Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Change of Scene and Society

Over the weekend I started feeling strange. I didn't sleep well and woke up sore all over. My throat hurt. Yesterday my brain was fuzzy and I just felt eh.

Nic said, "Maybe you're sick." Revolutionary idea. I made tea, swathed myself in blankets, and took a sick day, because he was right: I have a cold. How did I not realize?

I haven't been sick in at least 15 months. That's miraculous. I'm the kind of person who gets sick at least once a month, because I get sick when I'm stressed and I'm stressed all the time.

Three key changes happened in my life over the past few years. Two years ago I got married; a year and a half ago I transitioned to full-time writing; and a year ago I downsized to a minimalist schedule.

Simply dating Nic did wonders for me. I had poor health through college and Nic fell in love with me during a particularly bad patch. Not only did he take care of me, he helped me eradicate the stressors straining my immune system. He forced me to call in sick, sleep when I needed it, eat more often, and take it easy sometimes. I didn't know how to relax and have a good time; Nic taught me.

I believed if I wasn't giving everything my all, all the time, I was a failure. But Nic loved me when I was useless, when all I could do was sit looking sickly. I was valuable to him even when I wasn't striving. I realized God loves me infinitely more than Nic does and is equally unconcerned with my performance. I'm free to be me; no pressure. I don't have to stress over perfection. I can have fun.

Shortly after we were married, I had to face the fact that Nic made more money being a grad student than I did working my butt off. I hated my job and made squat. So I quit to become a full-time writer and editor. Nic and I agreed that enjoying our work was more important than disposable income. It didn't matter if one of us (me) wasn't pulling our weight financially.

That gave me the freedom to pick my clients without the stress of meeting a monthly quota. I only take on projects I like with people I like. I decide when, where, and how long I work. If I'm sick with another bout of Unhappy Innards, I can work from the toilet or curled up in bed.

People think working from home results in laziness, but for me it resulted in loving my job so much I work more. I work part of the weekend, don't commute, and eat lunch at my desk, so I work 50+ hours/week. I'm more productive and more content--and healthier.

Lastly, since moving to Virginia, I got a fresh slate with my commitments. As I made friends, I kept my schedule deliberately clear. I only hang out with a few treasured people. I volunteer sparingly, resisting the pressure to do more. I know how much time I need for me and I keep it sacred.

It sounds selfish. I have time I could spend helping people. But I know what I'm good at, and it's writing. Writing does help people. Someone has to craft these words. Someone has to communicate clearly and beautifully. For me to do this well, I don't just need writing time, I need unstructured creative time. I need time to dabble on piano, read a book, or turn on music and stare at the ceiling as words fall into place. I need brain-time wherein it appears I'm doing nothing.

I need space for my marriage too. We always keep at least half our week-nights for just us. We can talk, laugh, go on walks, go out for dinner, watch a movie, or discuss the day. Nothing much happens, but that doesn't mean it's unimportant. Connecting every other evening keeps our relationship strong.

After that, I still need time to do chores, eat food, sleep, exercise, and relax. If this means I can only volunteer a few hours each week, so be it. These things are important. They're my wellbeing. If I don't keep this time sacred, I become a sick shell. I lived that way for awhile and it sucks. I'd rather live my pared down, minimal life and be whole than pursue those "worthwhile" pursuits and not have time to enjoy life.

There are a lot of big humanitarian causes I care about and advocate for. But when you, say, rescue someone out of slavery, what world are you welcoming them into? One that's all striving, just like the enslavement they left behind, or one where they finally get to live?

You saved the earth. What for? . . . You do it so people can live their lives. There's nothing more important than that. Falling in love, getting married, buying flats, having kids or not. But real life. That's what you're protecting. ~Rhys in Torchwood (s2e11)

Saying "no" is good, but really hard. Every week I'm tempted: I'm not doing enough. I have time. They need me. Those thoughts look like insecurity ("what I'm doing doesn't matter"), but they're also extremely arrogant.

People don't need me. There are a hundred other people who could volunteer. I might be taking away an opportunity for someone who really needs to get involved. Step down and let someone else take your spot. Do what you're good at, what you're called to do. You've only got 100% to give; instead of giving 10% to 10 things, give 33% to 3 things. You'll make a bigger difference.

When I'm tempted to take on more, I remind myself how good it feels being healthy. No amount of guilt can make me take on more clients or volunteer more hours when I remember the cost is my life.

Word count: 941.