Friday, June 25, 2010

Mindlessness

It’s official. I’ve totally lost control of my life.


I get up each morning to email in two places and a browser filled with open tabs – love the wee buggers, but if you start the day with that much work lurking, it’s hard not to feel like Sisyphus. The last couple of weeks before my injury, I constantly felt as if I was running so fast that I was always on the verge of tipping over and falling while reaching my hands out to catch the balls I'd been juggling as they started to fall, sure there were many more balls that I'd forgotten. When you're that busy, things like having a disability, being aware of your pain levels or managing your energy don't even register.


Perhaps it's not surprising I didn't notice I was getting injured.


When I wrote about my usual bogeyman when it comes to wrecking myself in this week's post for MyRACentral - use it while I have it because tomorrow I might not, all or nothing personality, meeting other people's needs before my own - I also touched on how important that job is to me. As a symbol of being better, as an actual job after so many years of not being able to work. And there's another big one for me. Because it's so much more than a job – it’s a place where I can be useful again and for me, and many others with this damn disease, it is the inability to be of use that brings you to your knees. So much of our identity and sense of self-worth is tied into being productive and being of use and once you're not, once your disease or disability progresses to the point where you can't, what good are you?


This job I have is not full-time by any means, but it is a job, one that doesn't just allow me to work, but also to be helpful, to be truly useful. And to me, being of use is my drug.


I've begun to think that it really is like an addiction for me, that perhaps looking at it this way will help me manage this thing that takes over and gets to make the decisions about how much I do in a day. I've come to realize that there's something deep underneath the usual reasons and if I don't figure out what that something is, I will work myself into the ground, wrecking myself on a permanent basis in a very short time. And if I'm trying to think long-term, finding enough hope within me to believe that I'll have another five years, 10 years, 30 years - who knew optimism could be this terrifying - then I need to start thinking long-term, because if I don't change how I work, I will destroy myself.


Which brings me to mindfulness.


Part Buddhist, part psychology, there are all kinds of fancy definition, but essentially it's about paying attention to what you're doing, whether it is eating, working or walking down the street. Pay attention. And whirling around like a dervish in your everyday life, doing 17 things at the same time means you pay attention to none of them. In her book The Not So Big Life: Making Room for What Really Matters, Sarah Susanka, talks about our "hyperactive, multitasking minds" and boy, did that ever hit the mark. When I move that fast, my brain is never still and as my fibro tends to flare when I move that fast, my already zippy mind feeds on the hyperactivity of fibro and before I know it, my mind runs at 200 miles an hour and it never slows down. Never. It took me a week of (allegedly) sitting still to click out of the insanity and I began to feel centered again.


And once that happened, I began to wonder about something. Had I been practicing mindfulness, would I have noticed how bad things were getting before they got as bad as they did? Maybe if I started singletasking, there would be enough room for me to go through my day as a whole person instead of one whose body doesn't get a vote.


And sure, the long-term goal is to find out what is underneath all of this, but while I poke around in my psychological innards I need to change the way I work and I've found some tools that might derail me from the urge to multitask. To help me say no to myself.


I put a monthly planner on my wall and write down deadlines and such because then they don't have to be in my head or take up room on my to-do list until the day that's assigned to work on a specific project. David found a timer program that he set to 30 minutes and once the alarm goes off, I'm supposed to step away from the computer for a while (it also keeps track of how far over the 30 minutes I go and he's in the process of figuring out a way where it will report this number to him. I tell him he has trust issues). I'm going to start meditating again even though it'll take a whole 20 minutes away from my work day - how crazy is it to think that you can't afford to lose 20 minutes? I'll also try to get ruthless with my to-do list, remembering something a friend once told me: if I never get to do everything that's on my list, perhaps the list is too long. In the long run, slow and steady gets way more done than tearing through my life like I've got a rocket up my arse.


In Mindfulness for Beginners, Jon Kabat-Zinn says something that to me is incredibly profound: "we have an infinite number of moments between now and when we die. The more we miss, the faster the trip". Because part of this problem of moving so fast is that I lose time. I have no idea how we got halfway through the year, feel as if time is moving too fast for me to appreciate the journey and on one hand, I'm grateful than I am now well enough to have this problem - seriously, take a minute to think about where I've come from - but on the other, it's no way of honoring your second chance.


