November 28, 2011

Forgiving Myself

Today was the first day of Advent.  While Lent (the period leading up to Easter) is more directly focused on repentance than the 4 weeks of Advent leading up to Christ's birth, there is still an undertone of seeking forgiveness during this time.  Maybe it's something about the image of the new, little baby Jesus - not only innocent by divine birth, but also by virtue of being a brand new babe, who hasn't yet had time to falter, hurt someone, harbor his own hurt, or do any of the other things we do in our lives.

And for my many readers who have different religious views (or views on religion), this post isn't about Christmas or even Christ, per say.  Advent just happens to be a good way of explaining a thought I had today.

In this time of seeking forgiveness from God - and with an even bigger focus on forgiveness between ourselves than seen in Lent - I realized there is one more person from whom I must seek, and to whom I must give, forgiveness: myself.
See image, and related article by Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D., here.

Like most Americans, I enjoyed a 4 day weekend from Thanksgiving on 11/24 through today (11/27).  Also like many Americans, I had a list as long as my medical Explanation of Benefits (EOB) forms of what I wanted to get done.  I needed to gut my room, find a lot of "missing" clothes buried in there, clean the carpet well, pack up out of season clothes and those to be donated, and figure out how to store the clothes I have.  I also needed to clean the living room, write some blog posts to have on hand over this next terribly busy month, work on some items for the AIM network at my firm, get a jumpstart on work for my current client, and due to some technical problems earlier in the week, try to nail down work for another project.  I also wanted to get some holiday shopping done, revise Shawn's budget with him, and go over our benefit options for my open enrollment period.

As I write this on Sunday evening at 11:30pm my time, I've gotten through perhaps 1/4 of my bedroom.  I sorted a tuchas-load of clothes, put most of the folded clothes that are mine away, organized and stacked Shawn's so at least they're off the floor, got the air conditioner out of the window, vacuumed the part of the floor I revealed, threw out trash, gathered some clothes to donate, and organized 3 suitcases I use to store sweaters & shoes.  It was solid work, and I felt good with what I got done.  But in the same breath from which I heave a satisfied sigh, I feel the nag of the rest of the to-do list that didn't get-done.  I couldn't go over anything with Shawn as he worked some crazy shifts and was swamped with schoolwork, and I did get some holiday shopping done (I'll have to tell you my First Black Friday adventure another time), but that still left the vast majority of the work.

A very big factor in my low-productivity, actually, was my exhaustion.  As you may have noticed, I pound away at life pretty hard most of the time.  I've put in late nights at the office, worked on the upcoming UII panel presentation and related materials, and done a million other things lately (which is why my to-do list was so atrocious in the first place).  Also, I recently switched from Provigil to Nuvigil (both "stay awake" meds) due to insurance costs, and found Nuvigil works but wears off far more quickly.  It is, as usual, a double-edged sword.  Sometimes Provigil would keep me going too long, which prevented me from getting enough rest many nights, but it would also usually stay in effect a day or two after I took it which let me skip doses on weekends when I could nap if I wanted but still be mostly functioning.  Nuvigil lets me fall asleep more easily on days I take it, but it also means I experience more significant fatigue on days I skip it - hence my multi-hour naps on Friday and Saturday.  When I let my body get the rest I know it needs, I lose a HUGE amount of time.  I know this is something you all relate to incredibly well.  And, even after waking from those naps, I was usually pretty brain fogged the rest of the night.

I'm upset about what I didn't get done.  I'm stressed about the things on my plate now for the next few days at work; I'm frustrated that for what I got done in my room it's still a pit with heaps of clothes and boxes and bins; I'm worried about the information I never got to review with Shawn.

I didn't have the best work ethic when I was younger.  It was sometime during college when I broke through my procrastinator ways, and figured out that by getting it done now I wouldn't have to worry about how to do it later.  Because it was a self-taught and honed trait, I'm secretly rather proud of my work ethic such as it is now...except this weekend sucked that out of me.  Suddenly here I am in the all-too-familiar place at the top of the "supposed-to-do" list.

This is not the work ethic I make myself live up to.  But, I think I need to forgive myself.
I obviously needed the rest.  I wasn't running around playing the social butterfly - yes, I saw a couple people but that accounted for less than 4 hours total across 2 days.  I wasn't being frivolous with my energy, I just simply didn't have enough to go around.  And, this should have been a weekend where it was ok to be in that situation, when no one was demanding much of me.  With one notable exception I don't care to dwell on and get myself worked up over, this was a time people around me were saying "stop.  Recharge.  Take some time".  That's next to impossible for me.  My instinct is to cram as much into my time as I can.  When I plan time off, I always budget my days by what type of tasks I want to accomplish (cleaning, writing, etc); it's just how I operate.  Or rather, it's how my brain operates.  Unfortunately, my body has other plans from time to time, and this weekend was apparently "time".

My body said "heck no, don't even TRY it Miss; you WILL regret it", and suddenly I was sidelined for the first 3 quarters (wow holy Gadzooks - not only did I use a football reference but it was a pun, too).  I'm angry with myself for not pushing through more work.

But I know that's not right.  It's easy enough to ask myself for forgiveness, but I don't know how to grant it to myself.  Somehow, I have to find away.  When all's said and done, I have to forgive myself for not living up to my plan.  This is especially true when in hindsight I realize it was an unrealistic plan from the start.  Gosh, I hope I'm a lot better at forgiving others than I am with myself.

With chronic illnesses (and pain and fatigue) comes plenty of chronic guilt.  We may voice the legitimacy of our limits for the rest of the world...but inside our own heads we hear so much doubt.  Do I really need a 4 hour nap?  Can't I stay up late and get this task done?  Why should I get to claim "brain fog" when other people wouldn't need to stop?  (And yes, "brain fog" sounds pretty silly to us, too, even though we live the debilitating effects.)

Yes, we do.  Yes, we need to nap - our bodies are fighting 24-7 battles against themselves.  No, we can't stay up late - what little functionality we have is strongly correlated to our ability to adhere to a schedule.  We 'get to claim brain fog' - our work is no good when it comes from a low-hanging cloud.  We need to forgive ourselves.

We need to BELIEVE it's ok to live within these limits.  We need to allow ourselves compromises with ourselves.  We need to accept we aren't going to be able to build the tower of Babel on a 4 day weekend just because "it has to get done somehow", and love ourselves anyway.  We need to ask ourselves for forgiveness and give it wholeheartedly and without delay.

Now if only there was a 'common sense' pill to help us forgive.

(PS - I found a great article on this subject by Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D., entitled "Forgive Yourself to Stop Procrastinating".  Take a look at why some psychologists believe this is a key to future productivity and progress!)


  1. This really resonated with me today. I think you may be like me in the fact that you are harder on yourself than anyone else is likely to be. However, I think you should give yourself a break on this one. That long list of things you had planned to do would have even been a lot for a "healthy" person to accomplish in a weekend's time. :o)

  2. Hi
    I understand how you feel. I have a lot of "to-do" list too, and I learned to be reasonnable, not making a list of "what I have to do" but one of "What I can do".
    It's a hudge learning to make that.


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