I read a snippet about fibromyalgia this morning that struck me. It was one of those ubiquitous medical self-help books that trumpet the author’s MD status and a 3/4/5-step plan to a fulfilling life with ___________ disease (you fill in the blank). In this particular book, I found a nugget of truth amidst the typical enthusiastic advice for how to manage and beat my chronic condition. I quote: “to be constantly drained by chronic illness has an additional side effect – it bends your sense of time. You may be constantly aware of being behind schedule, of taking longer to do things, of forever chasing time, and of wasting more time than you use.” (Dean L. Mondell and Patti Wright, Living with Fibromyalgia: 2005; pg 67.)
I completely and utterly agree with that – right now I feel bogged down in mud, only a lethargic strain against its grasp, reaching for time as it slips away from my outstretched hand. This is one of the curses of fibromyalgia and I am reminded every single day of how much less I am able to accomplish than those around me.
I try to combat this painfully useless race with time: I write long to-do lists every morning, determined to stay on track and complete every single item. I prioritize the most important tasks first. I strategize my errands, so that I’m only running to the grocery store once or twice a week. I fit my daily exercise regimen of walking into my commute home from work, which saves me time. I complete chores on a rotating schedule. In a normal week, this strategy at least helps me feel as if I am staying barely afloat.
The holiday season has crashed into my world and exposed just how fragile my mastery of time really is. I adore baking cookies, cakes, and pies. I love decorating my house as if I’m preparing for a Better Homes and Gardens magazine shoot. The perfectionist in me wants to honor every tradition from both my Scandinavian side and my husband’s German side, while adding new traditions. I am determined to write a Christmas card to all of my high school, college, and various other friends from over the years.
And so I have sunk under, the lead weights of my ever-expanding to-do list pulling me down into the murky depths of an ocean of frustration.
It is time to let go.
Let go of expectations. Let go of my strong, unforgiving streak of perfectionism. Let go of other’s expectations and opinions of me. I have adjusted so much already to accommodate the reality of fibromyalgia in my life. It is time to learn that I cannot control everything around me, but I CAN control my own expectations of myself.
It’s really about priorities – how do I want to experience the holidays? My professional life at the local theater and in my writing? My relationship with my husband and my few close friends who get what having fibro means? With my far-flung family?
I am tired of treading water, fearful of each wave that approaches. So I am stepping out of this race with time and accepting the reality. I cannot win any contest with time in this fast-paced, success-obsessed culture I live in. I reject it completely.
So what does matter? Sure, I want to keep the house clean and keep cooking and baking from scratch – I feel more confident and healthy when I can manage this. But I need to learn to let go of some things and ask for help. I don’t need to have a Better Homes and Gardens house or garden. Just a comfortable one that makes me feel secure and safe. I don’t need a picture-perfect Christmas – I should just enjoy the process of decorating and spending time with family. If I only manage a couple batches of cookies this season, it’s okay – I will enjoy the moments of creation just that much more.
And I really need to learn to savor the moments my body signals I need to rest. Instead of viewing it as a failure to get anything accomplished and use my time wisely, I need to see it for what it really is – precious time spent watching a holiday movie or reading a book as I curl up under the blankets, watch the snowflakes fall and sip a comforting cup of tea.
It’s not wasting time when I rest – it is an opportunity to savor each moment. There will always be dishes to wash and carpets to vacuum. But time to read a Russian masterpiece, play a board game with my family, slip in a nap with the cats, or watch Gene Kelly dance on film is priceless.