I noticed last week that I’d taken another step forward in my recovery from inflammatory arthritis. The pain had diminished to the point that I went an entire weekend without the need for painkillers – a first since this adventure began. My ankles looked like ankles again, rather than sacks of wet cement. My knees were no longer so fiery hot that I could fry an egg on them. I could touch my face with the palms of my hands instead of just my fingertips. Washing my face at the end of the day had never felt so luxurious. I felt good.
So of course, I did a whole bunch of things I hadn’t been able to do in a long time and landed myself in a flare-up by the end of the week.
And at first, I berated myself for it, because I’m really good at that and why not play to my strengths? But then I thought, wait a minute, overdoing the stuff I just did is a huge luxury and why regret any of it? I loved walking to my Naturopath appointment on my own and climbing all those stairs. Sitting at the table to do some writing instead of propping myself up in bed as I am now. Climbing a damn step ladder! I overdid it and I enjoyed it and I can’t wait to overdo it again.
So much of the advice that’s out there falls on the side of the measured pace, the careful approach, the balanced life. And there are good things to be said about that. Having an eye to the future in terms of your health, finances and the well-being of the planet is a good thing. But it is possible to be too measured, careful, balanced.
My mother viewed enthusiasm with deep suspicion. ‘He’s very enthusiastic’ was an insult only one level below ‘He’s charming’ in awfulness. My father told me to calm down a lot. So when I get really excited about anything, my first inclination is to put myself in a time out until the feeling passes.
This is not an inclination that serves me well.
It’s not just my parents who advised calm. Experts advise easing into any new hobby slowly, not stocking up on equipment and not quitting your day job. This is not just because equipment is expensive and takes up space and it’s hard to make a living as a knitter while simultaneously raising a family. There’s an underlying sense that our enthusiasm comes in limited quantities and if we use it up all at once, we’ll no longer want to do the thing that is currently lighting up our souls with the power of a thousand suns. That somehow, if we dole it out a little bit at a time, we’ll stay enthusiastic in a controlled and limited, safe way for the rest of our lives.
I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t work that way for me. My enthusiasms are not limited by quantity as much as they are by time. I’ll be really excited about something for six months or a couple of years and then the feeling wanes. Sometimes it comes back and sometimes it doesn’t and it doesn’t really matter if I did that thing all day everyday or an hour a week. No amount of rationing of my attention is going to make it last.
So why not just go overboard? It feels good in the moment and allows me to get a whole bunch of stuff done while the fire burns, hopefully building up a backlog until my interest returns.
The advice to temper your enthusiasm, to take a measured approach to life shifts into a much higher gear when you’re sick. Anybody and everybody feels entitled to tell you what to do. It usually comes from a good place. They hate to see you suffer, so they tell you to sit down. They insistently offer you rides when it would be better for you to walk. They tell you over and over and over again not to overdo it, which is kind of funny when you think about it.
And when you’re sick with something, because you can feel like it’s your fault that you’re sick and because you don’t want to inconvenience your loved ones any more than your disease already has, it’s really tempting to take that advice. To sit down, to accept the ride, to be a good and patient patient.
My brother and sister-in-law came for a visit last Sunday. Catherine has had MS for as long as I’ve known her. I feel like a right amateur next to her. We were chatting about my progress and my latest flare-up. And she was very encouraging about my tendency to overdo it when feeling good. She does it every single time. And then the next day she feels awful and my brother shakes his head and wonders if maybe she could temper her enthusiasm just a little next time?
But! We both agreed, we’ve tried that a time or two and sometimes it actually works, but most of the time it doesn’t and even after a day of slow and measured doing, we feel awful and can’t do anything at all and the day that we were feeling good and didn’t pull out all the stops feels like a wasted opportunity as we lie there resting, surrounded by all the things that will have to wait a while longer before we can get to them.
This is a lesson I hope to bring with me into my life of better health. Enthusiasm is a signal. Ignoring it is a waste of grace.