I’m from a generation of women who grew up believing their worth was in what they produced. I remember a writer friend saying she felt judged by her family if they came in and found her lying on the couch. “I’m writing in my head,” she explained. But why did she need to justify the appearance of lolling about?
When I did the interviews for Smart Women and my book Chronic Challenge, I noticed a recurring pattern. The women entrepreneurs put everything ahead of their wellbeing. The people with invisible diseases did as well. The only way they could justify taking the down time they needed to re-create and rest was under a physicians order to do so. They literally made themselves sick so they could justify what they considered lolling about.
There is a school of thought that women’s menses is nature’s way of giving them downtime. I haven’t quite bought into the theory, as my parents never allowed me to test it. They expected me to perform at 100 % no matter what ailed me. Suck it up and get the job done was my Dad’s motto.
My lolling about began as lying about when illness made functioning normally impossible. My hospital bed formed my world, and when I returned home, lying about was all I could handle. Nobody expected me to leap up and produce. I got a pass.
Living with a chronic disease, I learned the life-saving skill of listening to my body. Until I mastered letting my inner voice dictate my needs, I pushed past my limits many times and paid for not listening with a major setback. Being productive proved greater motivation than good health. I jumped back on the treadmill and ran until I slid off backward and landed on my butt — that being my payback for not listening.
More frequently, I recognized the damage incurred when I forgot the script lines. I heard the whispered cues reminding me, “back off and rest.” Once I started remembering my lines, I found a balance between meeting my need for productivity against harnessing my energy, so I didn’t run out. Taking an afternoon nap became acceptable — to me. I was the only one judging.
Occasionally, in a low energy period I took a day off, did whatever I wanted. I occupied myself with what felt right in that moment and moved from making a puzzle, to reading, or watching TV, maybe going for a walk. Over time spending a day this way became acceptable, even preferable as I felt the benefit in improved health of body, mind and spirit.
As I am just energy within this mortal form, of course my energy level ebbs and flows depending on how much I put out. A battery used long enough must be re-charged. The sensible thing, then, is topping up my battery before it runs dry. Lolling about is the way I power up.
I am now at the point where I take the day without justifying it is good for my health. I loll about because it gives me pleasure. There is a freedom in enjoying whatever occupation I choose in that moment. I do have one rule when I give myself the gift of a day or a few free hours. If I take it, I must relish it fully. I can’t fall back on feeling guilty, chide myself for being lazy, judge myself as wasting time. Incapacitating illness taught me time is precious. Use it well. Fill it with joy.
My friend called the other day and expressed guilt that she’d given herself the morning off, when a huge project glared in unfinished rancour from her desk. She used the time to nurture herself, but received no enjoyment from doing light housework, taking a walk, having a meal, because her inner judge kept telling her she should be working. “I’m really good at lolling about,” I told her. “It comes with practice and it feels great! I have an advanced degree.” I hope she signs up for an online course.
I’m heading to the city for an MRI. One thing I know I must take with me in large supply is patience — begged, borrowed or stolen as I have little of my own — probably one of the reasons I need an MRI!
Health experts tell us patience increases our chances of a long and healthy life, by minimalizing stressors, limiting anxiety, and reducing the harmful chemicals we inject into our bloodstream with the flight and fight response.
Research shows people, born with patience, or who have developed it over time suffer less depression and negative emotions, are more successful in their work, better able to develop a skill set, make more rational choices and experience better mental and physical health with a ‘wait not worry’ attitude.
Studies all show patient people are kinder, remaining calm instead of reacting. They exude a sense of peace that attracts others. This is certainly a state one would wish for oneself.
I don’t know why I lack patience but can certainly recognize when I lose mine. I emote, adrenaline rushes into my bloodstream, bringing a large supply of cortisol with it. My mind is in turmoil, my heartrate accelerates, I get flushed and overheated. I’m the first one to ask, “What’s the holdup?” in traffic; or suggest, “Maybe you can call another clerk and open a second line.” I’m the one who taps her toe when the plane is delayed, or sighs when the person ahead of them takes too long in a buffet line. As you can tell, my patient threshold is so low you can’t even trip on it. How high is yours?
Much of my impatience is self directed. I wonder if you are equally setting yourself up for failure with false expectations. “Why isn’t that person getting back to me, I emailed ten minutes ago?” “When will my children visit?” “Will life ever grant me the success I deserve?”
Recognizing I’m short of patience isn’t enough. I work at patching small pieces of patience over the aggravating moments in my life. I use conscious breathing, taking long, slow breathes when I feel that first adrenaline spike. I practice coping techniques such as focusing on the NOW and by so doing removing the past or future reason causing my impatience. I make peace with the words accept, submit — seeing them now as a good thing not a weakness. By adopting an “It is what it is” attitude, I come from a strong position — a position that eases me through any trial.
Experience taught me the great lesson of distraction. You can bet I’ll take my e-reader into the Imaging centre. However, the opposite – awareness – is probably the best curtailer of impatience. Being fully present stills my tapping fingers on the steering wheel, stifles the deep sigh when someone goes off topic at a meeting. I sense my impatience rising and search through my collection of patches for the most effective coping strategy.
Patience, it is said, is also a way we practice faith. For what is faith but waiting? When I gather the sturdy pieces of my learned patience into a compact pile and applique one of them to an exasperating situation, I see and feel immediate good results. I have manifested my best self – and benefit from the calm and power that brings.
Hopefully, one day I won’t need a patch because all the holes are covered. My patient waiting has paid off.
