Be merciful to yourself

We are civilized people when we govern our bodies with our minds and emotions. Still, there are times when the body is not to be ignored.

Skelly in costume, by Carol L. Douglas. If you have to hang out in medical offices, you might as well bring a sketchbook.

I had a two-part surgical procedure on Tuesday and Wednesday. I imagined I was being clever by writing Wednesday’s post on Tuesday evening and slipping it into the media stream very early Wednesday morning. I thought I could get through the procedure without casual observers noticing I wasn’t all there.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had surgery. It holds no terrors for me. But there’s a part of the process I always seem to forget. That’s the mental low that follows the physical assault on the body.

Let’s just call this Self-Portrait, naked.

I’d scheduled myself to teach on Thursday. Nobody had told me I shouldn’t work. I understood I was in trouble when I sketched a barn for a student. I couldn’t measure; the part of my brain that does that kind of reasoning was still checked out. I realized with a jolt that I probably shouldn’t have been driving, either, although I was following my release instructions to the letter.

One of my students, Mary Whitney, is a retired army nurse. “General anesthesia doesn’t leave your body for 24 hours,” she told me. “Be merciful to yourself.”

The ability to keep pushing through is important to me. I work hard and I’m generally chipper. The problem with this approach is that I tend to ignore signs of trouble. They were here even before this surgery. This has been an unusual year, and I’ve responded by working harder than ever. My house—usually neat—is a cluttered mess, as is my studio. The patio furniture is still outdoors, and the firewood hasn’t been brought up yet. There are weeks of invoices waiting to be dealt with on the dining room table.

If I knew more, I could tell if Skelly was male or female from its pelvis.

After Thursday’s class, I rumbled to a complete stop. This morning I awoke at 5 AM in a panic. In that twilight between sleep and wakefulness, I was reviewing my list of undone tasks. An unpaid bill I’d promised to take care of yesterday. Supply lists for students for a class starting Monday. A refund. All, perhaps, trivial to an observer, but not to me.

For the first time in a long time, I wish I’d cut myself some slack.

When I had my first cancer in 2000, I went into a severe depression. Most of it was simple physical exhaustion. We joke about ‘taking a nap’ during surgery, but it’s terribly stressful to the body, as are all serious medical procedures.

I know enough to know these are called metacarpals. And that’s about all.

We are civilized people when we govern our bodies with our minds and emotions. If you scoff at that, just imagine what life would be like if we all indulged in urine sauvageor le pipi rustique. Still, there are times when the body is not to be ignored. I try to not be too hard on myself when I fall into a post-treatment slough of despond. It’s natural.

That doesn’t mean I like it. But it can’t be fought off. Mary’s advice was very wise, and I’m taking it, belatedly—I will be merciful to myself.