I had forgotten how exhausting it is to function through pain. In particular, I had forgotten how mental exhaustion begets physical exhaustion. After this week, consider me reminded.
It has been six weeks since the semester began. The first two weeks were hideous. My pain spiked compared to what I had been used to. Through this pain, I had to figure out how to adapt my lecture and studying strategies to my condition, as well as deal with the criminally incompetent disability support services department on campus. Now, though, I’ve now gotten the hang of all of it, including the new set of in-class and studying tools, and I’m functioning almost as well as I did before.
Almost. There is an experimental class that I am taking (that I had not realized was still in the experimental stages), that is virtually impossible to succeed in unless one avails oneself of “optional” tutoring and group work, nearly all of which occurs in the afternoons and evenings. This means that I am frequently unable to take advantage of these “optional” resources, which has had the predictable result; I am in danger of not passing the class.
I don’t mean not getting an “A” in the class, although there was a time, not too long ago, when I did consider a “B” a failure. That is not this. I am in danger of not squeaking out a “C” on this one, which would mean I’d have to take it again, which would mean I might not be able to graduate on time. So when I say I might not pass the class, I actually really mean the not-passing kind. As in the “how the hell does someone with a 3.9 average fail an entry-level class?” kind.
In the past, I would have rallied, pushing around all the other things in my schedule in order to devote as many hours to those resources as I could possibly squeeze out of the remainder of my week. I would have been willing to part with regular meals and sleep to do it. I would have been willing to prowl the internet for copies of last semester’s lecture notes, quizzes, and exams; something that professors are aware happens a lot, and is frowned upon nonetheless.
I am not willing to do any of those things.
I was working exercises on the foam roll in physical therapy yesterday morning, discovering that my lumbar spine was particularly stiff and tender (a new symptom for me, so excited), and for some reason, in that moment, I just stopped and leaned back against the wall. I was so tired of it; all of it. I suddenly realized how much energy I had been expending just to maintain the positive attitude I approach the therapy with, an effort that I hadn’t noticed until it dropped out from under me. Later, as the therapist re-evaluated what I sardonically refer to as my “good” shoulder, it became evident that there has been no improvement. She expressed a desire to have me start coming in twice a week again. I assented, although I did not schedule it.
I’m also supposed to start taking a couple of shifts in the lab I might be working in as a graduate student next year, too. That doesn’t even seem real right now. I’d wonder if I didn’t dream it, except that the e-mails from the researcher are still in my Inbox.
I’m not sure how I managed all of my obligations last semester. How much food and sleep did I part with, how much extra pain did I cause myself, to make that happen? More than I’m willing to accept now, that’s for sure. I’m better than I was, it’s true, but I still turn into a pumpkin at about 4 PM. I already had to move physical therapy so I could schedule some tutoring for the class I’m failing on the one morning that such tutoring is offered, which means I now have a class or obligation every single morning of the week.
Mornings are prime studying time for me, so I may regret that in the weeks to come. The situation is not helped by the fact that my lab section of that same class is a three-hour ordeal on Monday nights from 6 to 9 PM and it’s killing me; I broke down and e-mailed the professor last night about my situation in hopes of switching, but I’m not sure he can do anything about it. Everything is done online now, and computers are notoriously inflexible about such things.
I fought this so hard for so long, and it was such a relief to lay down my weapons and cede the territory that I just don’t feel up for donning my armor and loading my guns again. For the first time in many weeks, I’m buckling under the load of my obligations, as reduced as they are, and I can’t seem to find the wherewithal to toughen up. This weekend, I have to take a hard look at my schedule and see if there is any additional refining that can be done; but I’m not holding my breath. If only sitting weren’t so damned painful, I wouldn’t be in this situation. But it is, and I am, and I’m once again angry and despondent over it.
If I’m having a good day, I have about eight hours of good functionality before it’s time to pack up my tent. A normal day, five or six. A bad day… two is pushing it. It’s incredibly frustrating, walking around looking so damned healthy while trying to do everything I have to do, which takes twice as long as it’s supposed to take, in half the time I’m supposed to take to do it.
I suppose it’s obvious, when I look at it that way, why I’m having so much trouble. But I’m not satisfied with that. I keep thinking there has got to be some way to make this work. I keep thinking I just need to figure out where to put everything and I’ll be ok. I keep thinking I have some control over what happens to me, or at least, when the what happens to me.
After all, I used to be incredibly productive, even though I didn’t think so at the time. I used to exert this huge control over the elasticity in my schedule. It was unreasonable and ridiculous and ran me into the ground, and I did finally manage to dismantle those behaviors. But it’s much harder to undo the line of thinking that engendered them. I don’t know what “normal” is, or if there is such a thing. I don’t have a good barometer for the minimum amount of work I need to do in order to succeed in my classes. I was never a minimum-amount-of-work kind of person, before. I was a whatever-it-takes person. I know how not to be a whatever-it-takes person, now, but I don’t know how to be anything else yet.
I’m still haunted by this nagging feeling that I’m being tortured for the sake of torture, and even though I’ve decided to go ahead and start believing in some sort of higher power again, it’s times like these when I’m still not convinced. I keep waiting for the storm to pass and for some sort of regularity to reestablish itself in my life, but as of eleven days from now, the winds and rain will have been going on for an entire year, with no end in sight.
My mentors keep telling me that I still need to “figure out my limits.” There’s a focus on accepting the idea that my days of laboring under the delusion that my life is manageable are officially over. I’m supposed to be surrendering to my lack of autonomy. I don’t like it. When I contemplate it, it causes a discomfort that is almost physical, a sense of no longer being on solid ground, a pontoon that has pushed out of the harbor and is now rocking up and down in the bay.
I’m simultaneously battling wanting to fix it and wanting to give up. Ironically, giving up is probably what’s called for to achieve both of those ends, but I’m not ready to jump into that abyss just yet. I don’t want to stop now. I want to go to graduate school. I want to have the experience of being able to flex my intellectual muscles unfettered, with like-minded people. I don’t understand why my opportunities to do so keep jumping out of my reach.
I know letting go is going to be the theme of my weekly lunch meeting with one of my mentors, and the idea no longer fills me with fear. It makes me angry, instead. Once again, here I am, presented with these amazing opportunities to have this wonderful life, and it seems that all I get is a glimpse of them before they’re pulled away. I don’t understand why my life has to be so relentlessly cruel. I’ve accepted the the letting go, but I hate not knowing what happens next. I’ve been careful to avoid making plans, but I can’t live in the moment every moment of every day. And it seems that no matter how hard I try, whatever it is that I try to do, however small it happens to be, it’s still too much for me to handle.
Do I really have too much on me right now? Two classes, a few weekly meetings, physical therapy, and that’s it. And that’s too much to try to fit into five days? It’s so f***ing absurd. But I’m tired. I don’t fight like I used to. I see the wave coming and I don’t rush in any more. I just slide under the water and let it land wherever it will. On me, in front of me, behind me, it doesn’t matter. It’s not like I’ll be on dry land any time soon.