For many years I have exercised daily to DVDs by a woman called, Leslie Sansone, guru of the indoor aerobic walking movement. Sometimes her persistent cheerfulness, even when the world is going up in flames, is grating, enough so that Char once called Leslie, "Peppy-peppy! I think she's on drugs or something."
I think the exercise guru is just a naturally cheerful person, and I like keeping fit with her--especially after cancer. In the DVDs Leslie begins with a warm-up, segues into a faster pace, and then gets going with a spanking workout. When she changes the pace of the exercise, she cues us in and tells us to adjust to the new speed of walking and moving. "Beat, beat, beat!" she shouts to the rhythm.
Here's the connection with my story: now that I am five months out from chemo, at times I catch myself thinking--"Why don't I have more energy? Why are my legs sometimes wobbly? And what about the damn dizziness, not to mention my chemo brain?" Like many of us, I want it to all be over. Totally over.
I miss that deep reservoir of energy I always had, that allowed me to power through my days in what was frankly a somewhat terrifying way. Clean closets? Done! Make boeuf bourguignon in the slow-cooker? Done! Call two friends in trouble and sympathize with them? Done! Dig in new Fall perennials? Done!
But now I choose activities way, way more carefully. If we are going out at night, I power down on what I accomplish during the day, even if I am looking longingly at the clutter on my desk. If I know I am going to church, I don't plan anything for the remaining hours of daylight, except a nap, a cup of tea, one phone call, and a trashy Steam Punk novel. If I have a writers' meeting, I am exceedingly careful about what I promise to do, as it took a full 3 days to recover from my last one. Sigh.
Some days it riles me that I can't do more, but what I am learning is how to make this into a spiritual practice of intention and mindfulness. In the morning as I sip tea and nibble on an apple muffin, I just look at the birds outside on our deck. No reading, no iPhone allowed. If I am sitting on the couch with the comforting dog near my shoulder, I spend time just petting her and smoothing her coat before turning on a device. (I admit to several...) If I am reading a book on my tablet, I try hard--not always successfully--not to check: Twitter feed, Facebook, Email, Pinterest, or The Guardian. Stick to one thing is my new mantra.
This is one of the f...ing blessings of a serious illness: it makes you take a close look at your life, what works and what doesn't; at what nourishes and supports your growth, and what tears you down. (Trump!) And for anyone who struggles with an invisible illness, check out this site: http://butyoudontlooksick.com. Christine has suffered from lupus and other diseases all of her adult life, but her illnesses are often hidden, and she may look well. Her metaphor of whether you have enough "spoons" in your drawer (energy and strength) to cope with: calling your mom, going to work, cleaning up the kitchen, taking a bike ride, going out to dinner with friends--whatever--will become part of the way you talk. It is a brilliant shorthand for talking about where I am in my cancer recovery with friends and family. "Sorry, don't have enough spoons left to come over to supper." "Sorry, I'm out of spoons, heading for the couch!" And today? I have about 3 spoons left, after making supper, writing my blog, exercising to my DVD, and going to PT. Just enough to sip wine, eat supper, and read a Steam Punk novel. That will have to be enough, and it will be enough.
(n.b.: I have Char to thank for putting me in touch with this site.)