Lately I’ve been playing an annoying and ultimately counterproductive game of “What If?” You’ve all played this in some way or another, so you know as well as I do that it never ends anywhere good, does it?
Specifically, I have been asking myself “What if I had energy?” When I get frustrated over my current lack of it, I can’t help speculating: What would it feel like to make plans and be able to keep them? What would it be like to not need an entire pot of coffee (gross, I know!!!!) in order to function? What would it feel like to come home at the end of the day and accomplish something other than collapsing on the couch? What would I do if I woke up in the morning without feeling foggy in the brain and achy in the muscles? Most of all, what would I say if I didn’t have to say “I’m too tired” so much?
Really helpful, right? To make it worse, I’ve been looking back to my college days, when I was what I considered really busy—I took five classes, worked on the campus newspaper, interned at a national newspaper, volunteered at the hospital, etc. “I wish you knew me when I had energy, when I could do everything I wanted to,” I say to my husband every now and again. Suddenly, the old me seems so much more productive and engaged than the person I know now. I still juggle a lot of projects, but I’m not pulling 18 and 20-hour days at a stretch like I used to; I can’t even contemplate being out and about that long anymore.
But memories can be deceptive, and when we look back at them, there’s often a reason, an agenda or subconscious motive, that skews how we see ourselves. We can re-write past romantic relationships as either wonderful or terrible, depending on what we need them to be to feel good in the present, or we can reconfigure academic or professional failures to be someone else’s fault when it hurts too much to accept them for what they are in the here and now. The list could go on and on. When I look back at the “busy” me and see this stage as something to strive for once again, I think it’s really because of two things: 1. It is hard to admit how much has changed in terms of my health and 2. I have a hard time scaling back and doing this is a way to thwart my own progress in doing so.
When I really look at the facts, I can see how misleading my own nostalgia really is. First of all, I did have more energy back then because my adrenal system hadn’t failed yet (that would happen two years out of college), I wasn’t dealing with steroid withdrawal (I was still on them full-throttle), and my chronic fatigue wasn’t exacerbated by these two other complications like it is now.
Secondly, I was my own worst enemy in those days—I’d run myself to the ground, get an infection, and then spend several weeks a semester in the hospital as a result. Sure, I had energy for a couple weeks at a time, but I pushed too hard and wound up paying for it. It is convenient to overlook that fact when I wax nostalgic about how over-extended I used to be, but the reality is that the way I acted didn’t give my body a fighting chance to establish any sort of control or stability.
So I may not run around in a million different directions and I may not define myself by the number of activities I do, but I have more balance. Yes, I wish I had more energy and yes, I miss being able to do things I want to do, but regressing to my former way of living certainly isn’t going to improve that scenario.
Now, if only I could remember that more when I start to play “What if…” Nostalgia is inevitable, but it isn’t always accurate.