Winding Down

I seem, finally and despite much inner resistance, to be entering a phase of acceptance that my accumulated years have worn down my endurance to the point that I have to ration my energies.

In the near term this means giving up several of my enjoyable “sideline”’ activities like facilitating Alternatives to Violence Project workshops in the New Mexico prison system. My “day job” is so demanding of time, energy and attention that it exhausts my reserves by week’s end, and I need at least a full day of minimal responsibility to recuperate and regenerate the ability to work another week. Fortunately, I don’t have to remain totally idle for that day of rest; I do have to limit myself to relaxing activities – reading, walking, contemplation, lighthearted conversations – and occasionally also the composition of a blog essay. It’s heartening to realize that writing has become a relaxation exercise for me. I may no longer be able to teach an eight hour workshop after my week of work, but I can probably write for nearly that long if I choose to begin work on another book.

In a recent discussion, I tried to express how different it is, letting go of an activity – or reducing the intensity of one’s participation in it – when one is forty years of age versus when one is in one’s seventies. Somehow, at the younger point, at least for me, there remained a sense of vast opportunity and choice not unduly limited by a reduction in energy or ability. If I could no longer work all day plastering or laying a flagstone floor, without paying a stiff physical penalty – so be it. I would switch to painting or setting tile and carry on earning income in home construction, between professional positions that used my brain more than my back.

Now, however, accepting that I can’t both work full time and also lead workshops or teach, I don’t feel the same ease of adjustment to alternatives. I am being required to give up something, not just switch focus from one type of activity to another. This forced giving up might have come to my attention sooner, if I’d continued to be reliant on my physical strength for my livelihood. It is, after all, an ebbing of strength that is now curtailing my work weeks and reminding me that I can’t go thirteen days at a stretch without a break (two six- day work weeks and the Sunday in between).

Might I be able to continue the workshops and teaching if my work weeks were s more normal forty hours, instead of the fifty plus that they now run? Perhaps… I know for certain that I don’t have the energy to go looking for a different, less intense, job. And I acknowledge that I’m reluctant to give up a position that allows me to work from home several days a week, even though it also involves many miles of weekly travel to see clients, and many evening and weekend hours invested to meet deadlines.

When I consider the adjustments I’m facing, they are minor compared to those some of my clients – and friends – have had to face, due not so much to the wear and tear of life as to illness or accident. One friend who’s pride has been that, the only woman on the county crew, she is as strong and tough as the men, injured her back and is now unable to work, unable to stand for more than a short while, and equally unable to sit for long without severe pain. She has had to give up not only her job but all the housework, animal care and other activities that structured her days. Fortunately she likes to cook and bake, and can manage time in the kitchen by alternately sitting and standing, with breaks to lie down and ease her pain. She has no choice but to develop a new way of defining herself.

Is it easier to accept change if one is confronted with a sudden and total decline of functional level, rather than to feel oneself slowly slipping into loss of abilities? I’m not sure. The question is rather like that discussed in training sessions with nursing staff – whether it’s easier on families to care for a loved one over an extended decline in health, or to lose the family member suddenly from an accident or rapid health crisis, like a fatal stroke or heart attack.

When loss or change comes suddenly and irreversibly, one has no choice but to deal with the consequences. When the loss or change is slow or incremental, it is easier to deny that any adaptation is needed, or at least to insist that it’s “not needed yet”. But it may ultimately become harder to adapt if the needed changes are postponed too long.

I have a good many goals yet to accomplish. If I’m to live long enough, and have the necessary energy to achieve them, I must begin making adjustments now. Fortunately, I now have a partner to help, encourage, nudge, remind and sometimes insist that I give myself down time. It’s easier for me to accede to the change, and not feel guilty about the activities I’m no longer supporting, when I can say I’m doing it a the behest of someone else. Which I recognize is an admission that I still haven’t gotten over the feeling that I must justify myself by my actions. But that’s another topic, for another reflection, on another day. For now, I need only begin the process of finding myself comfortable doing less. Or as a dear friend has said, when we talked about doing versus being, turn the challenge now facing me into the refrain of a song – do be do be do be do.

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3 Responses to “Winding Down”

  1. Sharon Vander Meer Says:

    Beautifully said. Find joy in the moment and give yourself a break. You are rich in wisdom, care for others, and generous of spirit. Thanks for being my friend.

  2. chelawriter Says:

    The moral support is present in heaping, loving doses – the monetary is not, as my husband is in school, and has family obligations in his home country that I am engaged in helping him to meet, until his schooling is complete and he can in fact take over the financial support of us all. We too are frugal, with a chunk of my earnings going into savings. I live in such a poor state (with low wages) that even having worked all my life, neither my Social Security payments nor my retirement savings are anywhere near what I could wish them to be. I’m focusing instead on learning new attitudes toward my work – some of which I very much enjoy – that help it become less stressful. And I’m ensuring (with my husband’s help) that I have ‘down time’ every weekend, and also a couple of evenings during the week. In just the past couple weeks, I’m realizing how much of the stress of work was self-imposed, at the same time that I’m finding a way to do much even with my slower pace. Time’s kind of elastic that way 🙂
    Thank you so much for your concern, and helpful comments.

  3. Cheryl @ Artzzle Says:

    Now, with moral and monetary support from a partner, must you still work such excruciating hours? It might, temporarily, take extra energy for yet another job search, but be worthwhile in the long run.
    I am a few years younger than yourself, and I could not handle all the duties and responsibilities you take on. I’m very thankful I don’t have to! We live quite frugally but are managing and are happy. Stay healthy AND happy!

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