The Labor of Learning to Set Limits

Oh, Outlander‘s finale was grand indeed, but it was so . . . final. I thought I would follow it with at least one thorough blog response, but it proved too overwhelming to face fully, and the sorrow of finality echoed forward. Besides these, another emotional factor had already begun to influence my viewing prior to the last episode of the season–increasing disappointment with the essence of how Starz has adapted the central story relationship of Jamie and Claire. All together, these zapped my motivation even to start sorting.

My disappointment helped me realize that the other thing I needed to do was take a break from “obsessenaching,” which, for the uninitiated means fanatically obsessing like, with, or about Sassenach*, aka Claire Fraser/Caitriona Balfe/Jamie Fraser/Sam Heughan and the whole Outlander lot. I could see my life was straying farther and farther from any semblance of balance. I was having a series of dreams invaded by actor Sam Heughan.

Now, the only reason I feel comfortable enough to admit this, despite finding it rather embarrassing, is that my obsession has made me privy to the obvious fact that many, many other fans’ obsessions with Sam (as must be the case with most handsome stars of the large and small screens) are far more serious and crippling to those people. I am happily married after all and do not hang my self-esteem on whether or not a celebrity re-tweets or responds to my comment. Undoubtedly, dignity and cool would fail me were I actually to meet said celebrity, but never mind.

Although, like many women of retirement age–of which I am not yet technically one for decades to come (hopefully)–I have more “free” time than most people, I have yet to earn the privilege of actual retirement. Based on where I have indulged my pleasures, I’ve come to see: It is this privilege that allows so many Outlander fans of 20+ or 2 years’ duration to indulge their fanaticism.

In my compromised youth, I still recognize the imperative of making life count for something. But without religion, robust health, paid profession, or penchant for routine, I figure some kind of inner drive needs to take the role of holding oblivion at bay for an independent-minded yet provided-for married woman approaching middle age without children. I believe one can really save only herself.

I did take a break of sorts. I put away my Outlander images collection. I stopped re-watching season 2 episodes. I stopped using Twitter altogether, let alone allowing notifications of Sam’s and Caitriona’s latest tweets. I was helped in this by the need to reduce the use of my phone while it showed signs of dying.

But with a new phone came renewed vigor and curiosity about technological capacities, i.e., gadget toys, and soon, I was right back in it. I justified this by the notion that I wouldn’t want to be out of the loop right before our big trip to Scotland. Still to happen, that trip in itself is a direct outgrowth of my Outlander obsession. I have no small hope of bumping into the cast and crew during season 3 filming this fall. I continue to “interact,” i.e., tweet, with the likes of the show’s consultants, producers and other reps. I receive regular notifications of tweets from slightly more than a few of them.

A married couple who are friends of mine just returned from their own Scotland trip, and I made sure to ask them all about it. I have scoured the travel guides, in print and online, compiled details on the sights selected for our itinerary, and delegated GPS setup to the hubby. We’ve bought street maps, new clothes, new shoes, RFID-blocking wallets, international driver’s licenses, travel insurance, theater tickets, steam train tickets, sightseeing passes, a detachable Bluetooth keyboard for my tablet, and a new rain coat for me. I downloaded 30 some apps for use before and during the trip, including the UK Highway Code, a bus tracker, weather apps, general news and sightseeing apps, one for each hotel and other vendor we’re using, and Scotland tourism apps. I’ve been planning our trip since May, and there are a slew of tasks still on our list, but it’s finally almost here.

I am excited, to be sure, but also worried that I won’t have the physical strength and energy to tackle even half of the itinerary I’ve tentatively planned for us. I tried to be realistic and arrange alternatives for things to do each day, but at least one day will be a real doozy with a full-day Outlander tour followed by an evening play, and we’re going largely DIY with all this, including renting a car for most of the trip. I also worry that my poor track record with packing sensibly will plague this voyage, too.

Still, I’ve never prepared so well, for so long, and so . . . obsessively for travel as I have for travel to and around Scotland. The excursion will be the single longest vacation my husband and I have ever taken. We’ll likely get through it somehow, but I do hope the experience proves to be worth all the time, money, and work invested in it. Who knows when the chance will come again?

The good news for balance is that I continue to think about it and make efforts at routine productivity. I still tutor weekly, and I’m still writing, in spite of my unplanned hiatus from this blog of late. I’ve been working on a novel since the July Camp NaNo (see my previous post about Packing for Camp), and now that fall approaches, I anticipate pursuing it through November, the official National Novel Writing Month I’ve participated in for the past five years.

[Note on the future of this blog: I’ve refrained from going into details about it here, or doing much posting at all, for fear of disrupting my momentum. But I must admit that it doesn’t take much to do that, and more often than not, blogging about my writing projects has injected new life into them rather than shut them down. So, I guess, besides tales from the trip, I can feel confident in having more to write about at Philosofishal going forward.]

There are other positive signs of balance to acknowledge as well. I have carried the bulk of responsibility for planning our Scotland trip over time, but I haven’t neglected all household management in the mix. I’m in the process of reassessing my autoimmune conditions treatment plan, I’ve begun a new financial investment project for us, and I’ve started walking regularly, mostly for the trip but also to combat high triglycerides, excessive computer sitting, and chronic pain. More goals are also brewing.

Perhaps I’ve been more balanced and productive than I give myself credit for. My limitations have not been as limiting as I believed. It’s just that some health challenges have a special, enduring talent for disappointing long-held expectations. So it has been for me, and so follows the need to keep adjusting those expectations, embrace joy where I can, and continue to set reasonable limits, especially on my propensity to obsess.

