Last Tuesday morning my alarm rang, and I could barely haul myself downstairs to wake my daughter for school. I sat on the living roof sofa, as I do every morning, with tea and a book, giving body and mind a chance to wake up. But my head was swimmy, and I couldn’t focus on reading. My body ached in familiar places–upper arms, shins, wrists, and fingers. Anywhere I have a tendon, I have tendonitis. When Shira called from the kitchen for help with her lunch, I found myself shuffling across the floor like an old man.
I walked outside for a few minutes to get a whiff of cool air, and see if I might make my morning walk to the local coffee shop. The cold felt wonderful, but I knew I would never make it down the street. My immune system was angry, and it was pointless to fight it.
I got Shira off to school and went back upstairs, propped some pillows in my bed, and set the heating pad on high. I had a busy day mapped out, but it was unlikely I would get much done. I tend to drive myself hard, hold myself accountable for living up to all of my commitments. Letting go is never easy for me.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been writing and posting about habit, how to create good ones that support a creative life and how to change bad ones that keep us from doing our work. There are habits of doing — I get up in the morning,, wake my daughter, make a cup of tea, and read on the sofa — but there are also habits of mind. My first though every day is always the same: What do I need to get done?
I recently discovered a terrific video on 99U’s website, Gretchen Rubin talking about habits and our relationship to rules. According to Rubin, there are four types of rule followers: the Upholder, the Questioner, the Rebel, and the Obliger. I didn’t have to take the quiz on her website to know I’m an upholder. I love the rules. According to Rubin, Upholders all wake up with my question, What do I need to get done today?
Of course there are downsides to being an Upholder: 1) A tendency to be rigid 2) Burnout.
I have spent my life pushing past exhaustion, never getting enough rest, living on adrenalin and caffeine. And while there are many factors in the manifestation of autoimmune disease, my pushing and upholding the rules haven’t helped matters.
I’ve realized for some time that I need a different question in the morning. I tried replacing “What do I need to do?” with “How can I contribute to the greater good?” It shifted things for a while, but it wasn’t authentic. That old habit of mind is stubborn. I’m not only an Upholder, but a typical Capricorn. I like to work. I like to get things done.
A few weeks ago, I spent the afternoon with my dear friend, Carolyn Scarborough, writing coach and wise woman. I told her about my idea for the Mother’s Day retreat, that I wanted to focus on structure and self-care, and that I didn’t think I was qualified to preach on the latter given my hideous refusal to make it a priority. I wondered if she was interested in presenting. Without giving too much away (because I want you to come to the retreat), Carolyn suggested the relevant question we need to continually ask ourselves: What do I need right now? I’ve expanded her question for my own needs and started to ask, What do i need to do to take care of myself right now?
How do we get our work done — creative work, caring for families, taking out the garbage — and take are of ourselves simultaneously? We’ll be addressing that very question on May 23d at the second annual, Mother’s Day Retreat. More information coming soon.