Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Small Walls: When Busy is Gone

I just read this post on banishing busyness. If I had read it two weeks ago, my response would have been more positive. I would have said something like "Exactly! What's the point of busyness? It's not a badge of honor to wear! It's especially pointless to brag about a busyness that doesn't even lead to more productivity."

I might have even gotten a little self-reflective and said something like "The post made me think about my own level of busyness, one that I do sometimes bemoan to friends looking for sympathy and also (sometimes, not always, but yes) a little admiration. Do I take on all of these roles searching for something? Am I chasing away fears through signing up for another committee or enrolling my daughter in a swim class and signing up for another 10k? What am I trying to prove? Am I afraid of what I would be if it were all stripped away?"

But this is not two weeks ago. This is today, and today I am on the tenth consecutive day of immobility. Today I am on the sixth consecutive day of having only seen my bedroom, the bathroom, and the hallway between them with glimpses of sun and storms through windows that are behind me and my propped up, fractured ankle. Today I am down.

I may be down, but my foot is up.
I'm a good patient, following orders. 
I was in complete denial of how much this injury would impact my life. I am completely aware, intellectually, that this is a minor setback in the grand scheme of things. I know that two or three months is a short window of time and that it could be much worse. I know that I am lucky to be receiving good health care and that I am young and healthy and can afford physical therapy to get me back in shape. I am wallowing for a moment today, but I also know that it is a luxury to even be wallowing. I contain multitudes.

In the hospital, before I knew that I needed surgery, I was mentally planning how I would get to the park in two days to keep a play date that I had set with one of my daughter's best friends from the daycare we just left. It was so important to me to keep that play date because I didn't want her to feel like she had been ripped away from everyone she'd just spent most of her life getting to know and love. I asked the ER doctor not to give me narcotics so that I would be okay to drive myself home that night after they released me. They didn't release me. 

By the next morning, my phone had been dead for hours and I had been very much awake. They had splinted my leg three times in the ER but were unable to get the bones close enough, so they admitted me. A nurse took pity on me when she heard me freaking out to my mom on the hospital phone that I couldn't even call to tell them I wasn't coming to work. She found me a phone charger.  Later they said my leg was okay to wait, scheduled me for surgery four days later, and sent me home. I rode propped up in the back, not in the driver's seat. 

I gave myself several pep talks while looking at my calendar. There was all that busyness spread out before me in my neat (sometimes neurotic) color coded charts. It's all electronic. At least if it were on paper I could scratch them out and still have the evidence that there were plans. There were things. I had purpose. But as I deleted each little bubble from the screen, the calendar grew emptier and emptier. 

I wasn't going to be off narcotics in time to drive to that meeting, I realized, as a bear trap surge of pain shot through my leg when I stood at the walker to go to the bathroom. Delete. I wasn't going to be able to take my daughter to the swim class that I had just enrolled her in. Delete. My husband had taken a day off work so we could have a family day date at my favorite museum, one where you climb all over things and through caves of found materials. Delete. All of those roller derby practices in the orange I'd chosen because it made me think of energy? Delete, delete, delete. Drinks out with friends? Delete. A one-year-old's birthday out of town? Delete. A mass birthday celebration for all the derby girls who are born in June (including me)? Delete. All those tasks at the top to run two miles, then three, then four as I worked toward my first half marathon? Delete. Delete. Delete. 

Suddenly, I was left with the thing that I sometimes claimed to yearn for: a blank slate. 

And then there is all of the busyness that doesn't make the calendar. Bathing the child, walking the dog, cooking dinner, grocery shopping, getting dressed in the morning. I planted a garden for the first time this year, and I had spent a few minutes every morning checking on it, pulling out a weed here and there, propping up a wayward pea plant. Now I can't go in the backyard because the ground is too soft to hold crutches and there are too many stairs. I normally pick my daughter up in the afternoon because my schedule is more flexible than my husband's, but now she gets picked up two hours before bedtime, and I can't keep her home with me because if she ran downstairs, I couldn't follow her fast enough to keep her safe. 

And still, I am lucky. I have a husband who is wonderful and who has taken on all those burdens (even watering the garden he didn't really care much about planting in the first place). His days have become long and full of tasks that he really can't fit in, but somehow does. I am lucky that I can afford daycare so my daughter can be safe and active while I recover. I am lucky, lucky, lucky. 

But I have spent the entire morning crying. 

I am losing my sense of self in all that nothing. Those play dates and swim lessons and unscheduled afternoon pick ups that led spontaneously to the zoo or the splash pad at the park do not make me a mother, I know that. But they give me a center of "mother" to hold onto. They are not the only way to enact "mother," but they were my way, and right now I have no others. And those runs, those derby practices, those drops into the gym to lift some weights are very much the elements that made me (however hesitantly) declare myself "athlete," and without them, how can I claim that identity at all? 

And the things that are left on my calendar, days away, pages away, I worry about. I am teaching a summer class that starts on Monday. I will be in a splint, unable to put any weight on my foot at all, directed to sit with my foot elevated as much as humanely possible for at least two weeks. So when I maneuver a walker on the second floor, scooting down the steps to crutches on the first floor, hobbling out to the car and driving to work, finding out where the handicap entrance to my building is that's not under construction (because there was an email, but I barely paid attention), maneuvering without hands to carry even my first-day syllabi, when I do all of that, will I still be a good teacher when I can't walk around the room? If I can't stand to give my introductory spiel, will it still work? If I am sitting with my foot propped up while we talk, will the discussions be as good? This is not about whether someone can do those things and be a good teacher (as I'm sure they can; as I've seen myself), but can I

And the truth is that I long to be busy. All of those bubbles on the calendar, even the ones that felt like burdens to make in the first place, they are a part of who I am. It's not just a show I'm putting on to assure the world that I am "busy enough." Those things that I do for love, for necessity, for work, for entertainment, for health, for me, those things are central to who I am and how I know who I am. 

And I know that it is only temporary. And I know that it could be so much worse. But today, I feel down, and I wish I had busy. 

Photo: Zutaten


  1. About four years ago, I wrote a very similar post ( I had my surgery a few weeks later. A week after that, I wrote a post bemoaning my busy schedule ( You will come back from this, I promise. But for now, I totally get how hard it is. Hang in there.