Setting limits for oneself is about awareness, love, and the will both to refrain and to reach for better. The good that comes from setting good limits can shatter perceived limitations. What once seemed impossible becomes not only possible but proven. Making wise limit setting a habit then means acknowledging that proof and using it to fuel future action.

Know_Your_Limitations_Then_Defy

Easier said than done.

To make it doable, I think I’ll work to visualize myself going through something like a par course or speed dating session with my various tasks and projects. (Picturing actual juggling just intimidates me.) No one can go, go, go forever; we all need rest after running the course. For me, though, the emphasis is different because chronic health issues make restfulness from sleep a fantasy and daily rest rather void. For me, maintaining and strengthening balance largely means remembering to change the status quo: to get up, move from one foot to the other, keep moving, take a brief rest, and repeat the cycle.

Learning to prioritize and set limits on the consumption of time, while it imposes its own limits, is my greatest challenge and experiment.


  • For more about the term “sassenach,” see:

Outlander | Speak Outlander Lesson 1: Sassenach (video featuring Sam Heughan, lead actor, and Adhamh O Broin, Gaelic Consultant for the show) | STARZ (2013)

Dictionary.com definition of “sassenach”

“Scots Word of the Season: Sassenach” by Maggie Scott | The Bottle Imp (date not specified)

Save

Of Water Made, to Water We Return

Of Water Made, to Water We Return
an original, free verse poem

I. 

I'm having trouble with showering,
arms raised to wash shoulder-length, 
water-heavy hair; with bending.

I'm having trouble with her poem, as
with fantasy novels. Cryptic, obscure,
alien and alienating, brow-knitting.

Trouble with straight standing, as with 
these twenty-something-dirty-blonde-story 
inflections, clipped “-ton” suffixes caught 
in the throat, and profound platitudes like
approval seals on her three-person selfie.

A drink in each hand--one coffee, 
one water with lemon-cucumber ice--she
trots her foil-plated locks off to process.

I stay behind, brief neighbor, to sit, 
scalp burning, my own foils foiling. Later, 
a brow touch-up stings eyelids to itching, 
replacing the usual trimmed-end scratch 
on my nape and collar.

I'm lighter headed but neck-weighty
on the drive home. Eyes water, follicles
fry, emaciated eyebrows pulse and fade. 

I'm having trouble with salon and spa,
as with why anyone would want to live
in L.A. if they didn't have to. 

I'm having trouble with branding and
niche building, as with popes' art.

Douse these fires.

II.

I'm trouble with a spoon and fork,
less so with a knife. Deadly strikes
are stains on my shirt front, and down.

Water is conquered and conqueror.
Life giving. But whose life? 
Life of what? Of water, not me.

My drinking problem starts with 
the cup, the vessel--not beverage--its grip. 
But what of the wet part? It is I who am taken 
in, for I do the malabsorption shake.

Wet or dry, I struggle with much less 
clothing than women with corsets, 
bum rolls, and skirts (wet or dry) 
to the toe had to endure. 
I struggle all the same.

This bod goes boddice-less 
and bobs with bra to belly 
shelf, not a babe's in 
either sense. Bust 
but not sculpture. 

My left hip, wrist, and neck 
joints gather us in, the floods 
that come, to the water, to intumesce

in my right thumb's base joint. 
My thenar eminence, the blind and the lame--
lamb's blood, spent ink in the hour of palm
--neither bleeting nor praying. 

No mercy. No script, just scribbles.
No takeaways or peace grants. Just scrap 
and muscle cramps.

Two weeks and the left knee's bulging,
back to front, calf to cap, quad to shin,
through and through.

Ballooned after two weeks off drugs,
the aqueous drug. Stop-gap pre-filled 
solution. The syringe barely reaches 
my sinews, adding water under skin 
in a burn-like bubble where 
a pocket of tadpoles learns 
to squat, stretch, and 
croak. They are now 
the most dexterous 
of me.

III.

I have trouble rising and staying 
risen. Suggestible, my skull base 
sags under a top-heavy brain, my fat 
noodle. Yes, that must be it. And laptop 
computing, from eye and finger to synapse.

Results: conquered. Rest eludes as I fall
asleep . . . pleu snorge cawgh nuff 
— contact sports? — Hum, drone, 
womp womp, pulsing house fan 
flow. Groaning grunts of 
stuff and nonsense. My 
vessel pours through 
another edgeless 
vessel. No longer 
on edge, I 
dissolve.

Air swells with humidity-
empty particles, compounding 
the gray blanket 
over the earth, reverberating through 
the filter, the vents, window-frame 
cracks, holey screens, the air our 
eaves own, the outdoor gas 
mixture, and up into the 
ceiling of 
this dull throw. 

The pointless, endless, homeless 
expansion becomes virtual oceanic 
abyss, imploding every living thing 
of too much air and water. Contact sport. 

As I nod off, sitting here, my fingers 
sear with the strain of their own joints' 
enveloping erosions.

Aflame, the hand knows best unnatural heat--
come temperate or scorching summer; dry, 
cool autumn; or ice-white winter. 

But rather than melt, the fascia
adhere in knots to the muscles.
Sticky and stuck, locked 
in place.

Dissolution--by fracture, 
fire or flood--has a recipe: Add 
whiplash to blood splash out the nose, 
extract thyroid node (with butterfly wing 
and body) by knife, erode bones of edges 
pressure molded from misfired orders 
to swell; crush and shiver into 
sulk-hulking slump. Stew. Re-
hash. Overcook. Ignore. 
Serve nothing and 
no one.

Clean-up: Have a 
drink of water. Splash some 
on your face. Breathe in. Out. 
Rub the brow. Flex the fist. 
Stretch. Straighten. 
Keep typing.

(No other contact sports, 
especially watery ones.)

written August-September 2015 by C.L. Tangenberg
on living with rheumatoid arthritis