Self Criticism

Cream in my coffee
Cream in my coffee

Such an interesting thing happens when we start to judge ourselves or our work. At first we might be really satisfied with the result, but then we often quickly devolve into finding something wrong. Or we set ourselves impossibly high standards, or we compare ourselves to others instead of comparing ourselves to ourselves. Or…….

That’s especially true, I think, for those of us with an anxiety disorder with a manifestation of OCD. I think everything I do has to be perfect. I have been working many, many years to internalize that perfectionism is not only not necessary, it’s not even attainable. Even if you excel at some things, you don’t excel at everything. In fact, the more expertise you have in one area, the more likely there are other areas of knowledge that you know very little about.

My husband once knew an aerospace engineer who was a world expert in liquid rocket fuel. If you asked him,  “What do you know about liquid fuel?” he would look at you, and without any hubris whatsoever, he would reply, “Everything. I know everything there is to know about liquid rocket fuel.”

If you followed that with the question, “What do you know about solid rocket fuel?” he would answer without the slightest trace of embarrassment, “Nothing. I know absolutely nothing about solid fuel.”

We can’t be great at everything we do. It’s impossible. So why do we think we can? What harsh standards we often impose upon ourselves in an effort to measure up to some imaginary bar rather than simply drinking life in, in all it’s gloriousness.

Yesterday and the day before I was happy with the start I had gotten on this new layout. It is a start. And I was super excited to share some of the images I have captured over the last month or so with my camera. Then I put up this photo of the cream swirling around on the surface of my coffee, and I noticed that it wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t, after all, the work of a professional photographer.

In what universe should I be comparing myself to a professional photographer???? I who have never taken a photography class, who have no formal training in art or graphic design, and who hasn’t done even semi-serious photography in about 40 years. It makes no sense at all!

But our emotions often seem to make little, if any sense. They do, however, often give us windows into our psychies, if we let them. And this window into my psyche told me several things:

  • I was too tired. Way, way too tired, and I probably needed a nap.
  • I’d been working at the computer too long without a break.
  • I’d definitely been trying to cull far too many photographs all at once, so my head had become muddled.
  • And…… I probably needed to grab my camera, and take the dog for a walk. Both of those almost always help.

So here is my cup of coffee one morning, with the cream wonderfully swirling and making patterns on the surface for a few scant seconds, offered imperfectly to you with hope that you will be gentle with yourself today. That you will relish new things that you see, or understand, or a new skill you learn. And at the end of the day that you can look back and find at least one thing that you are grateful for. I am grateful that I captured the patterns of the cream swirling on the surface of my coffee.

Random Thoughts With No Sleep

Well, the medication to help me sleep has finally completely washed out of my system. I thought it had all disappeared a few weeks ago, but obviously it hadn’t. How do I know? Because then I was able to sleep some nights, and now I can’t. I doze in fits and starts, and probably only sleep solidly for a few hours. And without deep sleep, my blood pressure goes up, as does my anxiety and my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

In the 80’s, we were at the height of the drug awareness campaigns in the schools. The counselor at my school had this poster on her door: This is your brain (cue picture of a profile of a head with a brain inside with the little squiggles representing the folds in the gray matter), then below it, This is your brain on drugs (cue a picture of a fried egg in a skillet. Totally fried.).

Well, I don’t have a picture, but this is what my brain looks like as a result of very little sleep over a couple of weeks:

💭  There is not a thought inside the thought bubble because I can’t fit them all in that tiny space. Even though they are short. And random: I should think of a post to write. Gotta write a post. No, wait, I need to sleep. Can’t. Oh well, should tidy up at least the front room. Won’t take long. Will feel better if I do. No, gotta sleep. Can’t. Post. Post. Has to be perfect or no one will like it. Walk dog. Read. Can’t concentrate. Walking will make both the dog and I feel better. No. No energy. Walking will give me energy. Poor dog. Write post. Can’t think of anything. Just sit down and type. Just want to relax. Nap. Rats, doesn’t work. Sleep??? Please? What if I can’t think of anything to say? What if I’m just boring and no one wants to read. Gotta be funny. Can’t be funny today. Can’t think. What if I never have any ideas again. Sleep??  Pleeeaaasse? Dagnabbit.

My brain is really more chaotic than that, and I wish I could make it funnier. But in saner moments I realize that half of what makes this writing business work, perhaps more than half, is just showing up. Just writing every day, and slowly, hopefully, getting better at this.

When I started this blog, I thought that every post should have some deep meaningful content. That didn’t work out so well in terms of frequent posting; I would just get frozen for weeks or months at a time, especially since even thinking was more than I could usually manage. And then I’d take days just to write and rewrite one post.

When I came back to the blog this time, I told myself that I would just write whatever was on my mind that day, and get in the habit of posting almost every day. And then go from there. And hopefully both the blog and I would grow. I hope that I am, at least occasionally, writing things that are relevant to you guys as well. I’m trying to give a snapshot of what living with CVID (and various other complicating conditions) is like, so that you others out there do not feel so alone. And if I write about trying to live as normal a life as I can, then that helps me continue to try to do just that.

Do any of you have topics that you would like me to write about? Or thoughts of your own to share? I’d love to hear your suggestions and requests. Please don’t be shy. Leave a comment or send me an email.

And it’s an 8 hour infusion day. Please send your good thoughts.  😘

Zebra’s Child

I am a zebra.  Not a horse, although for years my doctors thought I was.  Nope.  I’m a zebra. You know what doctors are told in med school;  “When you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras.”  In other words, if something is wrong, don’t think of all the unusual things it might be. It almost always is the obvious one.  Well, let me tell you, a zebra’s whuffle is not at all like a horse’s neigh. But a lot of times doctors think it is.  For those of us with rare forms of immune deficiency, our doctors slowly learn that with us, they do need to think “zebras.”

Disclosure: I am a perfectionist.  I am also, not surprisingly, moderately OCD and have an anxiety disorder.  That means I try to control lots of aspects of my life and environment in order to lower my anxiety.  Oh, and the little matter of my immune deficiency?  That means that there is a huge aspect of my life over which I have very little control.  Which drives me crazy.  And which is why I sometimes feel not only like a zebra, but a zebra’s child as well; there are times when, just like a child, I have so little control over what happens to me.

Further disclosure:  My biggest coping strategy is denial. I’m not kidding.  Not watching movies, or reading books or eating chocolate, although those do all have their place in my bag of tricks. But I truly think that if I just ignore a problem, and keep living my life the way I’ve been living it, the problem will go away.  Thinking that way is not a little problem, it’s a big problem if you have a Primary Immune Deficiency. Living the way I used to live, with all the activities, working too long and too hard, not enough sleep, etc. only makes me more and more seriously ill.  And, unfortunately, my health won’t improve unless I think about it and deal with it, which is the last thing I want to do.  Dealing with it is admitting that there is a problem.

So.  I have Common Variable Immune Deficiency (CVID), which affects only 1 in 25,000 – 50,000 people, and is life threatening. The gamma globulin treatments that keep me alive involve my getting hooked up to an IV for a day and a half once every three weeks. (I don’t have to spend the night, I just go back the next day.)  Now, ask me how I can regularly get those treatments and still be in denial? A day and a half every three weeks?????  Well…… ummmm….. That’s a really good question.  All I can say is that you have no idea how truly great my powers of denial are.  I could probably enter a competition titled something like  “How far has denial carried you in your life?” and have a good chance of winning.  Or at least making it to the finals.

Unfortunately, as those of you with an immune deficiency know, denial can only carry you so far before you crash and burn. In my case, somewhat spectacularly.