Sunday, January 20, 2013

Changing Positions

As I changed positions, moving from my knees to a more leisurely and casual ‘sideways lounge’ across my client’s bedroom floor…I thought, “I have really got to set better boundaries with this job”.

Wow! What does Judy do for work? I work in the fine and reputable field of public health. Environmental health to be precise.  Now if I said I worked in the communicable disease program, you could continue your suspicion just a bit longer.  But no, just good old environmental health.  Specifically indoor air quality and asthma.

But why does Judy lounge on clients’ floors? I will tell you goes back to the issue of my autopilot. Despite my best intentions I started out last week on a sleep deficit.  I know that many people function on 6 or 7 hours of sleep.  I need 8 or 9, even 10 hours if I have a particularly rough day.  Whether this is the way I was born or a function of my MS, I have no idea.  It really doesn’t matter.  What does matter is the math. The math just doesn’t work.

We all get 24 hours in a day and I use approximately 9 of those each weekday for work. The hours become ever more scarce as I add up the extra tasks of personal hygiene, eating, cooking, email and phone calls...along with other surprisingly frequent events like filling out forms for my son's school, paying bills, insurance paperwork and quality family time which includes me saying things like “do not roll on the floor, you are picking up dog hair like a giant tape roller”.   By the time we throw in help with homework, driving the kid to lacrosse, laundry, a late night trip to the store because we are out of toilet paper or milk...well the hours are almost gone.   With the best time management and boundary setting (we will talk more about boundaries when we get back to laying on the bedroom floors of strangers) I can squeeze in a little ‘me time’ for things like my gratitude journal, this blog or some reading. Often I am doing a mental negotiation between the journal and dental floss. Time to read a book may mean PB&J for dinner!

To make matters worse, sometimes my job requires me to work evenings. Mondays are my ‘interferon recovery’ mornings and I work just a half day. Despite this extra rest, I am probably not functioning at 100% on Mondays. I need to take you back to last Monday in order to explain why I was kneeling, and then lounging, on a client’s bedroom floor by 5pm Thursday. On this particular Monday I was obligated to speak at an evening asthma support group, an engagement scheduled by my autopilot several months ago.  My autopilot failed to get specifics and instead of ending at 7:30 pm as I thought, the group actually lasted until 9pm. I had been talking for over an hour before I became aware of this. A normal person might have smiled broadly and said something like “Oh my, I was only prepared to stay until 7:30, perhaps I could take two more questions and then come back another time if needed.” However, I am not normal. I was tired and dealing with my interferon hangover. So I took a snooze, turned things over to my autopilot and he talked to the group until 9pm.

Yes, despite my New Year’s resolution, I fell back into bad autopilot habit this week. As a result I ate dinner at 10pm that night, went to bed around midnight and got 6 hours of sleep.  Thus began the vicious cycle; a lack of sleep forced me to engage my autopilot and enable my body to ‘do’ more than it should and thus continue to feel exhausted and dependent on my autopilot. As the week progressed my autopilot was responsible for way too much and the cycle of ‘not enough sleep’ continued. My autopilot drove, cooked dinner, cleaned house, walked the dog, talked to clients on the phone at work. It’s a little frightening really, who knows what he’s told people! I know what he did not tell people- he never says “No”! This guy lets my boss, co-workers and clients push me past my job description boundaries.  He has me do things for my children that they should do for themselves.  Yet no matter how much I did, it wasn’t enough.  One client accused me of taking a bribe and left a voicemail warning me that I would pay for my sins the rest of my days. She was unhappy that I could not do enough for her.  One client died before I could get her the legal assistance needed to move to healthier housing. I don’t believe her housing killed her, but I felt bad that she spent her last weeks fighting for needed repairs.  Friends got impatient when I didn’t return calls. Co-workers got annoyed when I lost things or bumped into them as I staggered through the office. I fought my way through a bleary fog to force me into the moments when my sons wanted to talk about what was happening in their lives.  I communicated through grunts and my ‘droopy eye’ stares. I ate whatever was easy to find, drank too much coffee and arrived at Thursday afternoon in a place of surreal exhaustion.

I left the office late for my client’s house. I literally jogged, carefully, in low heels, one glove on, coat buttoned askew and equipment tackle box thumping against my thigh. This was my second visit to the home to conduct mold sampling, not something we have traditionally offered through my office. I have since determined we will not continue to offer this service.  With a small but fiercely loud vacuum pump, some tubing and a sampling cassette, I must ‘vacuum’ 36 square feet of a client’s home. The intake on the cassette is about the diameter of pencil lead.  The sampling protocol results in approximately a teaspoon of dust. 

My autopilot had dressed me appropriately for my midday meeting, but entirely inappropriately for the 34-degree day and the chilly fog that was mixing with our PM2.5 (pollution) laden skies.  As I wobbled in the client's doorway long enough to slide my blue shoe booties over my pumps I was painfully aware that my attire was incorrect.  Initially I kneeled, in thin dress pants, through 18 square feet of living room floor and 9 square feet of bedroom floor. My middle-aged kneecaps were done.  In fact, they had probably been done halfway through the living room. The truth is my autopilot was controlling my body and the sampling activities, while I carried on a conversation with my client about outdoor air quality, the weather, paint colors and pregnancies.  It was my autopilot that heard the groan of my knees and made the decision to just sort of ‘lounge’ sideways, propped on one elbow, to complete the sampling.  It was me that saw a shadow of something cross my client’s face as my feet and lower legs disappeared under her bed. A shadow of concern I think.  Not concern for my knees, but rather concern for etiquette. Or perhaps concern that I had fallen and could not get up?  And it was that shadow that caused me to send my autopilot away so that I could focus on the task at hand and finish quickly.  It was me that pondered the various ways my autopilot had led me astray as I squinted into the thick fog, darkness having settled on the semi-rural suburb, as I slowly drove back toward the office, shivering in my thin pants. 

As I struggled up through my internal fog, I realized that my autopilot has no sense whatsoever of boundaries!  He will not set boundaries with bosses, co-workers, clients, friends or family.  He will commit me to the most foolish of ventures, decidedly unhealthy and potentially unsafe. I have got to stay in control. I have got to make my own decisions, set boundaries that allow me to get the rest that I need and therefore to be present for my own life.  I have got to be the one to feel it if a position is uncomfortable and make the decision to stand up and regroup rather than carry on until I can only lie down in an awkward collapse.  If I can manage to stay in the moment, be fully present, I will know when it is time to change my position…in ways both small and big.


  1. My goodness! You need to banish the autopilot if at all possible. Your writing allows my mind to actually "see" all that was happening, wow! Could you not submit some of your writings to magazines or ?? Oh wait, there is no time for that!! I swear, there is a second career in there... :)


  2. Some should not be creating "family time" or "dinner." What up with that? I am wondering where the other members of the house are hiding out. "Just food for thought"

  3. "Food for thought" very clever! You are quite right..but remember that's my autopilot! Making dinner should be shared for sure! But for clarity I don't 'create' the family time....I just take part in it. That is actually good stuff that I want to have energy for :)