Some Language Skills of Mine

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Collection of Condiments

Remember how I said that I can’t call myself ‘linguistic’ simply because I can’t attain levels of perfection when it comes to my grammatical knowledge, vocabulary or pronunciation?  Well, today I’m going to dare, to dare to start thinking of myself as someone with ‘linguistic skills ‘ or ‘linguistic aptitude’.

This is the evidence that I am considering:

  • Because I am nervous and sometimes social phobic, I have learnt the art of conversation: I ask questions.  This means that the other person does all the talking whilst I stick to questioning.  (There’s an art too to not making this type of conversation sound like an interview).
  • I try to include everyone in the conversation, especially those who don’t speak the language confidently or those who I know are shy or hesitant to speak up.  Being nervous makes me sensitive to how other people feel in these situations and I always try to put them at ease.
  • I can follow a conversation or discussion in another language, which I speak precious few words of, for extended periods of time, remaining interested, attentive and even enthusiastic throughout.  I can also agree, disagree, gesture and make sympathetic noises in appropriate places.
  • When I learn one phrase in a new language, I can cheerfully make this sentence answer any and all questions that I am hereafter asked.
  • A language being ‘foreign’ does not stop me from attempting to read it.
  • I can coax expressions and key words out of tiny phrasebooks and mini dictionaries to extend my (non-existent) vocabulary to deal with a situation.  (However, proper pronunciation is a different matter).
  • I always try to find a lingua franca when I met someone who doesn’t speak my language (well) and I don’t speak theirs (at all), this might be pidgin or gestural, but I don’t give up.
  • I can read phonetics, those weird almost symbol-like letters given for pronunciation in dictionaries.
  • I see language and words simply as gateways rather than barriers.
  • To my complete surprise (I was never thought to be good enough to do this), I can teach.  I love sharing so being able to share what I know is a beautiful thing.  Despite the fact that my knitting method has recently been discovered to be idiosyncratic, I’ve just taught someone to knit.  And to purl.
  • I can communicate.
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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.

Pursuing Perfection

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Harvest Field

Pursuing perfection is something like pursuing cities of gold or fountains of eternal youth.  For the most part, these idyllic utopian states are just figments of the imagination, a fantasy that drives us mad in its impossible pursuit.

However, I do believe in trying.  Trying is something like that expedition, that journey in search of the utopia but instead of the focus being only on the destination, it just becomes a pinnacle, a summit for which to aim for, but it is the journey that is more important.  If we focus only our destination, we can miss out on so much and many of those things will be more important, more valuable, more enhancing than the mythological end.

I think modern travel offers many parallels.  We focus on destinations, the perfect, and we want to be transported there in the shortest time possible and at the greatest convenience.  Yet, in some ways, we miss out on the most important experience: the journey.  Journeying is about experiencing, discovering and connecting.  Without a journey, a destination becomes almost pointless, it exists merely in sterile isolation as a stereotype but there is no world beyond.  A destination is a resort, a beach, a hotel.  We choose it on its perfection criteria.

Therefore, I don’t think we should ever give up striving, that is the journey, and it can add so much to our own experience.  Placing the focus on perfection normally just brings us disappointment and disillusion.  It’s like insisting on aiming for one hundred percent in an exam where it’s just not possible, not for us, not for our families, not for our circumstances, not for our lives.  We need a ‘bar’ to aim for, to move us forward, to encourage us to achieve but when that bar is too high, impossibly high, then what good can it ever do us?

I recognise myself to be one of the most imperfect specimens of humankind; I clearly see my faults and weaknesses, so perhaps it would be easy to assume that I don’t have a problem with perfectionism.  I also veer to the negative, why would I try for the impossible?

But there’s the danger of perfection and pursuing perfection.

This winter has been one of deep reflection and self-realisation.  I am questioning each and every ‘old’ belief, thought or value and see whether it is really ‘right’, or balanced.   It’s an exhausting process which has taken me away from blogging.  My thoughts are distracted by this personal process and my words are recorded in another place.

