My therapist says that I keep putting one foot in front of the other, no matter what, and she gives me an A for effort. She expects it of me, and she’s proud of me for it, but also disappointed, because my efforts never really seem to pay off. Most of the time I feel like Sisyphus, who was punished by the gods and forced to roll a boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, again and again for eternity. Sisyphus did the task each day. He didn’t just sit at the bottom of the hill and take a nap. But why not?
My dogs don’t mind pushing the same rock up the same hill every day, in fact, they seem to find new excitement in each trip outside, each stop at each leaf, each squirrel sighting. Cricket can put the same level of oomph into fighting me for extra treats every single day.
The thing is, the dogs don’t mind the repetition in their lives because their needs are met. Their rituals work for them and are productive and satisfying. Mine don’t work for me. I keep submitting queries to agents, and stories to magazines, and getting nowhere, and I feel like I deserve this, because I haven’t paid off my debt to the universe yet. I just don’t know how I managed to build up such a huge debt.
One of the boulders I push up the hill every day is pure physical pain. Well, pure is a misnomer, because there is always the underlying belief that I cause the pain myself, with my very powerful mind. I am not always in pain, or at least not always in a lot of pain. Some days I’m just aware of something in the background, a niggling doubt that I can really carry that laundry bag, or walk to the car, or dry my hair, without having to take a nap afterward. Do I go out to do the food shopping, or do I take the girls for a walk around the neighborhood? Because I can’t do both in the same day. Some weeks, I can’t do both in the same week. By the end of food shopping, sometimes I can’t stand up straight and my neck and shoulders and back feel like they’ve been hit with hammers.
If I take the dogs out walking long enough to wear Cricket out, I will come home feeling like the world is tilting and a fiery cleaver is embedded in my lower back. And this is something I actually want to do! Forget about the laundry, which I never want to do, or washing dishes, which is truly heinous, and can put me out of commission within five minutes. Why must sinks be so short?!
Physical pain, though, only puts me to bed, where I can still read, or write, or sleep. It’s the emotional pain that takes the gloss right out of my life; it twists how I see and hear and taste and smell; it tells me that I earned this physical pain because I am bad and lazy and useless and disgusting; it tells me that I am Sisyphus and I earned this.
In our society we believe that people get the lives they deserve. If you are successful, it’s because you earned it. If you are a failure, well, you must not have tried very hard. Sisyphus had no choice about his life-long task, and in a way, that’s how I feel too. I have been sentenced to this fate because I can’t breathe without writing. I don’t believe it has been pre-determined by God or by an external authority, but it is so hard-wired into my nervous system that I can’t choose something else.
Do I have the option of attempting more accomplishable tasks? Yes. I take on other tasks all the time that are easier to complete. Maybe Sisyphus did this too. Maybe he learned a language, or listened to books on tape, or the equivalent, as he pushed the boulder up the hill. Maybe he didn’t even see his task as meaningless because the effort itself was satisfying. I don’t know.
Cricket doesn’t need to catch the squirrel in order to find the chase satisfying. She has never actually caught a squirrel, and it doesn’t seem to dim her excitement for the task. I wish I could be more like her. Maybe she understands that even if she caught the squirrel and lived out her dreams, she would still need to get up the next morning and eat and play and chase again in order to feel alive. Getting that boulder to the top of the hill wouldn’t really change anything.
I’ve had my own flirt with the sissy(phus). To move slowly, painfully, on and on, the drone of my own breath the only sound I hear. And than something happens; I read a blog … (i read this blog), or watch a show on net flicks, notice the sun light shimmering on the ice covered branches, or go for a walk with my neighbors dog (or as much as I can manage). And for a brief respite I feel whole again, like I am know my destiny, my joss. And it is good.
That’s beautiful! Thank you!
