Day 373. Energy

Atlas sculpture, New York City, by sculptor Le...

Did you notice?  I missed a day. Day 374…completely gone. One whole day of important writing I could have done.  If I don’t finish a book, you’ll know why.

It was for a great reason.  I saw my oldest, dearest friend, Scott, yesterday.  We went out for lunch and celebrated his good health — he’s recovering from an ungodly illness that makes mine pale in comparison.  We hadn’t seen each other in many, many years, and it was just uncanny that we would find each other again and both have these awful illnesses at the same time.  We compared scars and all.  Mine are bigger and uglier.

That was worth missing some writing for.  I have a hard time remembering to keep things like that in perspective when I am trying to write, in pain and fatigued. It doesn’t seem like a lot to ask — to have the energy to go out for lunch, walk across the street to and from the parked car, and then hang out at home for a couple of hours.  Even after a nap, it seems like I’m not demanding much, then, to write a blog entry and then about four pages of my book.  No going, though.  (A normal person would give up, put the computer away, and enjoy some crap T.V. or read a book.  Not me.  I stared at that screen for hours in a cold sweat.)

I have been learning this energy lesson gradually now for more than ten years, and nowhere has it been a more difficult lesson than with my friends.

I have many good friends.

When I got sick, though, I began to feel like I was turning into the statue of Atlas, as though doing any single thing more would add to my load of holding up the world.  Just the act of going to work all week was such a drag on my dwindling energy that the simple, kind request of a friend to go to happy hour sent me into a spiral of angst.  I knew I wanted to go but also that I could not possibly drag my foot forward another centimeter.

My college and graduate school friends had to develop a great deal of understanding about the situation, having long ago known my party girl self. I used to be the one who instigated the fun, who extended the night the latest.  Now I have become the one who always says I can’t go out or that I have to leave early — or I just plain cancel the plans at the last minute because I am too sick to go.  Soon enough, people have eventually stopped remembering to call me.  It must have seemed like I didn’t like them very much. Newer friends, like the people I worked with at Northern Virginia Community College never knew me when I was not at least little bit sick, a little bit tired.  So they have not been so easily offended when I have declined invitations.  Still, never going out with the people you like the best is no way to make friends.  (Consider this: I am an equal opportunity decliner.  The people I like best obviously includes my family, and I have missed birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, lots of things, because I didn’t feel well.)

Usually, work at the college was too busy to go to lunch with friends because we all had to teach, meet with students, or attend committee meetings.  However, on Friday afternoons, few classes met, and colleagues would sometimes be on campus and go to lunch. The week before school started was also a big lunch-going time.  I remember fall 2006 keenly because all the colleagues I thought were my friends had made lunch plans without me.  I sat at my desk and cried like a sixth-grader.  It felt just like sixth grade too, and I laughed at myself as I cried at how silly I had been to take the situation so seriously. I could logically see how they would exclude me.  They had no idea how grave my condition had become, and I had no explanation for them about how it had become that way.  So I sat at my desk and worked instead.

As I have gotten sicker, I have become even less connected to friends.  It has felt, and frequently still feels on bad days, like social events with friends and family (particularly among large groups) are so taxing that I need several days of quiet rest between them or I feel sick for a long time.  Even answering a lot of email at once makes me feel like I have been shouted at (please don’t stop emailing me, though!  I will answer you!).  I feel engulfed in the many tasks involved in answering those many emails.  It feels like it will take hours, though when I finally get to it, it only takes a matter of seconds to respond to most messages.

I went to the mall today, on Saturday, with my parents.  The walking was difficult for me — we went only about the distance of three city blocks.  The difficult part is afterwards, about an hour later, all the joints from my hips downward are in agony.  But also the number of people in the place drains my energy.  By the time we left, my body was like a dried out hunk of bread, crisp and crusty, barely able to move.  I had to rush home to the heating pad and a huge lunch (I get really, really hungry, as though I have run a marathon) and then to send my parents away, God love them.  I just had to be in a quiet place.  No voices.  I went almost immediately to bed.  All I could think of was “Thank God I don’t have to do anything until Monday.”  If anyone — the President, even — called, I would just say, listen, it’ll have to be Tuesday.  I’m booked this weekend and on Monday I have a doctor’s appointment.

All I can think of is I will sit as still as a statue in this amazingly comfortable memory foam bed, against this astonishingly soothing body-sized infrared heating pad and not move anything for the duration.  (Of course a thousand interruptions occur: I forgot the damn phone.  I get up.  Then I get comfortable again.  Now I forgot the damn cell phone.  Same routine.  Then I realize the remote for the T.V. is across the room.  Same deal.  What else?  What else?  I try to make it perfect.  This is my command module for the night.  I don’t intend to move again until it is absolutely necessary.)