I have come to realise that perfection is actually the standard that I have set for myself.  Surprising?  Perhaps.  I accept perfection as the only acceptable outcome, achievement is perfection.  Unsurprisingly, I fail.  I fail all the time.  And yes, I do see that by setting perfection as the destination, I can only fail.  So why do I do it?

Somewhere in my childhood, like everyone else, I acquired a set of values.  How our value systems develop, much less begin, is not an obvious or coherent process.  And sometimes we would do ourselves a favour in examining those long-held ‘values’ and seeing what they really are and whether they are actually of any value to us.

I learnt to equate perfection with achievement and success.  In other words, that achievement and success only happen when something is perfect.  Everything else is failure.  And so began a lifelong career as a failure.  I cannot attain perfection therefore I fail.  Every time.

Failure was, however, an unacceptable option in this value system.  To fail something was to be a failure.  It was something shameful, to be embarrassed about.  So I learnt to avoid the things where I was likely to fail.  Unfortunately, with perfection as the only standard, I risked failing a lot of the time, so the list of things that I avoided grew ever bigger and longer.

I learnt to hide my weaknesses, to bury them under some metaphorical carpet or other.  Mistakes being unacceptable, even unforgiveable, I spent a lot of my youth torturing myself mentally.  Making mistakes made me a failure, making mistakes indicated some grave fault of character or personality.  It all came back to me as an individual, I was supposed to be something impossible and when that didn’t happen, it was my fault.  Maybe I hadn’t tried hard enough.  Maybe I was a bad person.

I was embarrassed by all the things I couldn’t do.  My worth was measured only by the impossible and as I blatantly failed to meet that standard, I lost all self-worth.  With the focus on the things that I failed to be able to do, I quickly became a nothing, a un-achiever, a failure.

There was more to this complex fantasy of perfection.  I acquired the belief that talents are innate, that we are born with certain gifts, if you will.  As if we were programmed at birth to be good at one thing or another, programmed to succeed or fail in certain areas.  Personality thus becomes closely entwined with success.  I didn’t realise that skills not only have to be developed but they can be acquired.  We are not born as adults.  We learn to be adults.

Making a mistake does not indicate that we categorically cannot do something.  That was how I saw it, and perhaps see it still, because old habits don’t go easily.  For example, if you were good at art, the first picture that you drew would be perfect.  And then every other picture afterwards.  No one introduced me to a rubber, to correct and to learn and to develop.  I needed mental rubbers too.  I needed to be able to adjust and develop my self-perception, to rub out one waggly line and to redraw it with a more confident hand.

But neither my hand nor my mind learnt to be more confident.  One strike and you’re out.  That was the philosophy.  And it lives with me still.  I cannot draw because I make mistakes, because my drawing is not perfect.   I avoid drawing.  (Although I’m a distracted doodler, doodles don’t seem to need to reach any particular aptitude level. (Mind you, even those have been criticised in the past)).  I cannot describe myself as being ‘linguistic’, although I love languages and am forever dabbling in new ones and have long-term relationships with dictionaries.  Why?  Because I make mistakes.  Because I have not been taught key elements, I have learnt by osmosis in a rather miss than hit way; there are gaps in my knowledge.  My skills are not perfect.  Therefore they do not count.

Perfection focuses on what cannot be done, what cannot be achieved; striving for perfection means that we miss out seeing and appreciating all the other good things.  Because in a perfectionist world, they cannot count until they are complete.  And that ‘completion’ is impossible.

Actually, it just becomes a vicious circle.  If making a mistake is a categoric failure then it’s all too easy to become disillusioned, disappointed.  You give up trying.  And more importantly, you learn not to trust yourself.  When you have no confidence, you are more likely to make a mistake.  And so the cycle goes on.

