Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Art of Quitting

There is a plague upon our house. I'm not kidding. Since mid-December, Jack, Reese or I have been sick. I had strep throat at one point. Reese ran a fever of 103 for a few days. This week, Jack has been home sick with a high fever and the flu.. I can't count how many sick days I've taken at work (the guilt over that is solidifying my Catholic status).

Driving home after dropping Reese off at daycare this morning, I recognized a familiar angst. It was a messy mix of fear, excitement, and anxiety. I think it stems mostly from my decision to update/remodel my upstairs. I should say that this is a response to three weeks of sickness, exhaustion and life curve balls.

Illogical to add more chaos? Maybe. Habit? Definitely. I think of all those times Ed & I stopped our life mid-track and pushed in a different (more fulfilling) direction.

I haven't felt this since Ed & I began planning to save for a down payment on a home - a twisted mix of excitement, fear, and hope prompted by setting a goal that felt unattainable. I stepped outside myself and called out the angst: Drive. Ambition. It's that feeling of pushing forward, barreling through, getting to the next level. I also realized that my drive is a response to feeling trapped, trapped in a life I often can't make sense of.

I have moments where it's all too much (as any parent-particularly single parent--knows). Balancing work, family, house, finances, doctor appointments, childcare, oil changes, blah, blah, blah takes its toll. Every now and then, I need a break when breaks aren't possible. Two weeks ago, when I was scrambling to figure out last minute changes in childcare, Reese decided that was the night she would throw a fit about going to sleep. Of course, these two things in and of themselves aren't much- but when they come at the end of a crazy day, sleepless week, and sickness, the world closes around me. The only thing I can do is deal with the current moment, then the next, then the next. That night, I went in Reese's room and focused on holding her hand, breathing, looking in her eyes and setting a calm tone.

When she (finally!) fell asleep, I reflected on those first few months after Ed died when Reese wouldn't sleep: how all I wanted was some space to grieve, alone, in my room instead of sitting there, holding her hand, willing her to give in to sleep. Instead, I had to give in to being trapped. When Reese's recent sleep tantrum interrupted my pending panic attack over finding childcare for the next day, I was surprised at how easily I could transition into the moment. Apparently, my stamina for dealing with entrapment is growing.

To survive my new life, I gave up on looking too far into the future. For a while, it was moment to moment. About this time last year, I could comfortably look only a day ahead. Recently, I've looked as far as an entire month. And, with the plans to remodel, I'm clearly looking a few months ahead. The remodel idea prompted a three page list of projects to tackle. The pages are sitting on my console table.

But, Jack is sick. And, I'm trying to work from home. In the mid-day quiet with the windows open and my poor little man sleeping, I am overcome by the bliss of sheer exhaustion. So, I'm paying attention to this re-emerging habit of pushing forward to make positive change. And, I'm giving in, throwing in the towel, quitting anything but right now (at least, right now). I am remembering the strange bliss of being in the moment amid panic attacks and a crying three-year-old. I'm realizing--despite myself--that calm and contentment are a matter of attention, mentally tuning in and letting everything else fall away.

I read an article this weekend by one of my favorite authors (Martha Beck). In the article, she writes about "Knowing When to Quit." There is benefit to giving in:

Recently, psychologists Gregory Miller and Carsten Wrosch set out to investigate the mental and physical health of people who resist quitting, and of those who throw in the towel when facing unattainable goals. The second group—the quitters—were healthier than their persistent peers on almost every variable. They suffered fewer health problems, from digestive trouble to rashes, and showed fewer signs of psychological stress.

I'm not saying that I'm quitting the upstairs upgrades or all those other projects. I appreciate that I am able to plan -- let alone think -- that far in the future. Yet, I'm also grateful for the gift of grief to help me step back and recognize the mental freedom from entrapment. And, to know, in my bones, that there's no real urgency. I give in. And, here I am.