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Friday, January 14, 2011

Learning my limits

OK, here's a truth. I'm tired. I don't know if I'm more or less tired than I was during chemo and post-surgery. Probably less tired. At least physically it's easier for me to move around. But I *feel* fatigued. On many levels.

I think I've downplayed my exhaustion for a few reasons. Primarily I think that I have a hard time accepting that being tired and not having a lot of energy or energy in reserve, which I think is the more accurate description for my condition right now, is part of my new reality. And I think I've been reluctant to accept this because I have been concentrating on being BETTER--on healing and resuming my regular routine and a sense of normalcy.

But the truth is, I'm tired a lot. I just don't have the energy that I used to have. And what I mean by this is my life pre-chemo/surgery. My life pre-cancer diagnosis. And my fatigue and exhaustion aren't just physical--it's also mental and emotional. It's a new inability to handle stress in the same way. And a recognition that I need to be as gentle with myself as possible. To really cut myself slack. To not demand too much of myself.

In short, I need to learn my limits--my physical limits but also my mental/emotional limits.

And this is a hard thing for me to do. I'm normally a very high energy person. And I'm a multitasker who is a perfectionist and who burns the candles at both ends (and sometimes in the middle). I have extraordinarily high (overly high) expectations for myself (and for those close to me, unfortunate at times, I realize) and in general I feel like I should deliver on those expectations.

But I can't right now. Pushing myself, something I'm used to doing, is just not an option. I don't have it in me.

Case in point: after teaching back-to-back classes yesterday, I canceled my office hours and collapsed on the couch at home, pretty much not getting up until I collapsed in bed (where I promptly fell asleep the minute my head touched my pillow). Normally teaching back-to-back classes and holding office hours would leave me tired, but not "bone-dead-I'm-going-to-pass-out" tired.

This is my new reality. And it reminds me that teaching takes energy. Emotional and mental energy, in addition to physical energy. I think I forget this because I enjoy teaching and because I've been doing it for so long now that it almost seems like it is second nature to me. But it's work--it takes work to be a good teacher. And I'm not sure how organized or coherent or lively I was yesterday. I know I forgot to share some basic information with my students about their assignments--leading me to follow-up on email. I know that I felt scattered and a bit dis-organized during the first hour of teaching, perhaps a consequence of being out of the classroom for so long. And I know that I was surprised by all of this.

Which I shouldn't be. I shouldn't be surprised that teaching is going to be different for me this semester. That my body is different. I am different. And I should be gentle with myself. To not demand too much of myself, especially in these first few weeks back in the classroom.

And yet...I'm disappointed. Disappointed in my body for not having more energy. In myself for not being more organized and accomplishing more. Disappointed that I am still healing--that I'm not healed (past tense). It's silly, I know. Healing is something that can't be rushed. And I know that if I were someone else, I would tell me to be more patient and to be gentle and that what I went through was a big deal and I have to learn to limit myself and it's not a failing or an indictment on my character or sense of self.

Why do we often become our hardest critics? And is this just because I'm an academic who deconstructs and critiques others for a living?


Maybe I just need a mantra to get through the next few weeks and months. Be gentle gentle Jen. Hopefully I can learn to take my own advice.

[Update/Aside: If you saw the post below, you'll see that Matthew and I adopted a new dog, Bella. Unfortunately, we had to return her to her foster mother last week Monday when we realized that Bella had some very aggressive tendencies. Specifically, she tried to attack Bruno 3 times and was also aggressive with our friend's dog, Squirrel. It was a hard decision, but at the end of the day, we feel we made the right choice because we couldn't live with the tension and with the uncertainty of her attacking Bruno. And it's also part of learning my own limits--it wasn't the right time to get another dog because teaching is just about all I can handle right now.]

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