I promised myself that this year I would dare to risk or risk to dare.  Trying something, anything, whether large or small, is a risk for me.  It has to go perfectly; it has to be perfect for it to succeed.  I’m starting to realise that this is holding me back.  I’m missing out on too much.  I’m missing out on being myself.

I need to dare to risk or risk to dare.

That Mongrel-Beast Actually Causes Quite a Few Problems

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Donkey Love - Two Donkeys 'Hugging'

My usual technique for dealing with illness is to ignore it.  Well, it might just go away.  And I’m used to blaming the psychological for a lot of my problems, for example, I say, ‘I’m lazy’ or ‘I can’t be bothered’.  But I’m growing in awareness, both of my main physical condition (ME) and of myself.  I know now that I’m not lazy but I’m still reluctant to take on board the fact that perhaps that mongrel-beast does actually cause me quite a few difficulties.  I suppose, perhaps, it partly goes back to that very screwy idea of ‘deserving to be ill‘.  I just tell myself, and anyone else, that ‘I’m just making a fuss, it’s nothing really’.  And that’s how I see it and how I live my life.

But the problems don’t just go away if you try to ignore them.  They’re still there.  Misunderstood, mislabelled, mismanaged.  It’s not a good recipe for success.  I have to face up to the fact that the mongrel-beast is ever present, that all those queer symptoms that irritate  frustrate and confuse are probably its fault.  Others, unfortunately, have just become my ‘normal’, I’m so used to feeling one way or another, one thing or another, that I scarcely appreciate that most people don’t actually feel that way, or ‘thing’.

I don’t like ignorance.   I do agree that knowledge can be power.  It can inform and educate.  And that’s what is desperately needed in these neurological conditions and ‘invisible’ illnesses such as ME.  It would be hypocritical of me to continue denying its existence in my life.  I cannot preach the need for awareness when I am steadfastly refusing to be aware.

Awareness does have its downsides, of course.  It can overwhelming,  frightening.  It’s almost like that moment when you first receive a diagnosis (not that ever happened in my case), the ground becomes unsteady and you find yourself confronted with a whole new reality, future, lifestyle … everything.   This condition is all-pervasive.  Being an ostrich doesn’t change that.

I preach also for tolerance, and I don’t necessarily use the word in the modern sense of ‘permissive’, for me, it’s a generosity of spirit and understanding and appreciation towards your fellow man.  How can I expect others to be tolerant when I am so hard on myself?  Again, it would be totally hypocritical.  I don’t do hypocritical.

Something has to change.  I have to change.

I have to face up to reality, to be tolerant to myself, to offer myself the understanding and appreciation that I so willingly give others.  I don’t make excuses as if they have no responsibility for their actions but I do understand and appreciate that there are, at times, extenuating circumstances.   I don’t get upset with you personally when your behaviour is generated, triggered by illness, stress or something out of your control.  I just ask that you acknowledge it and, if necessary, apologise afterwards.  Do I do the same for myself?

I preach also inclusion.  I don’t think that illness or disability should ever be cause for exclusion.  Sure, you may have to do things differently or a different pace, but I don’t believe that illness or disability is ever a write-off.  Yet, I hide my own problems.  From shame?  Perhaps.  Because I want to exist in the world on the basis of other terms, preferably my own and not this mongrel-beast’s?  Perhaps.  It’s kind of complicated!  But inclusion means allowance and I’m not allowing myself to be or to show the actual reality.  I am discriminating.  That is not tolerance.  I am judging.  That is not kindness.

I cannot hold myself responsible for something beyond my control, I cannot take responsibility or blame for a life or illness that I never chose.  Or even probably provoked.  I have to be forgiving.

And yet, even as I come to appreciate the all-encompassing nature of this mongrel-beast, I can also start to differentiate, between me and it.  I can see more clearly who I am and what the illness is.  Believing, understanding and appreciating actually frees me up.  I can be true to myself.  Just in difficult circumstances.  I don’t have to be the illness, I can be myself with an illness.

