Wednesday, July 21, 2010

On the Incredible Difficulty of Being Kind to Oneself

It's a beautiful Wednesday morning here. The heat wave has broken a bit, so up until 11 or so, it's still in the 70s. I can hear the sound of the wind in the trees, the sussurations of the sleeping cats. And I'm itchy.

Yesterday, I had a beautiful moment, where I thought: "whoa. I think I'm done with the frantic itching. Yes, I was a bit scratchy when I woke up, but now that I've downed both my steroid pills and a Claritin, I feel good. Is this what concentration feels like? The utter lack of distraction from itching?"

What's changed, you ask? Because I felt good yesterday, and because I'm signed up to participate in a team athletic event in five weeks, I went for a run. Without sunblock (because it would irritate my skin---irony!). In the 80 degree, humid weather. What would inspire me to do such a thing, you ask? Well, I wouldn't want to waste the extra energy of these steroids!! Might as well get something out of it!


After a Benadryl last night at 10, and then another at 11:30 when I couldn't sleep, and then waking up every few hours because I was all itchy (something that hasn't happened at all over the past 2 weeks of affliction), I blearily googled "poison ivy exercise" this morning, to discover that, yes, sweating can indeed intensify the rash and make you more itchy. %$^&**!!

The real biter is this: despite the fact that I know that I'm suffering because I couldn't take some time off from working out, it's everything I can do not to go again. Or at least go to the pool. Part of that is because the steroids have the tendency to make me jumpy (ooh! look over there! shiny! what were you saying? what are we doing? I think there's something in the other room that I need to do, but I can't remember what it is. Hey, is the bathtub dirty?). Exercise of any sort tends to cure that right up. But the larger motivation, I think, is the difficulty of not doing what you think you should be. At any time.

As I was finishing up my run yesterday (which, I must say, when fueled by drugs, is a sure way to shave some minutes off your time), I was thinking about all of the academics I know, and the ways that we push ourselves too hard, even when we know we shouldn't. This tendency, I think, is even worse with academics who are also sporty---all of my runner friends (who deign to hang out with me, poky and shambling as I am) want better times, push themselves, etc. And despite all of this push push push, to a one, there's also a berate, berate, berate. "I should be doing more." "I should have done that better." "I suck at this." Accomplishment, here, is just a set-up for giving yourself a grudging pat on the back before moving on to evaluate all of the ways that you should have done it better.

Or, to go back to the cause of all of my itchiness. What's driving the self-flagellation right now? Sure, I ran yesterday, but I can't possibly take today off, or I'll have wasted everything I did yesterday. Sure, it will aggravate my affliction, but surely I have to get to training?!! If I were training harder when this started, I wouldn't be in this position! And while I'm at it, shouldn't I have gotten more work done by now? It's July already!

It's a hard thing to learn: stop being so hard on yourself. Stop pushing and give yourself room to work on something. When I listen to my friends berate themselves for all that they should have done or should be doing, over and above all that they've accomplished, I've taken to giving them a bit of crap about it. "Right, and the most important thing is that you be as hard on yourself as possible, and refuse to acknowledge anything good that you've done." It's easy for me to recognize this in others, who I consider smart and accomplished and laudable. It's less easy to recognize this in myself (as in: "well, yeah, but I'm not like them."). I need more practice. [And why haven't I been practicing this before?!!----you see the problem here...]



Blogger Kate said...

This was an important insight for me as a reader too! I am playing a new sport right now and am nearly unbearable while practicing because I spend so much practice time beating myself up or being obnoxiously self-effacing. I can't seem to just relax and not be hard on myself. I appreciate reading the reminder.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010 10:37:00 AM  
Blogger kfluff said...

Kate---I do exactly the same thing, and I didn't realize how counter-productive it is to learning until I tried to teach a friend---who is an incredible athlete---some tricks for a new sport. It's a good reminder for all of us!

Thursday, July 22, 2010 7:44:00 AM  

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