My first interaction with my husband was a letter he sent to me which opened, “Who am I? Why am I here?”
He was referencing James Stockdale who quoted that line in the Vice Presidential debates of 1992, but it’s not a bad question to ask ourselves every now and then.
We have different categories that we fit ourselves into, we switch it up every now and then, we settle into some identities and reject others.
When I was around 15 I had a revelation that we show different sides of our personalities to different people. Therefore, when someone is considered to have “changed,” perhaps they’ve just shown a different side to their personality. I was a deep thinker.
No one person is the same to everyone all the time. We do different little dances with different friends and family members, we strive for consistency, but we don’t always achieve it.
I feel the best we can hope for is keeping a strand of “true” personality running through most of our relationships so that folks can count on us, retaining enough elasticity so we can be flexible when we need to. Not unlike a nice strand of springy merino…
My own identity is tied up with my work (designing, teaching and writing), my family, my convictions about being part of a community and – as I addressed in my last blog post – my body identity.
Each of us has a different recipe, a different mix of what makes us the person that the world sees, and that recipe changes as we grow (or shrink) through our lives.
The past few years I’ve been having a minor crisis of identity? Confidence? I’m not quite sure what, but there are days when my neurotic Junior High school self would have been a welcome relief to my own middle-age angst.
The reasons are so obvious that it hardly bears mentioning – and I’m certain that by mentioning them I’ll garner some snarky comments on some chat board somewhere – but they are twofold: Gerry’s illness and my own Fibromyalgia.
Working – designing – as fast as I can, it’s still pretty hard to earn a decent living. Smarter designers than I augment their incomes with yarn lines, connections to major yarn and knitting tool companies and television hosting gigs. I admire them for this, and I would by lying if I didn’t admit that I envy them, but I haven’t felt the right kind of energy to pursue this angle yet. I’d love to, it just hasn’t been in the cards/stars/roll of the dice so far.
But I’m troubled by my envy, by my current lack of visibility, and I’d been trying to find a way to mentally work through this. I think I stumbled onto it this weekend.
The Analogy Part
As I was riding my bike in the Minneapolis Bike Tour this past weekend I paced myself behind a pair of women who were going just about my speed. I stayed a good half block behind them for a few miles, feeling like I was almost part of a group, but happy in my solitude.
Then I began flagging. I couldn’t keep up, it was getting very hard. I changed gears, pedaled harder, but off they went, disappearing ahead of me as I found myself grounding to a snail’s pace. Bye, bye. Write if you get work…
I was so intent on keeping up, on staying at the same speed, that I hadn’t noticed that at some point in a gravel-and-glass section of a side street I’d picked up something that had punctured my tube. I had a flat tire.
This was especially frustrating as I’d had a flat at mile 7 of the ride, but that one happened just a few blocks from a pit stop and was fixed so quickly it almost felt as though it hadn’t happened. I was told by several riders that it was flat-heavy ride this year.
It was raining pretty hard, I was cold and sore, I felt miserable and I ached all over. I pulled out my cell phone to call Gerry and ask him to come and pick me up, but then I put it away.
I was about 20 miles into the ride and I just didn’t want to give up so easily.
So I walked, pushing my bike along the path and feeling the “Ride, Fat Girl, Ride” logo printed on the back of my shirt burning like a brand of shame and humiliation.
Thin, fast, fully-air-filled-tire riders shot past me, I stumbled on. Oh, the humanity. Oh, the humility!
As I hiked to the next pit stop where I hoped I’d be able to get a tire change, I realized that this section of the ride was like a metaphor of my current situation in life.
The Metaphor Part
I’d been shooting along pretty well, designing and writing (3 books in 2 years) and making appearances. Then I got a flat – our family got a flat; Gerry got sick.
We put all of our efforts as a family into getting through it, and now we’ve found a different dynamic. After his stem cell transplant in 2007 Gerry’s Multiple Myeloma has become something we try to think of as a chronic illness rather than terminal cancer.