And most important?  I can start to take myself seriously.  Sometimes, it feels like no-one has ever taken me seriously.  And perhaps as a child, that does have to start as an external process, someone has to believe in you.  But as an adult, it’s up to me.  The first step is that I have to take myself seriously.  Then it’s up to everyone else.  Again, there’s that hypocrisy.  I cannot expect others to take me seriously when I am not taking myself seriously.

So today, I compiled a list of my symptoms, all the ones that I have ever had thanks to mongrel-beast.  It was hard work, not least because mongrel-beast isn’t very keen on cooperating on such cognitive tasks (it doesn’t even like spelling or typing) and also because I had to face reality.  Reality is not the nicest thing in the world.  It’s kind of like looking in the mirror with your glasses on.  Not good.  But you can’t always avoid it.

I’m going to post the list separately because it is rather long and no, I really don’t expect any of you to trawl all the way through!  (Especially as I rather suspect, it’s full of mistakes and typos). Instead, it’s going to be a sort of testament.  A reality check, if you will.  For myself mainly.

I worked through the symptoms section on the Hummingbird website, it’s thorough and comprehensive.  I could say that I have learnt lots of new words but the reality is that I have immediately forgotten them.  I’ll try to link definitions to some of the stranger (mostly Latin-ish) terms.

I’m also quite glad that I went with bullet points and not numbers, it could have got a little (actually, very) frightening!

Am I Setting Myself Up for Failure?

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Boats Looking Out to Sea

Goals are targets.  Targets are things that get missed.

Sitting myself down and deciding what I want to plan for and aim for just seems utterly pointless to me.  I know that I will fail and having a list etched in black and white as tangible proof of just what I set out to do but haven’t achieved just overwhelms.  I am defeated before I even begin.

But I also recognise that without goals and plans my life will have no direction.  Perhaps it never has had direction.  All I aim to do is get through each day, one day at a time, with the minimal stress, pain and failure.  However …

I’m not keen on boats and being in them but as anybody who hasn’t even been in a boat before can tell you, it’s best to have a compass.  At the very least, it helps to know which way you’re facing.  And after a compass, comes maps, or charts as they seem to prefer to call them in the nautical world.  You mark where you are and where you want to end up.  You make a plan.

I need a plan if my life is going to find direction, if I’m going to try and be someone, not something, just someone living their life.  But as they want to.  The directions that I go in, that I take are entirely dependent on the winds and whims of other people.  I place pleasing other people far above my own happiness.  And I think that’s something that needs to be adjusted.

It’s been a deep winter for me; I have been lost and absorbed in reflection.  But it has been a good thing.  I know and I can see that I am progressing.  I am making progress.  I don’t think that I’ve recognised that before.  I’m starting to realise that the future isn’t quite the menacing monster that I always believed it to be.  I am beginning to think that I might be able to.

Able to do what?

Well, I guess, eventually, anything that I set my heart and mind to.

But to get there I’m going to need to take some smaller steps.

I can cope with small steps.

And setting goals isn’t just about failure.

I’m not a failure.

I could succeed.

I just need to believe in myself.

And give it a go.

And throw off all the stupid beliefs and complexes that hold me back.

Ballast can be a good thing; it can stabilise you, if you’re a boat.

But there can be such a thing as too much ballast.

It just becomes stuff, junk, weight.

Redundant and not serving any purpose.

It shackles you and helps you sink.

(I do believe in mixing metaphors, it seems).

So my first goal is this:

I need to dare to risk and I need to risk to dare.

(I couldn’t decide which one made the most sense, let’s live dangerously and go with both).

Taking risk has always been something very dangerous and even alien to me.  I actively avoid risk.  Risk is just about setting yourself up for failure.

I need to adopt this new attitude, I need to be brave, I need to believe, I need live.

So this year, I hope to move forward with that motto.

But measuring success, quantifying achievement can be difficult.

How do I know if I’m moving ahead or succeeding?