I loved this piece, Rachel, and especially enjoyed the images of your canine companions! But I was also moved to hear you speak of your existence with pain. Not so long ago this would have bordered on non sequitur for me as I’ve led a fairly healthy life and only dealt with pain when I’d done something to generate it. But 2015 changed a lot of that and for most of the year I was struggling with some health issue and the associated fall-out. My severely fractured left radius and ulna in late March gave me orthopedic surgery, a $48k medical bill and three months of pretty steady pain. In late September I managed to really strain my right iliopsoas and have been left hobbling around due to almost continual pain and even forced to use a cane. So many days I wanted to just give up; I was – and still am – sick to death of dealing with pain and my level of discomfort don’t even begin to approach your own. I have come to embrace the concept that ‘attitude is everything’ and I’ve used this belief so many times in 2015. In October I began to have mouth pain; by early November I learned my wisdom teeth needed to be removed. Because I live in semi-rural Alaska I had to wait until December 11th to get the two on the right side extracted. Thankfully everything went well and within five days I couldn’t even tell it had occurred. But I’m forced to wait until January 18th for the last two to be removed; so really I’ve been dealing with mild to infrequent moderate dental pain since late October. When I was feeling like giving up because I was so sore and unable to even walk the kidz I started taking time to think about how many others I knew who struggled with health issues that left my problems pale and insignificant in comparison. But I also decided I wasn’t going to give up as I have so many reasons to strive for a better situation. I’m finally living my dream in Alaska, I have two of the best canine companions anyone could want, I love doing my live radio shows and I truly believe my work at the Upper Susitna Food Pantry is helping needy people. With all this to live for why would I even consider giving up? Basically all I’m doing is reflecting upon my situation and then comparing it to others who are struggling in similar areas but it really helps me gain perspective. Sure, there are days this just doesn’t work but then life doesn’t guarantee anything except death so this shouldn’t come as a surprise. There are a whole bevy of new ideas out there regarding pain management; I hope you have and are checking into them..? No one should have to live with pain ongoing! I can deal with what transpired across 2015 because I knew I would eventually heal and then the pain would either disappear or be greatly mitigated. I hope and pray the Universe will show you a path which allows you to mitigate your own pain and/or find its cause. And never forget; you have a raft of followers enjoying your blog, family, friends and others who wish you only the best. And, of course, some canine companions who would be lost without ‘Mom’..!!
Thank you! I think you have the right idea. I just watched something on TV where they said people tend to feel better when they give to others, so that food pantry work should be giving you lots of good feelings to help off set the pain. Cricket thinks that all of my giving should be focused on her, so that we both feel better.
Thanks Rachel…I love your writing. It HELPS me, so KEEP PUSHING YOUR ROCK!!!
Thanks for sharing this…I can relate to much of what you write. Here’s hoping to 2016 being a sweeter, better year for you.
I appreciated this post, Rachel, but it made me a sad to know how difficult your daily activities are. But, on the other hand, I commend you for the small steps you are able to take in your life, no matter the pain they cause you. We all must do what we can and not beat ourselves up about what we CAN’T. It’s also great that you have your pups to inspire and comfort you.
They really do inspire me: when they run, when they enjoy their food so much, when they express themselves with such certainty. When I grow up I wanna be just like them.
Wonderful dog observations. Keep on pushing- life is about the journey and not the destiantion
Reblogged this on Insights From The Edge and commented:
This post is about an ongoing struggle to push forward through emotional and physical obstacles, and, perhaps most importantly, it’s about how a girl’s dog can make all the difference between a meaningful existence and a hopeless one.
Thanks so much!
My pleasure. I’ve really been ruminating today on the ways in which our animals save us, inspire us, keep us going. Your blog tells that story wonderfully.
your selfie is nice-looking, dear author…
have a good week… 😉
Thanks for stopping by my blog. Your candor and openness in writing about your struggles take such courage. Thank you for sharing
Thank you so much!
Thank you Rachel for raising the concept of “success” and “failure” in your essay. These are two heavily loaded words that positively drip merciless human judgement. We live in hard, imagistic times, mores the pity when too much emphasis is placed on income and job position, rather than personal achievements; the most of important in my estimation is a good healthy dose of happiness.
Happiness would be wonderfufll!
Very poignant and well written.