Finding Enough

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It’s something that I’ve always struggled with.  Is what I do enough?  Am I enough?

There’s a perfectionist streak that runs in me that demands great things from me, if not the impossible.  Then you’ve got to add in my paranoid streak and you realise that I’m a rather Joseph-coat kind of person, also known as a psychological mess.  Can I be enough to quieten these voices?  Can I ever believe that I am enough or will I always doubt?

I promised to show you a cake that we made but I faltered, I lost confidence.  Maybe it is a really bad job after all.  Does the fact that it was edible mean that I pass in the my harsh school of criticism?  I mean, isn’t that really what matters when it comes to cake?  That you can eat it?  And it was the first ever time we’d decorated a cake, like proper, all-the-works, full-scale cake decorating.  Does doing your best count?  I don’t know, sometimes I dare to believe, just a little bit.

So I offer up our cake to your judgement:

Mad Hatter's Hat

Oh, and the bow?  No, I have no idea how I worked out how to do that either.

Mad Hatter's Hat Bow

I didn’t take many photos because it does seem rather big-headed to vaunt one’s possible failure and also because by the time it was finally done (several crises and meltdowns later), we were rather fed up and disillusioned.

However one of my photography-obsessed friends seems to have taken a shine to it:

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(I hope they don’t mind me watermarking them but I’d hate to be irresponsible and let their photos go wandering on the internet).

I’m still trying to decide too whether confidence is such a good thing after all, it does tend to land me in very large scrapes, cake-sized ones, where I have to learn an entire sector’s worth of new skills.  Maybe I should go back to having no confidence.  It might be less stressful.

But too late, another lesson not learnt.

I’m already committed to another cake later in the year.

I keep telling myself (and Husband who does most of the decorating work) that this one will be SIMPLE.  I’m not sure if either of us believe it anymore.

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Why Not?

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It turns out that I have discovered the most dangerous words in the entire Universe, two innocent little words that when used in conjunction tend to have serious consequences.

A lot of people have picked up on the dreaded ‘what if’; ‘what if’ can be used looking forward or looking back but there is always a tinge of regret.  In hindsight, we can wish that we had taken another course or path and with doubt, we can wonder if we’re taking the right one now or in the future.  Another variation is ‘if only’, which features in lyrics where it is declared to be ‘the loneliest words that you’ll ever know’.

I don’t do the looking backwards ‘what if’.  Things happen, life happens.  We can’t undo the past and, normally, I can’t grasp the concept of future.  Looking forwards, well, you know what I’m like for worrying.  And I have the kind of vivid and fertile imagination that allows me to conjure up all the billion and one dreadful possibilities for any one insignificant moment.

But those are not the two dangerous words; as surprising as it seems, my negative attitude is what keeps me strong and moving forwards.  I know that things rarely, if ever, are as bad as I think that they’re going to be.  And when bad stuff happens, truthfully, I’m too busy dealing with it, I go into crisis mode, to fret myself dreaming up even worse things.

So what are those two dangerous words?

WHY

NOT

Together they are potent.  And have serious consequences.

I’ve never used the phrase before; after all, I’m pretty good at knowing automatically all the billion and one reasons why I shouldn’t do something.  But as you know there’s been a lot of psychological DIY going on this winter and I decided that this year would be the year that I would risk, that I would dare.

So I found myself asking ‘why not?’

When someone said that they’d really like it if they had a bag or carrier for a water bottle when they go away, I asked myself those two dangerous words and before I quite knew what I was doing, I had my hand up, yes I would make them one.

I even sketched a quick design on a napkin.

I can’t draw.

It’s a fact that everyone else in the entire world can.

(Someone further up the table couldn’t quite work out why I’d drawn a picture of a toilet pan (apparently) so  I may not draw again in public for a loooong time again).

I offered to make something.

Something with a needle and thread, something with fabric, something that involves sewing.

I can’t sew.

And the two girls who I was making these for can sew.

Like properly sew.

With sewing machines.

And they make clothes.

Hm.

‘Why not’ is indeed a dangerous phrase.

With consequences, serious consequences.

I was committed and I had to start sewing.

Husband helped me with the pattern (which we invented along the way) and did the cutting out (which terrifies me).

But I did most of the sewing.

In my pretty irregular way.

I then asked myself ‘why not’ again.

I don’t do embroidery.

Embroidery is for artistic people who sew.

I am neither artistic or a sewer.

(That word written can be read two very different ways, fortunately I am neither).

But I picked up Husband’s embroidery stitch guide book and thought ‘why not’.

Maybe other people just start at the beginning, maybe other people just start by following the instructions step by step, maybe other people don’t know it all automatically.

So I embroidered.

Me!

Yep.

I took a needle and some floss (not dental) and I follow the instructions, carefully, idiosyncratically but still irregularly and I gave it my best shot.

