Friday, February 10, 2012

I Have A Fever Dream: Making peace with limits

Illness brings out
my inner child.
I am blogging with a moderately high fever. This should be illegal.

I recently finished The Lotus Blossom, by D.M. Kenyon. It was a wonderful read that planted thoughts in my mind like seeds—images and ideas that have kept growing beyond the last page. One of those seeds was a scene in which Madison (now called Lhamo) endures a grueling test at her dojo. She has to fight off a continual onslaught of attackers as long as possible before collapsing into unconsciousness.
Rinchen says that most people never know failure because they quit way before they fail. Quitting is choosing to surrender. It is the choice to stop before you are at the end of yourself. Failure is letting go of a need to reach the end, giving it your all and accepting whatever happens. It is a beautiful place, failure. Almost nobody ever really knows it.
-D. M. Kenyon, The Lotus Blossom                                    
I read this and thought: Have I ever pushed myself to my physical limit? I don't think so.

Growing up, I believed I was the kid who wasn't strong enough to really push herself, and I thought my character must be as weak as my body.

I was the kid who ended up gasping for air in the nurse’s office every time she had to run a mile in gym class. I was the kid who would be out for two weeks because of a cold, with doctors shrugging and saying, “That’s just you, kiddo.” I was the kid whose sister named her Kermit for the color of her snot.

I was the kid who fell out of the raft not once, but twice, on a Class I river.

I was the adult who slowly worked her way up from being a walker to a runner over the course of three months, only to end up with an angry sciatic nerve that, four years after the return to walking, still holds a grudge.

I'm a walker. That's me.
I'm a walker. Yippee.
I was the adult who finally found out she had asthma, then learned to stand up to doctors while she searched for the great ones who would take her seriously and help her take care of herself.

I am the adult who has been wanting to join a paranormal YA book club, but just had to cancel for the fourth month in a row (the second time for illness). I had to admit defeat, again, and all I can do is hope that the friend who invited me doesn't think I'm a freak, or a liar, or both.

Above all else, I am the adult who has to be an adult about her limits, because if I push past them, the aftermath affects my kids and my husband and anyone else who counts on me.

There’s a woman in my Pilates class who broke her knee from repetitive stress by running twenty miles on a treadmill.  She’s that kind of athlete—one who pushes on no matter what. She said she’d torn an achilles tendon on a mountain bike the same way, pushing through. It healed in six months and she went right back to training hard.

I’ve always believed that’s the kind of person you need to be if you want to be successful in life. If I were that kind of person, I’d probably have gone to medical school. I’d be thinner. I’d be richer. I’d be closer to perfect in every way. I should be like her… but I'm not.

Yesterday, at Kid #1’s baseball practice, I sat in the grass with Kid #2, feeling sorry for myself because I was short of breath and Kid #2 wanted to do something active and I just wanted to go to bed. I saw something move on my hand and stifled a little scream, and Kid #2 freaked out. He has inherited my fear of bugs. I forced myself to calm down and let the bug stay on my hand. I showed it to him. He scooted away from me, but he kept his eyes trained on the critter inching its way across my wrist. It looked a little like a caterpillar, but shorter and not very cute.
Sa lady-beetle-larva
I Googled and found out it was a lady beetle larva, basically the juvenile form of the most beloved bug of all time. But I didn't know that! I was totally bluffing when I told Kid #2 it wasn't going to bite me. BLUFFING, I say!
Photo By Sanjay Acharya

Kid #2 didn’t get over his fear of bugs in one afternoon, nor did I. Eventually we had to move if I wanted him to sit in the grass again. Still, we had shared a moment.

In the grand scheme of things, I get disappointed in what my body can do, but I also don't take my good-enough health for granted. Maybe I really do need 8 hours of sleep. Maybe while my kids are young and acting as germ mules, I’ll end up canceling a lot of social events and feeling lame every time.

Maybe I accomplish things more slowly than I’d like. Maybe fighting that head-on is like trying to move the tide back out with a bucket.

We celebrate people who push themselves physically, but maybe I need to start thinking about other ways to push myself. I want to let go of my need to reach the end. To give it my all and accept whatever happens. To reach that beautiful place that Lhamo planted in my mind.

I want to take my kids camping and teach them not to be afraid of the creepy crawlies. I want to hear my husband’s worries or a child’s sadness and swallow my own feelings long enough to be their rock the way they are mine. I want to open my Scrivener file, panic that I have no idea what I’m doing and this writing thing was a huge mistake, and keep working anyway. And then I want to send it to my critique partner and say: This is me. This is the best I could do, but I’m not giving up.

After I get my full night’s rest, take two Sudafed, do my sinus rinse, steam my lungs, and sip chicken broth… I will still have choices. There will still be limits worth pushing and victories worth claiming.

But first, I need more soup.



  1. I think few people ever really push themselves to their true limits in any area of life. How often do we ever become the very best that we can be? It takes hard work, discipline, and dedication, almost to the brink of insanity, IMO.

    To me writing is a marathon not a sprint. You just got to keep a steady pace and take it one mile at a time. Don't think about running 26 miles, just think about running one mile 26 times. :)

    Sarah, you're story is awesome. I hope you don't really ever think that this writing thing is a big mistake. It's all about perseverance.

  2. Dream fever or not, this was very inspiring! I love that quote from the Lotus Blossom. I might have to read that one.

    I hope you feel better soon!

  3. I too enjoyed the quote quite a lot. Failure is presented as such a terrifying thing in our culture, and is defined for us entirely in terms of other people's opinion of what success is. Endurance and perseverance are given short shrift; all the accolades go to the concept of "accomplishment", particularly, accomplishments our society tells us are worthwhile (most of them having to do with money or physical activity.)
    I think it does resonate particularly with something like writing, something that can have specific goals assigned to it, and yet is also a goal in and of itself.
    I sometimes encounter other writers who are held back from submitting their work by fears that it isn't "good enough", the idea that they will somehow embarrass themselves or of course fear of the almighty "failure" of rejection, but since rejection is an inevitable part of the process, I think the greater failure is the failure to try.

  4. What a lovely piece of writing. We all need more soup. And don't you dare think of not doing "this writing thing". You are very good at it. And besides, if we do not fill the space of our lives with true and lovely words, then we have to live with the garbage that fills up unattended space. This would be tantamount to the surrender of being and that would be a great shame. I hope you are feeling better. I know that I am feeling better having read this article. Thank you for writing it.

    Best wishes from your friend,
    D.M. Kenyon

    P.S. And thank you for the thoughtful mention of my book.

  5. Thank you for this post. I needed it. And, I love the quote. I think I'm going to have to get the book.


Got an opinion? Use it! Remember... be silly, be honest, and be nice/proofread.