After a five month stay in the hospital, I returned home so weak I could barely stand. My worried husband found me folding towels and sheets in front of the linen closet. I didn’t have an answer for his shocked demand to know what the h I was doing. It took several days and a plethora of sorting and tidying to realize I was taking back control in the only way I could. My body had let me down repeatedly over the past five years. Crohns had taken over my life. At any time, I could experience a new and frightening symptom. Sorting my linen gave me a sense of control – a least my towels were all folded the same way.
Early this year, a friend lost her husband quite unexpectedly – a great shock. When I asked her how she was doing a week later, she told me she was tidying her kitchen cabinets, the next week it was painting the trim in her condo. I identified immediately with her need to reassure herself she had control over something.
Proponents of the chaos theory would say that disease, death, even a pandemic are part of the complex and confounding behaviour that comes from simple pattern of events. Probably one of the simple patterns Henri Poincare identified was our human need for control.
Covid -19 has left many people feeling control is out of range. Employees have lost control of their work situation, parents of their children, students of their set goals, others their finances, and many people of all ages fear they are losing control of their mental health. Nurses and doctors have little control over the hours they work and are unable to keep a healthy balance in their lives.
This past year government recommendations, social mores, individual principles, and time have acted as intangible controls; while border closings, limited transportation, and social distancing controlled tangibles like our locations and movements. It is no wonder, when we dip our net into the control pool, we most often come up empty. We search for a sense of control in strange places and peculiar ways. An exercise regime, eating program, timetable or ritual around how one gets dressed are all ways of maintaining a semblance of control. The athlete who must wear his lucky green socks, and put the left one on first, fights the chaos theory with superstition.
Chaos is not a great look on me. I often have my toe just touching the line of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). A place for everything and everything in its place keeps me content. When I put pepper on my egg yesterday morning, instead of getting the soft sprinkle I expected I got a shower of black. My left-handed husband had put the cooking shaker down backward – and I assumed I still had control over the placing of items in my kitchen – foolish me! These unexpected happenings convince us we have little or no control.
Possibly, control over environment or your life isn’t an issue with you. You easily surrender to ‘what is’ – while driving the control freaks around you into a frenzy. I have never met a person who isn’t fighting for control. I believe it is hard-wired into us as much as our fight and flight response. When people tease me about needing control, I respond, “I don’t want to control anyone, I just don’t want anyone controlling me.” But then we tell ourselves all kinds of stories!
There is a Victorian adage, “Children should be seen but not heard.” Our grandparents learned it from their parents, passed it along to our parents, and, to some extent, kept it alive while we were raised. Anyone who had this idea drummed into them during childhood, has a voice in their adult mind whispering things like, “don’t talk too much, don’t have an opinion on everything, don’t interrupt, don’t speak too loudly” — and many more. The sibilant echo of our parent’s teaching often quiets our voice. Females received a double whammy of ‘hush’ with the aphorism “girls must act like young ladies”. My mother’s body language and warning look hit me hard whenever I became too exuberant with excitement, or as an adult when I spoke passionately on a subject. Young ladies didn’t draw attention to themselves. This tested me daily, as my job description as a middle child was compete for attention constantly.
I have listened while people shared with each other how they don’t feel heard. These quiet ones have soft voices, are unable to insert themselves into a conversation, are talked over at gatherings and overlooked in meetings. “My adult children are so loud when we get together, I can’t get a word in,” one man said. I happen to know he is witty, funny and has a plethora of great stories – but he can’t beat the competition. “Finally, I raise my voice and then I just sound mad,” he concludes. How can the soft spoken compete when others are louder, faster, and more aggressive?
Some quiet ones told me they don’t want to be heard. “I’m too shy.” “I have nothing to say on the topic.” “I just like to listen, not show up on the radar.” That’s fair, as long as they don’t complain about not being heard later. The quiet ones who flummox me every time are those, who, when offered an opening for their opinion, idea, thought, say, “I don’t know. I’ve never thought about it.” Frustrated, I’d say, well think about it now. Since I’ve concluded it is their way of saying they don’t want a piece of the action.
Quiet is often used as a weapon. The passive aggressive sharpen silence into a weapon, with which they stab you in the back when you least expect it. Women using silence as a punishment is a cliché.
A quiet mind is most often a blessing, bringing inner peace and a calm persona that attracts others. People of all religions and ethnicities work hard to attain this state.
Men and women choose quiet as they gain wisdom. They know the value of words — nuggets of gold, rubies beyond price, pearls of wisdom — and they dole them out sparingly. What they offer is of such value, people anticipate stop everything to listen. These quiet ones are highly respected.
I’m excited about ideas, love learning and have a dozen thoughts I want to share at any one time. I’m impulsive, as my mind leaps ahead, and so I can interject so often I throw off the balance in a group dynamic or monopolize airtime. My mind connects dots so quickly I don’t have patience with someone who is slower – even have the audacity to finish sentences for people to hurry them along. None of these are good practices. A racing mind prevents new synapses from forming, a racing mouth can hurt others. I must practice awareness during every interaction, so I don’t verbally step on others’ words.
How can we help the quiet ones be heard? Invite their thoughts without being pushy. Cue them if we know they have something they want to contribute. Curb our need to ‘one-up’ on a story. Take a deep breathe before speaking, leaving time for someone else to go first. Be open and alert making room for a quiet one’s thoughts.
There is always a reward for patience. You might gain knowledge, a great idea for your project, a new understanding of a person – or a quiet one’s smile because they’ve been heard.