Because that’s all other people do isn’t it?  They just try to do their best.  And that’s all anyone can do, including me.  I can only try.  And if I don’t try then I can’t do.

So here’s what we did (thank you Husband for all your help!):

I used some thick cotton fabric that we already had from another project years ago so I gave them a choice of three colours: orange, red and green.  I also had a brand new fleece that had promotional slogans across it so I decided that the best use for it was in pieces.  Lining the cotton bags with fleece makes the carrier a lot more insulating as well protecting the bottle better from knocks.

We modelled the dimensions on the largest (fattest too) bottled water bottle we could find locally but found the first one came out a little too cozy so we upped the size a little for the second one.

We also discovered that a circle at the bottom of a cylinder is neither the same diameter nor the same circumference as the cylinder.  I was very baffled.  We did eventually come up with a scale based on other measurements found on various online bottle carrier tutorials, a circle is a third of the diameter of the cylinder.  Even more eventually, Husband discovered that it was something to do with pie.  Well, I’m always glad to have pie in my life.

For the straps, we all agreed that a long strap was best, this is so it can be carried comfortably for long periods over a shoulder or across the body.  Not taking any chances with guestimation, I got them to provide their ideal measurement (they went home and measured a bag strap that they use).  This was just as well because the shorter of the two wanted the longer strap.  Obviously.  (I kept the text message with the measurement just in case! I wanted proof).

Just as in knitting, straps always take a very long time.  Our friends were going away the next day and I didn’t get them finished until five that evening!  That was stressful.  Stress makes me tired.  But I’m glad that I did it, I’m glad that I said ‘why not’.  Even with the consequences, I rather like this new confidence.  I’m enjoying being creative again, I’m enjoying daring and risking for the first time ever.

Orange Bottle Carrier

Red Bottle Carrier

Two Bottle Carriers

(Oh, and the toggles?  I nicked them off the ‘up-cycled’ fleece along with that rather nifty cylindrical elastic).

Related Posts:

It’s a Cake

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Green Buttercream Iced Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Curls

… and it’s green, guacamole green.  I love food colouring.  I like making cake to share too.  I’m glad this one is going to be put to good use after all; it’s going off with a friend for her last day at work!

Creativity in Progress

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Blue Thread with Pins

Paper and Ribbon

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I’m learning to express myself creatively and to try to feel fairly confident that I can be too!

And I’m daring to throw out off-cuts off ribbon and even stuck the tape on the outside (don’t ask).

Outside Tape

So it might just be paper and ribbon but it feels like I’m making progress.

Creative Expression in Paper & Ribbons I

Creative Expression in Paper & Ribbons II

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I Now Have More Questions

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Knitting Technique

I have just bought a new book.  (But a completely different version of that).  On knitting.  My husband wanted to know why I need another knitting book but I actually don’t have that many.  Truthfully.

I bought this one because it was a) reduced, b) had good pictures and c) promising to bring me enlightenment when it comes to the most intimidating and impossible of knitting techniques: intarsia.

But there is a problem.

I haven’t got to the section on intarsia yet but out of the two hundred questions it offers solutions to, I’ve come unstuck on Question Three.  (That’s about fifteen seconds into the book, I reckon).  And my confidence has been more than a little shaken.  The thing is that I’m just beginning to see myself as a knitter.  A slightly random, idiosyncratic knitter, to be sure.  After all, I definitely can’t call myself a ‘proper’ knitter, I don’t jumpers.  I’m still recovering from the first and last one.

So, the question is:  How do I hold the yarn?

There are pictures, good quality photos.

One for the British method.  (Smaller, is this less common or popular these days?)

One for the Continental method.

There can be no confusion.  The pictures are clear.  The evidence is before me.

I don’t hold my yarn properly!

Why I’m quite so surprised, shocked and shaken by this revelation, I’m not quite sure.  But I’m definitely questioning my status as a knitter all over again.  Can you be a knitter if you don’t hold your yarn properly?

The Continental version looks like a left-hander as far as I’m concerned.

Hm, left-handed?

I think that I was originally taught by a left-hander.

And do you remember the wee problem with my crochet technique?

I know that I don’t use the British method because of my friends do and they’re fast, effective and knit completely differently to me.

But I definitely don’t hold the yarn in my left hand either.  So am I a left-handed Continental or something?  Or just plain wrong?

Also, I don’t wrap my yarn around any other fingers.  Perhaps this is why my tension is soooo suspect?  (Husband might be right on that matter, just don’t tell him).  Apparently stressed out people knit tightly.  I don’t.  And I’m normally stressed out.

I’m confused.

Does it even matter how you hold the yarn?