I need specific goals, targets to aim for.

Marks on a chart, plotting a specific course that I can follow.

I know that I may not always be able to meet them.  But as the Jester Queen once reminded me, many wise people think that failure is only a step to success.

For example, when it comes to blogging, I now have a goal.   I’m going to aim for three posts a week.  Nothing too hard to achieve, if you look back at most months then I’m already meeting this target.

So why set a goal that I’m already perhaps reaching?

I need to do this with baby steps; I first need to confirm to myself that I’m not failing before I take any further, more ambitious steps.

I don’t want to tie myself down though, commit myself to a statistic.  I want to write because I want to.  I don’t want blogging to be about numbers, although numbers can be nice and reassuring.  I’m going to be reasonable on myself.  I’m going to set a goal which is reachable, attainable, possible.  I won’t set myself up for failure.  And especially because of life and health, it’ll be an average that I’m working on, I’ll average it out across the entire year, some weeks the words and posts may come more often than others.  I want to write a minimum of 156 posts this year.  We’ll see how it goes.

Talking of health leads me to another goal, perhaps a harder one to measure or assess.

I want to be honest.  I want to be honest with myself.

For example, when I need to rest, I will rest and when I can’t do something, I will accept that I can’t.  I will listen to my body.

And of course there’s another big thing in my life:  knitting.

How do you set goals in knitting?

Well, I suppose you could aim for a certain number of stitches per week or month.  But that is highly variable, depending on yarn weight and my rather suspect tension.  Five stitches can be very little or an entire row, depending on the project.  And I know that there are people who can calculate how many stitches there are in a particular project but I’m not one of them.  Actually, frankly, I don’t think I’d want to know.  I get demoralised by numbers higher than what I can count to (normally about 30).

Each month, I’m going to write a list of the projects that I want start and finish.

I also want to start a new project from my Knit Now magazines each month too.  As someone pointed on the Ravelry forums, it’s so easy to open a new magazine issue and go ‘ooh’ and promise to one day make this piece or that, but do we ever?

Well, the magazines are sitting on the shelf, the patterns are still there.  And it’s about time I got on with it.  I’ve lined up my favourites in my Ravelry queue and I’ll slowly tackle them.  One project at a time, one month a time.

I’ve already noticed that my knitting goals are also tied to my goal of honesty.  There days and even weeks when I can’t knit as fast or as much as I would like.  It can be bitterly disappointing and frustrating but that’s why I have got to be honest with myself.

I’ve never shared my goals with anyone.  I’m not even sure if I’ve set goals before.  But here are just a few and I know that you’re all prepared to take yet another (long-winded, I’m sure) journey will me.

I wonder how I will do.

Patchwork

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Lion Brand Aran Knit Sampler Afghan

Image from Lion Brand Website

Sometimes, I think, patchwork can sound shabby, the idea of cobbling together something, often utilitarian, from leftover scraps.  But patchwork is much more than that.  For example, a patchwork quilt, even though humble in origin and purpose, is so much more than the sum of its parts.  Because, you see, those aren’t leftovers; they’re souvenirs, treasures, stories, memories.  Each of them having so much power in its own right is then carefully lined up with the others, a craft of both eye-pleasing design and technical ability, fine stitches must hold the design together and the design must stand alone and yet be part of every one of its individual components.

I love patchwork, it appeals to me that those squares can unite and become an integral piece, no longer just a blue square or a red square, but part of much bigger design.  I love colour too.  I love history and heritage.  But I can’t sew.

I’ve long wanted a patchwork quilt on my bed, for all of the reasons above and probably many more.  But patchwork quilts don’t make themselves, they need a big investment and commitment of all kinds of resources and as we on the whole are no longer thrifty and making our own clothes, I doubt many of us even have a scrap bag anymore.  This forces you to turn to specifically designed and branded fabrics, which are available, particularly on the internet as fabric shops are now far and few between these days, but at great cost.  Or at least at what I perceive to be great cost.  The colours are dependent on some fashionable palette which has little to do with what colours I actually would want.  I don’t really do psychedelic flower power or twee pastels.  I’d rather there was a middle ground.

