When the pain abated last week (albeit only temporarily: it came roaring back Monday), I started to panic. Which isn’t the reaction you expect when you’re feeling better!
It took me a while to figure out why, but here’s what I’ve come up with:
Every time I go into flare, I fall behind. I do my best to get as much done as I can under the circumstances while I’m hurting, but I inevitably get much less done than I would if I were in less pain. While I can generally get back to my usual production levels when I get better, there’s no way I can make up for the lost productivity. So, with each flare, I fall further and further behind; when I feel better, I’m overwhelmed by how much I now have to do, and freak out.
Right now, I’m more behind than usual. My contracts put a lot of things on hold, but then, after my last contract, I spent nearly two months in flare. There are still things on my to-do list, basic things, that I was aiming to have done by last August. There are larger, more ambitious projects, like writing a book on garter snake care, that have been deferred almost indefinitely. A lot of deadlines, albeit self-imposed, have been missed.
One piece of advice I give to other people: new shit does not wait for you to get the old shit dealt with. If you do not get your old shit out of the way, you will still have to deal with it and the new shit that is constantly coming in. Considering how badly I am following my own advice, this is easier said than done.
Let me tell you something about what happened to me in grad school. I came down with ankylosing spondylitis during my Ph.D. studies. At its worst — before I was diagnosed — I was getting less than five hours of sleep a night, and could barely get any work done. This went on for five months. When I was diagnosed and put on high-dose naproxen, I could work again. At this point, my supervisor told me that I was behind, that I had some catching up to do, and that I had to get back on schedule — as though the flat-out pace of reading for comprehensive exams could be accelerated and intensified even if I were in perfect health. (Then as now, I evaluated my capacity as no better than 80 percent of normal.) So of course, flustered, I tried to get as much done as possible, reading up to five books a day and remembering none of it, and failed, spectacularly, my comprehensive exams.
That was 10 years ago, but I still deal with the same situation: work that does not disappear while I’m sick, and no extra time and energy to catch up when I’m not. Worse than a Red Queen’s race: no matter how fast I run, I fall further and further behind.
Previously: On a scale of one to five.