Because it all comes back to that. I got my life back and I swore not to waste it. And that means paying attention to what's important, whether that the state of my body, the cat wanting a cuddle, writing The Book, a phone call from someone I haven't spoken to in a while or the way the sun shines through a leaf. And when I think about it, really think about it, that's the important way of being of use.



12 comments:

Gaina said...

Mindfulness is tricky at first but once you get the gist of it, it's not so difficult to take a breath and bring your mind back to the center :) .

I have finished my degree now and this morning I had the house to myself.  I was pouring some cereal into a bowl when the bag split, sending the contents over the table.  That...was...it.  I started bawling my eyes out, I even to my eternal shame raised my voice to my poor billy-boy who was getting under my wheels (he actually just wanted to get on my knee and see what was up with me).

I realised that I've spend the last six months buzzing like a blue-arsed fly to get this piece of art ready for the Summer Show and have been running on the mere memory of spoons for weeks. And what did I get for all that stress and effort? A 2/2 (grade 'C').  Not a fail by any streach of the imagination but not the 2/1 I had tricked myself into believing I 'needed' to be considered any kind of artist of worth.

It really does make you think about what's important, and 'contemporary art' is not it for me.  What's important is enjoyig what you do, and what I enjoy is making pretty things that people want to buy, and not for huge sums of money either.

My sanity is FINALLY more important to me than what other people think of the methods I employ to keep myself sane. :-D

Gaina said...

oops! I'm so fried I forgot to 'follow' this thread :-P

Squirrel said...

Aw Lene, I'm so sorry you're flaring.  I am terrible for not learning from my mistakes too.. but then again I think the mind is really good at 'forgetting' pain.  It must be the way we can cope with it, it always surprises me when it shows up.  It seems you've been productive with your flare 'time off' though - you've been working on your inner self (wow that was like something from a £2.99 self help book lol).  Take it easy this weekend and I hope you get to do something fun which will lift your sprits.

Colleen said...

I'm always amazed that if I do 5 minutes of mediation in the morning, while waiting for my turn in the bathroom, the whole day is better.   If I spend an hour knitting and listening to an audio book (Linger will be release in print on July 20....when will it be in audio?  I *want* it!), the rest of the work I need to do is easier, and dealing with children is easier...Biking, ditto.

Petting the cats is also important, but they make sure that *that* happens ;)

Laurie said...

This post really moved me, Lene. You are very wise. And isn't falling down part of the learning? I sure hope it is because I certainly fall down. A lot.

David said...

The timer program doesn't report back to me how much you've worked. Yet. It hasn't had to report back to me. You tell me how much you go past the allotted time yourself.

Plus Lucy sends me regular reports on how you're doing. She doesn't just randomly walk on your keyboard and purr at you. She's really sending reports via twitter.

Diana Troldahl said...

Not only will the mindfulness help you get through the day without so much potential wreckage, it also may illuminate the core impetus toward mindless activity you seek to identify. You know from my blog I understand that demon of "Do it it now! Do it more!" that rides us. Thank you for the reminder about mindfulness. I want to live my life, not crank through it like toilet paper.
Love and gentle hugs to you, Lene

Diane said...

I think we could all use some mindfulness.  It has become obvious to me that we don't really multi-task by doing many things simultaneously, but switch from one to another very quickly.  As I inevitably become older, I have noticed periods of mental whiplash.  To combat this, I've been making an effort to make notes to myself for larger projects (so they can be left when necessary), ranked To Do lists (there's actually very few high priority items in any given day) and breaking up tasks into much smaller pieces (even 5 minutes on a chore is enough to make some progress).  Still a work-in-progress, but at least I'm making an effort.

Becky (knittingyoyo) said...

This is so true. All this multitasking is probably making us all more tired and causes us to not really accomplish all that much because we overdo and then have to shut down to recover. It does seem that during your flare times that you come up with the most grounded info to pass on. It seems that sometimes we are so much in the same place and your posts hit dead on. Ok, so I am going to try to stop multitasking so much and be more mindful. You rest. By the way I am at my daughter's and able to use a "not dinorsaur computer" and could actually comment.

Margaret said...

Thank you.

黃允妏 said...

Poverty tries friends.....................................................................

AdrienneS said...

Ahem, you are not "losing" 20 minutes a day by meditating.  You're gaining insight into what you need to do... and hopefully will also be gaining those weeks where you currently have to stop and do nothing b/c you've hurt yourself again.   It's an excellent plan. =)