If I could get my hands on fabric then what?  Well, as I said, I don’t sew.  I’m also terrified of sewing machines.  (And most other electric equipment).  I can mend things with mismatched thread; in fact I’ve become quite a dab hand at darning socks.  However, this is more motivated by thrifty economy than any particular aptitude or talent.  Patchwork would require both.  In large quantities.

You see, this is what I do.  I dream something up then decide who is the best person to do it.  I rarely count myself.  I can see other people’s strengths and abilities, focussing on those.  I know that someone else could do a brilliant job of it.  I’d just mess it up.  There’s a sort of humbleness in asking for help, in knowing and accepting that someone can do a better job than myself.  I rely on others and I count on their talents.

It’s not likely that I could ever succeed in making a patchwork quilt and frankly, I don’t think that there are too many people around me who could do it either.  Husband sews beautifully but he really isn’t keen on taking on such an ambitious project.  Especially as it is my project.  He feels, for some reason, that if you want something done, you should do it yourself.  He doesn’t appreciate how I evaluate skillsets and find the right or best person for the job.  After all, it normally involves him.

It’s not really laziness.  Just a profound fear of a failure.  Why risk doing something that you know you’re going to fail?  Why risk messing up or making a mistake?  I don’t trust myself.  And failure is unpardonable.

Recently, however, I’ve been thinking and working through a lot of thoughts and fears like this.  I’m starting to realise that there are things that I can do myself and that I might not necessarily be bad at everything I do.  This is quite a revolution which has rather changed the world around me.  A little new, a little different, a little scary but possibly positive, however much I don’t like change.

So I return to the line ‘I cannot sew’.  It’s true.  It’s not just a question of negative perception.  I won’t be able to sew my own patchwork quilt.  My abilities aren’t there for that and possibly never will be, although I really do think that someone my age should get over their fear of sewing machines at some point.

So what can I do if I have really set my heart on having a patchwork quilt?  (Which I have).

Well, there is something.

I can knit.

I could knit a quilt, the quilt.

That in itself sounds quite challenging.  I can’t count, I have a poor attention span and I’m not overly confident about my knitting abilities.

But there, you see, is the wonder of patchwork.

Patchwork is elements, simple elements, brought together as one cohesive design; it only becomes big right at the very end.  A patchwork quilt, however big, is just the size of each ‘patch’ or ‘square’.

I can knit something that small.  I can concentrate on something that small.  I can succeed in making something that small.

I will knit my quilt.

Now, I just need to start saving up for the yarn.  I have some in my sights, in just the perfect colours.

And what could have been unachievable suddenly has become achievable.  I’ve matched the project to my skill levels and I know now that I can approach it just like life, one square at a time.

That brings me to more patchwork thoughts.  Knitting, for me and in these posts, has often been a metaphor for exploring and enabling progress.  Knitting has slowly built my confidence and given me a tangible way of developing my creativity and measuring success.  They laugh about knitting ‘for therapy’ but it has been, I couldn’t have got this far without the metaphoric qualities of knitting and the peace that I get from working one stitch at a time.

It might sound strange but I’ve never been able to ‘see’ the future.  The future is an absolutely fear-inspiring monstrosity that I try to avoid facing at all times.  It’s difficult for me to understand and perceive the future, never mind a future.  Perhaps it comes back to that fear of failing again, the future can be a huge responsibility and it’s definitely something that I believe that I can and will fail at.  I am often overwhelmed too, both physically and psychologically, so living in the present is normally all I can manage.  The future is almost like an unbelievable dream, a mirage. You can pin so much hope in it but it might never materialise.  I don’t like wasting my energy chasing the impossibly ephemeral.  I don’t like trusting and relying on things that perhaps will never exist, that only bring bitter disappointment and loss.  I don’t want to feel either of those things.  I hate them.  I can’t find a future, never mind the future.  It’s too big, too intangible, too much responsibility and too much disappointment.