Gerry has a lot of pain, he has to rest a lot and his activities are severely limited, but he’s here for all the important reasons (love, laughter, support) He’s here for all the reasons I married him, and in all the ways that make him a great dad and wonderful person.
Continuing on, just as our family was finding a new groove, I got sick. Not sick like Gerry, not life threatening, but definitely income and identity threatening.
Fibromyalgia certainly isn’t going to kill me, and I’m learning new strategies every day to deal with it, but it’s something I can’t ignore. The energy it takes to keep track of my energy is wearying. I find myself beating myself up constantly for not being able to get as much done as I used to 5 years ago (not helpful) and there are times I become rather depressed and allow myself to feel useless.
Which is not true.
But sometimes we let our minds go to dark places, I’m not alone in that. Comparing myself to folks who are able to ride past me right now (with their fancy air-filled tires) isn’t helpful, but it’s human, and it’s understandable.
I’ve been guilty lately of judging myself very harshly based on things that are a bit out of my control. I feel guilty that I do something I love so much (knit design) but which brings in precious little money and no insurance.
I’ve been applying – and interviewing – for several jobs locally but each long process has ended – as it has for so many folks these days – with a “Thanks, but no thanks – you were our #2 candidate, but we’re going in a different direction…”
And then I begin to feel worthless.
Which is also not true.
The slight relief I feel when I get turned down for a job is in direct proportion to how many fibro flare ups I’ve had that month. There is a nagging fear that if I did snag a job, I’d be unable to do as well as I need to while trying to adhere to a schedule that may not take into account my body’s current oddnesses. That’s one of the big benefits of designing/writing/teaching – I can generally do it at my own schedule, or gear up for a teaching weekend by getting a LOT of rest before and after.
The Wisdom Part
I want to take away some kind of gift, some wisdom, from this metaphor. So I ride my bike like a maniac. The energy it takes is a small investment for the energy + joy + pain relief I get back in return.
There have been online
mentions that I must be faking
the fibro if I’m able to bike so far,
I assure everyone that’s not true.
Spend a few days with me and you’ll
see how movement is rather difficult.
I try not to judge myself too harshly, I try to be smart and hard working and organized (organization is one way to circumvent energy loss) and I try to remind myself on a daily basis that self-love isn’t indulgent.
In the same way that as I walked my bike this past weekend, concentrating on keeping my body warm and stretched so I didn’t freeze up, I continue designing and writing and teaching. Maybe not at the speed and level I did when I had a full tire, but I can’t let myself get cold.
If I let myself listen to the harsh, judgey voices I’ll definitely freeze up, slow down, maybe even sit in a sad heap on the curb in the rain and begin to melt away. So I try to either ignore the judgey voices, reason with them or sing really loudly.
I’m still working out a good strategy to get me to the next pit stop where I can, hopefully, get my flat fixed, have a gluten free snack and a drink of water and get back on the road. That’s why it sometimes takes me a long time to blog, to get my newsletter out, or to get some designs worked up and written down.
But if you look for me, I’m there. I’m strolling along the side of the road in the rain balancing my handlebars in one hand, a slice of orange in the other, singing.
14 thoughts on “Judgey Part II – Who Am I? Why Am I Here?”
I was everybody’s number-two candidate for about 7 years before getting my first PERMANENT librarian job, now 15 months ago. Come to think of it, I got turned down for this job, too, before re-applying. (I ran into the library director at a conference six months later and said, before I even thought about how snarky it might have sounded, “So — how’s it working out with that guy you hired instead of me?” Turned out he’d just left.) So I am living testament that there IS hope, even in a gruesome job market. Hang in there!
Annie: The following comment is not a carry on of your ‘flat’ analogy. It’s just a simple piece of advice from one female-of-a-certain-age biker to another. Learn to fix a flat!!!! If you carry an extra tube with you, you can wait until you’re comfy to find the leak. Just stick in the new tube and ride on.
I couldn’t believe how much more empowered I felt after I learned and was stupefied that I had avoided the knowledge for several years. Now I teach all the women I know. I’m sure you can find someone who would like to pass the info on to you.
