The ant with attitude
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Have you ever observed an ant as it inches his way across a sidewalk or a pile of dirt? He often carries a load much larger than himself. The ant is consistent and instinctively steadfast. There doesn't seem to be anything he cannot do if he does it one piece at a time, one step at a time or one burden at a time.
Every morning when I wake up, I have pain. How much depends on many factors such as what I did the day before, the weather, current medications and how I slept that night. The pain in joints and muscles is always with me as well as fatigue and limited energy. As you know by now, I have had trouble sitting for any length of time for many years. I have so many other problems, there isn't room to list them, nor do I want to. It often feels like I am living a medical soap opera. I think it would have to be called Life Sucks or perhaps, The Day my Fairy Godmother Left." Sometimes it feels like a bad dream, but I have never awakened from that dream.
Somehow, life goes on, with or without me. This is my life - good or bad, painful or healthy, compromised or whole. After the anger, the denial and the grieving for what was, I found there were conscious decisions to be made. Life does not wait for you or me to become wise. Time lost can never be reclaimed. For several years daily whining, moaning, crying, complaining and self-pity filled my life. I hate to think what I put my family through. Gradually, I began to realize I was wasting that most precious of all commodities, time; seconds, minutes and hours are the building blocks of our lives, once gone, they never return. May I share some of my realizations with you?
1. Chronic pain and illness changed my life. New rules had to apply. My priorities also changed. To adapt to all the changes I had to develop a new game plan. New rules. New game. New me.
2. I find it helpful to set my alarm clock and my mind. I try to decide when I am going to get out of bed in the morning. If I wait until I feel like it, I would never get up. The night before, I also try to decide what I am going to accomplish the next day. Goals are essential. You might be saying, Sure, that's fine for you to say, but you don't know how awful I feel. You're right, I don't, but I do know that you and I can accomplish something. Like that little ant we can move some grain of sand from one place to another. I start by getting out of bed. Then it's a cup of coffee or tea and some small breakfast. It has to be easy and simple and not at all nauseating because I don't feel like eating it. I just do because those morning pills need a companion in the stomach. Then the day begins.
3. Then I have to get clean. Wash my face, brush my teeth, comb my hair, all make me feel better. A dab of lipstick, a shave if you're a guy, these all help us to feel more human and ready to face the day.
4. Each day, I set a goal for myself. Right now I'm cleaning out my closet and like the ant it is happening one hanger at a time. It will probably take me all week to do it, but I will have such a feeling of accomplishment when it is completed. I take it easy; this isn't a foot race, thankfully. I have found it amazing what I can do five minutes at a time. Dusting half the living room, washing the front window where the dog leaves smears from barking out her orders to the whole neighborhood, carrying down one load of laundry.
5. I tell myself this is not a contest. There is no reward for speed. There is no award for being the most disabled. Frankly, nobody cares who wins that contest. But we still continue to compare ourselves to others, don't we? I wonder why that is? I guess it is human nature to compete but it doesn't really help. What does help is to offer each other encouragement, empathy and understanding because it is the compassionate thing to do and goes a long way to ward off self-pity. It also brings comfort to the soul.
6. I don't have the instinctual nature of an ant, as a human being I have free choice, therefore I have to choose how my day will go. I have learned mind first, body second. We must plan what we are going to do, one step at a time and then set about doing it. Everything we do in life begins with one nail, one stitch, one moment, one stick, one word or one step. You and I have to know where we want to go in order to get there, otherwise we are a rudderless ship on the way to nowhere. Remember, mind first, body second.
7. Begin. That first step is always difficult. Some of you have written me saying, How do I get started with exercise, getting on with my life, etc.? Like the ant my friends, just take that first beginning baby step of this new life, one at a time. It's so much easier to veg out on the couch. I know, but it isn't very rewarding nor is it productive. Eventually, vegging out will kill you.
8. Talk to your doctor about which exercises you can do without making things worse. Remember, baby steps and baby goals. So what if you and I can only lift a 2 lb. weight? Maybe we can only do two leg lifts. Anything we can do to keep the body strong is better than doing nothing. Today two leg lifts, tomorrow, three.
9. I try to be honest with myself by facing what is in my heart. I try to be my own best friend. I have to tell you I really envy that ant. Life seems so much simpler in the insect world, but I'm sure they have problems too.
10. I try to do one thing each day that is creative. You and I need that zing of accomplishment. I have a wonderful musical keyboard, a gift from my husband. When my sitter allows, just playing a few songs always lifts me up to another place. What lifts you? Do it, and do it like the ant, and together we'll inch our way through life carrying one grain of sand at a time.
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