Welcome to the Real World

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Swan's Head with Dripping Beak

When speccy spoke of pacing the other day, my entire being sighed and nodded knowingly in agreement.  You see, pacing is something of a ‘buzz’ word in chronic illness.  Although it’s not some magical cure-all or panacea, it does rather let the ‘experts’ off the hook.  The responsibility is handed firmly back to the patient, they are to manage their own illness, it is up to them.

Whilst I firmly believe that self-awareness and self-management are important, if not vital, components of maturity, of adult life, this doesn’t quite seem fair.  There was a reason why ‘experts’ were invented after all.  To be left, abandoned, to your own devices can be isolating, frightening and threatening.

It’s sometimes said that the best gift you can give the chronically ill is comprehension.  Support and understanding are absolutely crucial and they have to come from external sources.  Yes, as individuals, we can offer ourselves support and understanding but it’s not the same.  In fact, can any individual really generate and sustain support, understanding, belief, appreciation or acceptance if there is none forthcoming from external sources, the community around them?  (And when someone is chronically ill, can they really physically support themselves?  If they could, they wouldn’t be the ill ones).  This would require almost unfathomably ridiculous levels of self-belief and self-confidence.  I don’t think many of us have those.

Besides, chronic illness eats away at your self-belief and self-confidence.  It destroys value systems.  Even if you never, ever doubted yourself before, it will make you doubt now.  Sometimes you will think that you’re going crazy.  That’s why external sources of belief, support and understanding are so important.  No man is an island, apparently.  We don’t need flattery or lying to, we simply need to be acknowledged, for our illness to be acknowledged.  Or better still, understood.  Appreciated even?

Perhaps, they, those ‘experts’, feel that this approach is temptingly flattering.  You are the expert, you know yourself better than anyone and the nature of your illness too.  You are the expert.  Empowerment in action, another favourite ‘buzz’ word of our times.

However, it carelessly disregards the reality, how the dynamics of self, relationships, community, society really work.  No man is a self-actualised island existing in splendid isolation, an unconnected self on a planet of unrelated life.  As if such an ideal were even possible.  Or healthy.  We humans are cities, places buzzing with connections, with a strong sense of past and a need for a planned, controllable, reliable future.  We have habits, customs.  We are often living to the full extent, if not beyond, of our resources.

When we fall ill, we bring a lot of baggage with us.  Our own expectations, hang-ups, complexes, fears and prejudices.  As well as those of everyone else too.  We cannot be expected to become a self-actualised island in the face of such odds.  Nor should it be required, we are cities after all.

(As a side note, isolation is an often recognised and accepted issue for the chronically ill, so it seems a little unwise to propagate it).

There are other ways too that pacing is fundamentally flawed.

Another situation where the term ‘pacing’ is popular and enthusiastically adopted is in sport.  (If there couldn’t be more difference between these two groups of proponents!)  Top athletes, marathon-runners, you name it, they all talk about pacing, it’s a wonder-word to them too.

However athletes do not exist in isolation.  They are part of a team.  And not just any team either, these aren’t necessarily just their loved ones who for the chronically ill will make up the bulk, if not the entire population, of a support team. Oh no, the athlete is surrounded by ‘experts’.  Whilst it is recognised that he knows himself and his abilities best, he turns to external sources to help manage and advance, he knows that he cannot do it alone.  There will be a coach providing one-to-one support, usually someone who has a wealth of experience and knowledge in a particular sport.  The best coaches know the ropes and they know them inside out, upside down and back to front.  They have the inside story on each challenge that an athlete will face.  And they know their athletes just as well.  They know how to get the best from their athlete, how to maximise their potential, when to push’em and when to ease off.  But these days, it isn’t just the coach who makes up the support team.  These days, there is a vast network of ‘experts’, professionals in diverse fields all bringing their knowledge and experience to bear, to allow the athlete to achieve his potential, there may be nutritionists, physiotherapists, masseurs, sport scientists, doctors, psychologists, administrators, legal experts, public relations specialists … the list goes on.  No athlete is an island.

So with all this support, knowledge, expertise and belief propelling an athlete forward, does pacing actually guarantee a win?  Well, think over some of the interviews you may have heard with athletes after some event or other.  You will hear them talking of peaking too early, of having had a bad day, of the weather being against them, of the altitude being unfavourable, of having two events too close together, of having had troublesome journeys or connections.  Even with all these experts behind them, even with all their own self-belief and training behind them, pacing is fallible.  Highly fallible.  It is not a science.  We humans generate too many variables and respond so differently and unpredictably to situations, even familiar ones.

One Swedish furniture company apparently tests all of their new sofas with a special machine which simulates someone, a rather large someone, jumping on the sofa countless times.  They are measuring endurance.  When those figures are produced, they can then guarantee their furniture for a specific period.