So I began to think about goals, goals are often tangible, quantifiable.  If you achieve what you set out to achieve then that is success.  You can tick it off and prove to others that you’ve done it, that you have achieved.  Maybe working on goals, something that I also avoid for fear of failure would enable me to slowly get used to working towards that distant, threatening future.   Perhaps rather than jumping into the future, I had to take my more familiar small steps towards it.

Then it clicked.

The future is patchwork.

(That isn’t a trend prediction).

The future is patchwork.

I don’t have to present a complete quilt; I don’t have to make a complete quilt.  Patchwork doesn’t work that way.

Patchwork is the small steps.

I just have to choose a square to work on.

Then work on it.

It’s only when a life is finished that you can hold it up to the light to see the finished design.

I don’t have to have the finished design ready before I start.

I don’t have to commit to all of it.  It can grow from one corner, one piece, one square.  The future can be manageable, broken down into individual portions.  Portions which are small enough to work on, to concentrate on and to put your best effort into.

You can choose the broad themes, of course, before you even start.  Colours, eventual design features, techniques.  Maybe even stitches, if you’re a knitter.  And those themes will repeat in other squares, in other squares of your life.

The future is patchwork.

I can choose one small square and work on that.

I could even work on more than one.

If needs be, I can put it aside and work on another.

Just like I would do, just like I will do, when I knit myself that physical patchwork quilt.

I’ve found the future.

The future is patchwork.

Psychosomatic is Just an Excuse

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Hand of Cards

My old (though not in age) doctor (our GP, I don’t get to see a specialist) started out believing that ME was just another name for hypochondria.  I like him though and we have a good working relationship (ie I go in and ask for a prescription or a referral and he gives it to me).  We’ve been on a long journey since then though and I have since taken the unbelievably brave step of changing GP to a more local practice (my theory was ‘it’s better the doctor you know’; other people tend to substitute another noun in that aphorism).  My ME was under the care of the previous GP for fourteen whole years.  That’s half my life..  I’m now at fifteen years and if I really wanted to, I could always start rounding myself up to two decades of ME.  (I don’t and I won’t because that’s just a little too depressing when you haven’t even reached thirty yet).

I don’t know if since my own ‘diagnosis’ (or first submission of symptoms, diagnosis was never forthcoming), he now has other ME/CFS patients.  After all, it’s become a slightly too popular catch-all diagnosis in some cases now.  An umbrella term for those patients that doctors don’t quite know what to do with.  It’s not really helpful for either that patient or for those genuinely suffering with the condition(s).  As I’ve said before he’s never officially diagnosed me.  I wonder if he would now diagnose others.  (I went to him with the illness defined as befits the above working relationship).  He doesn’t ask about it and I don’t talk about it.  Just like everyone else.

 After a while (we’re talking years) he upgraded me.  No longer was ME hypochondria, many thanks, no, it was now a psychosomatic condition.  Cheers.  Much appreciated.

This came up in conversation with my mother a little while back because she felt that I should actually talk about my ME symptoms to the doctor (ie because she had finally noticed after a couple of years that I have a major pigment issue on my forehead, it’s kinda like alien freckles).  I explained that there was little point as I was only suffering from a psychosomatic condition as far as he was concerned and we spent as little time as possible discussing the matter.

She actually felt that it was a good thing.  Um, excuse me?  She said that at least psychosomatic meant that I was ill.  Yeah, kind of.  Psychosomatic means the physical manifestation of a psychological illness, you know like when some people are stressed they have a gyppy tummy or come out in a rash or have a headache.

Psychosomatic is just another excuse for not taking me seriously.  Psychosomatic is just another name for crazy.  *

(* NB.  I might be crazy in other contexts admittedly).