I do know, but I’d pared down for the ride and didn’t have ANYTHING with me except the basics. My own mistake!
Thank you for these thoughtful and honest posts. I’ve been hit with a series of minor “issues” lately–a stress fracture in my hip, torn tendons in my shoulder, bone spur in my thumb–none of which have a specific cause I can point to–no “ouch” moment. It feels like my body’s betraying me and when I can’t do at all what I once easily did, it’s easy for the negative thoughts to begin chiming in. I love your flat analogy and the reminder (needed) that I should focus on and be proud of the things I can do and am doing and not dwell on the rest. Thanks!
Your honesty is refreshing and surely helpful to many; some of whom are riding behind the woman with the RFGR tee-shirt thinking, “Dang, there goes the woman I want to be!”
Thank you…I really don’t even know how to explain how much this resonated with me this morning. You’ve given me some new ways to approach issues I’m facing right now. Now to pull myself back together and get to school…
You have no idea how helpful and inspiring you are. With the recent loss of my mother and sister, an adult daughter that has had major health issues for the past few years and a husband who has recently been diagnosed with stage 1 multiple myeloma, I have been feeling lost, alone and stretched very thin emotionally.
While I have been getting very little knitting done, blogs and videos of techniques, projects and yarny goodness have been a mental health mainstay.
Just the photo of that lovely blue hat perched above your vivid blue eyes set off by a porcelain complexion with a shock of Titian hair peeking out made me smile. Today, that’s enough. Thank you.
That’s my lovely daughter in the hat!
I agree with Sandi above – what a lovely shot of your daughter!
And thanks for your honesty and what you said about meeting Gerry. As another tall, well-built woman, I hate to think of all the lovely bearded 5’8″ men I’ve missed out on as I’ve gone through life, looking for the expected “has to be taller than me” man. Well done you for hanging on to yours!
He’s 5’3″ now after his many spine compressions. But still the same Gerry!
I am stunned by people who make rude remarks about folks who have fibromyalgia. For years this syndrome/disease was not even recognized by the medical profession.
But now that it is recognized and even long before it was, the dismissing of a diease by someone who has never had it, is just beyong me. HOW DARE THEY!
I could go into why people are such jerks, but to the folks who made the rude comments, bless your lucky stars that you don’t have fibro, or cancer, or some other awful thing. Because if you had one of the diseases you won’t be making rude remarks about others.
People make look healthy, but that doesn’t mean they are. I have fibro and a few other things, but unfortunately I cannot get the relief by exercise such as Annie is able to do. I have a frozen ankle and a blown out knee.
One school of thought is that fibro is actually a brain imbalance, such as depression. CHEERS to you Annie for being so open about your process and they way you work through things.
Best – Hester from Atlanta
Hi Annie. Congrats on finishing the ride. You did better than I could that’s for sure. I have two comments on the Fibro. One : ignore the jackasses. Just because they bray doesn’t mean you have to do a thing. And very humbly, I don’t know your age but is there any chance you could have had a mild case of polio as a child? Fibro really sounds a lot like post-polio syndrome. Management of post-polio can be tricky and you may find some help from that way of looking at things. Just a guess.
It stinks how what others see on the outside is allowed to influence others (and our) judgement of what we are capable of. As the old sayiong goes, “walk a mile in my shoes”. Sometimes we need to remember that as we are walking the side of the road singing loudly, that that’s where you can really smell the flowers. If flying by on a bike, or in the car, you don’t really get the chance to smell the pretties.
Yes, I’m waxing poetically today. I wish I could give you a big hug. That may hurt us both. But know that you are not alone. You are exactly where you are supposed to be and you never know what sight you will see just around the corner if you only take the time to look.
I love the way you wrote about how fatiguing it can be to monitor one’s own energy levels when dealing with chronic illness. I may borrow the sentance you used “The energy it takes to keep track of my energy is wearying” when trying to describe my life and fibromyalgia to my friends. I have found it to be one of the hardest things to cope with since my diagnosis almost six years ago.