What does this have to do with pacing?  Well, the essence of pacing is endurance.  And how do you measure that in humans?  We are not identical sofas manufactured to exacting standards.  (In fact, I’m pretty sure that some of us feel like second-hand sofas anyway).  But it means that the test is no longer fair because not all the sofas can and will pass.  And think of that old relic in your sitting room, just because it’s rather old and sorry, are you going to throw it out?  Or will you overlook its faults, it weaknesses because it’s deliciously comfortable and been part of your family story for such a long time?

There are other problems too when it comes to measuring endurance in humans, not only are we all built differently but we’re not tested equally either.  The tests that a human faces, even in normal everyday life, are random.  There is no uniform test.  And the tests that humans face are not necessarily designed to be passed with flying colours.  And how do you measure endurance when humans have the unpredictable trait of responding differently in the same circumstances?

Endurance is really the baseline of pacing.  Pacing requires you to establish what you are normally capable of, what you can usually endure.  Once you have established this elusive baseline, you can pace yourself, not exerting yourself beyond this threshold and therefore not exacerbating your condition.  Eventually you will be able to build on the baseline, increasing gradually in baby-steps increments your abilities, your endurance, your baseline.

There is some truth, some science behind this.  But even experienced athletes can find that their baseline fluctuates and that sometimes there are just ‘bad days’.  How much more so for the mere mortal struggling with a chronic illness!

Endurance, I don’t think, can be quantified and measured in humans.  Endurance seems to be one of those qualities that meanders between the physical and the psychological.  There are few things that are clear-cut, black and white where humans are involved.  And whilst an athlete knows that they can run this fast for this long or whatever else their discipline requires of them, a purely physical endurance, how predictable or reliable is chronic illness?  This athlete is an individual with high levels of self-belief and self-confidence, yet whilst he may be able to endure physically, the psychological can knock him for six.   Chronic illness does not neatly exist only in the physical, or mental, there is a great deal of psychological.  We bring all that baggage with us, remember?

So if endurance cannot be quantified and established, fixed at a set rate even one individual, how can pacing really be expected to work?

But then it gets more complicated.  We humans don’t exist at some monotonous baseline; we peak and relax, physically and psychologically.  Our lives are varied.  Even if we had that baseline fixed and we could measure everything we did against it, is that really how humans live?  Just because we are ill, even house- or bedbound, we are humans with a strong sense of will.  We want to do things.  We live in a society where our value is dependent on activity.  We measure success by what we do, how much we do.  There are things that must be done.  Life doesn’t stop when you become ill.  There are still all of these everyday responsibilities to be taken care of.  And there are times, when we just desperately want to do something, maybe to alleviate some of the boredom and frustration of being so ill so much of the time, maybe it’s because we just want a glimpse of our old lives.  We rarely say no.  We’re not programmed to say no.  And so our pacing suffers, even if existed in the first place.  Real life continues around us and continues to have expectations of us.  We also have expectations of ourselves too.  Modern society is not renowned for its measured pace.  And there isn’t much allowance given for the chronically ill.  Pacing goes out the window, you have to live.

Whilst Chronic illness can be boring and frustrating, it isn’t monotonous.  Whilst real life continues to throw challenges us, things that we must do regardless of our health or energy levels, chronic illness itself doesn’t exactly help matters either.  Few chronic illnesses are predictable.  They are not reliable.  Most of them aren’t even quantifiable.  So how can you apply pacing to the untameable?  The worst of chronic illness is never knowing quite how something will affect you until it’s too late.

Pacing allows a veneer of delusion that someone is in control.  That the beast of chronic illness can indeed be tamed, be domesticated and invited into polite society.  It would be a comforting notion if it wasn’t so obviously false.  But yet countless patients dutifully try to implement the impossible, they try to pace themselves, in an almost vain hope of recovery.  If recovery or remission does occur, it rarely seems to be anyone’s hands.  There is no success guaranteed with pacing and yet the patient has had to take full responsibility for the management and successful outcome of their illness.  Is this failure or just stupidity?

I don’t think that pacing can be that panacea; I don’t think it is the solution.  There is an awful lot more involved in humans, in illness and in real life.  Pacing is the equivalent of a highly restrictive calorie-counting diet; it’s punitive and doesn’t take into account those ups and downs, the feasts and famines of real life.  Oh, and they haven’t managed to invent the calorie either.  Pacing is a farce.

We need to be realistic.  We do need to recognise our personal limits and accept that these will often vary.  We need to recognise and accept that if we choose to participate in one activity then it will often be at the cost of something else.  We cannot have everything.  Sometimes we get a look at the cake but it’s rare that we get to eat it.  We need to accept these things for ourselves, to reject all the baggage and activity-dependent value systems that we were brought up with and are surrounded by still.  But we are not islands; we need the people around us to do the same too.  We need their support, belief and understanding in order to live, to be allowed to live at our own pace.