that we, as a species, will persevere and do wonderful things.

That’s my perspective. That’s who I really am.

Pain, however, distorts my every impression.

And, I’m less likeable when I’m in pain. Continue reading

Poring over pre-algebra textbooks to appease my non-math anxiety

I read six math textbooks yesterday from cover to cover, and I perused at least half a dozen more.

Math books textbook Laundry

Observe that the clean laundry was folded onto one of the stacks of textbooks, because it had to be done, but there was no energy left to move any of these objects elsewhere around the house

Why would I do such a thing? It’s because I’m feeling unprepared for pre-algebra. That’s making me anxious.

Wait, what?!?

I’ve said it before, but I’ve also learned that I must repeat it: I’m a lady who is good at math.

And, I’m going on about that again because I’m undertaking something new.  My current anxiety hinges on my ability to impart my knowledge of, and suitable appreciation for, the application of math… to someone else’s child.

A friend and her daughter are going to learn at home this year, like DS1 and I (and millions of other American kids) do. In addition to offering general advice, and pointing my friend toward excellent textbooks and home school collaboratives, I’ve agreed to help the girl by teaching Pre-Algebra.

As usual, when my friend floated this idea a year ago, I enthusiastically agreed. I offered encouragement, pointed out the pitfalls of which I’m aware, and sent her a steady stream of supporting research for whatever it was we talked about while all of this was theoretical.

It’s pretty fair to call me an enthusiast. In what area of interest? Well, whatever might be my fascination of the moment. I’m a serial enthusiast, and my intellectual appetite often exceeds my physical stamina.

Also, I work a project until I’m thoroughly exhausted; then I walk away* depleted. And I do walk away. It’s common for me to return to areas of interest after these desertions, but I don’t take them all up again.

My interest in a subject rarely subsides, but my activity in that given area rarely draws a shallow curve or a sensible straight line of steady progress. Jagged peaks and desolate valleys do a better job of depicting my levels of effort over time.

You can see it on my blog. I’ve considered composing posts and spacing them out on a sensible schedule of distributed areas of interest, but… I don’t really want to. Because, when I’m obsessed with camping equipment, or studying German, or maximizing minivan efficiency for a road trip, or the vital importance of true mastery of algebraic concepts, that is what I want to talk about, almost exclusively

until the next month, when I move on to the next thing. It’s fair to describe me as somewhat obsessive. I also accept the label of dilettante.

Which brings me back around to what I’ve done. I’ve hitched a young lady’s wagon to my erratic star, and it’s making me nervous.

I’m not a math teacher. I’m only marginally reliable. What have I done?

And yet…

…my young friend, whom I’ll call The Scholar, is exhibiting patterns I expected from the story I heard about her school experience. I gave her a series of pre- and post-tests from my various textbooks, and here’s what I uncovered:

  • She sees a novel problem, and she’s inclined to shut down. She sees each one as an opportunity to be judged a failure, not a chance to learn a new way to answer her own questions in the future.
  • She was given rules to memorize for calculating answers, but no explanation for why such rules work (or has no recollection of the explanations.) Math is a set of magical black boxes she’s supposed to carry around forever, weighing her down instead of providing tools she can use to accomplish much more with less effort.
  • She asks me if her answer is “bad.” She means, “incorrect,” but her feelings are out of alignment with the scale of the mistake.

When The Scholar asked if her math was “bad,” I pointed out that she wasn’t spitting on babies and kicking puppies. Making a mistake means she didn’t know what to do, or she didn’t do it right all the way to the logical conclusion. Incorrect? Yes. In pre-algebra, we are actively seeking convergent answers! But this is not a moral failing.

Life is full of emotionally fraught situations that put us through a wringer. Math isn’t one of them. Either we know how to proceed, or we learn—or look up—what to do. This should actually be a carefree process in the realm of feelings. This is purely intellectual.

The bad feelings here are a result of prior training. I think this is what happens when math is taught by someone with a phobia who doesn’t love, or at least appreciate, the subject.

So I’m not a math teacher, but I’m going to take a swing at this. Based upon the evidence I’ve gathered from my sheaf of pre-tests, my influence is likely improve the situation. It’s possible that it already has.

You see, one instruction I’d given The Scholar was to please indicate near each test section any strong reactions provoked by the content. A lot of those she recorded were negative. But a few problems were annotated, “fun!” That’s heartening to see, and it surprised her mom.

It’s been a long time since The Scholar enjoyed any element of her math education. We’re definitely going to include some of these “fun” puzzles in her upcoming assignments. All computational skills practice will benefit her. Puzzles and well-designed apps can offer her skills practice with less pain.

I could go on at even greater length about the positive qualities of the math curricula I’ve been perusing. As you can see from my photos, we own more than one set of elementary texts. I couldn’t even lay hands upon DS1‘s pre-algebra book (publisher Art of Problem Solving‘s Prealgebra) for my photo shoot. He and his grandfather were still busy with it and couldn’t be bothered to give it up on my (frivolous) account.

Math books textbook Life of Fred

Life of Fred

For a child who’s learned to hate math, I can’t recommend strongly enough a perusal of Life of Fred (Stanley Schmidt’s utterly unconventional collection) and/or the comic-book formatted Beast Academy series (another contribution from Art of Problem Solving.)

Math books textbook BA

Beast Academy

It doesn’t matter if the stated age range is “beneath you.” These books are fun to read, and I’d guess even most educated adults would learn something new about a subject they consider mastered by spending time with them. I did.

Upon reflection, I’m really grateful that my latest project will give me another turn through the workaday skills of pre-algebraic math, and in the company of a bright and unconventional kid like The Scholar.

I think we’re going to have a lot of fun.

 

*Perhaps sometimes better described as: I fall down and lie at rest and let the subject move away on its own.

Anxiety has little sense, but so many urgent sensations

Here’s something funny about anxiety:

It’s so forceful, and feels so compelling, yet it makes no real sense.

Completely wrapped up in my worries about preparations for a big trip on a tight schedule, I completely forgot to be afraid alone in my big bed at night while my husband was away.

Usually, I (unconsciously) wait up for the man who isn’t coming.

linen duvet on bed - 1Though I lay awake some hours consumed with fears of forgotten necessities, I never once heard creeping marauders making mayhem downstairs. I didn’t even need earplugs to let the little night noises go unregarded.

I’ve had some success with the process of unspooling my anxious thoughts to their ridiculous conclusions. Often, doing so allows me to finally drop off to sleep at night.

Perhaps I can use this new observation about competing irrational thoughts to do something similar the next time my husband is away from home overnight.

If I have the power to ignore a fear to focus on a different one, surely I can do myself the favor of letting it go for the benefit of a good night’s rest.

Sleep is such a beautiful thing, and anxiety is the mortal enemy of my much needed repose.night marble moon