Right. So, my back hurts. It’s not that complicated but it will take me a long time to write about, and that’s not my purpose here. It’s sufficient to say that I have spasmed muscles pressing on or causing inflammation in nerves, which means a lot of weird, fiery pain in my neck, back and right arm. Muscle relaxers help some, but painkillers mostly don’t. I’m getting better, but it’s a slow process.
One of the weird things about muscle spasms is that a muscle once spasmed is more likely to do so again, especially in the very near future. So I’m not only trying to make my muscles relax, but I’m also taking actions to keep them that way. A major way to keep them happy is to move slowly. A muscle that has the potential to spasm can often perform, without pain, an action done slowly, while it will spasm and cause incredible pain when I do the same action at normal speed.
All of this means that I’ve been making a conscious effort to live slowly. I’m trying to move slowly, lift slowly, even turn the steering wheel of my car more gradually, and I’m amazed at how hard this is.
I’m an efficient person. I like stuff to be done, because then it’s not hanging over my head. Slow and steady is not how I work. I even walk fast. These are all things I know about myself. Some of them I’ve held with pride, and others I’ve viewed with less joy. But I’ve never bothered to slow down.
It’s only now, when I find myself choosing between “slow” and “pain,” that I see how deeply I’ve drank of efficiency. I’ve been praised so many times for completing tasks both well and quickly. People have been amazed at how quickly I write papers, read books, connect thoughts, respond to questions, and clean the house. Efficiency has worked so well for me that I’ve made a little box for myself–the “Sarah is Efficient” box–and I never step out of it. Why would I? So many of the things I do need to be done quickly. I don’t think I would have survived work this spring if I wasn’t efficient. And people like me for it.
But it’s still a box. “Efficient” has come to be a characteristic that I feel like I HAVE to have, all the time, no excuses. It not a skill, that I can choose to use if I need it, or a characteristic I can inhabit when it’s necessary and then put back in my toolbox for the next time. It doesn’t even matter if it’s actually someone else who is slowing me down–I carry around a niggling feeling of failure if I’m not efficient.
These last few days have been like a tug-of-war. I want to do things quickly. I have this insatiable need to finish tasks (because once they’re done, I can’t fail at them), and to finish them as soon as possible. On the other hand, I’m sick of hurting. I’m tired of turning my head to look at a student who has walked into my office, because I’m too involved with the document on my computer to turn my whole body, and feel pain spiraling up my neck or down my arm. I need to go slow. I need to go fast. Slow. Fast. Slow. Fast. Slow.
In the end, “slow” has to win, because the muscles won’t relax without it, and I refuse to continue in pain because I can’t let these things go. It’s a long, hard haul though, a total reprogramming, in some respects, of what has become instinctual for my mind and heart. Slowing down must permeate every task, every little movement, every breath, if I’m to truly and fully heal.