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.
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.